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North Otago netball teams return to action this weekend as the club competition makes its long-awaited post-Covid comeback. Gus Patterson checks in with the premier club teams ahead of the opening round of the 10-week competition.

WAITAKI GIRLS’ HIGH SCHOOL WILDFIRE

Coach: Steve Ross

Last year: First

This year: With a high turnover of players each year, it is hard for a school team to win one title, let alone go back-to-back. But coach Steve Ross is hopeful there is enough talent coming through Waitaki Girls’ High School to give Wildfire a good chance.

Shooting duo Brylee Milmine and Madeline Mansfield have returned and, in the midcourt, Nelle Loper and Meadow Neill will be key players.

“We don’t have that consistent team each year, but at the same time no-one knows what we are coming with,” Ross said.

MAHENO GREEN

Coach: Carmen Brenssell

Last year: Second

This year: Maheno Green wants to lose the bridesmaid’s tag this year, after being defeated finalists for the past two seasons.

The team has lost a chunk of players from last year but Philippa Masoe (GK), Anika Smith (GD) and midcourters Katy and Hayley Lawrence have come in to bolster the ranks. The shooting duo of Suzy Oakes and Nga Yaxley will again be key, and Kat Kawau and Sonya Macdonald will provide plenty of experience.

“It’s all new connections we need to get sorted now,” coach Carmen Brenssell said.

“Connections are a big thing for us because it’s all different players in different positions.

“We have a lot of work to do, but I think all the teams are in that position, starting from scratch.”

VALLEY KARAKA (EX VALLEY GOLD)

Coach: Rihi Schultz

Last year: Third

This year: Valley does not need to make big changes to get back to its winning ways, coach Rihi Schultz says.

After winning the premier title for five consecutive years, Valley lost to eventual champion Wildfire in last year’s semifinals, but beat Lightning Strike 37-30 to finish third.

“I thought we had a really good season,” Schultz said.

This year’s team has a similar look to the past couple of years, with the addition of utilities Fiona Dunnett and Kara Tartonne.

“We have good connections and some old heads.

“It’s more just keeping on going with what we are already doing.”

WAITAKI GIRLS’ HIGH SCHOOL LIGHTNING STRIKE

Coach: Steve Ross

Last year: Fourth

This year: The midcourt, led by captain Laura Dunshea, will be Lightning Strike’s strength this year.

In the shooting circle, Ryah MacLeod is joined by Mackenzee Campbell, who is transitioning to netball from basketball. Charlotte Weir and Paris Fellows will team up in defence.

“We have gone for a young team.. we are building for the future,” coach Steve Ross said.

“It’s a short season so we are aiming to get better quickly.

“We don’t have a round to get ready

ST KEVIN’S COLLEGE

Coach: Rachel Fowler

Last year: Fifth

This year: St Kevin’s could emerge as a real contender this year.

The team, which finished 10th at the 2019 South Island Secondary Schools tournament, has only lost three players from last year.

“I’m pretty positive. I think we should have a good season,” coach Rachel Fowler said.

The team has experience throughout the court. Captain Annie Meltcalfe will muster the defence, centre Ellen Swanson will control the midcourt and Jamiee Trainor and Tegan Souness form a good shooting partnership.

VALLEY KORU (EX VALLEY SILVER)

Coach: Rihi Schultz

Last year: Sixth

This year: Valley Koro could be the surprise package this year.

Last season, the team was competitive in places, but struggled for consistency, coach Rihi Schultz said.

But with the experienced Petra Aspros coming into the midcourt and the recruitment of shooter Katherine Tongotongo, it might have found the missing pieces.

“I would say they are the team to watch,” Schultz said.

ATHLETIC

Coach: TBC

Last year: Eighth

This year: Athletic has a young side this year and is focused on building solid foundations.

The team has lost several players since the season was postponed, but has picked up others such as defender Megan Greene and Moana Bufton, who can play either end of the court.

Midcourter Ella Francis will steer the side around the court.

“There has been an injection of young players so we are definitely in a rebuilding stage,” player Kim Lyttle said.

“We are just getting on the court because there is competition to play and we all love to play netball.”

MAHENO REBELS

Coach: Carmen Brenssell

Last year: 1:2

This year: Belief in their abilities will be key for Maheno Rebels players stepping up to the premier grade this year, coach Carmen Brenssell says.

“It is a big jump, but they are happy to try the challenge and get stuck into it,” she said.

“Once they get the first game under their belts they will be right.”

Most of the team has been together for the past few seasons, and the players were ready to hit the ground running.