Pressure tells on North Otago

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North Otago let leads against Mid and South Canterbury slip away at the Hanan Shield tournament in Waimate on Sunday.

The defending champion lost to South Canterbury 30-32 and Mid Canterbury 38-39 in a very tightly contested tournament at the Waimate Event Centre.

The Hanan Shield was won by Mid Canterbury.

But North Otago player-coach Rihi Schultz believes senior netball in North Otago is in good health.

North Otago’s Hanan Shield team was led by experienced hands like Schultz and Mel Smith, along with star defender Nicky Wallace, Steel signing Taneisha Fifita and rising Waitaki Girls’ High School stars Molly Hurst and Madaleine Mansfield.

Valley midcourter Mikayla Cleveland, Athletic wing defence Ella Francis and shooters Rebecca McIntyre (Kurow) and Nga Yaxley (Maheno) completed the squad.

Captain and defensive stalwart Wallace showed her class and experience for North Otago, combining well with Fifita and Smith.

“The whole defensive unit did really well – Taneisha, Nicky and Mel – they combined really well,” Schultz said.

A late addition to the squad, Mansfield stepped up at goal attack and was a standout in North Otago’s game against Mid Canterbury.

Mansfield relished the opportunity to wear the North Otago dress, after missing out on representing the region at the national under 19 age group tournament due to injury.

North Otago won the Hanan Shield in 2017 and 2018 and was feeling the pressure heading into Sunday’s tournament.

Schultz said the loss of Petra Aspros, who was absent on bereavement leave, and a limited amount of time training together was also felt.

“We had a target on our back seeing as we won the last two times,” she said.

“The other teams knew they had to bring their A game to beat us and I felt like they both definitely did that.

“They played their better games against us – when I was watching them play each other I was thinking to myself ‘how did we not beat them?’.”

With the absence of Aitkin Shield competition in recent years, the Hanan Shield tournament is usually the senior North Otago team’s only hit-out of the season.

But this year, North Otago hopes to enter a team in the new South Island Senior Championships being held in Dunedin from September 27 to 29.

The new premier-grade competition has been designed to provide a competitive platform to help develop and enhance senior players’ experience in the South Island, bringing back the rivalry of the regions that was once alive in the Lois Muir Challenge.

It will also provide opportunities for umpires, coaches and technical officials to be part of a high-level competition.

Schultz was excited for the new format competition that filled the gap for senior players who were still competing at a high level, but not at Beko standards.

Each team can only register one Beko and one ANZ Premiership player each and Schultz said North Otago was hoping to secure Jen O’Connell.