The big question on everyone’s lips as the top four premier netball teams approach tonight’s semi finals is, “how do you stop Tokomaru?”.
The Picton-based club have set the pace since the outset of this COVID-abbreviated season and the ease with which they disposed of one of their main rivals last week at Stadium 2000 suggests the answer to the previous question has not yet been found.
With the four semi finalists confirmed last week, Tuesday’s games were just about pride and momentum leading into play-off time.
While Toko obviously have plenty of both, judging by their 57-35 win over Harlequins, SMOG, their rivals in next Tuesday’s semi, lost impetus, going down 57-55 to the vastly-improved Marlborough Girls’ College outfit.
The night’s third match saw a brave effort from Awatere come up short as they went down to Pelorus 54-41 after dominating the early stages.
Pelorus will meet Harlequins in the other semi final, the fact the sides are tied on points after two rounds indicating the expected closeness of this match-up.
The Quins will go away and regroup after last week’s effort and, as they invariably do, come back stronger next week.
They struggled to restrict Toko’s scoring, losing both the first and second quarters by seven goals as the Picton side put up 37 shots to Quins’ 21.
Despite regular goal attack Gemma Hika sitting this one out, Toko were well-served in the shooting circle by Dana Wilson and the formidable Haze Tepuia, with 91 percent shooting.
Defensively they continue to impress, Eden Te Huki, Chloe Devir and Michaela Boaz part of a line-up that went unchanged for the whole match.
Defender Katie Cunningham impressed as a second half sub for Quins, Stacey Hopkins shot accurately and Simone Pedersen showed her full range of skills with handy stints at both wing attack and goal attack.
The match of the evening was undoubtedly the first encounter, which went right down to the wire.
The students signed off their 2020 season with an exclamation mark, hanging tough to get the result despite a late SMOG comeback.
In this game of swings and roundabouts each side enjoyed periods of dominance, MGC holding a seven-goal lead at one stage in the third quarter.
However, that was reduced to two by the time the final stanza began and, with defence dominating proceedings, each goal became crucial as time ticked by. With possession evenly shared SMOG went on a run to edge ahead by one with six minutes remaining, but the students were not to be denied, shooter Taila Town landing a couple of crucial goals to get the job done.
Their defensive pairing of Taryn Breen and skipper Mya Wiapo was again outstanding, along with middie Anika Moetaua and the returning Fiaalii Solomona.
SMOG have a major hurdle in front of them if they are to tip over Toko, but have the big-match experience to do just that, in the shape of defenders Bonnie Morris and Karli Murphy, Katie Bradley and Anna Thomas, plus reliable shooters Kate Gaudin and Anna Gardiner.
Awatere began their final match of the season as if they had a train to catch, leading 17-7 early in the second quarter. However, Pelorus introduced key shooter Paige Lovell at that stage and the game changed. Lovell landed 13 goals as the Tussocks’ intensity waned, bringing her side right back into a game that seemed to be slipping away.
By halftime Awatere led 24-23, but that was as close as they got thereafter, a 17-4 third quarter firmly shutting the gate on their hopes of a final night upset, although they fought to the finish with a tight fourth quarter.
Lovell was obviously a key figure in this one, her return from injury providing composure and experience under the hoop. Also returning from injury was Awatere “spark plug” Nicole Witterick, the mobile middie lifting her team mates.
Laura Murphy, Kelsie Fitzpatrick and Oriana Houra also shone for Pelorus, while Harriet Ryan, Kim Andrews and Ashley Childs stood out for the Tussocks.
Marlborough Girls’ College NZ King Salmon 57 (Taila Town 27/36, Fiaalii Solomona 30/42) SMOG Good Home 55 (Kate Gaudin 21/26, Anna Gardiner 34/40). Quarter scores (winning team first): 14-18, 14-11, 18-15, 11-11.
Pelorus Edridge Contracting 54 (Olivia Pinkerton 11/16, Courtney Avery 3/10, Paige Lovell 40/52) Awatere 41 (Aimee Jones 34/56, Ashley Childs 7/14). Quarter scores: 6-13, 17-11, 17-4, 14-13.
Tokomaru Crafar Crouch Picton 57 (Haze Tepuia 42/46, Dana Wilson 15/25) Harlequins New World 35 (Stacey Hopkins 16/20, Lauren Murray 11/17, Simone Pedersen 8/16). Quarter scores: 15-8, 14-7, 13-10, 15-10.
Standings after round robin play: Tokomaru 30, Harlequins 20, Pelorus 20, SMOG 15, MGC 13, Awatere 1.
Semifinals: Tokomaru v SMOG; Harlequins V Pelorus.