Club netball in Southland steps up a level tonight with the start of the Southland-wide League.
Incorporating eight teams from three of the four netball centres in Southland, the league is played over nine weeks in venues around the province.
It is made up of the top-six teams from last year and two teams from a recent challenge competition.
Central Southland Netball Centre teams Limehills and Central Southland College earned a place in Southland's premier netball competition after their own already fierce Saturday morning competition. While Central Southland College has lost a few school-leavers from its roster, the Debbie Munro-coached team has been gaining momentum with Courtney O'Callaghan and Georgia Holt leading the way.
Limehills reads like a Central Southland College team of 10 years ago. Boasting well-known athletes Kerri Neylon and Rachel Langford, they are joined this year by former Rata shooter Shelly Price and recently returned defender Sonia Donnelly.
It will be out of the frying pan and into the fire for both Winton teams as they face last year's winners and runners-up, St Mary's Men and United, respectively, in the first round tonight.
The Invercargill Netball Centre-affiliated St Mary's Men's team debuted in the Southland-wide League in 2004. The only men's team in Southland, it retains the core group of players from last year, including New Zealand men's representative Waaka Parkinson, NZ under-19 representatives Jared Simpson and university student Alex Blair, who will travel home from Dunedin to get game time.
The team continues to attract players into its ranks, with three new players in its makeup this year.
United is also affiliate to the Invercargill Netball Centre but does not take part in the centre's Saturday competition.
Team convener Reinga Te Huia has regathered the entire team roster from last year, including several former Southland and Southern Sting players. Headlining United will again be Donna Wilkins and, with Te Huia also on the team sheet, the royal blue and red team will be pushing for the title that eluded them last year.
St Mary's were first hit with the loss of Alice Telfer from their Saturday team and then again with injury to their ring-in Aliyah Dunn during training. Coach Rata Hopa has had to look further afield for playing numbers.
Coming into the team is Drummond's Anna Telfer, who provides significant height and reach at either end of the court. Add the experience of Joanna Telfer in the midcourt and in-form shooter Memory McLeod and St Mary's will be looking to topple a top seed to place better than their third of last year.
Gore Netball Centre's Ex-High have been a force to be reckoned with in recent years but without the services of lanky shooter Ashleigh Smith and the dynamic defensive duo of Krishanee Tamou (injury) and Dana Bond (overseas), coach Colleen Bond has had to pull out all the stops to field a starting seven. Nevertheless, reliable shooter Melissa Rodgers and younger Smith, Lauren, will ably anchor the side from the shooting circle.
Ex-High will face a tenacious Rata side first up and will have to have their wits about them to overcome the growing strength of the Sarah Harvey-coached side. Harvey has acquired young shooter Grace Earland to compliment her experienced front line of Noella Flowers and Margot Norman.
Combined with the persistent defensive unit of Kristina Mason and Rachael Fahy, Rata will be a team not to be trifled with this year.
Southland Girls' High School's Senior A team was brilliant in the national College Netball scene earlier this year but still have a mighty season ahead of them. Their first game looms against St Mary's.
Even with experience on their side, St Mary's will be hard pushed not to lose turnover ball to the Girls' defensive unit of Louise Calder and Laura Overton. Calder has been thriving under coach Natalie Avellino this year and is adept at taking any likely opposition cross-court pass.
The last time the two teams met was in Saturday competition and saw St Mary's take a 10-point win, although Girls' High started slowly then.
All teams will play at the Central Southland Indoor Centre on John Street, Winton. Games are played in two rounds, at 6.30pm and 8pm.
- The Southland Times