Southern Steel rookie Hayley Saunders had a simple but effective mindset when she was thrown off the bench and into the cauldron that is elite netball on Monday night.
With Erika Burgess hobbling off the court midway through the second quarter with a knock to her left ankle and no Sheryl Scanlan or Jenny Ferguson to call upon, Steel coach Robyn Broughton pointed to the 20-year-old midcourter and told her it was time to make her ANZ Championship debut in the wing defence role.
Talk about a baptism of fire. With the scores locked at 23-all and Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic on a seven game winning streak and looking to end Steel's season it was a pressure cooker situation, but Saunders was not fazed.
The born-and-bred Gore local and former St Peter's College head girl said the key to keeping her composure was not worrying about the reputations of the star players in the Magic side.
"You've got to treat them as players," Saunders said.
"If I'd gone out there and been like `I can't touch her' then I wouldn't have done any good. It was no faces, just bodies."
Saunders had an outstanding first match in the Steel colours in their upset 52-47 win and proved she can match it against some of the top players in the country.
She admitted to being starstruck in her first few minutes on court but, as she got more touches of the ball, she became more and more relaxed.
"I was nervous. I'm a nervous wreck usually," she said, laughing.
"It probably took two minutes (for the nerves to go). The girls were real good and I felt comfortable.
"It made me feel good ... It was definitely a step up. Mainly the ball speed is quicker."
Saunders' wonderful debut performance capped off an outstanding week for the young gun, who was named in the New Zealand under-21 netball side for the first time last week.
Burgess was full of praise for Saunders and said she had handled herself with aplomb.
"I though she played really well. She will take heaps of confidence from that. She should be proud," Burgess said.
"A team is only as strong as what you've got on your bench and we've definitely got options."
Burgess received physio on her ankle yesterday and was upbeat about being fit for Steel's next match against the Melbourne Vixens on Sunday in Dunedin.
- The Southland Times
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