Shooters adapt to seize series
In a team of young inexperienced netballers, a mature, player-led decision to address their shooting problems helped the New Zealand team win the FastNet World Series.
New Zealand's shooting end, led by Canterbury's Anna Thompson and Ellen Halpenny, had struggled throughout the opening two days of the six-team tournament in Liverpool.
The defending champion New Zealand side scraped through pool play into the last semifinal spot where they met top qualifier Jamaica.
They yesterday beat the Sunshine Girls 29-28 before beating England 28-26 in the final.
England were two points – one power-play goal – behind with 40 seconds to go, but a crucial Charlotte Kight turnover took the game away from England.
The English regathered possession, but with only five seconds left on the clock they were unable to score, handing New Zealand their second FastNet win.
"It was so exciting," Thompson said. "It was just awesome."
During earlier losses to England and Australia and sneaking past minnows Malawi in the round-robin games, the Robyn Broughton-coached side's shooting was poor.
Their tactic was to ignore the two pointers on offer for shots from outside the circle, but when they continually missed shots from under the post, they handed over valuable possession.
"Scoring off our own passes was so important because the games are so short, you don't have time to play catchup," Thompson said.
The attacking end knew they could be the catalyst to help their side retain the title won in Manchester last year.
While Broughton helped them, it was the players who made the first moves.
"We had nerves in the first few games. It showed and you can't have those lapses at this level," Thompson said.
"First and foremost it's player driven. We knew we weren't shooting well enough so we addressed it. We're the ones with the shooting letters on our bibs, it's our job, our responsibility," Thompson said.
Broughton said the players became more clinical, but they also got tougher next to the hoop under pressure from the physical defences.
Thompson said the longer the tournament went, the better their combinations gelled. Had the side had more time together they wouldn't have been embarrassed by the Australians in the first game.
"If we were to play Australia now I'd be confident we could beat them."
Thompson, the only New Zealand player to be part of last year's team, said winning the competition with only one player from the gold medal-winning Commonwealth Games side meant Netball New Zealand must be doing things right.
"It's fantastic for us and fantastic for Netball New Zealand.
"It shows their systems are working. After winning the Commonwealth Games and only Grace [Rasmussen] was part of that team then we still went on to win another international tournament. And you can tell by the scores in the finals it was a tough, close competition."
The New Zealanders were criticised for holding their power play to the last quarter in each game, but Thompson said that gave them an edge.
"The other teams had to wait to see what we did. If you take them at different times, the opposition can just hold on to the ball and kill time. In that regard we did well and I think Robyn and [assistant coach] Janine [Southby] had it right. Well, it worked for us didn't it?"
Final: New Zealand 28 England 26
Third place: Jamaica 30 Australia 29
Semifinals: New Zealand 29 Jamaica 28, England 26 Australia 25