Waikato in the hunt for first division title

EVAN PEGDEN
Last updated 05:00 05/10/2012

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The last time Waikato reached a national first division netball final this year's coach Rebecca Gabel was playing in the side.

That was in 2006 in Auckland and Waikato went on to win the title.

Six years later Waikato have gone all the way to the final in convincing style in their first season back in the national provincial championship's top division, having won promotion from division two last season.

The second-seeded Waikato team brushed aside Auckland-Waitakere 61-49 at Tect Arena, Mt Maunganui, in yesterday's semifinals and will take on Otago in today's final at 4pm.

Yesterday Otago upset top qualifiers and defending champions Canterbury 61-50 in the other semifinal.

"Some of these girls have never played in first division at NPC so for us to make the final is a pretty big achievement in our first year back in the top grade," Gabel said.

"[Today] we've got nothing to lose and we're just going to go out and give it everything we've got."

Waikato played Otago in the first round of the championship in Dunedin five weeks ago and came away with a 56-56 draw.

Gabel said she was proud of her team's achievement and said it was the result of a lot of hard work by the players.

"They are a determined bunch, a tight unit and just really enjoyable to coach."

Adjustments would be made for Otago, including a plan to shut down standout goal shoot Paea Selby-Rickit, but the majority of their game plan would not change, she said.

Waikato led most of the way against Auckland-Waitakere, although it was close for a while. They led 12-10 at the end of the first quarter, 30-23 at halftime and 46-36 when the third quarter finished.

Goal attack Jessie Waitapu did the majority of Waikato's scoring, shooting 37 from 44 attempts, while goal shoot Elsa Brown scored from 23 of her 27 shots at goal. Waitapu went to wing attack towards the end to give Jess Tuki a rest and get Haylee Stockman on for some big-game experience.

"It was definitely an improvement on [Wednesday]. I felt we let the ball go a lot more [yesterday] and we played with a bit more confidence.

"It was about having nothing to lose and having confidence in our structures."

Gabel said the team had played well as a unit with good links between the three sections of the court but praised the work in the defensive circle of Rachel Fabling and Aimee Christophers.

"They really lifted their intensity and gained valuable possession, which we managed to score off," she said.

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- Waikato Times

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