Piling on a decisive second half, the NZU21s team secured a fourth Netball World Youth Cup title when fending off Australia 60-57 in a thrilling final in Botswana on Sunday.
In a memorable first, with the Netball World Youth Cup 2017 (NWYC2017) being held on the African continent for the first time, New Zealand created history by winning back-to-back titles for the first time in their history, defending the title they won in Scotland in 2013 while adding to the 1992 and 2005 editions.
The value of the new elite domestic competition, which was introduced this year, was highlighted in New Zealand’s unbeaten campaign in Botswana where six of the 12-strong NZU21s team were regular starters for their ANZ Premiership teams.
New Zealand employed the same starting seven as used in the semi-final, Australia having a slight edge through the opening exchanges against their trans-Tasman neighbours.
New Zealand squared up the scores midway through the quarter after the Australian shooting duo of Sasha Glasgow and Kiera Austin had pushed their team out to an early lead. The New Zealanders struggled a little to breach Australia’s defensive wall through the midcourt where they were forced to work overtime to move the ball forward.
Wing defence Jamie-Lee Price, who had played much of her earlier netball in New Zealand, and in-circle defender Tara Hinchcliffe were instrumental in disrupting New Zealand’s flow and it was an efficient Australia who had their noses in front 17-14 at the end of a high-scoring first quarter.
Pocket rocket centre Kimiora Poi was injected into the match midway through the second stanza, teaming with her Central Beko Netball League team-mate Mila Reuelu-Buchanan in lifting New Zealand’s attacking momentum.
Corresponding with the defensive pairing of Kelly Jury and captain Michaela Sokolich-Beatson tightening up under the Australian hoop, New Zealand staged a stirring closing half to the second stanza.
The long-limbed Jury became an increasingly influential figure, her disruption of the Australian shot and rebounding strength handing extra opportunities New Zealand’s way. As Australia’s shooting percentages fell away, New Zealand’s grew stronger when they trailed by just one, 28-27, at halftime.
Goal attack Monica Falkner was introduced for the second half, the seamless change coinciding with a telling third quarter from New Zealand.
Shooter Maia Wilson continued her outstanding tournament with a dominant display under New Zealand’s hoop, the dynamic midcourt pairing of Reuelu-Buchanan and Poi were pivotal in driving forward and finding the shooters while Sokolich-Beatson and Jury took the sting out of Australia’s scoring opportunities.
With New Zealand jumping out to a six-goal advantage and in control, Australia replaced Glasgow with towering shooter Emma Ryde in a bid to stem the flow. But it was the young women in black who went into the last break with all the momentum, when leading 45-41.
In a frenetic finish, Australia threw everything into their efforts as they tried desperately to reel in their old foes but anchored by their two Silver Ferns, Jury, the player of the match, and the rock-solid Wilson, New Zealand proved unshakeable.