THE first match back of the ANZ Premiership since the COVID-19 lockdown did not disappoint, as the Northern Mystics came out with a point to prove and blew the Waikato Bay of Plenty (WBOP) Magic out of the water as they did so. While Magic may have had a more expansive and experienced midcourt, it was Mystics’ young attack line and experienced defence that held down the fort, battering the Magic with their accuracy and impressing with the wealth of talent they possessed on their way to a 47-40 win.
In what was a messy start for both teams, neither could really find much clean possession with the defensive pressure starting out strong and not really letting up throughout. Mystics got the first four goals on the board and while they had the edge, Magic were not far behind and kept evening up the ledger with the talent at their disposal. Always a threatening figure at the post, young gun Grace Nweke did not disappoint, using her clean hands and strength to hold ground in the circle and take possession with ease. While many speculated about how the Mystics would cope without the experience of level-headed goaler Bailey Mes due to injury, the side flew out of the blocks with all three young goalers taking the court and finding purchase at the post.
With average passes floating around from both teams, neither the Mystics or Magic were as clean as they wanted to be, though it did mean the defending players were able to propel the ball back down court with ease as the match turned to a more defensive show after the first. A tight first quarter culminated in a close three goal margin heading into the second, with the Mystics leading marginally throughout thanks to Nweke’s dominance and stellar work rate from the likes of Peta Toeava and Tayla Earle who were workhorses through the midcourt.
The second quarter saw Erena Mikaere come out of her shell and begin adding her own flair to the match, using her clever ball use and instinctive leap to close in on the loose ball and create intercepts. With messy passes dominating the possessions, both teams were able to capitalise on the others’ messiness to create attacking forays, and while the scores drew even throughout the second, at one point sitting on 16 goals apiece, it did not take long for Mystics to stabilise and take out a four goal lead heading into the half time break (22-18). Mystics centre, Earle also put on a show, using her tenacious chase for the ball to open up space for turnovers, and using her clean footwork to stay on side and remain a consistent threat defensively, which provided a crucial balance with Toeava consistent to a t in attack.
While it was the second term where Magic’s defence really came alive, the third was when the attack took charge and while Kelsey McPhee was not the most accurate, she took her chances to provide a moving option inside the circle rather than a typical holding tall, using her clever connection with Abigail Latu-Meafou to hold up in attack and sink the long bomb. But where McPhee picked up her game, using plenty of backup provided by the ever consistent Sam Winders, the likes of Nweke found plenty of ball as Toeava raced around attack, setting up play and evading her opposition with ease. Meanwhile, defensive efforts from Phoenix Karaka and Sulu Fitzpatrick continued to dog every Magic move both inside and outside the circle, finding plenty of the ball as they used their clever rotation and intensity to steal back crucial ball.
Whitney Souness and Winders used their experience to create plenty of movement through the midcourt as did Ariana Cable-Dixon, and while there were a couple of shuffles the trio was relatively clean and composed up in the contest, using their smooth play to drive in attack and evade the arms of Fitzpatrick and Karaka as they fed into the circle. With plenty of argy bargy and defenders using quick wits and footwork to outplay their opposition, both teams were tight in the final quarter but it was Mystics that found the form to collect their second win of the season, reigning supreme by seven goals (47-40).
Leading the stats sheet for intercepts were Mikaere and Earle, both racking up four and finding plenty of purchase defensively, while Karaka was not far behind with three intercepts. Nweke was accurate to post with 41 goals from 45 attempts followed by Magic’s shared load in McPhee (26 from 38) and Latu-Meafou (14 from 18), thanks to the equally shard feeding effort from Souness and Cable-Dixon who racked up 20 and 24 feeds respectively. Meanwhile, Toeava dominated on circle edge with 27 assists from 33 feeds, cleanly disposing of the ball to Nweke and using her flair to consistently put the ball into open space. As for penalty count, Mikaere topped the overall tally with 14, a whopping ten more than her next teammates in line, while Toeava collected six to top the Mystics’ sheet, as the side proved much cleaner off the ball.
Both teams escape playing a second match this round, as Magic takes on Mainland Tactix next Friday while Mystics take on Southern Steel (Saturday) and Pulse (Monday).
GS: Kelsey McPhee
GA: Abigail Latu-Meafou
WA: Whitney Souness
C: Ariana Cable-Dixon
WD: Sam Winders
GD: Holly Fowler
GK: Erena Mikaere
GS: Grace Nweke
GA: Asher Grapes
WA: Peta Toeava
C: Tayla Earle
WD: Emily Burgess
GD: Phoenix Karaka
GK: Sulu Fitzpatrick