Magic season over after valiant effort

By Ben Guild

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Julie Fitzgerald has achieved plenty in her first year at the helm of the Kia Waikato/Bay of Plenty Magic.
Julie Fitzgerald has achieved plenty in her first year at the helm of the Kia Waikato/Bay of Plenty Magic.

The Waikato/Bay of Plenty Magic failed to pull one last rabbit out of their hat against the Queensand Firebirds in Brisbane on last night, but that does not mean their season should be regarded as a failure.

Largely written off before the season began under new coach Julie Fitzgerald as a team intent on rebuilding, the Magic ambushed the competition with five straight wins and led the competition with seven victories from their first eight starts.

There is no shame in losing 50-54 away from home to the Firebirds, but if the coaching staff and players have any regrets about the match it will be that they had to get on a plane to play it.

A pair of loses to the otherwise inconsistent Central Pulse and an inexplicable five-goal loss to the Southern Steel in Invercagil will be what hurts most.

Those losses meant the team was always going to have to win over the ditch in successive weeks to advance in the playoffs, and that was always likely to prove a bridge too far.

Last week's come-from-behind win over the NSW Swifts was exciting and proof Fitzgerald's systems are bearing fruit, but for this year at least that was not enough to prevent an all-Australian final for the second straight season.

The Magic were unable to capitalise on an uncharacteritically errant start from Firebirds ace Romelda Aiken, with Jo Harten having her own shooting struggles as the home side went into the first break 14-13.

The lead was 29-26 at the half, before a string of seven straight goals blew the game open in the third period.

The Firebirds led 38-30 and were able to withstand one last Magic run to claim a deserved victory on their home court.

Despite the loss, captain Casey Kopua was proud to have led the best performed New Zealand franchise with the distinction of being the competition's only side to have made the playoffs every year.

"We exceeded everybody's expectations in getting to this point and I'm just so proud of the girls. We worked so hard and left everything out there on court," she said.

"There were a few tears in the huddle, but I'm just so proud of the girls, our journey this year has been huge."

- Bay of Plenty Times

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