Netball: Magic wary of cellar dwellers

Winning crunch games has become synonymous with Kia Magic and it's a familiar setting for their ANZ Championship netball outing against Northern Mystics in Auckland tonight.

Back-to-back wins against Queensland Firebirds and Southern Steel have kept the defending champions' hopes of a place in the finals series alive but they remain on guard.

Mystics have endured a miserable season and sit anchored at the foot of the table with just one win but there is a feeling they will unleash something special before season's end and could yet prove the classic spoilers.

"Mystics and Magic have a great rivalry and they're likely to come up with a big game because they hate losing to Magic. And they're at home, everyone loves playing at home," Magic goal attack Ellen Halpenny said.

"They haven't had the best of seasons but they upset the Pulse and the Pulse are no easy beats, so you never know on the day and we've just got to make sure we bring our A game."

After transferring from Tactix to the Waikato/Bay of Plenty side during the off-season, Halpenny's game has continued to gain momentum, the strongly-built shooter proving a great foil for evergreen shooter Irene van Dyk with her ability to create play, shoulder the shooting load when required and get up for rebounds.

The former New Zealand under-21 player has stood up admirably in the must-win encounters of the previous two weeks and while downplaying her own form is thriving in the Magic environment.

"I still think there's heaps to work on but I'm loving learning off Noeline [Taurua, coach], Irene, Laura [Langman] and Khao [Watts] ... just the little things you learn from them," she said.

"I feel really lucky that I've actually got the chance to be coached by Noeline. With her finishing at the end of the year, she might never coach again, you don't know what she's going to do in the future, so I have been really fortunate to get this time with her."

It is only in recent weeks that Halpenny, 22, has been offered full games, initially sharing the role with Jess Waitapu but with time under her belt, is now building a fruitful partnership with van Dyk, the world's most capped netballer.

"I love playing alongside Irene, she is just so encouraging," Halpenny said. "I think she had an amazing game against Steel [last round] and just really stood up for the team. She took a lot of the pressure but she loves it and she showed us how good she is."

Halpenny shows little emotion on court and is not fazed by what's thrown her way, saying: "What you see on my face is how I feel".

With Magic's attack line showing continued improvement, there's no slacking off for Halpenny and what they need to produce against Mystics.

"We've got to keep working on our structures and still make sure our toolbox is full when it comes to our range of options for any opponents," she said. "We don't want to just be one page of the book, we have to have alternatives for different situations."

It is a totally different environment from where she has come, with the foundation Tactix member registering many more losses than wins during her career in the league.

"It's a weird feeling to be winning more consistently," she said. "You can have a crap game and still win which is a very weird feeling to me. I'm used to having a crap game and losing and that's not a nice feeling. So, it's nice to be able to gain positives from winning when you are not necessarily playing that well.

"I am really enjoying winning and it makes getting up for the next week a lot easier."

- Hamilton News

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