Netball: All systems go for the youngsters

By Michelle Whiteford

New Zealand's under-21 team will touch down in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on Sunday, excited but apprehensive about their prospects in the World Youth Cup.

The team, coached by former Silver Fern Te Aroha Keenan, have had a good build-up to the championship, playing three matches against a New South Wales Institute of Sport team last week.

"New South Wales brought that Australian style," Keenan said.

"We tried different combinations and stuck to giving the girls time on court, so it was great to see in our final match we beat them by 21, which was our biggest score."

The side left on Wednesday for Brisbane, where they will play the Queensland Firebirds in a series of training matches before departing for Fort Lauderdale.

The 10-day tournament starts on Thursday.

"I believe the players needed to get away. They still had some distractions in New Zealand and I think once we're away we will start nailing those combinations."

New Zealand have been drawn in pool C to play Wales, Northern Ireland, Botswana and Antigua and Bermuda.

Keenan said that every game would be used as an opportunity to get players on court and ensure that they were efficient in their game.

"It's going to be very hard, but we'll set clear goals. It might be that we want to get 30 points each quarter; it might be to shut them down or play a zone," she said.

"We'll just look at what will challenge us."

The team's major threats come from traditional rivals Australia, Jamaica and England.

In February, New Zealand toured Jamaica where they won a series against the home side 2-1 and scored narrow victories over Australia and England.

Keenan was not sure which one of three traditional netball giants would be the toughest to beat in a competition that will test each side's level of fitness.

"Jamaica are looking very strong, they've got a young side and a lot of their players are also in the top side who played at the world champs," she said

"England have really improved, they play a more structured game, they've got some very athletic players, so they are looking quite good."

New Zealand have traditionally not been able to match the Australians to the end.

In February, though, they managed to hang on for the win after pulling back in the final quarter.

"It's definitely there for us, we've just got to not let them get ahead at any time," Keenan said.

Most of the team played their first season in the National Bank Cup this year and are fortunate to have experience in Silver Ferns Laura Langman and Casey Williams, and also Rachel Rasmussen, the only surviving member of the 2000 World Cup side.

Keenan says Langman and Williams bring mental toughness, athleticism and experience to the side.

And Rasmussen, having been to the last World Cup, knows what it is going to be like.

"She brings with her that experience," Keenan said.

"Rachel's been a great team member, so we value her experience.

"It's all very exciting. They're keen to watch their backs and make sure they do everything they need to do to ensure that they are totally prepared.

"The practice and the training stuff has just about ended and what we've been striving for over the past two years is going to happen."

* The World Youth Cup

Where: Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Duration: 10-day tournament starting on Tuesday.

How they line up -

Pool A: Australia, St Lucia, Malaysia, Cook Islands, Scotland.
Pool B: Jamaica, Canada, US, South Africa, Bermuda.
Pool C: New Zealand, Antigua and Bermuda, Wales, Northern Ireland, Botswana.
Pool D: England, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, Fiji and Samoa.

NZ draw

July 22: v Botswana.
July 23: v Northern Ireland.
July 24: No game.
July 25: v Antigua.
July 26: v Wales.
July 27 -29: Teams regrouped.
July 30: Playoffs.
July 31: Final.

Final standings in 2000

1: Australia.
2: Jamaica.
3: New Zealand.
4: England.
5: South Africa.
6: Scotland.
7: Wales.
8: Malaysia.
9: Singapore.
10: Sri Lanka.
11: Republic of Ireland.
12: Canada.

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