Netball: Mystics' youth have their day

By Dana Johannsen

Bailey Mes of the Mystics stakes a shot on goal. Photo / Getty Images
Bailey Mes of the Mystics stakes a shot on goal. Photo / Getty Images

A rookie Northern Mystics line-up has claimed their first big scalp of the 2011 transtasman league, upsetting competition heavyweights the Melbourne Vixens last night.

It is just the third time in four seasons the Mystics have registered a win against an Australian side following victories against the Thunderbirds and Fever last season.

But this win will likely be their most satisfying given the Mystics fought their way back from a 26-31 halftime deficit led by spirited performances from some of their youngsters.

With experienced defenders Joline Henry and Rachel Rasmussen nursing ankle injuries, the Mystics were forced to blood two new players against the star-studded Vixens line-up.

Young defender Jess Moulds made her ANZ Championship debut, thrust into the starting line-up at goal keep, while the previously unknown Portia Woodman, a Mystics development player, was injected into the game at halftime at wing defence.

Add into the mix 19-year-old Kayla Cullen, who split her time between wing defence and goal defence, and it was a very green Mystics defensive side that could have easily been rattled by the prospect of taking on seasoned Australian veterans such as Sharelle McMahon and Kate Beveridge.

Mystics coach Debbie Fuller was delighted with her youngsters. "We had young bucks out there that showed their mettle and proved they could match the Australian style and I was really proud of them tonight," she said.

After a slow start, in which the Mystics found themselves down by four goals at halftime, the home side found their rhythm in the third period after some smart changes by Fuller.

Woodman came on at wing defence, allowing Cullen to slot into her more favoured position of goal defence and Silver Fern star Anna Scarlett to move back to mark the Vixens tall target, Beveridge.

In a match-up that pitted two of the most theatrical players in the league against one another, Scarlett had a fierce and entertaining battle with Vixens captain McMahon in the first half. But she was much more productive back at goal keep, where she forced turnover after turnover.

That saw the Mystics claw their way back to within one of the visitors heading into the final spell.

Fuller still had one more trick up her sleeve, making the gutsy call to bench Silver Ferns shooter Maria Tutaia, who had shot just 11 from 16 in the first three quarters, and bringing on veteran attacker Megan Dehn.

It may not be a popular move from the Netball New Zealand hierarchy's point of view, but Dehn's experience was crucial down the final stretch as she settled the Mystics attack whenever they threatened to lose their cool.

Having been let down by a meek fourth-quarter performance in their last outing against the Magic, Mystics captain Temepara George was pleased with the composure and execution her side demonstrated in the pressure-filled final stages.

"We've always been guilty of losing it in the last quarter, so it was really good to go out there and nail it," she said.

The Mystics would admit they were helped by the local officiating though, as the Vixens defenders struggled with some of the rule interpretations.

Bianca Chatfield and English goal keep Geva Mentor found themselves in the right position to pick up good ball on occasion only to draw the whistle of the umpires. The Vixens were penalised 71 times to the Mystics 46, and by the end of the match the frustration was written on the players' faces.

McMahon said the penalty count was disappointing.

"It's hard I guess when you're not quite sure what the calls are, we were trying to get ourselves in the right position, but unfortunately we were just out of play a lot," said McMahon.

- NZ Herald

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