The Northern Mystics plans to follow one notable trans-Tasman netball championship achievement with another were literally blown away in Sydney last night as the NSW Swifts reinvigorated their title challenge with an ultimately one-sided 53-46 victory.
They created franchise history last week with their first win in Australia at the far flung West Coast Fever but another hoodoo extended as the Mystics were unable to beat the Swifts for the first time since the inaugural championship in 2008.
The only statistics the Mystics dominated were unwanted as umpires Sharon Kelly and Jemma Carlton found fault with the Aucklanders from practically the first centre pass. At the final whistle the penalty count was a crippling 75-48 against the visitors.
Although the Mystics did well to peg back a 16-goal deficit during the penultimate quarter the damage was irreparable and far-reaching - New Zealand's serial under achievers drop out of the top four with just two rounds remaining.
The Swifts take their place.
Catherine Latu and Megan Dehn produced a perfect shooting effort in the opening quarter but it was nothing to be proud of from the Mystics viewpoint as they trailed 14-9.
After the first 15 minutes the penalty count was already 22-7 in the Swifts favour and the trend continued.
An 11-3 turnover rate also counted in the opening quarter against the Mystics as Catherine Cox and Susan Pratley had the luxury of making 13 extra attempts than their counterparts in the first quarter, a massive 28 more by halftime.
It was a minor miracle the Swifts only led by 14 despite dominating possession -- not that inaccuracy in the shooting circle was ever going to be costly. Cox (37/48) and Pratley (16/23) did not need to be in vintage form.
Mystics coach Debbie Fuller, back courtside after maternity leave, understandably made tactical changes at the first available opportunity.
Dehn reverted to wing attack for Grace Rasmussen while Maria Tutaia -- who started on the bench after falling ill yesterday -- renewed her effective partnership with Latu and eventually goaled a defiant 26 from 29 attempts.
At the defensive end Rachel Rasmussen, who was outstanding against the Fever despite being troubled by a leg injury, replaced Kayla Cullen to keep tabs on Cox.
Unfortunately for the Mystics their plight went from bad to worse before the main break as the Swifts lead blew out to 34-20 as the New Zealanders continued infringing at an alarming rate.
By the time the mystified Mystics headed for another Fuller pep talk, they had been whistled for 41 contact and obstruction penalties; the Swifts were practically lily white in comparison by conceding just 14 -- a huge disparity.
Ball security also continued to undermine the Mystics -- they had surrendered possession 15 times to the Swifts five at the midway point, again making Latu's flawless effort immaterial.
Needing a remarkable transformation from her personnel -- and the umpires -- Fuller spelled Dehn for Grace Rasmussen in the third quarter but the Swifts still held a 10-goal advantage into the home stretch.
Despite her unerring accuracy Latu was a picture of frustration under the hoop -- Sonia Mkoloma kept her tightly marked and when she was judged too slow to make a shot by Kelly while the English defender had a palm on the ball, she looked to the heavens.
Latu's anguish ended as she sat out the final quarter to give Bailey Mes some character building minutes. Sadly Grace Rasmussen also ended the match on the sidelines after suffering a knee injury that looks certain to rule her out of July's world championships.
In a solitary positive for the Mystics -- and New Zealand coach Ruth Aitken -- defender Joline Henry worked a full shift at wing defence in her latest return from an ankle injury.
The Mystics can also take solace from drawing the bottom-placed Canterbury Tactix on Sunday; the Swifts open the round against the Southern Steel in Invercargill next Thursday.
- NZPABy Chris Barclay