Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Netball: Harrison gives the Mystics a great lift

Anna Harrison of the Mystics blocks the shot of Karen Howarth  of the Vixens. Photo / Geetty Images
Anna Harrison of the Mystics blocks the shot of Karen Howarth of the Vixens. Photo / Geetty Images

Mystics 49
Vixens 45

A controversial defensive tactic not seen in the transtasman league catapulted the Northern Mystics to a breakthrough win over the Vixens in Melbourne yesterday.

The innovation, in which defender Anna Harrison was hoisted into the air by her defensive partner to block a shot, was the key talking point of a brilliant all-round performance from the Mystics.

The win could prove a turning point for the Auckland side, who have been steady without being spectacular over the first half of the season.

It was the first time the Mystics have got one over the Vixens on their home turf, and only their second regular season win on Australian soil in 4 seasons of the league.

Big defensive plays provided the inspiration for the win, with Harrison's hoist the standout.

The veteran defender drew gasps from the crowd before halftime when she elevated her wiry frame above the rim to pluck a shot from Tegan Caldwell out of the air.

Then in the final quarter, as the Vixens were making their now customary late charge, she was twice hoisted by Jessica Moulds to intercept goal-bound attempts by replacement shooter Karyn Howarth.

While the shock tactics caught both the opposition and commentators off guard, Mystics coach Debbie Fuller said they had worked on the defensive lift for the past month.

"I sat [the defenders] down in training one day and said 'I want you to try this, and if we're going to do it, we're going to do it properly'," said Fuller. "They've spent a lot of extra time working on it, and we've really studied the science of it."

In Harrison the Mystics had the perfect prototype for the defensive experiment - she has a long, lean physique, a superb standing jump and exceptional timing, honed from her three years on the professional beach volleyball circuit.

But the strategy has proved controversial with social networking sites abuzz last night with claims of cheating.

Some may view goal tending as not in the spirit of the game, but so long as the defensive player does not interfere with the goal or net, there is nothing in the rule book to suggest it is illegal.

Vixens coach Julie Hoornweg said she had absolutely no problems with Mystics tactics, admitting it was something her side had tried in training.

"We have practised it, but we don't have the same elevation as a Harrison. I think a lot of teams have thought about it and tried it, but you need to have a very tall player with great elevation to pull it off."

Harrison's impact yesterday may prompt their rivals to look at the ploy more seriously in training. But Fuller is not worried.

"Teams could potentially do it against us, but our shooters have been training against it for the past month, so they've developed strategies to prevent it from happening."

While Harrison's unorthodox defensive work was a feature of the Mystics' strongest performance of their campaign, shooters Cathrine Latu and Maria Tutaia combined to ensure the visitors had a big enough buffer to protect down the stretch.

Tutaia finished with shooting statistics of 26/34, contributing more goals than Latu (23/24).

- NZ Herald

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