Once sport teams start gravitating towards the dreaded relegation zone, the season often begins to feel like a lousy internet connection, where the hour glass triggers off a freeze that tends to hold website downloads to ransom for endless clicks.
With four games to go in the shield round, no one knows that better then the netball teams languishing at the bottom of the Karamu Holden Super 8 competition in Hawke's Bay.
Hastings Girls' High School and Napier Girls' High School Senior A, to be more precise, are flirting with relegation from the elite senior women's indoor Friday night competition to a Saturday morning outdoor one.
The schoolgirls remain win-less after three rounds last Friday at the Pettigrew-Green Arena in Napier although defending champions NGHS have an easier pathway to HGHS in the next four rounds as well as a more robust goal difference.
Outkast Optimise Physio are on the top perch of the ladder after beating HGHS 39-24 while All In, also unbeaten on 12 points, eclipsed Central Sports Vet Services 51-44 to sit in second place on an inferior goal difference.
In other games, Otane Thirsty Whale outmuscled Havelock North House of Travel Kauri 44-34 while third-placed Hastings High School Old Girls' Proactive Huia had the measure of NGHS with NGHS, 41-36, to remain unbeaten albeit statistically shy on account of a draw.
Outkast face All In at Woodford House at 7.30pm this Friday to separate the women from the girls, as it were.
But Hawke's Bay Netball operations manager Tina Arlidge said it need not be all doom and gloom to drop to the second-tier Saturday competition.
"Hastings Girls have had different starts and one proper training so, I think, they can only get better but it might be just a little too late for them," said Arlidge, although she said Saturdays would still immensely benefit the schoolgirls," Arlidge said.
"They'll still be coming up against some very good club teams even if they do get put down so, I guess, that's the sort of message we want to get out there."
She said the formula was working and NGHS was testimony of that because their losses to date had been narrow.
"In two previous [Super 8] competitions it was pretty predictable who was going to win but [not this season]," she said.
Clarifying assertions from some other team advocates that schoolgirls should also be part of the grading tournament to ascertain their strength into Super 8, she said they didn't have the "lead-in" to be ready in January.
Conversely, if clubs pick up the schoolgirls they would be scattered across the region.
"The pathway for those girls isn't in playing for a club because it'll take them nowhere if they want to take it to the next level," said Arlidge, emphasising they would end up warming the benches or lose touch with elite selectors for representative age-group honours, such as the lower North Island and secondary schools.
She said there was a tendency to "not give it their best", thereby making the schoolgirls available for clubs which "makes it messy".
Many schoolgirls, Arlidge said, ended up playing for their schools, rep teams and clubs so it resulted in replication of just as many training sessions and games.
"It's way too much on their player workload and that's when injuries arise and all that sort of stuff," she said, not to mention the academic demands over that duration.
The yawning results from the opening round of Super 12 school games — NGHS beat Scared Heart 42-12 and HGHS beat William Colenso 53-7 — showed they weren't receiving adequate competition to prepare against tougher Wellington rivals for the lower North Island platform.
Arlidge said the reactions from Super 8 graded contenders was "probably the clubs not necessarily knowing the bigger picture".
A cursory glance at successful secondary schools' regions, she said, revealed they were using a similar formula to bring out the best in their players.
Arlidge said it could possibly be NGHS and Havelock North High School Senior A, for argument's sake, in the top echelons next season. The fear of teams losing their strength due to players leaving school was understandable, but summer codes kicking in early in the year also put a spanner in their works.
On Friday, HGHS were down 8-6 in the first quarter, 16-13 at half time and 26-19 in the third one.
Goal defence Luatolu Semisi and goal keep Dilimor Lima had the onerous task of keeping out Outkast forager Rakei Sa'ena who scored 35 of her 39 attempts at goal. HGHS only shot at 57 per cent overall compared with Outkast's 70.
Coach Denise Aiolupotea said relegation looked imminent but it would be good exposure for her schoolgirls on Saturdays.
"It's still going to develop them in terms of their knowledge of the game," Aiolupotea said, adding their goal was to win the schools' Super 12 competition despite the ominous spectre of NGHS Senior A.
The Saturday women's competition is at lunch time so the challenge for some schoolgirls was work commitments, she said.
"It's not easy to lose by 25 to 30 goals but when we put it in perspective, for the majority of them it's their first time up there so it can only help them get better."
Aiolupotea said the loss to Outkast showed HGHS' potential so time was of essence although the score didn't reflect that.
Most girls had a desire to represent clubs but, she said, a meeting with their parents had reinforced the pathway prospects.
"We need whānau and parents to know that we're trying to better the girls in their school teams so that they can be noticed," said the first-year mentor who took over from Ina Jones.
Otane were 14-8 against Kauri in the first spell, but the latter were one goal shy in the second to trail 24-17 at halftime before winning the third, 13-11 (35-30 down).
However, Otane smartly put up the shutters which saw Kauri score one goal after five minutes, succumbing despite trailing by just two goals at one stage. Otane shot at 79 per cent and Havelock North at 77.
The first quarter belong to Huia, 11-9, before extending it to 20-14 at halftime. NGHS made changes at both ends but Huia stood staunch although NGHS won the final spell by five goals but it was too little, too late.
Huia cashed in at 79 per cent overall, with GS Judy Brown sinking at 81 (34 from 42 attempts). NGHS were 69 per cent overall.
All In and Central had fans on the edge of their seats with one or two goals separating them, in all but the second quarter.
The sides claimed two spells each but that 13-5 second quarter came back to haunt Central who shot 72 per cent overall compared with All In's 76.
Standings after rd 3: Outkast 12, All In 12, Huia 10, Central Sports 6, Otane 5, Kauri 4, NGHS 0, HGHS 0.
Rd 4 of the Super 8 shield format this Friday:
■ 6pm: Huia v Kauri, Woodford House, court 1.
■ 6pm: HGHS v Otane, AW Parsons, court 1.
■ 7.30pm: Outkast v All In, Woodford House, court 1.
■ 7.30pm: NGHS v Central, AW Parsons, court 1.