Sooner or later schoolgirls metamorphose into women, perhaps more so mentally than physically in the realm of sport.
Napier Girls' High School Senior A are a case in point after they romped to a 53-41 victory over Otane Thirsty Whale in Hawke's Bay tonight.
The Annemarie Kupa-mentored NGHS side started with a hiss and roar, weathered the second-quarter storm from a feisty fightback from the green machine of yesteryear before running the predominantly women rivals off their feet in the final two 15-minute spells to emphatically retain their Karamu Holden Super 8 crown at the Pettigrew-Green Arena in Taradale.
As player/coach Tammy Kupa and her troops sucked in the big ones following the 14-7, 23-22 (9-15), 37-32 (14-10) and 16-9 quarters, NGHS skipper Janayah Lewis led her beaming athletic teenagers into a centre-court dance celebration.
It wasn't just a conclusion to an entertaining Hawke's Bay Netball season but a resounding statement to every other code in the province that investing in youth yields robust returns, surprisingly quicker than many detractors think.
Annemarie Kupa said patience was the key for her schoolgirls who had stuck to the blueprint from the opening whistle in the season.
"We had a plan in place and we worked on it and worked on it so it paid off," said Kupa who had national secondary schoolgirls' coach Charissa Barham.
While NGHS had won the shield competition as well as the championship last year, she said losing three key players meant they weren't putting their collective energy into claiming a double but using the former as teething phase to bed in a reliable structure for the latter.
They will lose the services of another three pivots in defenders Jamie Tapine and Kiah McCorkindale as well as goal attack Lewis who shot an outstanding 90 per cent (26 shots from 29 attempts) tonight.
"The thing with the young ones is that they are really willing to learn so they commit to the training and everything else, you know," Kupa said.
Her daughter, wing attack Parris Petera, was named Super 8 MVP of the season. However, centre Ashleigh Poi, the sister of Silver Ferns midcourter Kimiora, also showed vision and composure beyond her years in trying to shadow or lose the likes of wing attack Rebecca Baker and centre Penny Isbister.
"We already have two at New Zealand level but we'll probably have three or four who'll go further."
Kupa said fitness aside, her schoolgirls were showing mental fortitude.
"They are already starting to show they are thinking about the game then just a passing game," she said.
Despite the second quarter counterattack from Otane, she said the message from the NGHS was simply to remain calm and trust their processes while the smart heads from the opposition, such as Baker and captain Briar Chalmers, tried to assert themselves more.
If anything, fans would expect NGHS to qualify for the secondary school nationals, via the Lower North Island as top five placegetters, for a better finish than their ninth position last year.
No doubt an "All Stars" composite team, comprising the elite from the other Super 8 sides, should offer NGHS a good couple of games before that as ideal scrimmages.
Kupa agreed, believing the opportune time for such a build up would be before the nationals although she said NGHS had had some exposure and challenge through the Hawke's Bay Under-17 matches in the year.
She lauded HB Netball operations manager Tina Arlidge and her staff for providing a platform to nurture the teenagers.
It was a bitter-sweet moment for perennial powerhouses Otane who had clocked up their 17th consecutive final, having won it 13 times over that duration.
"I think Napier Girls stuck together as a team for this game and I don't believe we went onto the court like that because we were all playing our individual game," said Tammy, who is Annemarie Kupa's twin sister.
"We didn't come through together as a team and Napier's cohesiveness really worked for them."
Tammy, who had started but withdrew with three minutes remaining in the first quarter to stretch her calf muscles, had pre-match alluded to the need for Otane to use their smarts to keep up up with their more agile opponents.
However, she felt Otane were grappling with jangled nerves especially for their newbies.
"Unfortunately the brains didn't quite get up there."
With both sides training together, Otane were happy for the schoolgirls to stamp their supremacy but Tammy lamented the lack of hunger from her own players that was evident this winter when they played against All In Elusive and Hastings High School Old Girls' Proactive Huia.
"It was perhaps to our detriment because we probably had played our finals against All In and Huia so, yeah, we just have to find that next level to get up to because that wasn't up to our level tonight."
A grinning Tammy said she had asked her sister who was leaving NGHS and what would they be up to because Otane could do with some new blood next year provided they weren't heading off to pursue tertiary education outside the province.
Otane veteran Chris Leppien shot at 83 per cent (25/30) while Melissa Te Huki backed her on 72 per cent (13/18) for a collective effort which was only two per cent below NGHS' team shooting.
The schoolgirls showed pack mentality at opportune times to turnover possession from Otane as well as prompting the opposition into making unforced errors especially in the second half.
In the 3rd-4th playoffs, Huia triumphed 49-42 after a 14-9 first quarter pushed shield champions All In into resorting to a catch-up game.
Coach/player Candis Timms and purple army rolled out their arsenal with a 13-12 and 12-9 second and third spells, respectively, but Huia had the final say with a don't-argue 14-8 statement.
Huia goal shoot Judy Brown had an 84 per cent returns (41/49) to carry the load with goal attack Hannah O'Keefe sinking eight from nine attempts.
However, Kathleen Tuaputa-Nahora shot at 88 per cent (29/33) with Super 8 Shooter of the season Pania Rowe draining 10 from a dozen attempts.
Huia goal keep Tee Aiolupotea had a blinder with goal defence Jade Waldin while centre Hannah Brough had her finger on the pulse of ball distribution.
If All In went away feeling they should have done better this winter than few would argue with them.
An injury to wing defence Myer Pakoti in the second quarter had thrown the spanner in the works as Timms pulled out livewire Rhandell Sharrock from goal attack to slap a centre bib on her for fantastic returns while the player/coach assumed the mantle of wing defence and Rowe came off the bench to goal shoot.
Sharrock's injection was infectious as All In had closed the deficit to 35-34 in the third quarter but lethargy had kicked in as mistakes started creeping in in the final spell.
Super 8 shooter:
1st Pania Rowe (All In) 511 goals at 88 per cent, 2nd Judy Brown (Huia), 3rd Tania Laking (Havelock North House of Travel Kauri).
Super 8 MVP of the season: 1st Parris Petera (NGHS), 2nd Tee Aiolupotea (Huia), 3rd Valentine Kahukura (Otane).