By RICHARD BOOCK
Shakers netball team coach Lois Muir can thank the Auckland Diamonds for teaching her side their biggest lesson of the year.
The Wellington-based Shakers square off against the Canterbury Flames in tomorrow's Coca-Cola Cup semifinal at Christchurch, still smarting from the memory of the recent slip-up in Auckland, when they were upset 56-67 and edged out of second place.
The ramifications of that unexpected loss are that the Shakers will visit a sold-out Cowles Stadium in Christchurch tomorrow instead of hosting the Flames in their own cauldron, but Muir reckons the psychological benefits for her side have easily outweighed the negatives.
"It rattled a few cages and gave us a deserved reality check, that's for sure," Muir said of last week's result.
"We lapsed, we let up a bit - we lost.
"And because of that we lost the chance of hosting the semifinal as well, which was disappointing.
"But for all that, it was good for us.
"It reminded us what can happen if you don't fire on all cylinders, and it served as a wake-up call.
"Sometimes you've got to go back to go forward, and in that regard, the Auckland loss couldn't have come at a better time for us."
The Shakers will be at full strength for the semifinal showdown now that key defensive player Debbie Matoe has been given the all-clear, and with crack shooter Irene van Dyk spearheading the challenge, might even carry a slight favouritism, despite their lower seeding.
Apart from van Dyk, the Shakers have pivotal players spread through their line-up, with England's Helen Lonsdale running the mid-court and former Silver Fern Matoe an experienced member of an otherwise youthful defence end.
Van Dyk has taken the competition by storm since arriving in Wellington from South Africa and still leads the cup shooting statistics by a country mile after nailing 367 goals from 396 attempts (93 per cent).
Van Dyk, a former South African captain, knows she is in for a torrid time tomorrow, however, when she takes on a Flames defence who include Fijian collossus and goal-keep Valimaina Davu, Silver Fern Belinda Blair and rising star Anna Veronese.
And with the hard-working Julie Seymour, the Flames' defence has been the stand-out feature of their game this season. Muir said it would take patience and control to provide van Dyk with the necessary quality of service.
"Everyone we play is setting out to restrict Irene and that's been good for our players as well," she said.
"It's forced them to think about what's happening, and how they should adjust to the tactics.
"It's no good just throwing the ball to Irene and hoping she can cope.
"There has to be good control in the build-up, and I think the players appreciate that - they realise this side is far from a one-man band."
Capital Shakers: Jodi Te Huna, Irene van Dyk, Noeline Taurua (captain), Helen Lonsdale, Amanda Dunlop, Debbie Matoe, Lisa Bogiwalu, Marianne Goodman, Kimberley Horton, Kathy Newman, Pelesa Semu, Sera Tokatece.
Canterbury Flames: Sonia Butler, Angela Evans, Lisa Gregory, Julie Seymour (captain), Anna Veronese, Belinda Charteris, Valimaina Davu, Natasha Marshall, Helen Mullligen, Katie Ritchie, Megan Hutton, Maree Grubb.