Control the game's front end, control its back end, and in between, just fight for every inch you can get.
Wanganui Car Centre Kaierau A1 put the knowledge of two regular season defeats and the pain of last year's extra time loss in the season finale to good use in their 46-43 upset of Phillips Electrical Whanganui High School A1 at Springvale Stadium last night.
For the second year in a row, an undefeated top qualifier for the Netball Whanganui Premier A1 final has not claimed the championship.
Kaierau avoided the pitfalls of their previous losses to WHS this year – where they gave up a four goal lead deep in the final quarter in May, while getting rocked straight out of the gate in July where they trailed by 12 points after the first 15 minutes.
It still didn't mean Kaierau had a flawless start last night, in fact they turned over the first centre pass, but after getting down 12-9 approaching the quartertime break, some good set up work by centre Hayley Addenbrooke, who had a standout game, set up the last two goals by goal attack Alicia Prince, the latter a long shot from the top of the circle right on the whistle.
Before that, WHS had settled into the pattern that has seen them dominating both Whanganui Premier and Manawatu Secondary School netball with smooth passes from around the circle hitting goal shoot Montel Vaiao-Aki exactly as she landed underneath the post.
Goal attack Imogen Flower, who would hit only a handful of goals herself in the match, was able to work as an extra midcourter on offence, keeping a good flow with centre Rebecca Tamati to keep feeding the circle.
At the other end, WHS goal keep Kara Adrole and goal defence Molly Bullock were looking to impose themselves on Kaierau's shooter Te Reo Paki, but having been through many big games herself in championship finals and Central Zone Super Club, Paki hung tough, worked off of the whistle for penalty shots, and kept her percentages up.
WHS saw it was going to be a different first quarter since they last met, with Kaierau getting some good midcourt turnovers, goal defence Hannah Kelly and wing defence Kerwyn Morgan, although the underdogs got a little ahead of themselves at times with passes missing targets, as Addenbrooke motioned for everyone to just calm down.
Taking their momentum coming out of the first break, Kaierau coach Walter Edmonds played his first hand as Hannah moved to replace Morgan and Layce Walker came on at goal defence, joining goal keep Leigha Stormont, who was starting to get a read on Vaiao-Aki, who had her first misses.
Unperturbed, the schoolgirls just found another gear and other attacking approaches, holding off a Kaierau surge to go up 19-15, before again the grit began to wear down the finesse.
Walker got her hands through to bat down some short passes, while several times WHS tried to set for the long pass only to find their path surrounded, as Stormont leapt high for the steals to flip the score 22-21.
Kaierau wing attack Suraya Goss needed to be subbed before the halftime break by Kataraina Hakaraia, while Edmonds then made the call to bring on Rebekah Alabaster at goal attack for the remainder of the match, his team up 23-22.
The officials were already quietly discussing the prospect of another extra time finish by the third quarter, as the lead changed hands four times and neither side could get more than two goals ahead.
On occasion, Tamati, Flower and Vaiao-Aki could still put together the smooth passing exchanges of the first quarter, but these were further and farther between, while Kelly and Addenbrooke were getting more animated with every turnover.
Walker produced another couple of great steals, while at the other end, Adrole and Bullock could leap up over Paki or get right on her shoulder, but the infringements were building up as they did so.
Still, WHS didn't look stressed, remembering they have come from behind before, as Bullock did well to fly down and save a loose pass, while looking a two point deficit at the three quarter break, Flower produced a last long range shot from the edge of the circle to keep the gap to just one.
WHS coach Lisa Murphy recognised fresh legs were needed midcourt, with wing attack Teagan Tapa switching sides to WD while Mikayla Heka came on.
But WHS would never again take the lead, as it was Kaierau who found that extra resolve to grind their way to a 38-34 advantage approaching midway through the final period, which became 44-39 with less than four minutes to go.
This had been the stage when WHS produced the clutch performance in May to force a six-point turnaround for victory, but this time, Kaierau flat out weren't having it.
Tamati found the approaches blocked as Stormont, Kelly and Walker kept up the pressure, forcing WHS into more speed than they could control, making turnovers.
Kaierau weren't playing pretty, one goal came from being literally handed forward by three players into the circle, but now the clock had sided against WHS.
Adrole needed to get the ball of Paki, but the contact continued and neither Paki or Alabaster were going to falter, and at 45-42 inside the final minute with Kaierau firing back court passes to kill the clock, there would be no miracles this time.
Edmonds was "super relieved" after the heartache of last year that his team had been the ones to finish the stronger.
"We've had a couple of good finishers in the last few weeks, so we knew that we could finish better than what we had been.
"It was trying to get a good start. Better start and probably better ball retention, just hold on and play with the ball for a little bit longer."
He was pleased the team had shut down the prospect of WHS getting a better roll-on from their signature long passes from three-quarter court, cutting it off at the source.
With her team now approaching a tough Top 4 in Manawatu, Murphy hoped they would be better off for those big games after the experience of a tough final.
"I think my girls gave as much as they could," she said.
"We just lost a bit of ball, and that's what happens."
In the playoff for third and fourth, it was last year's champions Kaiwhaiki A1, who had only lost their semifinal to Kaierau A1 by a point, who did the business with a comfortable 61-44 win over season newcomers Kaierau A2.
Leading by three points at quartertime, Kaiwhaiki had extended their advantage to ten at the half and from there they never looked back.
First Quarter: 12-11 WHS. Second Quarter: 23-22 Kaierau (12-10 Kaierau). Third Quarter: 34-33 (11-11). Fulltime: 46-43 (12-10 Kaierau).
First Quarter: 13-10 Kaiwhaiki. Second Quarter: 29-19 (16-9 Kaiwhaiki). Third Quarter: 42-31 (13-12 Kaiwhaiki). Fulltime: 61-44 (19-13 Kaiwhaiki).