Netball championship Magic for Irene van Dyke
The Waikato/Bay of Plenty Magic made netball history on a number of fronts yesterday, when they defeated the Melbourne Vixens 41-38 to claim the ANZ Championship title.
No away team had ever emerged victorious in a grand final, nor had any team from New Zealand.
But with talismanic goal shooter Irene Van Dyke providing an inspired performance despite the recent loss of her mother to cancer, there was definitely a sense of something extraordinary at play.
After a jittery first quarter from both sides, the Vixens were able to take control, and by half time were dominating proceedings in each third of the court.
British national goalkeeper Geva Mentor was performing admirably against Van Dyk (who happens to be the most dangerous goal shooter in the league), and Julie Corletto managed to completely nullify the Magic wing attack Khao Watts with dogged defence.
Madison Browne led the match in assists, and along with Chelseay Tregear worked tirelessly to find space around the shooting circle and provide space and width to the Vixens attack.
The Vixens’ shooting pair of Howarth and Caldwell struggled to impose themselves on the match at times, but were able to take enough advantage of their extra opportunities and provide the Vixens with a steady buffer of two to four goals.
As the third quarter wound down the Vixens had begun to really take over the match, having taken 13 more shots on goal and committed five fewer turnovers. But some lapses in concentration in the final minutes left the door open for a Magic comeback, and a lead that could have been seven or more goals was whittled down to just three.
The Magic carried this momentum through to the final period, and completed a complete switch of momentum that began in their defensive third. Woman of the match Leana de Bruin and her defensive partner Casey Williams were nothing short of heroic throughout the match, accumulating 13 rebounds and five steals.
But they saved their best performance for the final minutes as they turned up the intensity, restricting the Vixens to their lowest number of shot attempts of any quarter and grabbing three key turnovers.
This effectively removed the key advantage that the Vixens had maintained throughout the match: keeping turnovers low and shooting attempts high.
This energy and momentum flowed straight up the court for the Magic, and suddenly the previously restricted Van Dyk was repeatedly found open under the post, shooting 9/9 in the final period. Even goal attack Julianna Naoupu, who had struggled throughout the contest, was able to chime in with some huge clutch scores.
To their credit, the Vixens did regroup and level the contest, but were not able to match the Magic for execution in the final 90 seconds. This was undoubtedly the best grand final this young competition has delivered so far: played with ferocious intensity throughout and delivering the narrowest margin yet.
It’s certainly a dream come true for the league to have its first New Zealand champion win in the manner they did. It would have been cruel if Irene Van Dyk had retired without having raised a trophy in the new league. Make no mistake though, this grand final appearance came slightly earlier than expected for the Vixens, and they will certainly be more experienced and battle-hardened when they get another shot.