After two intense semi-final matches on the fifth day of the SPAR National Netball Championships, the top teams are to meet in a repeat of last year’s final. Gauteng North and Free State Motheo will meet on court on Saturday at 11h30.
Gauteng North defeated Ekurhuleni in the first semi, although the score of 55-29 had more to tell. Ekurhuleni started well but made too many basic mistakes when they turned over the ball but failed to capitalise on their possession.
Gauteng North, who have been slow starters in most of their matches, held a slim 14-9 lead at the end of the first quarter. However, they went into the last quarter with a healthy 27 goal advantage, at 46-19, and were able to make wholesale changes to their team, which has been their strategy throughout the week.
The last quarter turned into a scrappy affair and Ekurhuleni outscored their opponents by 10 goals to nine but it was too little too late as the Pretoria side already held an unassailable lead. Outstanding for Gauteng North was wing attack Vasta Mhlongo. The versatile player, who is just as effective at centre, said she was happy to play in either position.
“There are no gimmicks for me so, the more I move around, the more I love it,” said Mhlongo. “We’ve played very well and built confidence from day one – confidence in ourselves and confidence in each other. We just love being here,” she enthused.
Mhlongo said she was looking forward to the final against Motheo although she was expecting a hard game. “We’re expecting sparks. It’s not going to be easy,” she said. “Whether you’re on the bench or on the court, it’s going to be tough for all of us. All 12 of us have had a chance to prove ourselves here, so we’re all ready.”
Filling the shoes of Protea goal shooter Chrisna Bootha, who has averaged over an 80 percent goal scoring success rate this week, is Gauteng North’s Vanes-Mari Du Toit, a new player on the SPAR Proteas Squad.
“This is my second year being goal shooter for Gauteng North in the final, and I’ve got big shoes to fill. Every year I build more experience and confidence, so I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s game.”
Playing as goalkeeper for most of this tournament, Du Toit had switched to shooter for the last quarter of the games in preparation for the final. Keeping in line with a focus of coach Elize Kotze’s, Du Toit has kept up her shooting average and scored a 91% yesterday.
Du Toit had made the same switch in some of the Proteas’ matches at the recent World Championships in Singapore.
Looking ahead to the final against Free State, Du Toit said they would be bringing their A game. “Free State is a very good team, we expect their A game, and we’ll bring ours too.” “We just need to stick to the basics and do the basics right.”
Free State Motheo defeated Nelson Mandela Bay 47-35 in the other semi-final and go into the final having played one more match than their opponents (due to the no-show of Gauteng Central). Their results, however, have been more inconsistent.
“Missing four of our SPAR Protea players, and having a new goal circle has affected our game” said Motheo captain Adele Niemand. “But we have grown in self confidence and should be able to play well in the final match.”
“We also have 6 new players and a number of young players” said Free State coach Burta De Kock. “We are looking forward to the growth in the team and are ready for tomorrow.”
Twenty-one year old Cleo Kgoputso said she was proud of the team but they were all nervous ahead of the final. “We struggled to find our rhythm today, but a win is a win,” said the Free State wing attack.
“I’m one of the youngest in the side so I’m very nervous. It’s been a while since we won a senior title so we’re all a bit tense but I think we’re going to give them
In a play-off for fifth and sixth positions, Boland just snuck past their neighbours Western Province by 46-43 after the game was forced into extra time when it finished 37-all.
Gauteng West finished in seventh position, beating Griqualand West 38-30. The team from Kimberley return home without a win as do Kenneth Kaunda from Potchefstroom.