The top seeds have made their way into tomorrow’s NZWPNL final, but they had to battle to earn their spots.
The AUT Millennium National Aquatic Centre witnessed two extremely close semi-finals in the women’s competition tonight. Minor championship winners Waitakere Blue Diamonds overcame Hutt Heat 11-9, whilst home support wasn’t enough to get North Harbour over the line against Marist Magic; the double-defending champs won 8-7 and will play the Blue Diamonds for gold.
SEMI-FINAL ONE: WAITAKERE BLUE DIAMONDS 11 v HUTT HEAT 9
WTK: Chantelle Conroy, Laura Zuniga 2, Kelly Mason, Brogan Houghton 1, Libby Alsemgeest 3, Gabby MacDonald, Rebecca North, Hannah Read 2, Grace Tobin 1, Emmerson Houghton 2, Miranda Chase, Libby Gault, Antonia Lidgard. Coach: Goran Sablic, Manager: Margaret Chase.
HUT: Gabrielle Crothall, Isabella Morrison, Evie Mills 1, Alex Boyd 2, Casie Bowry 2, Koren Wilkinson, Ciara Flynn, Charlie Wilkinson, Paige Walls, Brydie Pye 2, Kirsten Hudson 2, Kate Enoka, Megan Thomas. Coach: Megan Thomson, Manager: Linda Pye.
Both women’s NZWPNL semi-finals were streamed on Facebook Live. Watch semi-final one here.
A strong turn from New Zealand centre forward Casie Bowry earned Hutt Heat a penalty and the opportunity to be first on the scoreboard against finals favourites Waitakere Blue Diamonds. Heat’s Evie Mills stepped up to the mark for an early 1-0 lead.
The Blue Diamonds’ Laura Zuniga found herself in early foul trouble out on two, but Hutt Heat couldn’t take advantage – instead it was Emmerson Houghton who scored the equaliser from her preferred perimeter postition for 1-1. Hutt Heat did manage to take advantage of their extra man on their third try through Alex Boyd to take the lead into the second quarter.
The second quarter belonged to the Blue Diamonds, and it was this quarter that ultimately sunk Hutt Heat. Four goals went the way of Waitakere (Brogan Houghton, Hannah Read, Emmerson Houghton, Libby Alsemgeest) whilst Heat couldn’t convert. Waitakere held a 5-2 lead at the half having scored the last four goals.
Two minutes into the second half, Boyd cut the gap to two with her second goal of the game, but the Blue Diamonds responded through Zuniga and Grace Tobin before Kirsten Hudson stopped the momentum for 7-4.
The gap creeped back out to four thanks to excellent work from 15 year-old centre forward Libby Alsemgeest. Hutt Heat’s Hudson and Brydie Pye combined to half the gap for 8-6, and Pye scored again for 9-7 at the end of the third.
Momentum continued for the Heat, in their first possession of the final period Casie Bowry scored a brilliant goal to bring the gap to just one for the first time since early in the second quarter.
A tight tussle followed for the next four minutes before Hannah Read made the buffer two for the Blue Diamonds, followed closely by Zuniga with her second to leave just three minutes for Hutt Heat to stage a comeback.
Bowry scored another, but the damage had been done and the Waitakere Blue Diamonds, bronze medalists in 2015 and 2014, ensure an improved finish in 2017. History is on the line as the Blue Diamonds will be gunning for their first-ever NZWPNL victory tomorrow.
SEMI-FINAL TWO: MARIST MAGIC 8 v NORTH HARBOUR 7
MAR: Jessica Milicich, Nicole Lewis 1, Ricci Ferigo 2, Hannah Klein, Simone Lewis, Mikayla Eruera, Malia Josephson, Emma Stoneman 1, Gabrielle Milicich 2, Caitlin Mary Parker Allen, Kelsey Snelgar, Samantha Fraser 2, Ella Harford. Coach: Reza Soleimani, Manager: Jo Milicich-Misikini
NHB: Alisha Winstanley, Sarah Stewart, Taylor Sheehan 1, Katie McKenty, Nadia Pavlovich 1, Shannon Hughes, Chelsea Geary, Emily Nicholson 1, Bernadette Doyle 1, Ema Carevic 3, Kaitlin Howarth, Amy Brotherton, Olivia Murphy
Both women’s NZWPNL semi-finals were streamed on Facebook Live. Watch semi-final two here.
The 'second versus third place' semi-final was always going to be close, and the game between rivals Marist Magic and North Harbour certainly didn’t disappoint.
After seeing the Waitakere Blue Diamonds progress to the final, both sides would have been even more eager to win having both beaten the West Auckland side toward the end of the regular season.
A confident start from North Harbour saw them launch into the lead 3-2 after the first quarter with goals going the way of Taylor Sheehan and Ema Carevic (2) in front of a home crowd at the National Aquatic Centre on Auckland’s North Shore.
However, Marist Magic equalised although it took them four minutes of the second quarter to do so through Emma Stoneman from a 6-on-5. A time-out play from Marist Magic then allowed them to take the lead 4-3 to round out the first half.
Magic made it three in a row through Gabrielle Milicich, but left hander Bernadette Doyle pegged it back to 5-4 with a goal from the wing for North Harbour from a man-up. The buffer went back to two thanks to Ricci Ferigo with her second goal of the game.
By the end of the third it was 7-6 to the Magic and North Harbour had everything to play for with eight minutes ahead of them.
A goal early in the quarter marked that Marist Magic weren’t giving up their chance to go for their third consecutive gold and the score, despite four exclusions and a time-out, stuck at 8-6 for the majority of the last quarter.
North Harbour’s Bernadette Doyle and Chelsea Geary stormed down the pool on a counter-attack, the ball landed in front of Doyle and she earned a penalty. Carevic stepped up to the line and converted to make the gap just one.
With 49 seconds left in the game, Bernadette Doyle was excluded giving Marist Magic the chance to sink North Harbour. They couldn’t do so, and North Harbour coaches Michael Buck and Richard Claridge called a time-out with 28 seconds in the match and a must-score moment ahead of them being just one goal down.
A pass from Pavlovich was spot-on to a driving Doyle and she earned an exclusion with seven seconds to play. A penalty shoot-out was a huge possibility. Passes around the perimeter followed and it was Carevic who had the chance but pressure was too much and Marist Magic ended the game in front 8-7.
NZWPNL WOMEN’S FINALS
SUNDAY 25th JUNE - AUT MILLENNIUM NATIONAL AQUATIC CENTRE
BRONZE 12:30pm: Hutt Heat v North Harbour Hygiene Systems
GOLD 2:00pm: Waitakere Blue Diamonds v Marist Magic
Tune in to the live stream of the NZWPNL women's finals on New Zealand Water Polo's Facebook page - the links will appear once streaming commences.