Katie Alsop [C] is back for another championship tilt with Harcourts. PHOTOS/FILE

New Waicol coach aiming high
Six teams will line up in the 2021 Netball Wairarapa Premier Championship starting tonight. Times-Age sportswriter CHRIS COGDALE previews the prospects of three of the teams.

NETBALL

Harcourts

The three-time defending champions will again front with an experienced squad, enhanced with some exciting youngsters.

Veterans Katy Alsop, Sarah Watson, and player-coach Geraldine Carroll would have almost lost count of the championships they have won with the team since the early 2000s but are back for another tilt at adding another title.

Shooters Te Rina Boyce and Wikitoria Davidson are other experienced players returning. However, they will be without Shyanne Aporo, who is still nursing a ruptured Achilles tendon suffered towards the end of last season.

Carroll has pulled in two talented teenagers – shooter Gracie Donaldson from St Matthew’s, and mid-courter Tahlia Te Rito from the 2019 Waicol side, who finished runners-up to Harcourts and defender Cameron Puhara has transferred from Celtic.

On the prospects of winning an 11th title in 12 years, Carroll, in her typically understated way, was reluctant to make any predictions.

“It’s just a matter of building when you have young ones and older players; you sort of have to get the mix right, and we will take each game as it comes,” she said.

It will take a brave man to bet against Harcourts making it four-in-a-row. They play Celtic at 6pm tonight in their opening game.

Wairarapa College

New coach Keely Riwai-Couch, who has taken the reins from Melissa Cullen after three years in the role, aims to improve on last season’s third placing.

Keely Riwai-Couch has assembled an experienced squad for a college side with seven players returning from 2020 and five of them in the Under-16 Wairarapa squad.

Aja Walker is in her fourth year in the Waicol premier one side.

Midcourter-attacker Aja Walker is entering her fourth season with the team and forms a solid partnership with shooters Sophie Cusack and Taylor Riwai-Couch. Their versatility gives Keely Riwai-Couch the option to rotate positions between the three.

Sian Wheeler and Kowhai Malcolm-Hohaia bring consistency to the midcourt along with a new addition in Mia Bartlett, who will also cover defence.

Keely Riwai-Couch said Jaimie Blackburn, Charlize Carson-Butler, and Sovaia Sabuto have also impressed during preseason tournaments and will be an exciting combo to watch.

“As a team, we are working towards strength consistently throughout the court, so depth will go as far as all nine members,” she said.

Waicol will also compete in the Wellington secondary schools’ premier two competition, starting on June 21, and are targeting winning the grade.

Waicol start their campaign at 7.30pm tomorrow against last season’s beaten finalists Jo Kelly and Co Carterton Maroon.

Celtic

Celtic coach Dayle Clarkson is hoping for a less disruptive season than last year when the team was severely impacted by covid-19 and other off-court matters.

The experienced coach has drawn together a useful squad, complemented by the inclusion of two new players – Zara Coombs [Gladstone], and Alicia Todd [Kapiti].

The loss of captain Perri Williams, due to pregnancy is a big blow, but she will be present on the sidelines in a co-coach role. New Zealand Under-20 men’s international Vyktah Tamihana is also missing and will play for his school, Makoura College, a decision fully supported by Celtic.

Elleshia Clarkson, left, brings solidity to the Celtic midcourt.

The rest of the squad are Elleshia Clarkson, Bailey Peterson, Kata Ngatai, Ngakita Ngatai, Darian Walker, Rennie Hemara, Shaylin Hollow, Trisana Harmon, Anna Garnett, and Katie Smith.

Dayle Clarkson said she would look to bring something fresh into the game to reflect the rule changes and style of netball needed to keep players challenged.

“Netball needs to evolve, so Celtic will be working to create some freshness and skill adaptions to extend the challenge for players who have played premier one for a long time,” she said.

“The new umpiring plan led by the more experienced umpires will go a long way toward encouraging players and coaches to bring more excitement and innovation to the game.”

Celtic face defending champions Harcourts at 6pm tonight.

Tomorrow we will look at the remaining three teams – Greytown, Carterton, and St Matthew’s.



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