Being the best fielding unit could be the key to success for St Matthew’s Collegiate at next week’s Gillette Venus Cup secondary schoolgirls tournament at Lincoln, south of Christchurch.
The team will be led by New Zealand under-19 international Emma McLeod and features several players with senior representative experience with the Southey Sayer Wairarapa Korus, including Central Districts under-19 rep Vanessa Taylor and wicketkeeper-batter Sally Booth.
There is plenty of other talent, too, in the likes of all-rounder Fran Wells, powerful batter Dina Morrison, allrounder India Bartlett, spinners Anita Lyford and Lily Hunt, and seam bowlers Ava Register and Lucy Jurlina to suggest they will be competitive.
Coach Tony Lyford believes that depth sets them apart from other teams.
“Our key is we’ve got a whole group of good players. We do have a couple of standouts – ‘Bessy’ [McLeod] and Vanessa Taylor and they are a level above and have both represented CD U19 and ‘Bessy’ obviously higher, but we’ve got a really strong group under them,” Lyford said.
“There’s really not a lot between the next 10, and that’s what other teams don’t have. Other teams have two or three strong ones, and then they drop off from about four to 10.”
Despite that depth of player ability with bat and ball, Lyford reckons the St Matt’s fielding prowess could prove the difference.
“That’s the part we can control, and that’s what we put most of the effort into, and that’s what we’ve noticed when we’ve been to Gillette Venus before where we’ve performed really well is the best fielding team and the less catches you drop, the more chance of winning.
“We will field well, there’s no doubt about that. We’ll take our catches, and there will be runouts because the girls have been working their butts off.”
Quick runs at the top order will be vital in posting competitive scores in the T20 matches, and that’s where McLeod could come into her own.
There are few equals at this level with the ability to score big runs at a rapid pace, as she showed in scoring half-centuries at the U19 World Cup and on debut for the Central Hinds and if the age group international fires with the bat opposition fielders could be chasing leather.
Although McLeod is likely to be targeted as a key wicket by opponents, Lyford said she relishes the challenge and the pressure that comes with it.
“She enjoys it, and she walks towards it, which is really good, but that’s one of the mantras of the team – pressure is a privilege,” he said.
“We’re down there, and we get the opportunity to put the best out there, and it’s the same as always for us; we’ll be targeting the fielding.”
St Matt’s will play Wellington Girls College, Christchurch Girls’ High School, St Hilda’s [Dunedin], Tauranga Girls’ High School, and Takapuna Grammar in the round-robin format.
The top two teams will meet in Wednesday’s final, with playoffs for third and fourth, and fifth and sixth.
In their two previous appearances at the tournament, St Matt’s were third in 2019 and runners-up to Christchurch GHS in 2020.
Lyford said repeating the latter result would be a really good achievement, but most of all, he just wants the team to play to their ability.
“I just want our girls, and this is the way I’ve always coached – if we play well, I’ll be over the moon, and if we play well, the result will take care of itself.
“That’s how we’ve been moving this group for two years now with that same statement – just go and out play well.”
St Matt’s meet Wellington Girls College in their opening round match on Monday morning.