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Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel v MG Mystics – Round two

April 22, 2024

Forget the scoreline. It doesn’t truly reflect the hard mahi of a determined Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel team against the defending champion MG Mystics at ILT Stadium Southland tonight.

Yes, the 61-52 loss is ultimately the same result as the previous 18 games, but the performance felt different – particularly in the first half.

There’s no doubt the highly-anticipated return of experienced campaigner Shannon Saunders influenced the intensity and spearheaded the attacking flow, combining with captain Kate Heffernan to form a dynamic partnership.

As the team nurses her back into the action from a knee injury, Saunders’ was benched in the second half which initially created a chink in Steel’s armor and allowed the Mystics to edge ahead.

Spurred on by a passionate home crowd, the southerners reeled them back within reach to a three-goal deficit late in the third phase before suffering a series of unfortunate turnovers which quickly unraveled the hard work.

Never looking flustered, the Mystics simply capitalised on every opportunity to dominate the final stage of the game.

Heffernan said the Steel will take confidence from the encounter.

“Last week we let ourselves down turning over a lot of ball. Tonight we had to make the most of every bit of possession that we had. I think we did well at times but there is definitely room for improvement,” she told Sky Sport.

“Shannon made a massive difference and we got a lot of confidence out of her being out there. She just knows how to get the best out of everyone around her.”

It was a hugely improved Steel and, although the Mystics were clinical notching up their second win from two, the home side didn’t lose energy or enthusiasm at the end of the game despite a string of player changes. A faultless shooting performance from Grace Namana was among the home side’s highlights.

A 92 percent shooting performance from the Mystics and the seamless interchange of their strong bench players allowed them to keep in front throughout and pull away when they needed to.

Less than two minutes into the game, Saunders took the court at wing attack for her first game since having her first child. Her vision and precision passing immediately lifted the confidence of the players around her, and the Steel had a much-improved start to the game than in their opening match (scoring nine more goals than they did in the first quarter against the Tactix a week before).

The Mystics put pressure on the Steel at their centre pass, but when the ball got through to the Steel shooters, Namana and Georgia Heffernan were sure with their shots. Goal shoot Namana, in particular, had her eye in (she ended the game on 100 percent accuracy from her 33 attempts and took out MVP).

The Mystics started out aggressive on attack, but were sometimes too enthusiastic. Grace Nweke took much of the quarter to find her range, but after the first 15 minutes, the Mystics held the upper hand, 16-13.

Through some dogged defence in the circle from Carys Stythe and Phoenix Karaka, then Catherine Hall, the Mystics extended their lead to seven.

While the Steel midcourt of Saunders and Heffernan, who picked up three sharp intercepts in the first half, kept the home side in the game, the shrewdness of Mystic feeders Peta Toeava and Tayla Earle, kept the Steel at arm’s length.

Up 32-25 at halftime, the Mystics upped the ante immediately and pulled out to a double-figure lead for the first time, but the Steel gradually pegged it back. Defenders Abby Lawson and Taneisha Fifita niggled the Mystics into basic errors and kept the defending champions scoreless for a rare three minutes.

A great understanding between Namana and Georgia Heffernan whittled the difference down to three, and saw the Steel eventually draw the third quarter.

But it was a run of five goals right at the death of that spell that put the Mystics comfortably back in control, 46-39.

The Steel went through more player changes in the final stanza. Kate Heffernan left the game after three quarters, also managing her ankle injury, with Renee Savai’inaea shifting into centre. Goal shoot Jen O’Connell made her first appearance in the ANZ Premiership since her serious knee injury in 2020, but it unfortunately was a brief one.

Nweke ended the game with 91 percent accuracy, and was well supported by both her goal attacks Filda Vui and Hannah Glen.

Official Result and Stats:
Ascot Park Hotel Steel: 52
MG Mystics: 61

Shooting Stats - Steel:
Grace Namana 33/33 (100%)
Georgia Heffernan 14/20 (70%)
Jennifer O'Connell 5/6 (83%)

Shooting Stats - Mystics:
Grace Nweke 48/52 (92%)
Filda Vui 9/9 (100%)
Hannah Glen 4/5 (80%)

ANZ Player of the Match: Grace Namana (Steel)


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