Netballers hold court
The fourteenth Netball South Africa's national championships got off to a promising start yesterday at the University of Pretoria in Tshwane.
The tournament attracted 36 teams from around the country, all vying to dethrone current champions Gauteng North.
The first flurry of matches were played in the morning, but all eyes were on the afternoon match between Gauteng Central's A team and Free State, who are coached by former national coach Burtha de Kock.
The Free Staters played with a lot of skill and confidence, winning the match 45-38. They used speed and precision play of their centre court player and managed to amass a lot of points through the interplay between the centre and the wing attack.
While it is still very early to make any predictions, it is not hard to imagine this team, which had four players in the national tertiary team that competed in Malawi recently, being among the top four teams by the time the final day of the tournament arrives on Saturday.
"The players played much better than I expected, especially it being the first day of the tournament," said De Kock.
"Their strength has been that they always play for one another - you can tell they understand each other and they take a holistic approach on the court."
But De Kock accepted that a week was a long time and that anything can happen.
Losing Central coach Professor Chipeya was disappointed with how his girls defended the area and the numerous scoring chances they spurned.
"We played okay. I was happy with the general control of the ball, although it disappointed me to see that we struggled to score.
"We got the ball into their circle, but just lost it at the final ball.
"We allowed them space which they used to good effect. Good for them," Chipeya said.
Those sitting on the sidelines waiting for their teams' turn to play, such as Gauteng West coach Petro Greef, said though the first day had been competi- tive to a certain degree, it had been a slow start overall.
"I expect it to get better as the week progresses. I expect a lot more intensity.
"The thing with regional teams is that they are assembled in a relatively short of time, and settling could take some time.
"Also figuring out your opponent takes longer, so as a coach you have to take time and observe," Greef said.
Reigning champions Gauteng North were scheduled to play their first match against Griqualand West late in the afternoon, as Elize Kotze's team tries to defend the title they won last year in Port Elizabeth.
In another result, Nelson Mandela Bay beat Gauteng East 25-20.