Diamonds Take Home Gold
A magnificent seven Australian starters played the entire final and ultimately ran away with it, destroying the Silver Ferns 58-40. The names of Laura Geitz, Julie Corletto, Renae Hallinan, Kim Ravaillion, Madi Robinson, Natalie Medhurst and Caitlin Bassett are set to become as gilt-edged and familiar as those of the retired champions.
The Diamonds celebrate winning gold. Photo: James Brickwood
“I’m so proud of them,” coach Lisa Alexander said. “They really did buy into the story, which was to write their own history.”
All indications were that this would be the usual Australia-New Zealand final, ending in screams and tears and fingernails bitten to the quick. The first quarter strengthened that expectation, with several lead changes and New Zealand’s Laura Langman asserting a dominant presence in the centre.
The decisive battles, though, were taking shape at each end. The Silver Ferns’ attacking pair of Maria Tutaia and Jodi Brown shot with great accuracy early, but in the second quarter Corletto and Hallinan began to harry their supply chain, and the Australian captain, Geitz, used her athleticism and anticipation to grab some vital rebounds. The 21-year-old Ravaillion, brought in after recovering from injury to replace Kimberlee Green during the semi-final against Jamaica, matched up fearlessly against Langman and provided some penetrating passes to the silky front three of Robinson, Medhurst and Bassett.
By half-time Australia led by four goals. It had an edge, but few expected the onslaught of the third quarter. Swarming like seven yellow hornets, it outdid New Zealand for energy and accuracy in all parts of the court. After Geitz grabbed a rebound and transferred it forward in a blink, Medhurst’s long-range shot took the lead out to eight points. Bassett, who had missed some shots early, was flawless now, taking the lead to nine, and then ten. In the most nerve-racking position on the court, she had an appearance of total calm. “I was really nervous this morning when I woke up,” she said later, “but was okay when I got to the court. The team was buzzing.” New Zealand tried to match Australia’s increased intensity and a helter-skelter third quarter ended with missed shots, turnovers, grunts of heavy contact and a ten-point lead to Australia.
New Zealand then played its last card. Having been sidelined with a calf injury, Cathrine Latu was brought on as goal shooter. Brown went off, and Tutaia switched to goal attack. The giant Latu had an immediate impact, scoring with her first five shots and cutting Australia’s lead. Midway through the quarter, New Zealand was closing in. But Australia repelled and reversed the momentum, and was able to play out the last three or four minutes in a spirit that looked, frankly, like a lot of fun.
“What I’m most proud about was that when we got ahead we didn’t drop our play,” Bassett said. “We kept pushing hard and putting in those hard balls.”
Whatever the strength of other Commonwealth Games sports, in netball the gold medal match is the pinnacle. Bassett underlined this by saying, “We’ve been working hard for four years for this match today.” Alexander praised her seven starters, and also the five bench players and four training partners who travelled with them.
Having beaten New Zealand in four straight matches in last year’s Constellation Cup, the Diamonds now have a roll on. A Test series with the Silver Ferns later this year and the 2015 World Championships in Sydney will show how far they can take it.