The volleyball skills of Anna Harrison came to the fore as the SKYCITY Mystics scored their first victory of the ANZ Championships season over the Adelaide Thunderbirds, 52-49, in Auckland tonight.
A former international volleyball star, Harrison leaped, dived and even spiked the ball away from Thunderbird hands as she returned to her old haunt at goal keep. She was a constant thorn in the side of the Thunderbirds, who have been decimated by illness and injury this season, and are yet to notch up a win in 2016.
Although the Mystics led by seven early in the clash, they could not claim to dominate – they even trailed the Adelaide side at the three-quarter break. But they will take heart from their final quarter fightback and a more coordinated assault throughout the court.
The Mystics’ attack was more decisive from the outset. They looked early and long to Cathrine Tuivaiti and found her receptive, scoring 11 from 11 in the first spell; her partner Maria Tutaia’s cannonball passes and own long-range shots were also deadly.
With the Mystics ahead by seven halfway through the quarter, the Thunderbirds were hit with another injury – this time, wing attack Emily Beaton leaving the court clutching her back.
Her replacement Khao Watts came straight on and marshalled the Thunderbirds attack, in particular goal shoot Carla Borrego, who came back this week from a troublesome knee injury. Three successive goals cut the difference to four, where it sat for most of spell; the Mystics leading 18-13 at the first break.
The Thunderbirds’ new defence duo – Kate Shimmin and Sarah Klau, coming in at goal keep for the absent Sam Pullman – found their tempo in the second quarter, and quietened down Tuivaiti and Tutaia, bringing the difference back to just one.
But the Mystics weren’t going to lie down, even though Harrison was fighting for possession both in the air and flat out on the boards.
A flurry of messy play by both sides ensured neither claimed supremacy going into the halftime break, where it was still the Mystics on top 27-25.
With a new sense of purpose and composure, the Thunderbirds took a narrow lead early in the second spell, pressganging the Mystics into costly handling errors.
Down by two, the Mystics introduced Sulu Fitzpatrick into their defence to try to break the Thunderbirds’ sway, but Borrego and Bell were now in the zone, pushing out their lead to four going into the final stanza.
But the Thunderbirds fortunes turned around again. Tutaia, battling on with a bandaged calf, didn’t shirk from her shooting duties, and ensured the Mystics snatched the lead again with 10 minutes remaining.