Even best sides slip up occasionally

Kate Heffernan
Kate Heffernan
It seemed the talk of the Southern Steel's season was consistency.

When the team was on form it was brilliant - it was just a case of limiting the lulls.

If it could do that, a third consecutive title was a very real possibility.

Barring the occasional bad patch - notably the third quarter against the Central Pulse in Dunedin - it managed it too.

Even when it has slipped up, the Steel has so often found a way out of trouble in recent years.

But when it mattered most, two mini-runs from the Northern Stars proved too much to overcome.

Abby Erwood
Abby Erwood
A run of three late in the third quarter gave the Stars a 43-41 lead into the last break.

That was followed by a five-goal run when mistakes found their way into the Steel game.

It was exactly the type of period it had worked so hard to avoid.

But while it wrested momentum back, a 48-41 deficit was too much to overhaul in 11 minutes.

The 56-53 loss was what the season came down to and it left a hollow feeling.

A seven-match winning streak had preceded that elimination final.

That included a 10-goal win over the Pulse and, had the Steel made the final, it had every chance of winning.

But it came up against a Stars side which brought its best for the playoffs - a Stars team which nearly upset the Pulse in Monday's final.

Even the best teams slip up occasionally and one loss does not make a bad team.

In many respects this year's team was better than the side which stole victory in last year's final.

It lost just three games in the round-robin.

The team's stars got better as the season went on and new goal shoot Lenize Potgieter became a major weapon.

The absence of longtime captain Wendy Frew left a hole.

She may have been able to help the team keep control under pressure, but it is tough to knock her replacement.

Kate Heffernan barely put a foot wrong in the wing defence bib.

Her long arms and uncanny knack of coming up with ball made her tough for opposing attacks.

She was as good as anyone in the elimination final and looked far from a 19-year-old at any stage of the season.

Abby Erwood was another youngster to make a big impact.

Having been with the Steel since 2016, she became a genuine defensive ball-winner this year.

If the Steel can hold on to Courtney Elliott, it has a very good young defensive unit for coming years.

Then there was the much-debated change, taking off Potgieter for Jennifer O'Connell in the elimination final.

O'Connell had been key in last year's win and was the victim of Potgieter's signing.

It was a tough situation to come on in and it was also the key period when the Stars pulled away.

The change itself may not have been the issue - the Steel was struggling to find Potgieter.

But coach Reinga Bloxham probably should have brought Potgieter back sooner.

Of course, it is easy to say that now we know a comeback followed.

Just as one loss does not make a bad team, being two minutes late on one decision does not make a bad coach.

From a results point of view, all of that is irrelevant. On the day it mattered the team was not good enough.

That should provide plenty of motivation to reclaim its crown in a year's time.

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