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Diamonds in fine form ahead of 2014 Commonwealth Games

The Australian Diamonds have reclaimed the Constellation Cup after a fierce battle against a determined New Zealand Silver Ferns side in Melbourne on Monday, giving the Diamonds a confidence booster ahead of next year’s Commonwealth Games.

The fourth test of the five test series, in which New Zealand claimed the first victory in Invercargill, until the Diamonds won the next two, would prove to be the decider between the two teams, with New Zealand needing the win to stay in contention for the cup.

New Zealand shooter, Catherine Latu, earned the start in the team over veteran shooter Irene van Dyk, proving to be a tough opponent for Diamond’s skipper Laura Geitz in her fourth test as captain. Geitz, whose defensive combination with vice-captain, Bianca Chatfield, is proving to become a formidable force for any attackers to stand against, again stood-up for her team, leading by example in defence to keep her opponent to just three goals in the second term and five in the third.

The test match was a physical affair, with both teams putting their body on the line not only for the claiming of the Constellation Cup, but also for the mental edge that is all important ahead of the Commonwealth Games next year.

The Silver Ferns and the Diamonds, the undisputed top two netball teams in the world, have played each other in the final of major netball tournaments on the past eight occasions, dating back to 1995.

With the Commonwealth Games fast approaching, and the World Championships the following year, Diamonds captain Laura Geitz said that the mental edge accompanying the win and the claiming of the series is important for the hopes of winning Commonwealth Games gold.

“Going back to that first game in Invercargill, we look like a totally different team now,” Geitz said.

“I think there’s all of a sudden a great confidence amongst our playing group and I suppose that for us, is what we need heading into Commonwealth Games.”

“I’m just so proud to be a part of this team.”

Diamonds’ coach, Lisa Alexander, is using this series against New Zealand, and the upcoming tests against the Malawi Queens, to strengthen combinations ahead of the Games.

“Obviously we’re not playing at our best just yet, but I wouldn’t want us to either, I think we need to time our run into Commonwealth Games,” said Alexander after Monday’s match.

“The signs are all there and the effort’s there, and we’ll keep working on our execution and our technical work, but I think a major part for it is tonight the girls have really jelled together well as a group, they’re supporting each other and they’re really being high performance athletes in a true sense – pushing each other but understanding that it’s team first.”

The Diamonds are looking in good stead, with many players standing up and proving themselves as a viable contender for Commonwealth Games selection.

Laura Geitz is taking her game to the next level, following in the footsteps of former Australian captains Natalie von Bertouch, Sharelle McMahon and Liz Ellis. Vice-captain Bianca Chatfield, although starting the first match of the series on the bench, has cemented her spot in the starting seven in goal defence, her combination with Geitz is developing to be a striking duo.

The attack line also looks to be settled, with sharp shooter Caitlin Bassett, thriving in her chance to be a starting player with Catherine Cox pulling out of Diamonds contention due to fatigue. Bassett’s new shooting partner at the ANZ Championship franchise the West Coast Fever, Natalie Medhurst, has fought for her spot as starting goal attacker, and their combination will be further bolstered with experience playing together in the 2014 season.

The mid-court for the Diamonds has been relatively unsettled, with Renae Hallinan being the favourable candidate for the wing defence positions, whilst fellow mid-courters Kimberlee Green, Madison Browne and youngster Kimberley Ravaillion have shared duties in the remaining two positions.

The Diamonds’ depth goes far beyond their starting seven. Awaiting on the bench is goal attacker, Erin Bell, who was named MVP of the ANZ Championship grand final this year, and shooter Caitlin Thwaites, who shot at 100% in her Australian Diamonds debut last year. Also in defence are Adelaide Thunderbirds premiership defensive duo, Rebecca Bulley and Sharni Layton, who can prove to be menacing opponents for their competition.

“They’re training very hard, they give everything to the girls on court and it’s only just a matter of time, if we get an injury or we make a change for whatever reason, then we’ve got that ability to do that,” said Alexander about the players on the bench.

Demelza McCloud and Paige Hadley, players for the Queensland Firebirds and NSW Swifts respectively, are also two contenders for a position in the Commonwealth Games team, with the two getting called into the team for the upcoming Malawi series. Diamonds’ veteran, Catherine Cox is also in the running for the Commonwealth Games selection, and many ANZ Championship players are pushing for places in the Diamonds, including Karyn Howarth, Tegan Caldwell, Chelsea Pitman, Julie Corletto and Susan Pratley to name a few.

“I think for us it’s wonderful to have this young playing group settle together before two massive years. We all understand that we not only have the girls pushing from the bench, but we’ve also got depth that goes far and beyond the 12 that are in this team,” Geitz said.

“I think the biggest thing to understand is a lot of water to go under the bridge with ANZ Championship and international tests.”

“It feels like we head out on court now really confident and actually enjoying the contest and that’s all you can ask as an athlete.”

The Constellation Cup will conclude with the final match in Canberra on Sunday, where the Diamonds will be presented with the Constellation Cup, followed by a two game series against the Malawi Queens in Wollongong and the Gold Coast.

 

 

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