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Wellington Black A net Netball NZ U17 Champs title

Wellington Black A has netted a third straight Netball NZ U17 Champs crown in commanding form, delighting coach Dion Te Whetu.

They overcame a slow start to beat Auckland 1 41-29 at Vautier Park in Palmerston North on Thursday in what was the fourth straight year the two teams had met in the age-group Grand Final.

“I’m just so proud of the girls,” Te Whetu said after the final whistles. “We’ve got a new mid-court this year and while we had a few people back from last year, it was a different approach for this campaign.”

But they needed to absorb early pressure from Auckland before dominating in the second half to secure their third successive title.

“We were down in the first quarter but the girls didn’t panic,” Te Whetu said. “They kept the top two inches which is what we had talked about.

“We knew Auckland would come out hard, they’re a big physical side, so it was really pleasing to see that our team stuck to the game plan and kept building.”

Auckland made the early play for the Anna Rowberry Cup as they scored quickly from the first centre pass and a turnover gave them a 2-0 lead.

They looked the more composed team in the first spell and held a slender 11-8 advantage at quarter time.

But Wellington returned with intent in the second stanza as they levelled the scores at 13-13 mid-way through the quarter and a late turnover saw them take a one-goal lead at the main break.

They were bookended with impressive performances from Beko Netball League players Saviour Tui, at goal shooter, and Paris Lokotui, at goal keeper.

But it was their work as a unit, on both attack and defence, which saw Wellington jump out to a 23-18 lead as Auckland struggled to settle through the middle after a number of changes were made.

The defending champions led 28-23 going into the fourth quarter and with a commanding lead, Te Whetu turned to his bench in the late stages of the game, as they clinched the crown with a 12-goal win.

Auckland coach April Ieremia said she was proud of the performance of her team throughout the four days and in particular the Grand Final.

“The courage and the tenacity that they put out there today just warmed my heart,” she said. “I was really proud of the way the girls represented Auckland on the court and extremely proud of the way they got to the final, but it wasn’t our day.”

Wellington was primed for a tough Grand Final having pipped Howick Pakuranga 28-27 in a thrilling semi-final earlier in the day, while Auckland 1 had beaten Manawatu 54-30 to reach the last two.

Te Whetu, and assistant coach Irene van Dyk, had been pleased with how their squad had improved as the tournament progressed.

“We didn’t start our campaign well and we’ve just built and built and built which has been one of the most pleasing aspects for Irene and I,” he said.

“Now as coaches, we just want to see where this group of girls go on from here.”

Meanwhile, the play-off for third and fourth spot was won by Howick Pakuranga who beat Manawatu 49-25. Auckland 2 rounded out the top five with a 42-32 win over Waitakere 1.