Creating a slice of history, the Northern Mystics won the ANZ Premiership for the first time when pipping The Good Oil Tactix 61-59 in a gripping Grand Final in Auckland on Sunday.
In front of a crowd of almost 5,000, the minor premiership-winning Mystics delivered on their most successful season, putting a statement on a 14-year span to pocket their first-ever title, against last year’s beaten finalists.
In an occasion befitting a Grand Final, the match had a bit of everything as the two best teams traded blows for the duration in an entertaining contest of skill, athleticism and determination which was not decided until the final whistle.
Teenaged shooter Grace Nweke was the standout individual, the 1.93m rock under the Mystics hoop being a picture of calm, poise and accuracy with her return of 58 goals from 62 attempts.
The gallant Tactix provided plenty to the contest, the pinpoint passes into Nweke proving hard to crack while shooting wobbles also played against them but they competed with exemplary spirit and fortitude throughout.
The inclusion of well-performed Mystics goal attack Filda Vui, in just her second start of the season, was the only minor talking point in otherwise familiar starting sevens for both.
It took seven minutes before the goal-to-goal impasse was broken as the teams matched each other through their differing styles.
The Mystics were always threatening with their ability to score rapidly, the quick slick passing of Toeava and Tayla Earle finding their target of Nweke under the hoop with seamless fluidity. In comparison, the Tactix were forced to use more passing options in their patient and calculated attacking momentum.
Both teams took great care in looking after the ball, leaving few opportunities for defensive turnovers, the Mystics gaining the edge through missed goals by their opponents to hit the first break with a 17-14 lead.
The fast tempo remained in evidence on the resumption, the Tactix, through forceful defensive pressure where Karin Burger was, once again, a prominent figure helped the visitors’ level up early on.
In the heat of battle, composure and accuracy from both sides went missing at times, the Mystics weathering the early storm to keep their noses in front. The speed, intuition and instinctive play of Toeava, where her radar with Nweke was perfectly tuned, gave the hosts the upper hand in scoring opportunities.
Nweke, was all class in converting 30 goals from 31 attempts for a productive first 30 minutes of work, and who was joined by the experienced Bailey Mes (for Vui) midway through the second term.
Burger continued to reel in intercept ball for the Tactix, gathering three in the first half, while shooters Te Paea Selby-Rickit and Ellie Bird found their groove through successful interplay under the hoop.
However, after enjoying more attempts at goal, the Tactix were left to rue missed shots when trailing 33-28 at the main break.
Erikana Pedersen settled the Tactix attack line after replacing Samon Nathan for the second half, the visitors delivering their best 15 minutes of the match to leave the match delicately poised at the last turn.
Both teams continued to produce big defensive efforts in the respective circles but it was the skill of the shooters who ensured the fast-paced contest remained high-scoring and high entertainment value.
Nweke was imperious under the Mystics hoop but the huge work-rate of Selby-Rickit helped the Tactix chip into the deficit when the hosts’ margin was trimmed to just 48-46 heading down the home straight.