Clarence River schools go to battle in DEX Shield netball
NETBALL: After two long years, the Daily Examiner Shield netball finals are back and it's set to become one of the biggest finals days in the history of the competition with teams from Maclean High School and Grafton High School battling it out for the junior and senior titles at Westward Park.
Maclean High have long been strong in the annual competition, having won several titles against bitter rivals McAuley College and South Grafton High, but with the emergence of Grafton High in recent years the downriver challengers pose quite a threat.
Under coach Kylie Lowe is a team of young, hungry stars who have worked their way through the ranks and are ready to take their chance for a senior crown of their own.
Spearheading the attack for the green-and-black is the ever-so versatile Alex Anderson-Bylos who will be looking to work well alongside Molly McLeod as the creative youngster is out to make her mark on the competition.
Tasked with the mammoth job of centre will be Zoe King whose mild-mannered approach should come in handy to calm the nerves out on the court as she links up with Makailah Lawrence and Mia Symons to control the middle.
Acting as the great wall of Maclean will be imposing defenders Kate Behn, Laura Develder and Evie Wright as they face the task of subduing the pacy Grafton frontline with their no-frills approach to getting the job done.
Behn has made a name for herself as a leader from the back and is always looking to lift her side no matter the circumstances, while Develder brings a passion to the game in her monumental efforts to grab rebounds and block passes into key areas.
Lowe has been working with these girls for some time and knows they can get the job done despite the huge amount of pressure under the label of favourites going into the tournament.
Maclean went through the preliminary rounds with relative ease despite a late wobble and Lowe was pleased with their performances.
"They played well. They all put in 110 per cent, I can't fault them. Hopefully, they can do it all again next week," Lowe said after the preliminary rounds.
"We want to take home those trophies again, take them downriver."
Lowe will no doubt be out to clean up tomorrow afternoon when her side take to court.
Moving up the river are defending champions Grafton High who made their way through the preliminary rounds in style with coach Julie Stringer praising their efforts.
"We've got three Year 12 players who have represented the school in netball for the past six years and four Year 11's and one Year 10, so they're a very experienced team," Stringer said.
"They're very dynamic and when they play well it's inspiring. They just need to maintain their concentration and play well as a team and I believe they have a very good chance at winning."
Stringer refused to put Maclean out of the picture as the downriver rivals have always been incredibly strong in the tournament.
"Maclean have some very talented players, so it's going to be tough but I think it will be really close and will go down to the last goal," she said.
The Grafton coach spoke of the firepower within the Grafton High arsenal that will be keen to get out on the court this afternoon.
"We have a very inspiring goal-defence in Brooke Sullivan who is capable of changing the game with her intercepts and anticipation. A very stable and dependable centre court with Meg Young, Alanis O'Mahony and Sophie Osbourne working away," she said.
"Our goal attack, Aimee Firth, is very clever in the way she plays the game and the sister of junior Sophie Rowe, Sarah, can also be a game changer."
Grafton High have been aiming to break the dominance of a Maclean side who are always either winning or in the finals, and they did just that in 2017.
Stringer will be hoping her side can carry on leading the charge against the competitive school and take home their second title in a row.
"We're the defending champions and it will be a close game but I think we have the ability to take it home again," she said.
"They're really keen and they listen. I've taught them to look for the best pass and to treasure the ball, and if they do that they're in for a real shot at it."
Grafton High are in it to win it against a mean Maclean machine.
The finals will take place after school hours tomorrow afternoon at the Westward Park Netball Courts and will showcase some of the best young talent emerging in the sport in the Clarence Valley.