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Elkington-O'Brien relishes spotlight, helps setup NZ victory

 Written by PATRICK DAWKINS. PHOTO BY DEREK fLYNN

The only cheer louder than the applause for the introduction of Marlborough 15 year-old Jayda Elkington-O'Brien was that reserved at the final whistle when the New Zealand Youth Women's volleyball team beat their Australian counterparts in Blenheim on Thursday night.

The Kiwi team, for all purposes a national under-16 side, scored a straight-sets victory at Marlborough Lines Stadium, to the delight of a crowd of around 300 people. Australia lead the series 2-1 after registering wins in Christchurch and Nelson earlier in the week, but New Zealand now have a chance to return a tie series when the two sides meet for the fourth and final time in Wellington on Saturday.

Elkington-O'Brien had the honour of representing her country on her hometown court and was instrumental in the 25-12, 26-24, 25-20 victory, playing every point and setting well throughout.

Afterwards she was all smiles, a good result in front of a noisy and supportive crowd.

"It was really fun," she said courtside after a quick warm down. "At first I was really nervous, but then they [the crowd] helped us a lot with some noise."

Her name was called first during team introductions, following national anthems, and the spectators didn't miss it, clapping and stomping their feet in support.

"That was really cool but I was nervous as well. Then after the first serve it was all good," the year 11 Marlborough Girls' College student said.

In the very early stages it was easy to see why Australia was ahead in the series as they used their all to apparent height advantage to dominate the net and win the first three points of set one. After that the Kiwi girls kicked into gear and scored eight straight points on the back of some aggressive serving from Maya Dickson of Taranaki. From there they never looked back and won the set 25-12.

Again Australia started strong in the second set, going up 5-0, but were unable to hold their lead as the Kiwis fought their way back and eventually took a 21-20 lead. New Zealand captain Leni Moananu was instrumental throughout the match and particularly in the second, spiking hard and scrambling quickly to save balls as her side pushed out to a tense 26-24 set win.

New Zealand were more comprehensive in the third, winning 25-20.

"Tonight we were really looking after each other and everything just came together and felt comfortable," Elkington-O'Brien said. 

"We just keep on improving over the tests and we were talking heaps. Once we got down we put out heads back up. In the other matches we didn't do that."

If they are to save the series, New Zealand will need to continue their momentum in Wellington, where several of their players will share the hometown hero's spotlight.

New Zealand 3 (25-12, 26-24, 25-20) Australia 0

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New Zealand's fightback falls short against Australia during second test in Nelson

 Written by PHILLIP ROLLO

A spirited fightback fell short as the New Zealand youth girls volleyball team went down 3-2 against their Australian counterparts at Saxton Stadium in Nelson on Wednesday.

In the first international volleyball match to be played in the region for a number of years, it was the Australians who got off to the better start, edging the first two quarters 25-22, 25-22.

The New Zealand girls found their rhythm in the third quarter and fought back to take the next two sets 25-23, 25-20, sending the match into a deciding fifth set.

But the Australians showed their class when it mattered, capitalising on New Zealand's poor finishing to win the final set 15-9.

New Zealand coach Wayne Stringer, a former Waimea College student, said it was a tough result to take, believing they had got the edge on the Australians.

"It was a tight first two sets but the girls fought back really well, but we just couldn't quite get momentum in that final set," Stringer said.

"By the end of the fourth set I really thought the momentum was moving our way and they were looking shaky, but they their coach made some smart moves and took those shaky girls off and that was enough."

Though New Zealand was unable to win test number two, Stringer was happy with the performance saying it was a big step up from their straight sets defeat in the first test in Christchurch on Monday.

"We showed a lot of fight, which is a positive. For these girls it's their first trip ever and you want to see development and that bit of fight, and to me that's what New Zealanders do."

In a losing battle, the three standout performers for the New Zealand youth girls, which is essentially an under-16 side, were Laike Baker, Madison Campbell and Shaydene Begovich.

With just two matches left Australia cannot lose the series but Stringer remained confident New Zealand could still level things up in Blenheim and Wellington.

"I believe in them and we did, by chance, play the Aussies at the club tournament in Christchurch over Queen's Birthday weekend and we beat them then, so we know we can do it.

"I'm still hunting for a drawn series and I believe we can get a drawn series."

Nelson Bays Volleyball president Tony Thomas said it was great to bring international volleyball back to the region.

"We don't get many of them so it is always nice to host them," Thomas said.

"It's always great to have a test match here and these kids put on a good show of volleyball."

Thursday's third test is being held at Marlborough Lines Stadium in Blenheim. The match begins at 7pm. 

SCORE

Australia def New Zealand 3-2 (25-22, 25-22, 23-25, 20-25, 15-9)

 

 

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Junior Champs Underway

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A large turnout of Year 9 & 10 school volleyball teams will be vieing for the 'Island Champion' titles at the Volleyball New Zealand North and South Island Junior Secondary School Championships, being held simultaneously in Tauranga and Christchurch.

The North Island Championships take place at the ASB Baypark Arena in Mount Maunganui from Monday 25th to Friday 29th November, with a field of 49 Girls' teams and 42 Boys' teams participating. Favourites for the top division Girls' title are a raft of local Tauranga teams from Otumoetai, Bethlehem, Mount Maunganui and Tauranga Girls Colleges. Their main challenge is expected to come from Whakatane's Trident High, North Harbour's Rangitoto and Orewa Colleges, and Rotorua's Western Heights High. The dominance of Bay of Plenty sides in the top seedings is expected to draw large crowds throughout the week.

The top Boys' section features a wider spread of teams, with Western Heights leading the way from Orewa and North Harbour's Westlake Boys High, with South Auckland side Manurewa High, and Otumoetai, Bethlehem and Rangitoto all expected to mount a credible challenge. Also featuring at the event will be Girls' and Boys teams from Northland, Auckland, Waikato, Taranaki, Hawkes Bay/Poverty Bay, Manawatu and Wellington.

Down south, the Island event will be played in Christchurch at Pioneer Stadium, and Middleton Grange school, with 39 Girls' and 22 Boy's teams in action from 25th to 28th November.

Girls favouritism is shared equally between Tasman region schools Nayland and Waimea Colleges, and Nelson and Marlborough Girls Colleges, and Christchurch teams from Riccarton, Burnside and Aranui High Schools, and Middleton Grange school.

The southern Boys' title is expected to be fought between schools from the same regions – Nelson, Nayland and Waimea Colleges, with Riccarton and Shirley High being joined from further south by Timaru and Otago Boys High teams in the top seeded positions.

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