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