The Beach Ferns have gone down fighting to a determined comeback in the Bronze medal match at Smithfields at Birmingham 2022.
After confidently taking the first set 21-10, Vanuatu's Miller Pata and Sherysyn Toko battled back into the match - the Ferns had a match ball late in the second set but couldn't take it, opening the door to a third set and a Vanuatu win.
"I'm super proud of our effort to get to the semis. Obviously a disappointing finish, but we still played really well, 99% of the time - was just a shame we didn't put away at the end," said Shaunna Polley.
Polley and Alice Zeimann started with a roar, getting out to a 7-0 lead early through a mixture of placement, power and fine defence. It wasn't until the Ferns were 15-5 up that Pata and Toko started to get into the game, but by then the deficit was too great and the kiwis closed the set out 21-10.
The Vanuatu pair showed the full range of subtleties at the net, finishing points with placement and style. It was a hard tactic to combat, and the second set went down to the wire with neither side able to get clear. The Ferns clawed back a two point Vanuatu lead to draw level at 19-all and 20-all and despite having a match ball, eventually went down 20-22.
Pata and Toko carried their momentum into the second set, working their soft touch tactic effectively. The Ferns drew level at 8-8 through a quality Polley dig and finish, before eventually going down 10-15 in the third.
Despite not taking home silverware, the Ferns can be proud of their performances through the tournament, particularly pushing gold medallists Canada all the way twice.
"The body was definitely feeling it after a few really big games, but I think, mainly it's all mental. So that's something we'll definitely take away to improve on for next time," said Shaunna Polley.
"I think those great matches (against Canada) definitely took their toll. It was great experience. Thank you so much to our supporters, we really appreciate it. And also a special shout out to everyone as Smithfield. They treated us so well and met us every day with a smile. So we're just really grateful to be here," said Alice Zeimann.
From here the Ferns head to a training camp, before joining the Asian tour.
NZL Zeimann/Polley 1 - 2 Pata/Toko VAN
21 - 10
20 - 22
10 - 15