Excelsior's Smart upbeat ahead of netball finale with Norman Manley


Excelsior's Smart upbeat ahead of netball finale with Norman Manley

Observer writer

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

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Just a year after giving up their title to Gaynstead High, Excelsior High have a chance to regain the Inter-secondary Schools Sports Association (ISSA) Senior Netball title when they go up against Norman Manley High in the final tomorrow.

The Eagles battled bravely against the reigning champions Gaynstead, in the semi-finals to come away with a two-goal margin of victory at the Leila Robinson Courts in Kingston last Thursday.

Excelsior led from wire to wire but were held in check by the champions all the way to the final whistle, before just getting over the line in the final quarter.

The Chris Smart-coached team led 7-6 at the end of the first quarter and 17-15 at the end of the half. They then gave themselves some breathing room at the end of the third quarter as they led 29-21. But the champions came storming back in the final stanza, drawing level at one stage before Excelsior edged away in the final minutes to win 36-34.

An elated Smart had high praises for his girls.

“I want to commend the girls for their effort; I think it was a gallant one. Personally, we always think that we are the better team going into the final — but obviously we would have to play,” he said.

Smart also tipped his hat to his opponents for the fight they showed on the day.

“I really have to commend Gaynstead on their performance, because Gaynstead didn't allow us to run away with the game at no point at all. However, we constantly looked at the obvious changes that we had to make and get the fresh legs on court,” he reasoned.

Smart was pleased with the tactical execution of his team.

“We told the girls before the start of the game that if we control the ball, we control the game, and once we control the game; all we need to do was just protect that ball and ensure the victory come home to Excelsior,” he said.

Excelsior Captain Rasheda Robinson was extremely cool under pressure down the home stretch, and Smart hailed the uniqueness of his team leader as well as the combination of her and Chamoi Manahan.

“Rasheda Robinson is a special player; she is very unique in the way she goes about her business. She is not the aggressive type of netball player but she is very specific and deliberate in her movement and her partnering with Chamoi Manahan —that's the combination we found against St Catherine and figured that that combination should be able totake us through the rest of the season,” noted Smart.

However, the coach was quick to point out that it was about more than just the performance which ensured victory.

“It wasn't about Rasheda alone; it was an all-round team performance because they played around her, they feed her with the ball. She started at goal attack earlier on in the season and we think that if we get her to play goal shoot that would be a better position for her, and she did deliver,” Smart commented.

The veteran coach is looking forward to a good final against Norman Manley High, but expects his team to be victorious at the end of the day.

“It should be a good matchup. Norman Manley and Excelsior are coming from the same zone in the first round of the competition and we beat Norman Manley; at Norman Manley and come the final day, I don't see anything different,” said Smart.

He pointed to the result of their first-round matchup as a marker of things to come tomorrow.

“Norman Manley played without one of their ace players, we played without one of our ace players also. So it's just to go back to the drawing board, look at what we have, look at the mistakes that we made, correct them, and I anticipate a good final but Excelsior should prevail,” Smart ended.

The Eagles will not have it all their own way however, according to Shanelle Bentley, the vice-captain of Norman Manley High.

“It's not our first encounter with Excelsior High school and I think that with training and effort we can beat them in the finals.

“I think that the reason why we lost was because enough team spirit wasn't there and enough confidence, but our defenders are back and in shape so I think we can win the finals.”

The junior final will take place ahead of the senior final and will feature defending champions Gaynstead High going up against St Hugh's High.

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