HEART-WARMING!
Francis credits Sunshine Girls despite lopsided losses to N Zealand
FRANCIS...the scoreline aside, there were heaps of positives (Photo: Naphtali Junior)

Despite suffering heavy defeats in their 0-2 Taini Jamison Trophy series loss to New Zealand, Sunshine Girls Head Coach Connie Francis took heart from the character shown by her seven players who braved tough circumstances to represent the island down under.

The depleted team, which included three members of the Commonwealth Games silver medal-winning outfit, lost Thursday's second contest 35-75, mere hours after taking a 45-75 beating from the Silver Ferns in the opening encounter.

The series, which was initially scheduled to be a three-match affair to be played in Hamilton and Auckland on September 17, 18, and 21, was postponed and later reduced to two Tests as a result of travel visa issues faced by five members of Jamaica's team.

Still, Francis lauded the seven players, including the Commonwealth Games representatives, Shimona Nelson, Adean Thomas, and Latanya Wilson, for their patriotism in ensuring that Netball Jamaica fulfilled its obligations to their numbertwo-ranked hosts.

In this 2018 file photo, England's Helen Housby (left) and Jamaica's Adean Thomas vie for the ball during a netball encounter between the teams at National Indoor Sports Centre in Jamaica. (Photo: Garfield Robinson)

"The series is not what we had expected. Coming to New Zealand to play the number two team in the world with only seven players took its toll. The first game was very good in terms of how we managed the quarters and what we wanted to accomplish.

"But the second game we were off because fatigue took over. But the girls gave it their best and I am proud of the effort of every player because it was always a hard task for us," Francis told the Jamaica Observer.

"We went in with some goals but, again, going up against a team like New Zealand who we had just beaten at Commonwealth Games, I know they would come at us, so fielding an under strength team means it was always going to be difficult for us contain them," she added.

With only the seven members on the ground, Francis, who retired 20 years ago, and her former teammate Carla Borrego, along with another former Sunshine Girl Romelda Aiken, who gave birth just over a month ago, suited up to complete the roster in order to confirm Test match status for the game.

FRANCIS... the girls gave it their best and I am proud of the effort of every player because it was always a hard task for us.

Though it was not the return she would have anticipated, Francis, whose last assignment in New Zealand was as coach at the 2007 World Cup, said she couldn't have been prouder and hopes to use the experience as a teaching moment going forward.

"The way they accepted the fact quickly that it's seven and they were ready to give of their best regardless was really heart warming. It was asking them to do something they were not accustomed to, but I am happy that players got an opportunity to not only play but also complete the fixtures which was important," Francis stated.

Francis pointed out that more opportunities will open up for the young players, in particular. Their next assignment will be the Americas Netball World Cup qualifiers on home soil next month.

"The scoreline aside, there were heaps of positives. Seeing debutants displaying good netball and were able to match strides with a number two-ranked team for eight quarters was good.

"So it's much to build on. We will go back to the drawing board and get the girls into shape and give them a fair shot at a chance in making the team for the World Cup.

"The intention is to give them more games because the more they play we can track their progress and work together to ensure that they get a chance to make the final cut," the coach said.

The last time Jamaica played in New Zealand was in 2018 when they lifted the Taini Jamison Trophy from the Silver Ferns with a win in the series which also included Fiji and Malawi.

BY SHERDON COWAN Staff reporter cowans@jamaicaobserver.com

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