STEPH Townsend and Sophie Ballinger are playing better netball than when they lifted Old Collegians to the A grade premiership 12 months ago.
That’s the verdict of Warriors coach Lisa Arundell, who backed her highly-rated goaling combination to shoot a winning score against Dennington today.
The Warriors and Dogs clash in the second semi-final at Noorat Recreation Reserve, with the winner booking the first spot in the grand final.
Arundell said a second season learning from each other had made Townsend and Ballinger a more damaging pairing than in 2013.
“The thing is, Sophie and Steph have played completely different to the way they played last year,” she said.
“Their playing relationship has developed to a different point and it’s a far better, far stronger way that they’re playing. They’re very much a combination now, last year they were two individual goalers.
“Now they’re a partnership in there, they work together towards that one goal. They know how to feed each other a lot better now.”
The A grade best-and-fairest vote tallies, counted on Monday night, underlined just how dominant the Warriors goalers have been this season.
Townsend was a joint runner-up with 28 while Ballinger polled 26, for a collective total of 54. No other shooting combination came close to that figure.
“They’ve got that connection. You can’t train for that. Sometimes two goalies just click,” she said. Arundell said she was proud her side could go through the regular season undefeated, earning it the minor premiership and the week off in finals. The feat was achieved despite the loss of wing attack Jess Toleman, centre Genevieve McLeod and goal keeper Rochelle Beer in the off-season.
Madeleine McLeod and Rachel Alderson have filled the void in the midcourt while the returned Jodie Maybery added resilience in defence.
But Maybery, who injured an ankle against Merrivale in round 18, is unlikely to feature today. “Our form is much better than what it was at the start of the season,” Arundell said.
“We had three new players into the team so it was a bit of trying to find form and find out what the best combinations were, work out the midcourt.
“It was a totally new midcourt. Halfway through the season that started to slot into place.”
Dennington coach Sue Fleming said the Dogs’ qualifying final win against Panmure had them confident entering today. “You can’t at this point have nothing but confidence in yourself. We’ve been competitive all year,” she said.
“All year we’ve only had one go at Collegians. We didn’t have our full side so there is that element of the unknown for both myself and Lisa.”
Fleming said the Dogs would need to “collectively” limit the passes in to Townsend and Ballinger to give themselves every chance to win. Down the other end, Lani Keane and Katie Burt will need to shoot at a high percentage to ensure chances don’t go begging.
“Last week the goals they missed, it didn’t result in a turnover, that’s what we’ve been working towards,” Fleming said.