By Jordan Witte and Claire Macuz
A standout performance from centre Isabel Leraci in her return from injury wasn’t enough for the Metro Jets U17-3 squad, as they fell to St. Therese’s by five goals on Tuesday night.
Leraci returned to the side after missing two weeks with a finger injury, and the speedy centre wasted no time in putting her stamp on the game.
Her first quarter was particularly impressive, as the Jets jumped out of the blocks against the Saints. Leraci racked up three assists, an interception and a deflection as Holly Pugliese and Georgia Padden combined well in the circle to give the Jets a 2-0 lead early in the game.
Leraci’s drive through the middle of the court; seemingly ignoring attempted body pressure from the physical Saints defense, delighted the crowd. The incisive drives opened up space for the remainder of the team, allowing Pauline Genreau and Maddy Usher to push into open pockets of the court and dangerous positions.
St. Therese’s sides have a reputation for producing excellent goalers, and the defensive pairing of Sara Abate and Ella Buck had their work cut out for them. Minute moments of relaxation from the Metro midcourt let the Saints goalers back into the match, and they levelled halfway through the quarter.
In a moment of brilliance, Abate somehow intercepted a pass bound for the goal circle while facing away from the play, and the resulting rebound from the Jets provided Padden with the easiest of goals, with Metro taking a narrow two-goal lead into the first break.
The first three goals of the second quarter went the way of the Saints, with the second goal in particular a thing of beauty, as the Jets midcourt was caught out on a quick rebound.
Padden steadied the ship as Leraci tossed a neat assist, but the Saints responded. Pugliese put in a mountain of work in a rare foray outside the goal circle, but missed the ensuing shot. Padden has an innate knack of timing her rebounds, though, and her jump took the ball at its highest point, before finishing off her good work to level the game again.
The two teams went back and forth in an enthralling display of high-pressure netball. The Saints took yet another one goal lead, before Pugliese levelled the scores. The Jets – tiring with every second – gave up three goals in a row as the Saints threatened to run away with it – before Padden, ever cool, finished the half with a clutch goal to keep the Jets in touch.
The luxury of having defensively minded midcourters has aided the Jets coaching staff no end so far this season, and the trio of Reese Willder, Usher and Abate were the catalysts for a surge from the Jets straight after halftime.
First Willder, then Usher, and finally Genreau had decisive moments early in the third quarter. It led to three straight goals for the Jets, as they wrestled back momentum to lead 11-10.
A rare misstep from Genreau, who has enjoyed perhaps the best month of her career, let the Saints back in, and they took full advantage to take a 13-15 lead into the final quarter.
Coaches Jordan Witte & Kim Dooley emphasised the importance of the team taking their chances at three quarter time, encouraging Buck and Abate to box their opponents out and take easy rebounds.
Leraci came back to run out the game strongly, as Usher – exhausted after three massive quarters – sat out the final period. Pugliese got the first of the last quarter, as the Jets crept to within one.
Despite the best intentions of Genreau, Willder, Abate and Buck, the Saints proved too strong down the stretch. St. Therese’s missed several crucial shots in the last five minutes, but Abate and Buck were unable to snag the rebounds. Padden and Pugliese battled valiantly, dragging the Jets to within three goals on two occasions, but never closer.
With a final score of 20-25, the Jets have every right to feel aggrieved by the result. They should also take heart in a disciplined, gritty performance, which arguably could have gone the other way.
The chemistry between Padden and Pugliese improves every week; Genreau is in red-hot form; Buck and Abate are developing an understanding of each other’s play; and the midcourt trio of Leraci, Usher and Willder play tough, physical netball and hate getting beaten.
The Jets will get a chance to put that newly developed team chemistry into practice this coming Tuesday, with a matchup against the undefeated Victoria University Vultures.