“Mark your man!”

No, this command is not a direction at a singles’ event to grab the only guy there with all his teeth and a job. Instead, the spectators at the Women’s National Netball Tournament in suburban Burnaby, BC constantly called this out as an instruction to the players to stay close to the offensive player and block potential passes.

Now I know what you’re thinking – why the heck was I spending time in a suburb when everyone knows I‘m a city gal. Good question. But first, let’s talk netball.

What is Netball?

Never heard of it, but that’s never stopped me from claiming to be an expert in it (see rock climbing, social media…). By the name alone, I assume it involves a net and a ball but other than that – no clue. So let’s see what other experts (ie the internet) have to say first.

Wikipedia: [Netball] is a ball sport played between two teams of seven players. Developed as a distinct sport in the1890s in England, popular in Commonwealth nations and is predominantly played by women. Games are played on a rectangular court divided into thirds, with a raised goal at each short end. The object of the game is for teams to score points by passing a ball and shooting it into the opposing team’s goal. Players are assigned “positions” that define their role within the team and restrict their movement on court. During general play, a player with the ball can take no more than one step before passing it, and cannot hold the ball for longer than three seconds. Goals can only be scored by the assigned shooting players. Netball games are 60 minutes long, divided into 15-minute quarters, at the end of which the team with the most goals scored wins.

Plain English: It’s like basketball with stricter rules of play and no dribbling of the ball. This sport requires good defensive skills, accurate passing and great shooters. It moves swiftly with no timeouts. Players need to be agile and quick to keep up with the game. (nelleytimes)

Learning about the tournament from a friend, I head over to support, cheer her on, and get an in-person demonstration of the sport. A former self-proclaimed athlete myself (very self-proclaimed) I assume I’ll catch onto the sport quickly as a spectator and I’m right.  Like other professional sports, the games are fast-paced and intense; the crowds are loud and opinionated and the referees are still missing plays and calling out improper fouls (Hey ref, get your head out you’re a–!). My friend and a few players suggest I join a local league if I’m interested but although I find the sport fascinating, I’m not yet intrigued enough or determined enough to sign up.

The Canadian National Netball League is divided into 3 age group categories:

  1. Woman Under 18
  2. Woman Under 23
  3. Women’s open (24 +)

While it’s fun to watch the under 18 and 23 age groups play, my friend plays in the women’s open tournament for ON so that’s the series that had my full attention.
In her series, the 3 teams fighting for the trophy are:

  • Ontario (ON) – the reigning netball champs
  • British Columbia (BC) – the well practiced home team

  • Quebec (QC)  – the eager and energetic upstarts

Day 1, Game 1: ON vs. BC

In the beginning…

Immediately, the game starts off strong. BC scores first and ON quickly responds. The first quarter moves fast and ends with BC ahead by several points.  Many fouls are called on the ON team and the reigning champs appear to be off their game. As if in agreement, the crowd murmurs in surprise at the number of easy shots ON misses. At the end of 4 quarters, the ON team loses their first game by 19 points while BC’s win guarantees them a place in the finals.

Final Score: BC – 52, ON – 33

Day 1, Game 2: ON vs. QC

Amateurs vs. Pros

Spurred on by their earlier loss, the ON team starts off strong, scoring high and often in the first quarter. Not to be undone, the QC team piles on the defense but are no match for the unapologetic ON team who quickly and efficiently beat them down over 4 quarters.  In the end, ON wins by a landslide.

Final Score: ON – 80, QC – 45

As there are only 3 teams in this National league (so far), the semi-finals are a rematch of QC and ON allowing the BC team to rest up until the final game.

Day 2, Game 1: (Semi-finals) ON vs. QC

Second Chances

Angry and determined, the QC team put up a good fight but are no match for the focused ON team.  The ON team have the finals in their sights and the golden trophy on their minds.  ON scores immediately and continuously and has the game sewn up by halftime where they led by over 20 points.  QC finishes the second half of the game with poor passes that get intercepted and miss most of their shots. They tighten up their defensive game and slow ON’s goal-scoring slaughter. Despite QC’s best efforts, ON continues to increase their lead and finish the game strong.

Final Score: ON – 57, QC -25

Day 2 – FINAL GAME: ON vs. BC

The game we’ve all been waiting for has arrived. These two teams met at the last National Netball tournament in 2009 where ON was victorious and ON’s looking for a repeat outcome. The two teams start off neck and neck. When BC scores first, ON immediately responds with a goal. Later in the first period, ON is ahead by a few points and BC responds by quickly taking the lead. BC’s not playing as well as they were in game 1 as their best scorer is missing easy shots, giving ON several chances to catch up and take the lead. Despite the missed shots, the BC team has a strong defensive line and they block several of ON’s attempts to score. By halftime, BC is leading by 5 points but it’s still anyone’s game. In the second half, ON starts to fade as BC’s defense is strong and block ON’s attempts to penetrate their lines. ON is playing a great game but are unable to catch up to BC’s first half lead. When the buzzer rings at the end of the final quarter, BC has maintained their 5-point lead and win the tournament.

Final Score: BC –39, ON – 34

At the Netball banquet that night, I’m proud to look around the enclosed room and see 100+ strong women laughing and having fun. Since this was a dry/cash bar event (damn the minors!) I’m able to focus on all that’s happening around me (cute male DJ by the dance floor, handsome bartender behind the cash bar, good looking security guard in the hall, etc). As my mind wanders, I hear some of the girls at our table lamenting that the men’s netball tournament wasn’t held at the same time this year.

Wait! There are usually men at these things? I’m quickly informed that the men’s tournaments typically coincide with the women’s tournaments but had been postponed or rescheduled this year. So I could, right now, be happily trapped in an enclosed room full of athletic, toned, good-looking male netball enthusiasts? Well then, that changes everything. My level of intrigue (I wonder where the men are?) and determination (I can’t wait to find those men!) suddenly go up. Netball you say?

Where do I sign up?

More netball:

Netball image source

See live video here

http://netballontario.com

http://bcnetball.net/

http://www.netball.org/

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