THE race for top spot in LVFNL netball has tightened, as Maiden Gully YCW and Calivil United took advantage of Marong's weekend off with the bye to strengthen their positions.
Maiden Gully YCW moved to the top of the ladder following an 84-25 win over Bears Lagoon-Serpentine, while Calivil United also overtook Marong with a 50-25 victory at Newbridge.
Not to be outdone, Mitiamo applied a little more pressure by pulling within two points of the third-placed Panthers at the halfway mark of the minor round season, after beating fifth-placed Bridgewater 67-62 in an eclectic performance at Mitiamo.
Wins by a trio of the league's premiership contenders have set the scene for an intriguing run to the 2022 final series.
At Newbridge, Calivil United showed why it has only lost one game all season with another efficient and confident display in the wet in a 50-25 win over the Maroons.
The Demons, led by a best on court performance from wing attack/goal attack Tia Steen and some outstanding goal shooting in the tricky conditions from Amy Murfitt and Mia McCrann-Peters, controlled the match from start to finish.
Calivil United converted a five-goal quarter time lead into 17 at half time, after restricting the Maroons to just four goals in the second term.
Showcasing their depth and versatility, Demons coaches Karen Pascoe and Teigan Redwood made several positional changes in the second half, with Amy Ryan and Jarileey Scholtes replacing Lily Buckingham at centre and Murfitt, Steen and McCrann-Peters all rotating through the goal circle.
Pascoe praised a strong and even team performance, particularly given the often-contrasting weather conditions.
"I had a hard task picking the best players - I was happy to let that job go to the umpires," she said.
"You really have to work on these wet weather games, as you never know, it could rain in the finals.
"You do have to play the game out strong, so we were very happy with the result, the way our players handled the ball and the pace of the game they put out on a wet weather day."
An obvious strength, Pascoe hoped the Demons versatility would give them an edge come finals time.
"We've got players who can play anywhere and two or three positions all over the court, we're very lucky," she said
"We tried a few things today to cover some contingencies, so I'm very happy with that."
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A hard-fought loss left Newbridge a 2-5 win-loss record at the halfway point, but with plenty to build on.
Maroons coach Selina Holland said in the absence of key defender Meg Jennings (ankle), the Demons' height and variation in the goal circle had troubled the Maroons.
"We just didn't have an answer without Meg for their tall timber. Their defence end did a great job, I thought," she said.
"But even without Meg, our defence end has been working well - real tight-knit and moving the ball down the court beautifully. They get their hands on lots of things in the midcourt, which takes a lot of the pressure off our attacking end.
"We probably got stuck a bit on our way into our goaling end and when you are one (player) short, it's kind of hard to make any changes - you don't always have the options.
"But we gave ourselves the challenge to try and win the last quarter and we only went down by two, so the girls know they can match it with them, but today just wasn't our day."
Goal keeper Sarah Lovell and goal shooter Brianna Burt rated as the Maroons' best.
At Mitiamo, playing coach Laura Hicks said her team had made 'very hard work' of what could have been a much more comfortable five-goal win over Bridgewater.
The Superoos led by 10 goals at three quarter time, but remarkably found themselves down by two during the final term, before regaining their momentum and composure to win 67-62.
It's been a recurring theme this season for the Superoos, who moved to 4-2-1, but have paid the price for lapses in their games, most notably in losses to Maiden Gully YCW and Calivil United.
"We made very hard work of an easy win, but we got the four points in the end, which is what we needed," Hicks said.
"It was the same as with (Maiden Gully) YCW, when we lose momentum, we have to try and rein it back in before it blows out.
"That's what happened at Maiden Gully, instead of a three-or-four goal momentum swing it's six or seven and then this week 10 or 11.
"At least cool-calm heads eventually prevailed and we were able to bring it back out, but there was five minutes where we seemed to switch off completely."
Bridgewater's cause was not aided by the absence of top recruit Carly Ladson, who undoubtedly would have made a difference.
Claudia Collins was a standout in goals for the Mean Machine, who scored 19 final quarter goals to Mitiamo's 14.
Some absences for the Superoos paved the way for Alicia Hay, who played three quarters, and Eliesha McKean (one quarter) to make their way up from B-grade for an A-grade debut.
Fourth at the halfway point of the season, Hicks said Mitiamo was on track for a top-three finish ahead of finals.
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