By Michael Burgess
Three days before the start of the Taranaki Women’s Open, the organisers received an urgent request.
The Palmerston North four needed a player, as one of their team had been forced to withdraw at the last minute, after hurting herself at work.
“They asked for someone to play for them,” explained Bowls Taranaki chairman Grant Hassell. “So we put a call out to all the local players who were available to fill in.”
Team skip Mere Fryer had previously hunted around Palmerston North, trying to find someone to make the trip, but to no avail.
“It was too short notice, too hard to get someone from our area.”
But organisers connected her with New Plymouth local Vivian Jones and it immediately felt like a good fit.
“I spoke to her straight away – she sounded lovely and bubbly,” said Fryer.
Fryer and the rest of her team (Emily Gray and Leonie Renata) met up with Jones in New Plymouth, one day before the tournament began, with 55 other teams in the field.
Fryer’s combination dropped one match in qualifying (“we were a bit flat…they beat us convincingly”) but were otherwise consistent, doing enough to progress to the last 32.
“We concentrated on being steady, not getting carried away,” said Fryer. “One game at a time, one bowl at a time.”
In the first round of post section play they beat a Ngongotaha combination 18-13, before a 31-7 win over Ohope took them into the last eight.
Their quarter final ended relatively comfortably (26-17 over West End) before a one-sided semi-final eased them past a Johnsonville team.
Against considerable odds, Fryer’s team, with ‘local hero’ Jones holding her own, found themselves in the final, against Alison Rennie’s highly rated combination from Carlton Cornwall.
But they didn’t start well in the decider, and before they knew it faced a significant deficit.
“It was a real shock,” admits Fryer. “We were down 15-4 after nine ends, when we stopped for morning tea. We knew no matter what happened, when we went home, we would have a lot to talk about.”
“But I told them there were lots of ends to go and it was about picking up ones and two’s until we caught them up.”
And remarkably, that eventuated, with the Palmerston North team gradually reining in their opponents, only trailing 25-26 with one end to play.
Fittingly, after what had been an enthralling match, it came down to the final bowl with Rennie edging it to take a 27-25 win.
But that didn’t detract too much from the achievements of Fryer and her team, who enjoyed a wonderful week.
“We all gelled so well,” said Fryer. “Everyone got on well and we combined together as a team. It was great. We told Vivian now she has new whanau.”
Hassell labelled the tournament was a resounding success, wrapping up the showpiece fortnight of fours in Taranaki.
“We were blessed with good weather, more settled conditions [than the Men’s tournament,” said Hassell. “It was well received by the players and proves there is demand out there for longer matches and longer tournaments.”
Hassell said more than half the field was drawn from outside the Taranaki region, from Wellington in the south to Orewa in the north.
By Michael Burgess