The triumph of Sandra Keith and Bev Morel in the 2022 Summerset Nationals women’s pairs was the product of a six year pact.
The Canterbury duo, who are long time rivals, promised each other back in 2016 they would team up one day in a national competition.
It took a while, but finally happened this year, with spectacular results.
They were unbeaten across the tournament, a class above most of their opponents, culminating in the emphatic 20-8 victory in the final against Clare Hendra and Tayla Bruce.
It was sweet success, especially as their combination had taken so long to come to fruition.
“We had a pact six years ago, when I gave up playing for the Canterbury team,” explained Morel. “I told her ‘I’ve got one thing on my bucket list with bowls, I want to have a game of pairs with you Sandra’. So we shook on it. “
“We have had other things on but finally [this year] we were both left without a player. I rang her up and she said ‘Right Bev, we’re on’.”
Despite never combining before, there was instant chemistry.
“We read the head the same and we both make quick decisions,” said Morel. “We don’t umm and ahh about what shot is going to played. Sandra knows exactly what she is going to do and I backed all her decisions. We were very relaxed with each other.”
Keith agreed, admitting that things flowed almost perfectly.
“I wasn’t sure how it was going to go,” said Keith. “But she is a bit of a legend around bowls in Canterbury and it turned out we clicked quite well.”
“We have both played long enough to respect each other. She did her thing, I chipped in and did mine and we hardly said much when we were playing. We didn’t have to; it worked out well.”
Their similar mental approach on the green, along with a relaxed attitude to the overall tournament, paid dividends.
“It’s a mindset thing, if you are both in a same sort of zone,” said Keith. “Her ability to draw is brilliant; I let her do what she does well and she did do it well…so it made my job a lot easier.”
“And there was no stress on us, just taking each game as it comes. At the start of the week we thought we would have a chance but we wouldn’t have run out and put our money on the TAB or anything. But it couldn’t have gone any better.”
They were unbeaten across the event, though had a tight semi-final contest against Natarsha Grimshaw and Hanna Rio da Silva (Hawkes Bay), eventually prevailing 22-17.
“They played well but we got out in the lead and got a bit of control,” said Keith. “When you are in front one is a good score. Don’t have to chase points.”
Keith and Morel were up against 2020 finalists Hendra and Bruce in the decider and the pre-game pep talk was succinct.
“We just said ‘Let’s go out and do it, let’s do what we have been doing,” recalled Keith.
The match continued a pattern from across the week, with Morel and Keith getting into a strong position and able to control the contest from there, despite a late fightback from Hendra and Bruce.
It was the fourth national title for the 80-year-old Morel, after four’s success in 1995 and 2007 and a pairs trophy in 2018.
“They are all special,” said Morel. “This one was really special because it was a goal that I had for the year. It’s up there, especially with someone that I had played against a lot, a top player and a fantastic person.”
Keith (53) also had three previous national successes on her resume (2012, singles; 2013, pairs; 2020, fours) and expressed similar sentiments about the significance of this triumph.
“It’s awesome to have won a title with her,” said Keith. “Not many 80-year-olds win those.”
“It hasn’t really sunk it yet, how well it went. If you tried to plan it that way, it would never work. But it just all fell into place; it was probably meant to be.”
Morel, who took up bowls four decades ago, puts her longevity in the sport down to several factors.
“I keep myself fit, I love the game, I enjoy coaching and I love the camaraderie,” said Morel.
And they won’t be waiting six years to team up again.
“We are going to play next year,” said Morel. “We are going to try and defend our title.”