IT was an emotional outpouring from the Collegians Mystified players and their coach Melissa Noonan when the final whistle sounded in Saturday’s Bathurst Netball Association A grade grand final.
Not only had they fought hard to beat a gritty Panthers outfit 42-38 in an epic decider, but they did so without a familiar face on the sideline.
“This was our first grand final without one of the girls’ mums – Tamara and Samatha’s – they lost their mum and this is the first grand final where Kim hasn’t been by my side since 2006,” a tearful but proud Noonan said.
“I’ve been in a grand final every year and she’s always been with me. So to not have her here [was tough].”
Before the embraces at full-time, Collegians were made to work hard for every goal by a Panthers outfit which had been their biggest rival all season.
The lead constantly switched hands and no more than four goals separated the pair throughout the entire contest.
The opening quarter set the tone for what was to come as Panthers snuck ahead by two but Collegians fought back to be on level terms at quarter-time at 9-all.
In the second quarter Collegians goal defence Teagan Germech was brilliant, rebounding well, showing quick hands and pressuring every shot. It helped her side edge ahead to lead 21-19 at half-time.
Collegians scored twice inside the first minute of the second half to open up the biggest lead of the contest at 23-19, but Panthers fought back.
Panthers goal defence Astrid Linke did as Germech had done the previous quarter and after Pearl Grimmett potted back-to-back goals, her side hit the lead.
Panthers were up 32-21 with a quarter to play but three minutes later the pair were once more on even terms.
Turnovers came down both ends as the desperation showed. But in the final five minutes Collegians pulled clear, restricting Panthers to just one goal and landing five of their own.
As the final whistle sounded, Collegians celebrated.
“They are a very young side, I think the average age of the team is probably 18-19, so they do well,” Noonan said.
“It was unbelievable. The last couple of minutes I was thinking to myself that the buzzer had to go soon. I am so proud of the girls, they fought hard.
“Defence was fantastic, Sam Thompson – she can clean up some ball, Teagan Germech, it was just outstanding their combination in there. Even Ebony Hotham worked well in there.
“All the girls were truly amazing, our shooters were on fire and yeah, happy days.”
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While they never gave up, they fought hard and at times literally threw themselves into the contest, unfortunately for Panthers it was not quite enough.
Panthers coach Di Coombes had watched on as her players gave everything and was left to try and console them at full-time as their efforts went unrewarded.
“It was a great effort this season which is why it’s so disappointing we didn’t get the result we wanted. They worked hard and it could have gone either way, it’s just a shame we didn’t get it,” she said.
“Everyone gave 100 percent, everyone tried. It’s a really hard way to lose one when you put that work in all year. It’s just a shame.
“I feel sorry for them, they did all the hard work, but just in that last minute they [Collegians] got that roll on.”
In the first quarter it was Panthers who were the first on the board thanks to goal attack Jess Matthews and with centre Claire Woolmington applying plenty of pressure, they led 4-2 after five minutes.
In the second quarter when Collegians, on the back of a renewed defensive effort, made it hard for Panthers’ shooters, their team-mates rallied.
Wing attack Gabby Bugg came up with a brilliant flick-back when the ball was headed out, while wing defence Ella Welsh pulled off a nice intercept soon after.
HT’ Another hard fought quarter but Collegians have pulled ahead to lead 21-19.— Sports Out West (@SportsOutWest) September 22, 2018
Collegians worked hard in defence to force a number of turnovers, but Panthers desperation evident too - Gab Bugg coming up with one brilliant flick back when the ball was headed out. pic.twitter.com/r9jRQQeuNr
Up by one goal with a quarter to play, Panthers switched up the on court combinations to try and keep momentum on their side.
Bugg moved to centre, Linke to goal keeper and Woolmington to goal defence. When Collegians pulled away, Panthers responded and with a tick under five minutes to go it was locked up at 37-all.
But unfortunately for Panthers, that final five minutes belonged to Collegians. Best and fairest, Mystified goal attack Caitlyn Matthews, sunk pressure shots and the gap between the pair opened.
Panthers did not give up and toiled to create chances, but more than once were left to watch as shots rolled around the rim of the hoop and spilled the wrong way.
“It was a good game, even every quarter, which we knew it was going to be. We just needed that bit of luck, but that last run of things just rolled their way,” Coombes said.
“It was last minute which changed it, their goals rolled in, ours rolled out.
“We just ran out of time, it was just bad luck for us.
“Everyone played really well. Claire, she really stepped up, we thought we had to make a change that last quarter, see if we could step it up because we were on a roll. She did what she had to do, we were just unlucky.”