The Victorian Netball League finalists are locked and loaded after an incredible final round that saw fourth place decided by just four goals in one of the last matches of the season.
With fourth-placed Peninsula Waves facing a tough assignment against undefeated minor premiers City West Falcons in Round 18, VU Western Lightning needed only to beat Monash University Storm to vault into finals but came up heart-breakingly short.
Lightning were under the pump early, trailing 15-10 at quarter-time, but they hung with Storm and narrowed the gap to four goals at the final change. Both teams scored 11 goals in the last quarter to give Storm a 45-41 win, leaving Lightning just half a game out of the top four, while Monash skipped ahead of them and finished only two percentage points behind Waves.
Waves came perilously close to falling out of finals after three consecutive losses to close out their season, including a heavy loss in the final round against Falcons.
Peninsula joined the procession of teams to have matched Falcons early in games in the second half of the season, only to be blown away after half-time. Waves trailed by just one goal at quarter-time and seven at half-time, but with City West shooter Kathleen Knott shooting 34 goals from 36 attempts, the pressure eventually told as Falcons piled on 32 second-half goals to 19 and ran out 62-42 winners.
Second-placed Boroondara Genesis won back some confidence after two losses in a row, beating DC North East Blaze 64-47.
But it took Genesis until the second half to make their move, with the scores tied at quarter-time and only three goals separating them at half-time. Eighteen goals in the third quarter and 20 in the last was more than enough for Genesis to wrap things up, with Emma Ryde-Coad topping the scoresheet with 41 goals from 45 attempts.
Genesis now face the difficult task of taking on City West Falcons in the major semi-final next week.
The big finals threat could come from third-placed Southern Saints, who are in red hot form after six consecutive victories, including a 68-38 win against Fed Uni Ballarat Pride in Round 18.
Saints never allowed Pride into the contest, taking a 16-8 lead by quarter-time lead as goalers Elizabeth Nicol (37 from 43) and Rahni Samason (31 from 34) both fired early, before nailing 20 goals in the third quarter to put the result beyond doubt.
With finals out of the question, finishing 2014 on a high was the prize for Yarra Valley Grammar Ariels as they atoned for their three-goal loss against Geelong Cougars in Round 8 by winning the return match 63-53.
The match was in the balance at half-time, with Ariels leading 29-26, but a third-quarter blitz swung the match heavily in their favour.
Victorian Flames debutant Gabrielle Sinclair continued her breakout season at goal attack, netting 32 of her 33 attempts, while Lauren Close was a standout at wing defence.
MAJOR – City West Falcons vs Boroondara Genesis – 9.40pm, Court 1
MINOR – Southern Saints vs Peninsula Waves – 9.40pm, Court 2
With the finals contenders already decided, the top five teams in VNL’s Division 1 underlined their dominance by beating the bottom five teams in Round 18.
City West Falcons sealed top spot by just half a game with a 52-38 win over Peninsula Waves.
Waves matched the minor premiers in the first quarter, locking the scores at 12-12, but it was all Falcons beyond that as they won the second quarter by six and the third and fourth quarters by four.
Falcons’ goalers shared the load equally, with Darcy Saunders netting 18 goals from 23 attempts, Andrea Tai 17 from 22 and Georgia Berry 17 from 21 after stepping into the game at half-time.
Boroondara Genesis, in third place but facing the prospect of a third consecutive loss heading into finals, trailed ninth-placed DC North East Blaze for almost the entire game before overhauling them in the final quarter.
Blaze, chasing back-to-back wins for the first time this season, led by a goal at quarter-time and three at the long break. Genesis narrowed the gap to two by three-quarter time, and then a positional switch that saw goal attack Sarah Yule (31 from 42) shifted to goal shooter and wing attack Jessica McNamara (six from six) enter the goal circle did the trick, with Genesis scoring 18 goals to 11 in the final quarter to wrap up a 46-41 win.
Southern Saints were already assured of a top two finish and a double chance but they didn’t take it easy on wooden spooners Fed Uni Ballarat Pride, holding Pride to just 13 goals in the first half and going on to win 58-32.
Saints goal shooter Chloe Curran showed she’ll be a force to be reckoned with next in the major semi-final against Falcons, scoring on 30 of her 36 attempts in just three quarters, while Pride goaler Candace Page made her mark after entering the game at quarter-time, shooting 20 from 24.
A damaging 20-goal first quarter paved the way for fourth-placed Geelong Cougars’ comprehensive defeat of Yarra Valley Grammar Ariels.
Geelong led 20-9 at quarter-time with Anastasia Hamill (27 from 33) and Simone Hickman (25 from 30) scoring 10 goals each as Ariels, missing goal defence Kate Eddy, struggled to contain Cougars’ attacking line.
The second and third quarters were more competitive but Geelong again put its foot down in the fourth, scoring 16 goals to nine to complete a 59-42 result.
Monash University Storm’s late season resurgence extended to a fourth win, this time against VU Western Lightning.
A win wasn’t going to put them into finals but Storm started like the result meant everything, scoring 20 goals to eight in the first quarter. Lightning cut the deficit to eight goals by half-time, but another 32 Storm goals to 25 in the second half was more than enough to finish the season on a winning note, 62-47.
Storm goalers Ramayer Gourley and Tayla Shannon finished with an identical 31 goals from 36 attempts each.
DIVISION 1 SEMI-FINALS
MAJOR – City West Falcons vs Southern Saints – 7pm, Court 1
MINOR – Boroondara Genesis vs Geelong Cougars – 7pm, Court 2
19 AND UNDER
Monash University Storm finished on top of the ladder in one of the tightest finishes to a 19 and Under season in VNL history.
Just a game and a half separated the top four teams after 18 rounds, with Monash hanging onto top spot by beating VU Western Lightning 54-36.
Lightning challenged Storm early and led 12-11 at quarter-time, but Storm quickly found another gear and won the second quarter 16-8, before adding another 27 goals in the second half to make sure of their fifth win in a row.
Southern Saints didn’t have the easy ride they might have expected against bottom-placed Fed Uni Ballarat Pride, with Pride winning two out of the four quarters and tying another.
The scores were level at 9-9 at quarter-time before Saints broke clear with a 17-8 second term that proved to be the difference. Pride won the third quarter by a goal and the final quarter by two in one of their best performances against a top four side all season.
Saints coach Jacqui Toy said Ballarat “made us earn every goal”.
“They are better than their ladder position would suggest. Full credit to them,” Toy said, before paying tribute to Saints goaler Alex Maher, who shot 14 from 17 in her first game back after eight weeks on the sidelines with a knee injury.
A five-minute surge in the final quarter again made the difference for Geelong Cougars against Yarra Valley Grammar Ariels.
Cougars pulled clear late in the game the first time the teams met, and Ariels got within four goals in the final quarter this time around, only to have Cougars score a brace of goals late in the game to push the scoreline out.
The 54-42 win ensured Cougars remained in third position, missing out on second only by percentage.
That spot went to defending champions City West Falcons, who were too strong in a 49-30 win against Peninsula Waves.
Falcons shooter Kayla Mallett scored the bulk of her team’s goals, sinking 20 from 26 in just two quarters as they built their lead to 20 goals at three-quarter time before a low-scoring finish that saw Waves pull one back.
DC North East Blaze had their fourth win of the season and consigned Boroondara Genesis to their 11th loss in the last 12 games.
With rising young goal attack Tahnysha Salanoa scoring a perfect 40 goals from 40 attempts, Blaze did enough to win 55-44 despite having five fewer shots on goal than their opponents.
19 AND UNDER SEMI-FINALS
MAJOR – Monash University Storm vs City West Falcons – 8.20pm, COurt 1
MINOR – Geelong Cougars vs Southern Saints – 8.20pm, Court 2