With poise and prowess, Melbourne Vixens won their second ANZ championship title at Hisense Arena on Sunday.
Fielding five of the starting seven who lost their home grand final in 2012, the Vixens showed the resilience needed to withstand the most telling of tests from Queensland Firebirds, playing in their third grand final in four years, with the Vixens pulling away in the final term to win 53-42 in front of more than 9000 supporters.
In past years either the Vixens' nerves or their poise has escaped them in key finals moments but not this year.
Vixens goal attack Tegan Caldwell capped a stellar season with the grand final most valuable player award shooting 30 of 33 goals, but more importantly giving the home attack both a link-player and an impact defender making several key interceptions.When the pressure rose, so did the Vixens and when their inevitable errors came, the home side found a way to fight back as more than once a Vixens turnover was regained by a teammate.
Caldwell felt the pain of 2012 acutely as both her shooting and that of Karyn Bailey (17 of 22) escaped them when the game was there to be won.
Caldwell made all 10 of her shots in the final term while last-gamer Cath Cox, 38, was inserted into the last term, shooting six of seven goals and only missing her last shot due to having "tears in her eyes".
Caldwell, along with Madi Robinson and Bianca Chatfield will have less than a week to celebrate before Australia's Commonwealth Games training camp begins, with all three showing why they have been selected.
"It's a crazy last couple of months and it's still settling in," Caldwell said.
"Now I have a few days to celebrate with the girls then back to work because there is a lot ahead for me this year."
The Firebirds were a close second once again, following on from a loss in last year's decider, with Romelda Aiken (25 of 30) dominant until losing her touch in the final term with Vixens' goal-keeper Geva Mentor and Chatfeld in goal defence forcing her to lose her cool with the game slipping away.
Until a telling final term run, the Vixens were never more than five goals ahead but each time the Firebirds looked ready to regain the lead, the home side steeled itself and strung together key goals, especially in the final term which they won 16-8.
Chatfield said she was happy her side took its chance at a premiership.
"It's always been a game of persistence against the Firebirds," Chatfield said.
"We don't usually get the rewards until the final term and it was just about keeping positive and eventually it will come our way.
"They threw everything they had at us and I knew we had more to give, to win by 11 goals is incredible."
When looking at the difference between past Vixens' sides and this year's premiership winner, Chatfield said the "professionalism" of the team's youngest players, Elizabeth Watson and wing defence Kate Moloney, stood out.
"It was in the last five minutes - I looked down the court at Coxy and she was smiling and about to lose it," Chatfield said.
"Funny that Kate Moloney, who is one of our youngest and least experienced, was pushing everyone to keep going and keep pushing.
"There was no chance she was going to celebrate until the job was done - that is what Lizzy and Kate have added to the team this year - they are professionals beyond their years."
McKinnis said she was relieved to see her side lift the trophy, she especially praised the defensive efforts of her whole side.
"It's about everyone being prepared to work hard defensively," McKinnis said.
"You might take 50 to 100 times to get that touch but it might be the one time we need it."
In Cox's mind, it was a case of mission accomplished, now she can celebrate a career completed.
"It's nice to know I never have to do a pre-season again - now I can celebrate," Cox said.
- The Age
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