Dragons’ Oliver wins second league medal

CLASS ACT: Sandhurst's Heather Oliver after winning her second Betty Thompson Medal. Picture: NONI HYETT
CLASS ACT: Sandhurst's Heather Oliver after winning her second Betty Thompson Medal. Picture: NONI HYETT

STAR Sandhurst netballer Heather Oliver has been rewarded for a stellar season with victory in the Bendigo league A-grade best and fairest.

Oliver claimed her second Betty Thompson Medal by topping Sunday night’s vote count at the Bendigo Club.

She previously won the award in 2015.

The joint Dragons A-grade coach polled 33 votes, to edge out Gisborne’s Madeline Stewart by one vote.

It was the second-straight year the Bulldogs star had finished runner-up in the count, after finishing three votes behind Strathfieldsaye midcourter Brianna Dalrymple-Monro last season.

Gun Golden Square goal shooter and Oliver’s Bendigo Spirit WNBL teammate Gabe Richards was third on 23 votes, two clear of Maryborough’s Jordan Macilwain and Sandhurst young gun Meg Williams (21).

Dual winner Dalrymple-Monro was next on 17, one vote ahead of Eaglehawk defender Zoe Davies.

Oliver’s win continued a remarkable season for both player and her club, which still has much to play out.

The Dragons will start as favourites to claim their first A-grade flag since 2007 when they clash with Golden Square this Saturday.

Oliver described the medal count as nerve-racking".

"It's pretty exciting at the same time, but I'm just happy we are in a grand final (this) week," she said.

"Because we have a grand final to prepare for, you sort of take (the win) in tonight, but during the week we start preparing.

"You don't really think much about these sorts of awards, you just get out and play your game."

Oliver polled votes in 12 games and was judged best-on-court in nine of them, including three times in the first four games of the season.

The leading duo, who are teammates at VNL club Melbourne University Lightning, cleared out early in the poll and were tied at 28 votes after 12 rounds.

Oliver was able to edge ahead with a three-vote performance against Kyneton in round 13 and maintained her lead by polling two votes in round 15 against South Bendigo.

Stewart polled three votes in round 15 against Eaglehawk and one against Castlemaine in round 16 to reduce the final margin to one vote.

In an intriguing twist, Oliver polled three votes and Stewart two in the Dragons and Bulldogs round nine clash at Gisborne, which ended in a draw.

"I was a bit surprised with that, I wasn't really happy with my game," she said.

"We had a VNL game that Friday night before, so it was a pretty interesting result."

"Maddy's a phenomenal player and it's real exciting that she's once again had a real great season.”

Neither player polled in their round 18 game at the QEO, which brought an end to the count.

While Oliver did not eclipse the 42 votes she polled to win her first Betty Thompson Medal in 2015, her season was no less dominant.

It was the second major individual awards win this season for Oliver, who was voted her VNL club’s championship division best and fairest last month.

Stewart admitted shock at her runner-up finish and paid full credit to the winner.

"Ollie is an amazing player and an even better person and she's had an awesome year," she said.

"She is very worthy winner of the award and I wish her the best of the luck in finals.

"I’d do absolutely anything to be playing there on Saturday instead - I would give all this back in a heartbeat."

Final leaderboard:

33 – Heather Oliver (Sh)

32 – Maddy Stewart (Gis)

23 – Gabe Richards (GS)

21 – Jordan MacIlwain (Mb)

21 – Meg Williams (Sh)

17 – Brianna Dalrymple-Monro (Strath)

16 – Zoe Davies (Eh)

14 – Ruby Barkmeyer (KF)

12 – Claudia Powell (Strath), Rachel McKenzie (Gis), Bec Smith (Sh)

11 – Abbey Ryan (Eh), Imogen Sexton (Sh).