CALIVIL United and Bridgewater will enter Saturday’s A-grade netball grand final confident they have saved their best for last.
The Demons and Mean Machine have each won their way through to the big dance on the back of a string of impressive finals performances.
For Calivil United, that path has included a narrow three goal win over the Mean Machine in last month’s qualifying final at Inglewood.
While the Demons, under joint coaches Karen Pascoe and Teigan Redwood, continued to impress in a five goal second semi-final defeat of Mitiamo, captain Lauren Miller was confident their best was still ahead.
“We truly don’t feel we’ve played our best games in the semi-final and the qualifying finals; we know we still have room to improve even after beating two of the other top teams in the competition,” she said.
“We know we can still play better and that gives us real confidence going into it.
“When we played at Bridgewater in the second half of the season, they had a really good start and we were down by nine or 10 goals in the first quarter and the game ended with us nine goals down (53-44).
“We know that we need a good start against Bridgewater as they always come out really fast.”
That has especially been the case in the Mean Machine’s two finals wins against Maiden Gully YCW and Mitiamo.
Bridgewater led the Eagles by 13 goals at quarter time in a 20 goal semi-final win and had another handy break on the Superoos at the first change of end in a 10 goal preliminary final win.
A definite focus for Calivil United will be limiting the Mean Machine’s quality feeding into attack.
“Their goal shooter Olivia (Treloar) is a massive focal point for them, but if we put too much pressure on her Emily (East) can bomb it in from anywhere,” Miller said.
“Their attack end can provide a few headaches and we know their defence gets to a lot of balls as well.
“We really need to pull it in with two hands and be really strong.”
The grand final will be Miller’s second in just two seasons with Calivil United.
The class defender, who last played in a premiership with Eaglehawk’s A-grade team in 2012, played for the Demons in their two point grand final loss to Pyramid Hill in 2014 and rejoined the club this season.
Calivil United has further been boosted by the returns of fellow experienced hands Christie Rogers and Lauren Rogers, who notched her 250th game in the semi-final win.
The Demons were dealt a blow early in the final series with joint coach Redwood succumbing to an Achilles injury in the win against the Mean Machine.
But they have not missed a beat since following the inclusion at the defensive end of the court of Michelle Balic, who has been among her side’s best players in both finals.
We know that we need a good start against Bridgewater as they always come out really fast.Lauren Miller
Miller, one of the Loddon Valley league’s premier defenders, said a tremendous belief in each other has resonated throughout the Demons’ largely experienced squad.
“We feel we’re versatile and can change things up depending on what happens,” she said.
“I get a sense of calmness that we have had over the last few weeks in the finals, even at training.
“We know how to keep it steady. Those finals were close games, but we managed to stay calm, played our own game and pulled through.
“We all have finals experience; we’re feeling relaxed but not too relaxed about it. We’re all very excited.”
For Bridgewater coach Claudia Powell, a grand final appearance caps a remarkable first year as non-playing coach for the 22-year-old.
The Mean Machine was arguably the most active club on the recruiting front pre-season, bringing in a swag of players from the coach’s former club Strathfieldsaye, led by star centre Jessey Wilson, Anita Dorrington, Emily East (previously Bridgewater) and Casey Livingstone.
Only Livingstone, who was injured earlier in the season, will not take the court on Saturday.
Powell believed a grand final berth was a just reward for her side, which showed plenty of resolve to bounce back from an opening round finals loss to score two strong wins.
“We’ve really got back to the level of netball we’ve wanted to play, whereas when we came out against Calivil the first time we just weren’t ready for that different sort of netball finals is,” she said.
“The biggest thing we took out of the last game was simply that we needed to step up for the next few finals, more than taking anything away from their game.
“We’re not factoring in any surprises, but we do match up really well with them – it’s going to be a good, strong game of netball.”
Powell said the semi-final loss – the Mean Machine’s first in three games against the Demons – had been helpful in highlighting some crucial areas for improvement.
“Christie Rogers played a great game in goal attack last time,” she noted.
“We’ve worked on our defensive end since then in putting a bit more pressure on before the ring.
“And our goalers were a little bit off last time, but we’ve really worked on getting them back into rhythm, which has really shown the last two games.”
The biggest thing we took out of the (semi-final) game was simply that we needed to step up.Claudia Powell
Bridgewater has a wealth of players in-form, none more so than their league best and fairest winner Wilson, who was exceptional a fortnight ago against the Eagles.
Bridgewater will get the opportunity to play on its home court, but Powell was not convinced it was a major advantage.
“Personally I don’t think it makes much difference in that all netball courts are similar, aside from your goal rings,” she said.
“But I’m hoping the crowd might be a bit different purely because we are at home.”
The Mean Machine are chasing their first A-grade flag since 2011. For the Demons, the wait has been shorter with their last coming in 2014.