FOR newly crowned Esther Cheatley Medal winner Anna-Grace Close, it's all about 'team-first'.
Fresh from her win in Wednesday night's HDFNL medal count, the 2018 White Hills premiership defender was quick to deflect both praise to her club-mates and focus to the Demons's qualifying final encounter against Elmore on Saturday and chase for back-to-back premierships.
In a thrilling count, Close emerged victorious by one vote over Colbinabbin's Jess Geary, with White Hills team-mate Ashley Gilmore, Elmore's Abbey Hay and Huntly's Kym Bell tied for third.
Close, the HDFNL's inter-league coach this season, missed Wednesday's night count on return from a break in Alice Springs, but was alerted to the closeness of the count while on a stop-over in Port Augusta.
"My family was watching and they rang me with a round to go - I got service and got to watch the final round," she said.
"It was a close one. I didn't expect it at all.
"If you look at the top 10 players, they are all extremely talented. And the amount of White Hills in the top 10 just shows how lucky I am. When you play with such good players and great mates, you play your best netball.
"But there's so much talent in that top 10, I don't know how I ended up on top."
Her medal win capped an amazingly consistent three years, including a 2019 season, which still has plenty to play out.
Close finished top-three in both the 2017 and '18 medal counts and needed a maximum three votes in the Demons' final round clash against Leitchville-Gunbower to seal the win.
In a twist of irony, her usual Colbinabbin opponent Geary was runner-up.
Close praised the Grasshoppers goal shooter as an amazing and skilful talent and very hard to play on.
"The last couple of games I played on her and I'm pretty sure she polled votes against me every time," she said.
"I don't know if I did, but I'm not surprised she did. She's a very classy player and very smart.
"Her and Lizzy (Cobbeledick) in that ring are a hard combo to work out."
Underlining the strength of White Hills' line-up, nine Demons players combined for 88 of a maximum possible 96 votes for the season, led by Close (22), Gilmore (19), Rhian Moresi (13), Lauren Bowles (8) and Dannielle Sawyer (8).
Close was strong in her desire to add a premiership medal to that won in 2018.
"That's the one I want and that's what we are working towards," she said.
"We've got a lot of hard work ahead, but I am confident in the girls that we can have a great finals series.
"This is the most enjoyable season of netball I've ever had, with inter-league coaching and getting to play with and for my mates.
"Honestly, White Hills is just a fantastic club to be around."
Close said Elmore would be an 'interesting and tough' first finals opponent, under the coaching of Sue Borserio
"They have Ruby Barkmeyer, who is such an asset to them and has so much drive," she said.
"They also have a lot of height that we will have to overcome. Hopefully our speed and smart netball gets us across the line.
"Heading into finals anything can happen. We definitely can't under-estimate Elmore, they have nothing to lose and will definitely come out firing."
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