WHILE it will forever be referred to as the 2021 LVFNL minor premiership, Mitiamo coach Glenda Thomas is grateful her players will at least have something to show for their brilliant season.
The Superoos claimed the mantle in the wake of last Friday's cancellation of the season by the league's board of management.
League officials had clung to hope of completing the season with a two-week finals series, culminating with a grand final on September 25, but those aspirations quickly evaporated when the nature of eased COVID-19 restrictions meant no return to play was possible in the short-term.
While nothing can substitute for actually playing finals - especially a grand final - Thomas and officials from fellow top-three clubs Maiden Gully YCW and Calivil United were unified in their belief the 'right call' had been made in terminating the season.
"We just ran out of time. The league did everything they could, there was just too much uncertainty," Thomas said.
"Everyone wanted it to finish differently and to go through the process of finals and work their way to a premiership.
"They made the right decision in the end."
With Mitiamo and Maiden Gully YCW having lost just one game apiece during the season and Calivil United ending the home and away season on a roll, Thomas had predicted a bumper finals series.
"And that's the way you want it. You want to go through that build-up, earn your position in the five and then fight it out in the finals and hopefully work your way to a grand final," she said.
"Sadly, that wasn't going to happen in the end.
"I feel for the players. They were going to be lacking match practice, fitness and possibly a bit of motivation. There were a few negatives in there (about eventually returning to play).
"You want to see finals played at their best, but with the lack of match play, no one was going to be at their best.
"Had everyone been at their best, they would have been great (finals) games and whoever had won that premiership would have well and truly earned it."
A testament to the Superoos' continued strength this season, they lost just one game (against Calivil United) while rarely fielding their full-strength line-up.
Finishing with an 11-1 record, the Superoos were the only team to register at least one against all seven of their A-grade rivals (Bears Lagoon-Serpentine did not field an A-grade team).
Thomas said claiming the minor premiership in such a close race was still a 'fantastic achievement', particularly given the stop-start nature of the season.
No LFVNL games had been played since August 14, the day Mitiamo sealed top-spot ahead of finals with a 79-52 win over Bridgewater.
"It feels a lot longer ago - we'd only got back into it after the last lockdown," Thomas said.
"But each time we got back into it, we weren't at our best. It felt like you were starting from scratch each time.
"But for the girls to finish on top was still an achievement - they've done well.
"I'm sure they would have loved to finish it off with a grand final win and premiership, but circumstances don't allow it, so you accept it what it is and celebrate it for what it's worth
"I'm pleased with what they achieved and they should be too."
For the girls to finish on top was still an achievement .Glenda Thomas
Eagles' bright future
Maiden Gully YCW coach Jannaya Webb said it was difficult to predict how the finals would have panned out for her side, after playing its top-three rivals Mitiamo and Calivil United just once during the season and neither in at least three months.
"We hadn't played Calivil since round two and they had made a few changes (to the line-up) since then, which had proved beneficial for them," she said.
"I couldn't say we would hands down have beaten them, but I'm sure we would have been competitive.
"Our side hadn't changed so much, but had certainly gelled better as the season went on. It would have been a great final.
"And if we had got the chance to play Mitiamo again, it would have been a totally different game to the one early in the year. We didn't line up with our true side that day.
"I was very much looking forward to paying Mitiamo again; it would have been a lot more competitive."
The Eagles, who finished the home and away season at 10-1, defeated Calivil United by three goals in round two, but lost to Mitiamo in round six 73-54.
A major positive for Webb and the Eagles' future was the performance of their younger band of players, who slotted in brilliantly alongside established premiership players Leisa Barry and Christie Griffiths.
"Besides Christie and Leisa, the rest are in their young 20s and we had two (Jarrenhy Webb and Tiarni Baxter) still in their teens," she said.
"It's a really positive step moving forward for the club.
"I hope they retain all those girls and they grow together. I'm sure keeping that playing group together will ensure they are competitive again next year."
Webb, who won't be going as A-grade coach next season, said cancelling the season was the sensible thing to do and believed all clubs would have appreciated the certainty.
"Clubs can't keep waiting and hanging on and the girls hadn't trained together for so long," she said.
"To me, it was probably a bit too hard to come back and play just a grand final, or one or two finals when you haven't touched base for a while.
"I really felt for clubs hosting finals - it's a lot of pressure just waiting around for things to happen.
"And if you can't have crowds, they don't feel like finals. Finals are about sunshine and crowds but it didn't feel like we were going to be getting that."
A solid season across the board for the Eagles ended with four minor premierships.
Maiden Gully YCW went undefeated in 17-and-under, C-grade and C-reserve and also finished top in 15-and-under with a 10-1 record.
Praise from Calivil
Calivil United netball manager Karen Pascoe said she was pleased to see Mitiamo rewarded with the minor premiership and further praised the league for proceeding with vote counts to acknowledge the outstanding individual performers from 2021.
She believed the decision to end the season was ultimately the right call.
"Our girls would have still happily played in finals, we were all holding our breath hoping for it, but for logical reasons it didn't eventuate," she said.
"We'd played three games since round nine in July, so even if finals had gone ahead, it would have been a very underdone finals series.
"In the end, everyone was disappointed, but a little relieved as well to have the decision made.
"The league did it really well - they kept everyone informed. We knew all along the way what they were thinking, what they were planning and what they were hoping for, but it was a stretch and they held out for as long as they could."
While we will never know what might have eventuated, one thing for certain was that the Demons were in it to win it after rattling home on the back of six straight wins, albeit spread over three and a half months.
The undoubted centrepiece to that form was their 60-56 win over Mitiamo on July 10.
"Both the A-grade and B-grade were both just hitting their straps," Pascoe said.
"They both started off slow with players missing in the first few weeks and it took us a few weeks to get settled, but once we did we were looking strong.
"They would have loved to have a crack at it - they would have been fascinating finals series."
The Demons ended the season with one minor premiership after topping the 13-and-under ladder with a perfect 11-0 record.
NETBALL MINOR PREMIERS
- A-grade: Mitiamo
- B-grade: Marong
- C-grade: Maiden Gully YCW (undefeated)
- C-reserve: Maiden Gully YCW (undefeated)
- 17-under: Maiden Gully YCW (undefeated)
- 15-under: Maiden Gully YCW
- 13-under: Calivil United (undefeated)
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