It was by no means the perfect start but it did end up being the perfect ending. The group rounds kicked off and Vinehall were slow off the mark. They lost to Eagle House 2-4 and then Dulwich 4-9. Captain Milly D and Vice-Captain Freda H regrouped the girls and encouraged them to work hard for each other and to want it more. They had a lot of responsibility on their shoulders as I had to umpire other games at the same time. They led on and off court, communicating and reading the game situation. This resulted in the team winning the remaining three matches: 4-3 v Hazelwood, 11-0 v Bede’s and 10-3 against Feltonfleet. The girls finished 3rd in the group and thought that meant they had got into the plate.
However, it was the quarter finals and they had to play St Andrew’s who finished 2nd in their group. Although they had won comfortably earlier in the season, St Andrew’s came out strong to take an early 3-0 lead. Undeterred, the team calmly clawed it back, took a lead but ultimately the game finished 7-7. No draws can be accepted so they had to play an extra 5 minutes. The girls pushed their foot on the gas and left St Andrew’s behind to ensure they won 14-9 (doubling their score). They wanted that win and made sure they came out on top. I then confessed to the girls that it was a cup match they had played, and they were now in the plate. They were delighted.
The semi-final was against Dulwich. Early in the season, we drew against them, but earlier in the group rounds they suffered a bad loss and Dulwich should have felt confident. They underestimated our girls’ determination, competitive nature and pure desire to win. They were driven, motivated and played the best netball I had seen all season. They played smart, trusted each other and the ball moved at such pace it put Dulwich on the back foot. The moment the ball was in the opposition’s possession, EVERY player got on the defence to win the ball. Any mistake Dulwich made, the team capitalised. The girls grew in confidence and placed doubt in Dulwich’s decision-making and they had to try and chase down our lead from the off mark. A completely different match from the early game saw them win 9-6. They were absolutely buzzing.
It was at this moment that we realised we had qualified for nationals. The team actually achieved this in the quarter final when they had knocked out St Andrew’s. It was probably best they didn’t realise this until after this game, because they were so motivated and that helped them in the match against Dulwich. They had only just got over the excitement of being in the cup (top three teams went to cup, bottom three teams went to plate). However, hysteria took over. There were tears, elation, jumping in the air and that was just the parents/grandparents! Well, perhaps mostly the girls and me! We had to regroup because there was a final to play.
The final was against Downsend. I told the girls to just enjoy the moment. They could barely contain themselves as emotions were all over the place. However, it was 1-1 at half time. They played well and managed to get the ball into the shooting circle and were unlucky to not convert more goals. Downsend settled and managed to score another 5 goals in the second half to win 6-1.
From how the girls started the tournament to the journey of getting to the final of the cup is simply incredible and what progression and team work is all about. Our group round was not easy considering other than Downsend being in Pool A, it was Vinehall (2nd), Dulwich (3rd) and Hazelwood (4th) that took the next three national places all from Pool B.
It was a pleasure to be with the girls, watch them thrive and let the netball do the talking. Izzie S, Milly D and Francesca F shot well between them. Willow A, Margot F, Lara S and Olivia S worked tirelessly in mid court. Freda H and Azilis DT helped win the ball back and send it down to the attack. They all defended when needed and they all helped by being available when attacking to provide more than one option for the ball carrier. Thank you to Francesca F and Olivia S for being our super subs; it is quite daunting to play up a year group and into the 1st team in such a big tournament, but they coped brilliantly and slipped seamlessly into the team – great assets. Well done each and every one of you.