Preliminary final day often proves to be the day that provides the greatest fare for the spectator. The quality is high amongst the competitors without the matches having quite the stress that one attaches to grand final day. And so it proved on season 2017’s penultimate day, with some of the netball produced being of the sort that it was hard to know where to look next.
There were few better spectacles than that provided between the Division 1 combatants, as Dingley and Caulfield moved to end the argument as to what would be the game of the year. Dingley threw down the gauntlet from the opening centre pass, with Laura Piper taking the opening shot after just 10 seconds, but a minute was to elapse before Bridget Furphy put the first score on the board. Dingley had three goals on the board before Caulfield’s first shot, and with Piper giving Phoebe Naughton a torrid start to the game got out to a 5-2 lead before the Bears began to roar. The Makayla Bulte-led mid-court began to get a foothold and fed Sophie O’Shea and Beth Miller to the extent that Caulfield led 10-8 at the first change. The second quarter was compulsory viewing as both sides thrust and parried with an intent that reflected the fact that the victor would get the chance to play off for the ultimate prize. Experience often counts for much in these situations. Shae Wonnacott and Alicia Wise worked their socks off for the Dingoes, pulling down numerous interceptions, but Caulfield had a real sniff of the kill and at 18-all at half time, no-one could pick a winner.
It was here that Caulfield started to make positional changes in an attempt to throw Dingley off their stride and break the game open. It would be sheer folly to speculate as to what would have happened had the formations remained as they were, but Tayla Fiddes began to run the show at wing attack and with Bridget Furphy playing the game of her life at goal attack, Dingley embarked on a run of goals from which Caulfield were never to recover. The further the quarter went, the more dominant the Dingoes looked and a 33-24 margin at the last change looked decisive. The large crowd started to get behind Caulfield as they threw all they had at Dingley, but for all their excellence Dingley kept their own score moving, and a final score of 48-38 was enough to send Dingley through with the faith that they can match the much-vaunted Heatherton Black in the competition decider.
Caulfield were able to exact some measure of revenge against Dingley in Division 2. It wasn’t always this way as Dingley looked like the favourites that they were in the first quarter, leading 10-6 at the first change. The first five centre passes were converted but it was Dingley that were able to create the first break to get the score back to 12-10. Brie Cooper started completely running the match from wing attack and with Caitlyn Ashby and Hannah Shilling converting more shots than they missed Caulfield took the lead and got out as far as 15-13. Two goals from Penny Byers-Timms regained parity and some composure for Dingley but they were never to head Caulfield again.
The Bears led 19-16 at the half and completely dominated the third quarter. They started the quarter well to establish a solid lead and while Dingley had their share of possession, the shots refused to drop and the Caulfield defence were good enough to counter. Caulfield goal keeper Megan Ellett was putting together a best-on-court performance in collecting a series of rebounds and setting up numerous attacks of her own, and Caulfield had one foot in the Grand Final with a 32-19 three quarter time lead. With Jessica Haslem and Amber McHenry giving everything they had in the goal circle, Dingley scored the first three goals of the last term to briefly threaten an unlikely comeback, but the lead was too great and Caulfield were able to steady to record a 41-32 victory, and earn a shot at Heatherton for the title.
Few watchers thought that they would be watching Clayton play on Preliminary Final day. Their dominance this season led many to believe that they would remain an unstoppable force throughout the finals series. Player shortages cut deep at the worst possible time, but more so than that, they ran into a Keysborough combination on a huge roll and believing that they are a match for any side. Clayton began moving the ball with diagonal passes whilst Keysborough moved the ball in straight lines up the flanks, creating good opportunities for themselves and being very efficient around the perimeter of the goal circle. On the other hand, Keysborough’s tight defence constantly pressured Clayton into error to the point that they conceded one solitary goal in the first term. It all further unravelled for Clayton in the second quarter as they could not convert the ball that they enjoyed into goals, despite looking like their old selves when moving the ball quickly. Keysborough kept their passes short and accurate, and went to the main break ahead by 15-7. Clayton needed to make their move in the third quarter, but could only square the term at seven goals each, and that was the end of the Clays as Keysborough dominated the final term to complete their fourth straight sudden-death victory by 39-18.
The all-Heatherton Division 4 encounter had none of the lack of intensity that so many intra-club clashes are marred by. Neither side showed any inclination to want to surrender to the other and, for the first time in the 2017 finals series, extra time was needed to separate the combatants. The early exchanges gave no clue as to the fare that was to follow as the battle-hardened White combination took a 14-9 quarter time lead over their young counterparts. The Black machine kicked into gear in the second term as they moved the ball through the mid-court with speed and precision, and Chelsey McAndrew and Sonina Terrakore were unerring in converting their deficit to a one-goal lead. White lacked drive into the goal ring in the third quarter, but began to steady late in the stanza as their mid-court started to gain some traction. A five-goal deficit was less than it might have been, and the hope that this gave White drove them through the last quarter. The younger Black side refused to be rattled however, and when the final siren rang out there was still no resolution as the scoresheet read 45-all. It was Black that began extra-time stronger, but led by the indefatigable Yvonne McMillan the White mid-court would not be bowed, and will face Dingley Gold next week after a 54-53 victory.
The Division 5 Preliminary Final see-sawed throughout the day. Caulfield’s attacking threat was evident early while Lyndhurst were prepared to be patient and pick the right pass, and after turning a four-goal quarter time deficit into a 22-20 half time lead, the Lightning will have been confident of finishing this final in front. The second half was a pulsating affair with first Melissa Mair and Narelle Hammond seizing the initiative for Lyndhurst, then Barb Traeger and Jodie Brown returning serve for Caulfield. At 39-all at the final change we were no closer to finding the winners than we were an hour earlier, and the last quarter saw one side then the other look the likely winners. However, at the last, Jude Glenny stepped up with a clutch of key interceptions for Caulfield, and they converted the last four goals of the match to deliver the Mumma Bears into the grand final via a 44-41 victory over a brave and unlucky Lyndhurst.
Heatherton were very disappointed by their showing in the Division 6 having been thoroughly beaten by Dingley Red. Here they were determined to take out their frustration out on Dingley Gold, and this was to prove a game too far for Alicia Wise’s young charges. Heatherton took control early, working the ball from one end of the court to the other using quick hands and accurate passes whist being sure of shot. Dingley had their moments, but were never able to head their Heatherton opponents, and they led at every change to complete a 44-32 victory to earn another shot at Dingley Red next week.
Dingley were shocked by a fast-finishing Oakleigh District side in week one of the finals. Here they were in no mood to take any prisoners against Lyndhurst in an occasionally feisty Preliminary Final. Lyndhurst had as much ball as Dingley in the first quarter, but the Dingoes took their chances while the Lightning did not to trail 10-2 at quarter time. Dingley continued to move the ball quicker through the mid-court and their defensive strength caused doubt in the Lyndhurst attack, to lead 18-7 at half time and 27-10 at the last change. Lyndhurst played with more freedom in the final term, but the bird had flown, and Dingley scored a comfortable 33-19 win.
Mordialloc took on Dingley in Division 8, and in an open start Molly Stackpole took control of the mid-court for Mordialloc. Their shooters were fed a plethora of opportunities, and despite the efforts of a Mary Bose-led Dingley defence they took a 10-5 lead out of the first quarter. A cagey, defensive encounter ensued in the second and third quarters with goals at a premium, with the same five-goal margin being taken into the final stanza. The game opened up in the last quarter as both sides attacked knowing there would be no next week for the loser, but as strongly as Dingley performed, Mordialloc were able to score often enough to be comfortable. It was the ladies in red that were able to close out a 29-24 victory to give Mordialloc a Grand Final berth.