SPECTATORS will swarm across the border to Island Park in Casterton to view the Western Border Netball Association A Grade grand final between reigning premiers Millicent and “underdogs” East Gambier.
The Saints are going for their ninth consecutive premiership title, while the Bulldogs have high hopes of dethroning the side that has been so good for so long.
Millicent’s depth is second-to-none, with changes year in, year out failing to affected their dominance on the Western Border competition.
It is clearly shown with both senior and junior sides also advancing through to the major game on the weekend.
However, East is similar.
The Bulldogs chances of a grand final berth were some-what written off after the recruitment of Lisa Fyfe and Maddie Whaites to the North Gambier Tigers, as well as the loss of East stars Elish McKay and Rachael Hines.
North has been the only side to push the Saints in 2017, but a strong performance from the Bulldogs in the preliminary final would have left Millicent with questions.
The Saints have senior heads in each third on the court, while East boast a youthful line-up.
Finals are a different ball game and experience certainly helps, but the forecast shows warm weather, which could see fitness and endurance come into play.
It is no secret it will take a big effort from East to get over the line against premiership favourites, but in return the Saints will need to dig deep in order to maintain their flawless record.
A NINTH straight title is the clear aim for the Saints, who come into the Western Border netball A Grade grand final against East as clear favourites.
However, the Bulldogs threw a spanner into the Saints’ preparation after their unexpected victory over the Tigers in the preliminary final.
Millicent co-coaches Lisa Duldig and Audine Bryant will be eager for the Saints to march through for the win, but are well aware it will be a challenge.
“We had in our minds that we would be playing North,” Duldig said.
“So it has really changed our thinking and we were forced to go back to the drawing board.
“East played an amazing four quarters of netball and that got them over the line on Saturday.”
Duldig said Tenille Gray’s influence in the preliminary final was a big factor, which will need to curbed.
“Tenille had a stand-out game on Saturday,” she said.
“But she teams well with Sarah Lock and the remainder of the attacking line.”
However, East will have its work cut out as there is a reason for Millicent’s long line of success.
It all comes down to its experience all over court.
It starts with Donna Denton in goals, followed by association best and fairest Bryant and Duldig in the mid court, who assist Hayley Dunn in defence.
The four stars have raised young netball talents for a number of seasons, with three prime examples in the 2017 side – Kimmi Varcoe, Keah Lynch and Madi Turner.
Varcoe is the oldest of the trio and has had a solid season alongside Dunn in the defensive circle, while Lynch has made the goal attack role her own in 2017.
Duldig said she was pleased with all three, but particularly Turner in her first season as a full-time senior player.
“Madi has come into the side as a starting seven player this year,” she said.
“She had a little glimpse of it last year, but she has really stepped up this season.
“Being amongst Hayley in defence and teaming with Audine and myself through the mid court has given her the confidence to have a go because she knows we have got her back.”
With a mixture of youth and experience in 2017, Duldig said despite the series of premiership titles, the team takes each season as it comes.
“I say quite often, you never know when you are going to get another,” she said.
“This could be our last for 10 years, you never know.
“We never take it for granted.”
Duldig said there is an element of pressure coming into a grand final undefeated.
“You feel the pressure, you don’t want to drop the grand final, but it works on the flip side because it makes you determined to uphold the undefeated record,” she said.
“I think finals experience does help a little, but there are always nerves, no matter how many you have played in.
“Grand finals really play on your mind and on the day you just don’t know what you are going to get.”
EAST Gambier will certainly claim the “underdog status” in the Western Border netball A Grade grand final against competition front-runners Millicent as it did in the preliminary final with North Gambier.
The young Bulldogs thrived off the small expectations and will have the same approach in the title-decider on the weekend.
Having dropped every game to both North and Millicent throughout 2017, East had little pressure in the preliminary final, but the Bulldogs first-year coaches Tarsh McCallum and Sarah Lock knew a grand final berth was achievable.
“Although we hadn’t beaten North throughout the season, we knew we hadn’t put our best game forward, so as a playing group we knew it was achievable,” McCallum said.
“We were really proud of how the girls approached the week, full of focus and positivity.
“We had set individual and team goals and the girls stepped up and delivered a very consistent four quarters.
“Naturally we were all excited, but I know that’s more based on how disappointed we would have been with a loss.”
East lost two key players after the 2016 with both Rachael Hines and Eilish McKay making the move to Adelaide.
While it left two holes in the senior team, McCallum said it looked towards its juniors with Tyne Bosko filling the void.
“We are lucky to have good juniors at our club we could call on, which also meant some of our younger senior players stepping up into more senior roles on court,” she said.
“Early in the season we were playing some really good netball in patches, which showed us we could match our standard from 2016, it was just working on our consistency that was key.”
McCallum is under no illusion and understands a win on Saturday against the team which has dominated Western Border netball for the last eight years will be a difficult task.
“Millicent is a very polished team, we need to respect that and be smart about how we approach this weekend,” she said.
“We have things that we weren’t happy with at our last encounters that need to be fixed and there are things we are doing well that need to be polished.”
Over 2017, McCallum said each player has developed in their role on court, which has been one of the main reasons for a grand final berth.
“Taking the pressure off coaching has seen Bo (Creek) excel this season,” she said.
“Both Brenna (McKay) and Tenille always lead by example and have really increased their work-rate across the court.
“Morgan (Amy) has been a huge influence in our attacking end finding their rhythm towards the end of the season.
“Our juniors, Tyne (Bosko) and Sara (Smith) have worked overtime at training and both have held their own with any roles we ask of them.”
With a new side comes new determination and after a disappointing 2016 grand final performance, McCallum said the Bulldogs are ready.
“After our encounters with Millicent last season, we were very disappointed with our grand final performance in 2016,” she said.
“Being the first senior grand final for all eight of us we got caught up in the hype of it all.
“We are feeling confident in our game plan, it will just come down to how well we can execute it on Saturday.
“As a group we are excited to be playing, but not completely satisfied yet.”