IN AN All-Victorian Girls Australian Under-16s Junior Championships grand final, Victoria Metropolitan emerged triumphant following an overtime epic against Victoria Country.
Renewing the city-versus-country rivalry for another nationals campaign, Victoria Metropolitan surged in overtime to take out the 87-73 triumph, to claim back-to-back titles and their fifth title this decade.
Vic Country jumped out the blocks strongly. Geelong’s Ally Knights (29 points, six rebounds) was amazing for the Country girls – terrifying the Metro defence with her presence on the perimeter as well as slashing to the basket. Traralgon’s Jade Melbourne (19 points, nine rebounds, five assists) and Geelong’s Carly Remmos (10 points, five rebounds) also pushed the tempo along and left Metro on the back foot early.
Metropolitan saw the worst of the problem – from 22-35 down approaching the half – the girls moved into action. But they exploded to drag the gap back to 30-35 at the major break.
Loading up for the second half, Metro found new range and new vigour through the walking wounded. Bulleen’s Erin Riley (23 points) couldn’t see clearly out of her injured eye, but still had six three-pointers up her sleeve and continued her defensive workrate.
Gemma Potter (15 points, seven rebounds) had to get through training to take the court following an ankle complaint… but if you didn’t know beforehand you’d never have known on court. She was superb – playing through the injury and taking on a whopping to help take out the win on the back of 44 minutes court time through to overtime.
Knox’s Georgia Baldwin (19 points, four rebounds) helped drag Metropolitan back in front with an inspired second half. She showcased her potential when it mattered most, knocking in three buckets in a row through the third term before adding a few in the fourth to really keep the Metro machine chugging around. Baldwin’s efforts kept the scoreboard ticking alongside Diamond Valley’s Casey Valenti-Paea (17 points, six rebounds). Earning nothing but respect this week, Valenti-Paea was superb throughout the tournament and was just as good in the finale. She was the all-round defensive headache – going as far as racking up three blocks, three steals and a few defensive rebounds.
There was one last Vic Country surge storing up energy waiting to strike… and it came in the fourth. Knights put her all into the clash – top-scoring by a country mile (see what I did there) – and resumed her mantle as the thorn in Metro’s side. Knocking in 10 last term points – including two “and ones” up close – she pushed the Country side ahead. Forcing Metro to find something special to counter the Country one last time.
A Valenti-Paea lay-up tied the match with 40 seconds to go… forcing the overtime period to split them. Metro had one last drop in the tank to motor home – shooting away at the death to take the title.
Victoria Metropolitan coach Sam Thornton said it took an extraordinary bunch of girls to remain calm and work their way back into the clash time-after-time and take the championship.
“All week and probably since we started selections, we’ve talked about 24 seconds at a time and I think the thing is with that, it doesn’t matter if the first couple of 24 seconds aren’t what we’re after, but we know that eventually the balance will turn our way,” Thornton said. “We just wanted to get back within striking distance because Victoria Country was fantastic – I really congratulate Joe (Victoria Country coach Joe Turner) and his girls for sticking to a terrific game-plan.
“Alicia Knights was phenomenal and we scouted the hell out of them.”
Thornton wanted to thank the MUVJBL associations and all the families for supporting the team and felt truly honoured to coach this group.
“It’s a really big credit to all the MUVJBL coaches and the parents for supporting what we’re trying to do and it was phenomenal,” Thornton said. “I’m so proud of those girls sticking to what we wanted.
“I think I’m going to look back on this group and say they actually stuck to what I wanted them to do from the get-go – sometimes they play a different role with their team at times.
“It can be hard when you give kids a role they may not actually like very much… sometimes they might want to be the scorer or want the main match up, but these kids from day one have bought into what our game-plan was.
“They showed a lot of belief in what we had to offer so I’m very, very proud and will look back on this feeling very honoured – it’s such an honour to coach them.”
Victoria Country Girls coach Joe Turner was thrilled with his girls’ performance and said they were the best he’d ever stood on the sidelines for.
“We knew it was going to be a hard fought game – any time you’re in the gold medal game you expect that,” Turner said. “Both teams played pretty well and played the way they wanted to play and in the end overtime was the difference.
“I’m really happy with the girls’ efforts – really happy with what they were able to achieve this week as a group and it’s the first country medal for under-16 girls in a while, so they deserve it.
“Always believed they could make it this far – the group has had amazing belief since day one that they could get the job done.
“We didn’t expect it to be easy and we didn’t expect no setbacks along the way, but they never lost belief, we never lost belief, it was just a matter of taking care of the next game and getting better each game and they did that.
“They’ve been a very special group, they’ve helped me become a better coach and they’ve been the most coachable group I’ve ever been a part of and they carried out game-plans to a key, to make adjustments and work for each other has been really inspiring to see.”
VICTORIA METROPOLITAN BOYS
Our Metro boys brushed off the semi-final loss with an emphatic bronze medal match triumph 95-83 over New Zealand. It took a while to open up the NZ defence, but in the end the likes of Melbourne’s Paul Tsapatolis (27 points, 10 rebounds), Knox’s Joshua Woodford (12 points), Dandenong’s Leyi Adebayo (11 points, three assists), as well as Keilor’s Oscar Berry (11 points, three assists) and Lucas Failli (11 points, nine assists) began wearing down the visitors’ resolve to great effect.
Victoria Metropolitan U16 Boys Coach Dom Linossier said the boys achieved a fantastic record and stuck to the task at hand day after day.
“It’s a pretty good feeling (winning bronze)– it’s the best we could’ve achieved today and we played the best game of basketball we could roll out today,” Linossier said. “I’m really happy for the boys – really happy that they were able to come out and win bronze in their own right today.
“I think we’ve gone 8-1 on the week and that’s a fantastic result at any national competition, so really big ups to them for their efforts.
“A real credit to who they are as young men and a credit to who they are as basketballers.
“They’re professionals in every sense of the word and they’ll hold their heads high – they’ve earned every minute of this and should go and enjoy the success of being the third best team in the country and knowing that we gave it our all.
“A huge thank you to the clubs who helped develop these players – again we have 10 players from eight clubs in the MUVJBL, so thanks you to those programs and we hope they keep doing the amazing work so Victoria Metro can keep producing top tier talent.”
VICTORIA COUNTRY BOYS
Finished the tournament on a high note, Victoria Country Boys defeated WA Country 72-35. Ballarat’s Ethan Fiegert (19 points, seven rebounds), Phillip Island’s Keith Robinson (14 points, 10 rebounds), Bendigo’s Dyson Daniels (11 points) and Southern Peninsula’s Liam Porter (nine points) led the Country boys in their 11th place classification match.
Victoria Country U16 Boys coach Lucas Allen said the experience was a challenge but had immense rewards as well for himself and the players.
“We had a really challenging week, but to their credit after a couple of really tough losses, they took on the challenges we gave them and we finished off with a win,” Allen said. “That was the important thing – our purpose was to finish well as a team and by the end of the week we have achieved that.
“All the boys are better individuals and definitely better basketball players and team mates than they were at the start of the week.”
“It’s been a really challenging experience for me as well, but it’s meant a lot to me.
“The fact that they challenged me as much as I’ve challenged them and to finish off the way we did was pleasing – we can’t control what we did before today but we can control what we did today and we did a great job of that.”
It rounds out the state representative tournament schedule for Victorian teams in 2017, with our Victorian under-20 women, Victorian Ivor Burge Men and Women, Victoria Country under-18 women, Victoria Metropolitan under-18 men and our Victoria Metropolitan under-16 women earning Australian junior championships this year – an impressive six out of nine national tournaments.