It has been years in the making and there has been plenty of heartbreak along the way, but Learmonth’s A-grade netball team has finally tasted premiership success.
The Lakies capped off a superb season, where the side managed to remain undefeated, by producing a resounding Central Highlands Netball League grand final victory over Springbank at Mars Stadium on Saturday.
The only blemish in the lead up to the long-awaited premiership moment was a draw to Hepburn in the final round, while the Lakies just got over the line in a preliminary final against Bungaree.
But Learmonth refused to let grand final history – losses to Springbank in 2015 and 2017 – get in the way of holding aloft the trophy.
Learmonth coach Jordan O’Keefe said in the past hesitance and doubt in decision-making had been costly for the team, but the players had learnt from mistakes.
With the momentum in the first half and a seven-goal buffer at half-time, Learmonth maintained its lead to win comfortably by nine goals, the final score 47-38.
“I really wanted to balance things out with a patient style of play, but more so pushing forward the ball a bit quicker,” O’Keefe said.
“Sometimes a little bit of our undoing is delaying our play and hesitating with the ball.
“That has just been a pattern over the last couple of years – we doubt our decision-making and by the time we decide where we’re going to move the ball those opportunities have passed.”
The Lakies’ defenders were stand outs with Nicole O’Brien winning the most valuable player award and Emma Farrant stepping up again in wing defence after transitioning to that position late in the season.
But O’Keefe was impressed with the efforts of his entire squad on the day.
“Our goalers had a hard time under the ring - it was a really physical match,” he said.
“Alicia Verhey, who was our goal shooter, she really stood up when it counted, particularly in the first half and was really hard to stop.
“They just played a beautiful game and they’ve had a fantastic season, I couldn’t have asked for any more from them, any more heart, I’m really, really proud.”
The victory was an emotional moment for both the coach and the players.
“Put aside how much this means to me, it’s how much it means to this club and to this group of players who so desperately wanted to win it for themselves and for me, that’s a really humbling thing,” O’Keefe said.
“To finally have an A-grade premiership for the club and for the players involved, that’s really important and so special.”
O’Brien, in her first season with Learmonth, had not expected to win best on court but was glad to play her role.
“Jordan has been chasing it for so long and he is such an important figure in all of our lives, it’s nice to really be able to do that for him.”
Learmonth’s success seemed contagious with all senior grades holding up the Central Highlands Netball League premiership trophy at Mars Stadium on Saturday.
The Lakies held off an impressive Springbank fightback in the final term of the B-grade grand final to claim the win by a single goal. Learmonth’s Kaitlyn Balazic was deemed best on court.
It was a similar scenario in C-grade competition, although Hepburn challenged late taking the lead multiple times in the second half before the Lakies ended the game just one goal ahead.
Lakies’ Tara Woods was awarded best on court.
In 17/under, Hepburn pulled off a come-from-behind two-goal victory over Learmonth, but the Lakies had the player of the match with Jessica Smith starring.
In 15/under, Buninyong did not lead until the final minutes of its game against Bungaree, but held on to claim the win by a goal. Bombers’ Isabella Stevens was deemed most valuable.
In 13/under, reigning premiers Buninyong went back-to-back with a convincing victory over Springbank. Buninyong’s Eliza Baker won the best on court award.
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