The final round of the ANZ Championship provided a few twists and turns to what’s already been one of the most unpredictable seasons in the league’s history.
The big winner was the Queensland Firebirds, who jumped from third into claiming the double chance after the NSW Swifts suffered a shock three-goal defeat against the Northern Mystics in Auckland on Sunday night.
The Swifts missed a golden opportunity to grab top spot and hosting rights for the Major Semi-Final after the Melbourne Vixens also lost in New Zealand, going down by a goal to the Southern Steel at Invercargill on Saturday afternoon.
Despite the loss, the Vixens claimed the minor premiership for the third time in seven seasons and will face Firebirds in the Major Semi-Final at Hisense Arena in Melbourne next Monday afternoon.
The Swifts will meet Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic in the Minor Semi-Final at Sydney’s Allphones Arena on Sunday afternoon.
It also means that for the first time in the league’s history, all four finals will be played in Australia.
Despite racing to an early five-goal lead, the Vixens were made to pay for some costly mistakes which the Steel capitalised on.
Vixens shooter Tegan Caldwell continued her excellent season, finishing with 34 goals while Catherine Cox tuned up for the Finals Series with 17 goals in the second half.
Captain Bianca Chatfield said the Vixens need to take more care of the ball when in possession.
“We just threw to many balls away, like you’ve got to cherish it when you get the possession. It’s really hard to get the turnovers obviously … you know when we get the balls we’ve got to get control of them and that’s what we didn’t do well,” Chatfield said.
The Swifts were made to pay for a slow start as the Mystics claimed a 56-53 victory. The Swifts never led at any stage of the game, drawing level at stages during the third term, but the Mystics defied their ladder position to score an upset victory.
Swifts captain Kimberlee Green didn’t believe her team was distracted by the opportunity to claim the minor premiership.
“We talked about it before the game and we made sure the game was what we were concentrating on,” Green declared.
“We knew it was the Mystics’ last game and they played absolutely amazing. We’re just happy to be in the play-offs.”
They were headed by the Magic early in the final term, but rallied to complete a clean sweep of the New Zealand sides for 2014.
Firebirds captain Laura Geitz was proud of her players resilience to withstand the Magic and then pull away in the finish.
“I think it was just our composure that got us over the line in the end,” Geitz said.
West Coast Fever farewelled outgoing coach Norma Plummer in style with a 51-44 victory over the Central Pulse in Perth.
It was also Chelsea Pitman’s last match for a while after she announced late last week she was taking a year break from the sport.
“To farewell Plum (Plummer) and Chelsea with a win was fantastic,” Fever captain Natalie Medhurst, who went passed 2000 ANZ Championship career goals during the match, said.
“(It was great) to finish off the way that we did in front of a sold out crowd. They’ve just been incredible the whole season to stick behind us.”
Reigning premiers the Adelaide Thunderbirds ended their season on a high with a 66-49 win over Mainland Tactix at Netball SA Stadium in Adelaide.
Goal attack Erin Bell and micourters Emily Beaton and Madeleine Proud were instrumental for the Thunderbirds, who avoided their worst ever ANZ Championship season with their fifth win.
“We were a little inconsistent at times,” Adelaide captain Renae Hallinan said. “It wasn’t the 60-minute match we did want but we were good in patches.
“(I’m) really relieved that we got the win because it’s a long time before the next game so pleased we can go into the off season with that.”