OLD Collegians coach Lisa Arundell says the Warriors’ mental strength has emboldened their bid for back-to-back A grade premierships.
The reigning premiers booked their grand final berth with a 46-44 win against Dennington in the second semi-final at Noorat Recreation Reserve on Saturday.
They led by almost 10 in the second term but had to hold firm as the Dogs stormed home to close within one, before Steph Townsend netted with just seconds left.
Arundell said the Warriors had “improvement to make” before the grand final but lauded their ability to withstand an enormous amount of pressure late in the match.
“The really pleasing thing for me out of today’s game is a quality team like Dennington kept applying pressure to us all day, they kept coming back at us,” she said.
“And in return my girls were able to dig deep and hold on. In a pressure game, I know all my seven players can go on the court and hold up under that pressure.”
The character-defining nature of the win was ever-present as Arundell dissected the match.
She was particularly rapt with teens Rachel Alderson and Madeleine McLeod, who stood tall against Marlie Boyd, Jeanna Johnstone and Kelsey Perry.
“We had an inkling that’d be where Dennington would get under our skin, through the youngsters, and they held up well,” she said.
But her most praise came for goalers Steph Townsend and Sophie Ballinger. Townsend was best on court and finished with 39 goals.
“Steph, every time she comes out she’s got a tough job at hand. She just gets on with what she’s got to do, there’s no mucking around, no fuss,” she said.
“She just does the job and does it well. She easily earned that merit today. Once again, she and Sophie, they just combined so well.”
Old Collegians appeared on track for a comfortable victory when Townsend hit 13 goals during a 14-9 first term, which became 25-18 at half-time.
But Dennington rung in the changes after the break. Boyd went to goal attack, Lana Keane went to goal keeper and Johnstone came into centre.
The momentum shift was near-immediate. The midcourt lifted while Boyd and Katie Burt split the shooting duties, the score 35-31 at the last break.
The sides went goal-for-goal during the last term before the Dogs hit three in a row in the dying minutes to cut the margin to one.
But the siren denied them a memorable win, with the Warriors preserving their unbeaten record. Their winning streak, including the 2013 finals series, is 21.
Dennington coach Sue Fleming said the comeback gave the Dogs hope they could turn the tables, should they prevail in the preliminary final this weekend.
Burt shot 28 goals while Boyd, wing attack Sara Morrison and goal defence/wing defence Kristie Bolden were their best.
“As our team does best, we had to change. Our preferred side isn’t going to work against Collegians, we had to change,” Fleming said.
“As they’ve done for me all year, they’ve adapted to the change and kept coming back. It was really pleasing as a coach for them to jump on board and do that.
“I think the two talls in the goal circle doesn’t seem to work against Collegians, for whatever reason. And I think defensively, we had far too many infringements.
“That’s costly when you have two goalies who are so accurate, you can’t afford to give penalties away down our end.”