Our journey started in October 2016, when we set the goal of being the best Under 14 girls team in Australia. During Nationals week, the TEAM had a range of emotions, from excitement to nerves to relief. The week didn’t start as we planned with a loss to the Sydney Comets, however wins against Southern Tasmania and Southern Tigers (Adelaide) had us finishing 2nd in our pool and putting us into the top 12 teams.
With 2 more pool games to advance to the quarter finals we needed to win 1 to advance. First we faced Victorian Championship winner, Dandenong, going down in a hard fought game. Which left us having to defeat South West Metro Pirate (Brisbane) to advance, which we did in a very emotional game. And thus qualifying for the final 8 and the quarter finals.
Facing Nunawading in the quarter final was going to be tough, having lost to them in our local championship competition on 3 weeks early, however the TEAM was awesome to win by 3. This advanced us to the semi-final against Bulleen, our local rival. A poor first quarter allowed them to jump away, however the girls never gave up and closed the gap at ¾ time, however we couldn’t get in front. So we were in a play off for the bronze medal against the Gold Coast Waves.
Being our last game together there was a touch of sadness, but a focus to ensure we finished our time together with the medal we dreamed of 12 months earlier. Gold Coast pushed us all the way, however we managed to win the game, resulting in a huge relief and joy from the team and parents. Our theme of TEAM for the week, was evident with not 1 player averaging over 9 points a game.
I can not thank the 10 girls enough for the year they have put together, so proud of how you have battled injuries and things going against you, but still managed to finish the year 3rd in Australia. To Lily Brancatisano, my assistant coach, for the hours of time she invested in ensuring this group was the best it could be, thank you. To Bianca Ananiev, the team manager, stuck doing all the administration stuff for the team, thank you. To the entire parent group, thank you for your support in allowing me to work with your daughters to help them live a dream, you should be so proud of them. To the wider Wildcats community, thank you for helping with fundraising and support of the team during the year and the week of Nationals, we are involved with the best club in Australia. Lastly to Paula, my wife, and Lauryn and Breanna, my daughters, thanks for allowing me to spend hours away from you so that I can do something that I love, helping kids live a dream. There are heaps of other people that I haven’t mentioned, so thank you too.
After a hard fought win over Melbourne Tigers at MSAC back in May this year, the significance of what we had qualified for started to sink in. With the girls already locked in, for the first time ever Eltham would be sending both a boys and a girls team in the same year to Nationals. There was plenty of excitement within the team and around the club. The next few months were hectic as Tania brought together a working party and an enormous amount of volunteer hours was contributed to assist with the costs of both team attend the championships. Without the contributions of our sponsors, the families directly involved and the countless people involved at our club who made important contributions the kids would not have had the experience they enjoyed.
Saturday the 30th of September was finally here and we were all off down to Frankston to settle in for National week. After a tough loss in the State Championship finals the week before it was nice to see the boys looking relaxed and ready to enjoy the week. Most of the talk was actually centred around the AFL grand final…Would Richmond win?……Dusty….and the BET. As we all now know Richmond did win, the clippers did come out and in the coming days we all watched on as “Mullet Mania” swept through the Aus club Championships.
Day 1 – “1st time on the big stage”
After participating in the Opening Ceremony with the other invited 47 boys and girls teams from around the country, the boys were desperate to get on the court and start playing. Our first game was scheduled that afternoon against the previous year’s champion club – Sydney Comets (NSW). We played well, but the moment got to us a bit and we were shaky down the stretch. After being up by 8 in the third quarter we ended up going down 48 to 53 in a hard fought game.
Day 2 – “Finding our MOJO”
Day 2 was definitely the day we started to get our week rolling. With Riley, Brad and Henry all dominating the boards, Brody controlling the game from the point and a very special cameo from Zahn in game 2 the boys starting to find their Mojo again. We beat Northern Tasmania Tigers 68 to 30 and in what was an amazing display of shooting for 12 and 13 year old boys we outplayed Perry Lakes Hawks (WA) to win 100 to 41. Yes that right “100”.
Day 3 – “Eltham Arrives”
The feeling at base camp on the morning of day 3 was good. The boys had bounced back from a tough day 1 and were up and about. We had a plan for Norwood after the coaches stayed back on Day 2 to watch them play and having seen them at both the National Junior Classic and the Adelaide Easter Classic earlier in the year. They had improved and were undefeated so far in the championships, but all of their offence was running through one player who was the championships second highest scorer averaging 23 points per game. Tom was plan A matchup and he was amazing, managing to hold their main scorer to just 3 points. At the offensive end we were rolling with 3 of our consistent scorers all week (Anton, Kristian and Harry) all posting double figures again. It felt like this win created some self-belief that we might actually be a contender, defeating Norward Flames (SA) 81 to 23.
Day 4 – “Winning under pressure”
We had two games guaranteed on Day 4, our first was a solid win against Illawarra Hawks (NSW) 69 to 43 and then we needed to prepare for a quarter final clash against North Adelaide Rockets (SA) later that night. The crowds were getting bigger and we played directly after the Eltham girls who were able to get past Nunawading in a great QF game. In amongst the noise of Quarter Finals night, there was a great moment of sportsmanship shown by the North Adelaide coaches, as we shook hands to say hi their coach says “Hey, Win or Lose would you guys be keen to get another photo after the game like we did earlier in this year in Adelaide. Our kids love the way your boys play”. Of course our Eltham response was definitely. What a great reminder that there is always more going on than just the game. We went on to win 58 to 51 after some heroics from Josh at the foul-line in the last minute. Then we watched on as all of our boys wanted photos with North Adelaide’s 198cm Yak Yak.
Day 5 – “Finding a Way”
Day five was semi-final day and the kids were pumped. We had beaten Hawthorn only a couple of weeks earlier in the Semi Final of the State Championship. We knew if we stuck close early we would find a way. After being down 25 to 12 early the boys manage to rally again, eventually winning 50 to 44. With 4 kids in double figures, the team controlling the boards and team defence all being a features of the win. It was just sinking in, we had made it to the Big Game.
Day 6 – “Full circle”
We woke with the aim of trying to keep it at normal as possible. What a great week already, it was hard not to wonder could we actually “WIN the LOT”. Arriving at the stadium to train in the morning the boys spotted the Northern Territory team. All week the boys had made the effort to say hello to them when they saw them around the stadium. They appreciated they were up against it all week and understood they came from small communities. We asked their team to join us on our practice court (nice distraction for the boys and good show of their humility), where the boys present the Northern Territory team with a pair of Eltham socks as a memento. Their coach spoke about how their kids don’t always see the kind of friendliness and respect in their own community. Nice advertisement for the Eltham Wildcats BRAND. The day actually flew by and after enjoying some hospitality at the Lewis home we were back at the stadium for the final. Word was already out that the girls had medalled and the Eltham fans were out if force…..and yes so were the MULLETS. Two teams in the same championships for the first time ever and we were about to bring home 2 medals, pretty cool.
At 6:30pm we hit the court and it was against the same team who beat us on day one, but this time the boys were ready. The game ebbed and flowed early, with both teams trying to settle into their normal play (keep in mind these are 12 and 13 year olds playing in front of packed stands holding approximately 2000 people), as the game went on the TEAM strength of Eltham started to shine through. Each of the boys had played all week and definitely appeared to be slightly fresher than the opposition. As the rotations kept coming the boys all made important contributions and eventually the collective strength of this Eltham team proved too much for a very good Sydney team.
Finals Score: ELTHAM WILDCATS 53 vs. Sydney Comets 44
Big thankyou to Amy Vine (Assistant Coach), Tania Weddle (Team Manager), all of the families involved, the club, the supporters, the sponsors and most importantly to an amazing group of boys who took all of us on an amazing ride for the week.
“This one is SPECIAL as you only get to do it once…..and you get to do it with your MATES!”