|The Wimmera Hockey Association’s Women’s representative team topped off a successful weekend with a one goal win over Portland to secure the B-2 division premiership at the Victorian Senior Country Championships in Geelong on Monday afternoon.
Despite having seven of their squad of sixteen playing in their first Senior Country Championships, the mix of this youth along with some experience made for a well-balanced team which was coached by the experienced Ian Barnett and managed by Helen Cannell.
The Wimmera team had the distinction of playing the opening game of the tournament on Saturday morning when they played Warrnambool, and although they enjoyed plenty of the play and set up many forward moves, but neither team had scored by half time.
Defying the firm pressure being applied by Warrnambool, Claire Barnett did a solo run down the field, getting past a number of defenders into the attacking circle, took a shot which was blocked, but had the presence to move in again to reclaim control of the ball and scored the goal.
Warrnambool responded with numerous forward moves, but goalkeeper Isabella Guilline blocked all scoring attempts with sharp reflex moves, ensuring the end result as a win to the Wimmera.
The next game was against arch rivals, North Central, and in a tough game finished with a narrow one goal loss.
Neither team scored in the first half, and it was only a strong attacking hit by North Central that deflected off a stick into their goal that give them the lead.
Following this setback, the Wimmera players didn’t give up and a series of strong attacking moves put the pressure back on the North Central defenders, led by Ameilia Rintoule at centre half back, and although they controlled most of the latter stages of the game, when the final whistle blew North Central were still ahead by one goal.
Above - Imogen Williams (right) attempts to block a North Central opponent.
Their last pool game was played on Sunday morning against LaTrobe Valley and the Wimmera again started strongly, earning plenty of attack in the first half, and a number of penalty corners but their forwards narrowly missed every shot at goal. Strong LaTrobe defenders and skilful goalkeeping did not help the Wimmera’s attempts to score.
At the other end of the ground the Wimmera defenders were equally as effective and also prevented any scoring when LaTrobe moved forward.
The scoreless first half was repeated in the second half and although the Wimmera team enjoyed a majority of the control of the ball, they were unable to convert any scoring opportunities and the game ended in a draw.
This put the Wimmera in second place in their pool, just behind the undefeated North Central, and set them up for a semi final against the top team from Pool A, West Gippsland.
Once again their opponents tested the Wimmera defence but determined work from the entire defensive group prevented any scouring, even after having to defend seven penalty corners in a row. Isabella Gulline continued to impress in goals and Sharon Williams was solid at full back.
The pressure did not diminish after the break, with the West Gippsland team becoming frustrated at the resolute Wimmera defence, including a last line save by half back Heidi White to keep the scores level.
With just two minutes of play remaining West Gippsland earned a penalty corner which, if converted, could have seen them win, but unyielding defence kept the game alive.
Within seconds the ball had been rushed into attack by the Wimmera forwards, and some skilful work by Claire Barnett got the ball into the circle and earned a penalty corner.
At this point the final siren sounded, which gave the Wimmera one last chance to snatch the game, with the penalty corner still to be played.
Tianna Hendy pushed the ball out to Sigourney Williams who trapped cleanly and launched a solid shot which made its way through the pack of eager defenders and deflected off a stick and into the goal.
This play gave the Wimmera a one goal win, allowing them to progress to the final on Monday afternoon.
Like the Wimmera, Portland went into the grand final having lost only one of their four games and in a tight encounter it was Tianna Hendy who opened the scoring to put the Wimmera in the first half.
Unfortunately the second half was cut shot following an injury to a Wimmera player which stopped play, and when she walked from the field there was only a minute remaining on the clock, at which point Portland conceded the game, giving the Wimmera the B-2 Division premiership.
Local umpires Caleb Baldock and Helen Cannell took the opportunity to officiate in a number of games each over the weekend, to take advantage of the chance to receive some feedback from some experienced coaches.
Whilst the Wimmera Hockey Association did not enter a team in the Men’s Country Championships this season, marking the first time they have not sent a team to this tournament since the early 2000s, a number of players did take the opportunity and accepted offers to bolster the player numbers for other Associations.
Warracknabeal regular Marcus Williamson played for the North Central Association in the B Grade and after their four pool matches the team qualified in second on the ladder which gave them a place in the gold medal match against West Gippsland.
Three goals to North Central whilst keeping their opponent scoreless was enough for them to win the premiership.
Horsham stalwart Paul Mackereth played for Warrnambool in Pool A of the Masters division.
In their three preliminary games, Warrnambool scored wins over West Gippsland by eight goals to one and Goulburn Valley (White) by two goals, and suffered a loss to Albury-Wodonga by one goal, with Mackereth scoring once in the win over West Gippsland.
This put them second on the Pool A ladder, which earned a place in the semi final against the leading team from Pool B, Central Victoria (Bendigo), which they lost by four goals.
On Monday morning Goulburn Valley (Maroon) was their opponent in the play-off game for third place, and in a high scoring game Warrnambool finished with three goals, but this was still one goal short of a win
The Masters premiership was won by Albury-Wodonga who defeated fellow regular grand finalist Central Victoria by three goals to two.
The 2019 B-2 Division Champions - Back (from left): Coordinator/Team Manager Helen Cannell, Olivia Williams, Kayla White, Vice Captain Sigourney Williams, Ellie Woods, Ameilia Rintoule, Claire Barnett, Sophie Allen, Heidi White, Assistant Team Manager Rachel Clark Coach Ian Barnett.
Front: Tori Cuming, Imogen Williams, Kendra Clark, Isabella Gulline, Brandy-Lea Cuming, Tianna Hendy, Captain Sharon Williams.