VICTORIA Metropolitan seized two Australian Junior Championships gold medals in a pair of superb performances on the Sunshine Coast.
For the first time since 2001 at the Australian Under-18 Junior Championships, the four grand finalists were all Victorian as the Metropolitan and Country sides battled it out in two sensational gold medal games.
VICTORIA COUNTRY vs VICTORIA METROPOLITAN GIRLS
An incredible back-and-forth grand final was claimed 65-57 by Victoria Metro in a thrilling victory over Victoria Country at USC Stadium, Sunshine Coast.
The Vic Country girls fought back through the latter parts of the first half as Vic Metro exploded through the shooting of Charlise Dunn (16 points, five rebounds, six steals), Meg Robinson (seven points) and Ella Crump (six points, five rebounds).
Country regained ground through the three-point shooting of Paige Price (19 points, five rebounds) and Gemma Simon (six points).
Country continued to find great output from centre Piper Dunlop (four points, 11 rebounds) finished her second under-16 tournament with another powerhouse effort under the opposition basket while Dallas Loughridge (10 points) and Meg McCarthy (eight points) toiled against the Metro guards all evening.
The efforts of Meg Robinson and Tess Heal (15 points) helped sure up the margin and stop any Country run-on from gathering momentum while captain Georgia Kitchell (11 points, 19 rebounds) put in a superhuman effort manning the likes of Dunlop and Price as well as generating some fantastic offence for Metro.
When the match was there to be won it was Heal, Kitchell and Georgia Booth (seven points) who made the clutch shots to finish the job and secure Victoria Metropolitan its third under-16 championship in as many years.
Victoria Metropolitan girls head coach Sam Thornton was thrilled to be part of another exceptional under-16 Metro group and put the victory down to the hard work and core values the side built itself upon.
“What they did well was even when things weren’t going our way, we stuck with the same core values – one of those was that we just wanted to win possession,” Thornton said. “we knew that we weren’t necessarily the best shooting group but we knew we could defend, out-hustle and out-possess every team we played and it was just a matter of getting the kids to believe in it and they did.
“The belief was high amongst the whole group and I’m very proud of our whole team, the staff and the coaches.
“Vic Country deserved it as well – it’s a credit to our whole state to see both sides in the grand final.
“It’s really my luck to be allowed to do this again and my fortune as there are a lot of coaches that would love to do this and I couldn’t be more grateful.”
Victoria Country girls head coach Joe Turner thought his side was impressive throughout the week as they endeavoured to improve every time they took to the court.
“For the whole week the girls got better each game – what stands out to me is the improvement we made every single game,” Turner said. “We lost our second game of the week and then bounced back from that and continued to get better each time we played – that’s what will stay with me.
“The gold medal game we got off to a slow start but again showed they can fight the whole way back, fought to make it competitive and hang in there, but in the end Vic Metro got over the top of us.
“They’re an outstanding group and their development and growth and having a chance to bring them in and see them develop as a team was pleasing and they should be very proud of what they have achieved.”
VICTORIA COUNTRY vs VICTORIA METROPOLITAN BOYS
Victoria Metropolitan had to fight to mount an incredible comeback in a 74-64 win over Victoria Country.
The Country contingent leapt out of the blocks through the starring efforts of Jordan Michel (14 points, four assists), Charlie Molan (10 points, three rebounds, four assists) and Hamish Carey (10 points). Playing gallantly through injury, Dyson Daniels (five points, three rebounds) showcased the elite skills that earned him a place in this side two years in a row. Also stepping up in the crunch moments were Dylan Mccauley (nine points) – hitting three treys – and Tonga Matapule Otutaha (four points).
Their efforts extended the gap to a seven-point gap early in the third term, but Vic Metro was not done by any stretch. James Roche (14 points, 11 rebounds, five assists) caught fire and saved his best performance of the championships for the finale. Inside or out, defensively or charging towards his own basket, Roche brought some much needed intensity and energy to the Vic Metro performance through the second half as the rhythm shifted in Vic Metro’s favour.
Jeffrey Ofoedu (22 points, six rebounds) shone once again as he provided further energy to the Metro performance.
From level-pegging at the final break, Vic Metro launched early as a pair of Ofoedu lay-ups were backed up by three-pointers from Roche and Braden Andrews (six points) to establish the winning margin. Ofoedu launched a three of himself to seal the deal and return Victoria Metropolitan to the top of the under-16 podium.
Victoria Metropolitan boys head coach Dom Linossier said the side’s ability to switch up and adjust to Vic Country’s attack proved the difference in the end and that he couldn’t be more proud of his playing group.
“Absolutely a great result in the end with the win but full credit to Vic Country – they came out and punched us hard in the mouth and we had to make some adjustments and the boys did a great job listening to us,” Linossier said. “We said through the whole process that we were going to put the trust in them to do it right and they executed well which was really pleasing.
“It’s pretty special – it’s the first national championship win I’ve been head coach of and those boys are now part of the fabric and the brotherhood of Vic Metro and it’s really exciting for them.
“I’m pumped for them, I’m proud of them for all their efforts – coming in and training in cold gyms on Sunday mornings and Tuesday nights at practice games and they’ve really earned it.
“It’s a really positive thing to have won this, but honestly this isn’t about me, it’s all about 14-year-old kids who worked their backsides off.
“I’m really hoping we get to see these guys play long-term continue playing the elite level for Vic Metro and then on to the NBL, college and overseas.”
The grand final loss was Vic Country’s only defeat of the campaign, highlighting the success of the group and the side’s consistent, high-intensity efforts throughout the week.
Victoria Country boys head coach Joel Anderson was thrilled with his side’s effort across the week and was humbled to get the opportunity to coach a great group of players.
“The game itself the boys came out of the gates really well and we held the lead until part way through the third quarter,” Anderson said. “We just couldn’t arrest the momentum when it mattered most, so full credit to the Metro team, they did a good job.
“Our boys won every game except tonight and they improved every single game, worked together really well, really easy to coach and they did a great job.
“The boys were fantastic – I said to them at the end of the game that no one can take away the memories we’ve now got.
“This team won’t play again together – there will be different coaches, different players and it means heaps to me.
“It was my first time coaching a state team and I couldn’t have asked for anything more from my group.