FROM ground zero to the top of the netball world in just 12 months, the Sunshine Coast Lightning completed a stunning sporting journey with a thumping 65-48 victory over the Giants in the Suncorp Super Netball grand final.
This time last year, they were a logo. Now they are the very best of the best after overcoming a shaky start in the first quarter to relentlessly bolt to glory in front of 8899 spectators at the Brisbane Entertainment Centre.
The Melbourne Storm-backed Lightning simply blew the Giants off the court in the last three quarters to win the inaugural Super Netball crown in their first-ever season.
It is the third year in a row that netball supremacy resides in Queensland after the Firebirds won the 2015 and 2016 trans-Tasman titles.
Captain Geva Mentor was mighty in defence and superstar Caitlin Bassett was a tower of strength at goalshooter but every Lightning player in between did their job superbly too as the Sunshine Coast kicked away.
They trailed by two at quarter-time but led by five at halftime. They were 10 in front by three-quarter-time as the sea of Lightning fans dressed in yellow at Boondall reached fever pitch.
The “Lightning, Lightning, Lighting” chant echoed throughout the stadium in the final seconds and the elated Sunshine Coast players embraced each other on court after the full-time siren.
Bassett finished with 49 goals for the Lightning while Steph Wood added 16 goals after a ferocious battle with Giants defender Bec Bulley.
Kristina Brice had 24 goals for the Giants, while captain Jo Harten hit 20 goals from 25 attempts.
Third quarters have been the Achilles heel for the Lightning throughout 2017 but they chose a good time to overcome their ‘premiership quarter’ blues.
The Sunshine Coast extended their lead to nine goals after the Ginats replaced Brice and sent veteran Susan Pettitt into the circle from goal attack.
The Giants’ changes had little impact as the Lightning took a 48-38 buffer into the last quarter with the title at their mercy.
The Lightning outscoredthe Giants 19-12 in the second term with Wood’s buzzer beater for the Sunshine Coast sparking a deafening roar from the near-capacity crowd at Boondall.
The Sunshine Coast hit the lead early after the resumption of play after shaking off the early rust with Mentor again to the fore.
The Giants were quick to call a tactical time-out after the revitalised Lightning turned a two-goal deficit into a two-goal advantage as they clicked into gear with swift ball movement and suffocating defence.
Whatever was said in the time-out did not work as the Sunshine Coast continued to pull away from the Giants.
The Lightning got off a nervous start with wayward passes handing the Giants possession on a platter.
The Giants raced to a 7-2 lead and had ominous momentum as they clinically converted turnovers into goals with Brice almost unstoppable.
A timely Mentor intercept halted the Giants’ flow and dragged her side back into the contest.
The Lightning upped their defensive pressure and the Giants produced some turnovers of their own.
But they steadied to hold a 15-13 buffer at quarter-time in a scoreline that probably flattered the uncharacteristically tense Sunshine Coast.
South African defender Karla Mostert won the player of the match with her three intercepts and two deflections setting the tone for the Lightning.
Lightning coach Noeline Taurua said the Sunshine Coast’s defensive end sparked the dominant win.
“It’s amazing. One is to win and be premiers but also the scoreline ... fantastic work from the defence end. They put a lot of pressure on and forced the changes,” Taurua said.
“This is what it was all about and to get to where we are and have the trophy in front of us is awesome for our team, for the players who have committed and also to our club, it’s awesome.
“I’m stoked. Everybody has relocated to the Sunshine Coast and everyone came on a dream. For us to be able to pull it together is amazing.
“Everyone was quite emotional...because it’s not only for us. We know much it means to Sunny Coast, the community, everybody. It makes it bigger than what’s just out on court.”
She said the third quarter was “outstanding” after six weeks of discussion on how to fix their biggest weakness.
“The girls were so committed to know this is the last third quarter of 2017 and the last opportunity for us to make it better,” Taurua said.
Also read: Lightning already proving a winner for Storm