Victoria and South Australia claim gold in dramatic finals

The 2016 Australian Open National Handball Championships will not quickly be forgotten, as both men’s and women’s titles were decided in exciting finals with the winner securing victory only in the dying minutes.

Victoria defended their hold on the women’s title by beating Queensland in a close match, with the low final score of 19:18 reflective of the outstanding goalkeeping and defence from both teams.

“I knew that Queensland is a really good team. We beat them in the first game but I knew that they were going to come back strong,” said Victoria left back Elsa Perhag. “They have really good players and they work well as a team, so we knew it was going to be really tough and we felt that through the whole game.

“Manon [Vernay, goalkeeper] made a difference in the end when she came back and saved a lot of goals. That was the main thing. And I think in the second half we worked more as a team rather than just individually, so I think that helped us heaps as well.”

The match was level through the entire 60 minutes with Victoria just claiming the crucial edge as the final buzzer drew near, after which Queensland were unable to convert the last attack into a goal that would equalise and send the match into extra-time.

“I looked at the clock and there were 11 seconds left, so [I thought] just really aggressive defence and it doesn’t matter if we get two minutes – just not a goal, not a goal, not a goal. That was all we were thinking,” said Perhag. “Also they had scored a few goals on their left back so we were really like: OK, hold that girl and then just work together, and hopefully we’ve got this!”

Victoria did have this – and soon after it was South Australia’s turn to have it as well as the men’s final followed with a dramatic twist: New South Wales led 14:7 at half-time before South Australia came roaring back in the second period to finish with a 26:23 victory.

After a somewhat underwhelming first half, it seemed South Australia found some magic in the half-time break.

“We knew we weren’t playing badly – we were just missing our shots, kind of shooting straight at the keeper, me included,” said right wing Dejan Buhavac. “At half-time we regrouped, said ‘start aiming’, play our stuff that we know we’ve trained for, and we got there in the end. 7:14 at half-time I think and we ended up with a win, so we’re really happy with it.”

For South Australia it is an historic win, as it is the first time ever they have claimed the national title. Even the qualification for the final was momentous for the state, as the last time they did so was in 1989.

Just as Victoria were helped immensely by the strong performance of their goalkeeper Vernay – though her Queensland counterparts Jemima Harbort and Best Goalkeeper of the tournament Tara van der Post should not go without mention as they contributed significantly to the low final score – South Australia’s star was keeper Boris Jovanovic, who seemed to stop almost everything thrown at him in the second period.

“He’s unreal. When you look at him and the year he’s had with his daughter being born, he’s had problems with his knees and everything. To come back and play like that in the final is incredible,” said Buhavac.

Prior to the finals the bronze medals were won by Victoria in the men’s event, as they defeated Western Australia 27:24, and South Australia, who beat New South Wales 28:23 in the women’s competition. The men’s Australian Capital Territory team secured fifth, winning the men’s 5/6 play-off against Queensland 26:23, and New Zealand finished fifth after beating ACT 20:12 in the women’s 5/6 match.

Final ranking
Men’s competition
1. South Australia
2. New South Wales
3. Victoria
4. Western Australia
5. ACT
6. Queensland

Women’s competition
1. Victoria
2. Queensland
3. South Australia
4. New South Wales
5. New Zealand
6. ACT

By Courtney Gahan
Photo: Freya Bent and Jess Sancataldo

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