THE Sale Sonics have returned from the National Junior Classic ranked fifth in Australia for under 12 girls.
The squad of eight girls only lost two matches for the tournament in Melbourne, both to the eventual grand finalists.
The Sonics crossed Hawthorn in the quarter-finals, where the winner progressed to the top four and the loser would finish between fifth and eighth.
The Sonics went down to Hawthorn in a thrilling game by just two points.
No other team got near Hawthorn, which went on to win the grand final by 14 points, for the rest of the weekend.
Sale easily defeated the sixth and seventh teams, Melbourne Tigers and Bulleen, to finish fifth.
The girls played six games in three days, which were seven-minute quarters. Because the clock stopped for everything, each game went for more than an hour.
Having only eight players meant the girls had to play a lot of court time, and it was a testament to their determination and fitness that they could continue to excel.
Sienna Wynd had her arm in plaster until a week before the Classic and couldn’t play any sports for six weeks, and Lola Wilson hurt her knee a week before the team left and hadn’t been able to run or train.
Coach Jo Crawford-Wynd said the girls were amazing.
“To put this in perspective, we came up against the ACT state team on the first day, which selected the best 12 players from the entire territory to represent the ACT,” she said.
“The ACT has a population of 350,000 and here in Sale it’s around 13,000, and we were still able to win that match comfortably.
“We played the best teams from South Australia and ACT and then had to beat iconic clubs like the Melbourne Tigers and Bulleen Boomers to win fifth spot.”
Crawford-Wynd said the girls were disappointed to know they were so close and with a little luck they could have been the gold medal team.
“We were very close but to me that’s a great thing, we know we can match it with the best,” she said.
“Our best players in Sale are as good as the best players anywhere in Australia.”
All the girls agreed it was a competitive tournament, but the best part was working together, according to Katelyn Robinson.
“It’s a team sport, and we’re all together having fun,” she said.
Playing against the best in the country was a challenge, added Sienna Wynd.
“The hardest part was playing Hawthorn, and playing for such a long time because the quarters were so much longer,” she said.
Preparation has already begun for the next tournament, Lola Wilson said.
“We’re going to keep improving and keep trying hard.”