To say Stratford has had a great season is an understatement.

Ashlea Higgins’ A Grade side has dominated East Gippsland netball from game one, defeating 2022 premier Boisdale-Briagolong 53 to 44 in the season’s opening match.

The Swans belted opponents Paynesville (73-15), Lakes Entrance (57-29), Lindenow (64-16) and Lucknow (60-16) in Rounds 2, 3, 4 and 6 before defeating 2023 minor premier and grand finalists Wy Yung 46-41 in Round 7.

Stratford playing-coach Ashlea Higgins is on the verge of achieving her preseason goal of seeing A Grade and B Grade win the premiership. Photos: Zoe Askew

Stratford was on course for a perfect season, going undefeated until Wy Yung hosted the Swans in Round 14 and ended their unbeaten run.

With only two games remaining, the Swans and Tigers were tied on points, tallying 13 victories and one loss, making for a tight race to the minor premiership.

Stratford defeated Paynesville 83-16 in Round 15, while Wy Yung defeated Orbost Snowy Rovers 53-34.

As both sides progressed to win their final game of the home-and-away season, the Swans defeating Boisdale-Briagolong 52-34 and the Tigers beating Lucknow 71-25, the East Gippsland 2023 minor premiership would ultimately come down to percentage.

Defending the minor premier title, Wy Yung took it out for the second year running with a percentage of 215.87, compared to Stratford’s 185.23.

Stratford wing defender Holly Web during the Swans’ epic preliminary final win over Boisdale-Briagolong.

While ending the season on top of the table is an achievement nonetheless, a minor premiership doesn’t guarantee you a flag, or a spot in the Grand Final for that matter.

Now, the hard work begins, with East Gippsland’s top two teams preparing to fight tooth-and-nail and leave everything on the court for their chance to lift the 2023 A Grade premiership cup.

Stratford met Wy Yung in the fight for a direct ticket to the Grand Final in the first week of finals.

With a 10-goal lead at halftime, a guaranteed spot in the Grand Final was so close the Swans could almost taste it.

Nerves flustered composure, and the Swans suddenly found themselves trailing.

Stratford would have to take the long route, as Wy Yung’s 49-41 win over the Swans in the semi-final secured the Tigers’ place in the decider.

There were no more second chances.

Stratford A Grade captain and centre Sarah Bishop.

As Stratford and Boisdale-Briagolong entered the court last Saturday, only one team would continue their finals campaign.

While it was jubilation for the Swans, there was only heartbreak for the Bombers, as Stratford defeated reigning premier 48-47 in a nail-bitingly close A Grade preliminary final at Bairnsdale City Oval.

“It was definitely a physical game, which we haven’t really seen from Boisdale throughout the season,” Higgins said.

“They absolutely gave it their all, they really did and credit to them because they played a really good game on the weekend.”

The Swans threatened in the shooting ring through the likes of Stratford A Grade best-and-fairest goal attack Tori Patterson and East Gippsland A Grade best-and-fairest goalkeeper Emmagyn Williams.

With Higgins confirming her premiership contending side has recovered well following Saturday’s Preliminary Final, Patterson and Williams will be fundamental in breaking down Wy Yung’s defence in tomorrow’s Grand Final.

“Wy Yung has a great defence,” Higgins said.

“They match Tori (Patterson) quite well, but that’s not to say that Tori can’t handle that; she hasn’t really had a bad game (this season), and she is very, very accurate once she gets the ball in her hands.

“Wy Yung’s mid-court is quite strong, and they’re very quick. Our game plan, which we have been effectively implementing all year, is to try and cut off their second transition into their attacking end because once they get the ball off the centre, they are very quick to get it into their ring.”

East Gippsland A Grade best-and-fairest winner Emmagyn Williams looms as key in tomorrow’s Grand Finals for Stratford.

With Wy Yung posing a significant threat in the shooting ring, harbouring three extremely accurate shooters, Stratford will draw on their defensive strength.

“Emmy (Williams) and Katy (Coster) both work really well together,” Higgins said.

“Emmy was named league best-and-fairest; she is amazing. I love watching her, and she will be awesome on the weekend, no doubt.”

Higgins set out ahead of the 2023 season to support all of the players in her A and B Grade teams and to create strong morale among the group, with the ultimate goal of securing A and B Grade premierships.

With Stratford to take on Boisdale-Briagolong in B Grade tomorrow, there are just eight quarters between Higgins achieving that goal.

“It’s actually quite an amazing feeling, it’s kind of hard to explain,” she said.

“I feel very, very proud that both the teams got there and that my goal might come to fruition on the weekend. It is very exciting; I can’t wait to see what the weekend brings. I’m so proud of both teams.”

Stratford wing attack Coco Henry.

With just one more sleep before East Gippsland’s premiers are decided, who are the players to watch tomorrow?

“Wy Yung goal shooter Stevie Elvin is awesome, very, very accurate once she gets the ball in her hands and moves so well under that ring,” Higgins said.

“Also, Wy Yung’s goal defender, Rachel Murray.

“From Stratford, Emmy Williams and Tori Patterson, who actually play on Stevie and Rachel, so really, really good match-ups and will be interesting contests for sure.”

Stratford wing attack Emily Morrison and goalkeeper Ella Rose will be ones to watch in tomorrow’s B Grade Grand Final.

Stratford will also face Boisdale-Briagolong in the C Grade Grand Final.