Minor Premiers back in title hunt
IPSWICH'S A-grade minor premiers had to hang tough to reach this weekend's grand finals.
Losing their qualifying playoffs tested the resolve of Hancock Brothers' top two sides to bounce back quickly.
Both club sides had to come from 1-0 down to win their preliminary finals at the Ipswich Hockey Complex.
The Hancocks men beat Easts 4-1 before the women held out a resurgent Norths side 3-2 on Sunday night.
For two senior club players, the men's and women's title deciders have added importance on Saturday.
Hancocks skipper Dean Pavitt and experienced defender Caitlin Sippel have shared in the club's highs and lows over the past decade.
Pavitt, 27, played in the previous men's grand final involving Hancocks where the Buzzsaws lost in 2011.
The club's last A-grade men's grand final victory was in 1987, ending a winning streak lasting more than a decade.
After seeing his team eliminate Easts from the title race, Pavitt felt this year's young side was ready to challenge strongly again.
"The boys played excellent,'' Pavitt said, proud of their recovery after Easts struck first.
"We knew that we had to score the next goal otherwise we were really pushing it uphill.
"Everyone lifted and we picked it up.''
With Hancocks for 13 years, Pavitt said losing to Norths in extra-time the previous weekend was a wake-up call.
"We had won a majority of the games this year and it was probably good to lose one then so we're more switched on coming into this final,'' he said.
"It's what we need.''
Sippel meanwhile was part of her team's previous grand final triumph in 2012 when Hancocks broke a 33-year-old club drought.
This weekend will be her eighth grand final appearance for Hancocks.
Like Pavitt, Sippel believes Hancocks deserve to be in the main match of the season.
"We have played so well all year,'' Sippel said. "We've played consistently even with the core of our team out a lot during the season.
"It takes a quality team of players and a group to still come and show up for each other every week.
"For such a young team, they want it so much and it wouldn't have been right if we weren't in it.''
In her 14th year of A grade, Sippel paid tribute to Norths' resilience on Sunday night.
"They (Norths) were fantastic,'' Sippel said. "They should be so proud of themselves. To come from where they've come from - they were at the bottom and they just kept showing up every week.
"To me as a player, there's nothing scarier than playing a team with nothing to lose. That's how they play.
"And credit to our girls. We didn't panic at the back end of the game and it's so easy to do that.
"We kept it together and we deserved the win.''
With a full strength side playing on Sunday night and available for the grand final, Sippel senses Hancocks are ready for another shot at the title.
While power clubs like Hancocks, Norths and Wests brace for this weekend's senior showdowns, one of the smaller Ipswich association clubs impressed in Saturday's junior grand finals.
Thistles won two girls titles in a show of tremendous spirit, led by coach Brett Petersen.
- A grade men: Hancock Brothers 4 (Adam McClelland 2, Ryan Smith, Nathan Smith) d Easts 1 (Steve Bayliss). Hancocks to play Norths in Saturday's grand final at 6pm.
- A grade women: Hancock Brothers 3 (Jade Hooper, Elyse Smolenski, Taylor Gray) d Norths 2 (Jess Fox, Leonie Young). Hancocks to play Wests in Saturday's grand final at 4.15pm.