Romelda Aiken shows the heart of a champion in grand final
FIREBIRDS coach Roselee Jencke says Romelda Aiken showed the heart of a champion to bury crippling shooting “yips” and deliver when it mattered most in Sunday’s pulsating ANZ Championship grand final triumph.
The Firebirds created history with their thrilling 69-67 double overtime win over the NSW Swifts in front of 10,312 spectators at the Brisbane Entertainment Centre.
The Firebirds are the first side to ever win back-to-back crowns and the only team to own three ANZ Championship titles since the competition started in 2008.
But they did it the hard way with Aiken struggling to do what she does best.
She finished with a finals record 63 goals on the way to being the first player to smash through the 5000-career goal mark.
(l-r) Romelda Aiken, Caitlyn Nevins and Gretel Tippett of the Firebirds celebrate after winning the ANZ Championship grand final on Sunday.
But it took a whopping, and occasionally excruciating, 89 attempts to get there for a 71 per cent success rate. She hit 740 goals from 858 attempts (86.2 per cent) during the season.
She produced airballs, clunked the ball into the bottom of the ring, attempted a basketball lay-up and even handed the ball to attacking partner Gretel Tippett to shoot when the yips had full hold.
The scores were locked at 54-all at the end of the fourth quarter and the teams could not be separated after 14 minutes of extra time with the score at 66-all so it was a race to be the first team to lead by two.
Cometh the hour, cometh the Jamaican.
Aiken stood tall in the tense second period of extra-time hitting the last two goals of the match after a crucial Gabi Simpson turnover swung the momentum.
Aiken punched the air and screamed in delight after sinking the match winner before collapsing to the court in exhaustion.
Jencke said the occasion and pressure from direct opponent Sharni Layton got to Aiken who shoulders a massive workload and displays great courage under intense defensive attention.
“She’s a champion player … she kept working really, really hard,’’ Jencke said.
“In that last two minutes when we had to get two points, I had no doubt we were going to close it.
“She was a solid rock then.
“To finish off that way when she probably had the yips for the majority of the game, I’m just really rapt for her.
“She’s our spearhead and with that comes pressure. We just needed to keep on encouraging Romelda.’’
Firebirds captain Laura Geitz could see the funny side of Aiken’s stats, which included 20 rebounds from her own missed shots, after the match.
“She told me before the game she wanted to finish the stats with the highest rebounder in the competition,’’ Geitz laughed.