OVER half their team were juniors, but Mater Dei Catholic College coach Nathan Irvine credited his team's defensive grit as the main factor behind winning the inaugural Open Girls School of Excellence Cup in Canberra on Tuesday.
A host of regular players were unavailable due to school holidays, but the youngsters brought in stepped up to the mark to ensure they brought the trophy back to Wagga.
After easily accounting for Canberra's Erindale College first up 4.2 (26) to 0.1 (1), Mater Dei got revenge on defending champions St Francis Leeton with a thrilling 2.2 (14) to 1.7 (13) triumph.
They clinched the crown by holding off a fast-finishing Pymble Ladies College Sydney 2.3 (15 ) to 0.3 (3).
"Because it's school holidays we had about half a dozen girls unavailable and had to get permission to take two year eight girls, three or four year nine girls and a year ten girl for what is a year 11-12 competition," Irvine said.
"It was amazing to see them stand up against the other schools.
"We wouldn't have taken them if we didn't think they could handle it. We had some training sessions and they didn't give us any reason to believe they wouldn't."
He added their defence, led by fullback Rebel Brooker, centre half back Abbey Morton and year niner Jesse Wendt help up under pressure.
"St Francis won the state final last year so that was a big challenge," Irvine said.
"Against Pymble we were up 12-0 at halftime but they had the ball in their forward line for the last ten minutes and hit the post three times.
"Our tackling and pressure was really good across the three games. We probably weren't the most skilled team there, but we might have worked the hardest.
"Their tackling and run down chasing from behind was good, and they were really good in the contest.
"There's been a state pathway the last few years, this is the first time we've won it in recent times."
Irvine said the chance to play on an AFL-standard venue in Manuka Oval was an eye opening experience for the team.
"The girls found it amazing going into the warm up and meeting rooms and playing on a surface like that."