Cover photo courtesy of Geoff Tripp Photography.
The Brydens Sydney Uni Flames are just one win away from clinching the 2016/17 Championship and in the process, break an unwanted streak of Grand Final disappointment.
The Flames took care of business against a gallant Dandenong Rangers side in Game 1, securing a 91-82 victory after finishing the contest on a 12-5 run.
A change from two years ago in the format of the Grand Finals has given the Rangers a lifeline though with 2016/17 just the second season in which the best-of-three series has been installed.
Sydney Uni could have used that support in recent years as they enter this year’s series having lost their last six Grand Final’s dating back to 2001/02.
Overall, the club’s Grand Final record stands at 4-9 after Game 1, winning titles in 1993, 1997 and 2000/01.
In 2001/02, Sydney, then known as the Panthers, were aiming to win back-to-back titles and came from fourth place to reach the Grand Final after defeating Dandenong and the ladder-leading Adelaide in consecutive weeks.
They were unable to continue their fairytale run against Canberra though, falling in the final 69-75.
The following year, the club changed their name to the Flames but maintained their success with another appearance in the playoffs and a re-match with Canberra in the Grand Final.
Leading by 17 at half-time, Shelley Burston paced Sydney with 13 points and 11 rebounds while Belinda Snell added 11 points and eight boards but they could not contain a second half onslaught from Lauren Jackson who carried Canberra to consecutive Championships on the back of 30 points and 23 rebounds (nine offensive).
The Sydney Uni Flames enjoyed their best regular season in 2003/04, finishing second, but a loss in the first final to Dandenong made their post-season path tougher.
They overcame Adelaide in the Preliminary Final, setting up a re-match with the Rangers but again could not get past their interstate rivals as a 17-7 final term helped Dandenong to a ten-point victory.
Snell top-scored for the Flames with 19 points but Jacinta Kennedy was outstanding for Dandenong, hitting 8-15 from the field for 18 points.
For an astounding fifth straight year in 2004/05, Sydney Uni reached the Grand Final and victories over Adelaide and Bulleen set up another meeting with Dandenong.
Kennedy was again outstanding though for the Rangers, collecting 23 points and 12 boards to lead her side to their only back-to-back Championships in club history and overcome the efforts of current Dandenong General Manager, Trish Fallon (14 points, eight rebounds).
Sydney Uni’s amazing run of Grand Final appearances came to an end the following year but it did not take long for them to return, reaching the last game of the year again in 2006/07.
They took care of Canberra in the Semi-Final to advance straight through but the Capitals made the most of their double chance, setting up another clash with the Flames in the Grand Final.
It would not prove third time lucky for Sydney Uni against Canberra as they again gave up a half-time lead to lose by 14 as Natalie Hurst (15 points) led six players in double-figure scoring.
The resilience of the Flames and coach Karen Dalton was proven in 2007/08 as they went through the regular season with a 17-7 record before defeating Adelaide by 19 points in the first Semi-Final.
The Lightning proved too good for Dandenong in the Preliminary Final though and in their second clash with Sydney Uni in three weeks, submitted the Flames to even more heartbreak with a 92-82 Grand Final win.
Nat Porter scored 23 points in a losing effort as her side struggled to contain Adelaide’s efficient offence with Renae Camino’s 32 points helping the Lightning shoot 51% from the field.
Since that loss, Sydney Uni have advanced to the post-season four times but 2016/17 is the first year in which they have reached the Grand Final.
While a Game 1 victory would have been enough to secure the title in any season from 2002-08, they must now win one more game to finally grab a hold of the trophy.
The adage is that you have to lose a Grand Final before you win one and if that is the case, Sydney Uni have certainly endured their fair share of defeats leading up to this potential 2016/17 Championship.