Sunshine for Girls in gutsy bronze medal performance
GLASGOW, Scotland — Marva Bernard's eyes were bloodshot. She had been shedding tears, and a hell of a lot of it at that.
But they were tears of joy. For the Netball Jamaica boss had just witnessed her Sunshine Girls win a Commonwealth Games bronze in a heart-stopping third-place play-off match against England at the Hydro Arena here yesterday.
The score tells the story of the competitive nature of the game: Jamaica 52, England 48. But what it does not unveil is the heart, discipline and overall sacrifice that were put in that ultimately ended Jamaica's drought at major championships.
Yesterday's bronze medal took Jamaica's tally for these Games to 22, equalling the all-time best, with 10 gold, four silver and eight bronze.
The medals were gained in three sporting disciplines -- 19 in track and field athletics, two in swimming and one in netball.
"We have struggled with the negative that has been thrown at us, we have struggled with being told that we are not good enough, but I never doubted my team.
"My faith is very strong but they (detractors) tested it, and I just want to say to those people who criticised us and said we are not good enough, thank you because you made us work even harder," said Bernard, with eyes still overflowing with tears.
To Netball Jamaica's loyal sponsors and supporters, she said: "Thanks to all those who supported us."
Even though she never doubted the ability of the team, Bernard shared that a pep talk by her and JOA president Mike Fennel before the game must have hit the collective soul of the girls.
"I told them this (yesterday) morning that they have got to play for their country... Mike Fennel came and he spoke to them after I spoke," she told Jamaican journalists immediately after the match.
Coach Minneth Reynolds was beside herself with joy, catching her breath before she said: "I am so elated."
Reynolds said her players knew what was at stake, and despite a "lack of concentration" and "impatience" in their last two games, they showed up for yesterday's party in the proper frame of mind.
"These girls went out there knowing it was all or nothing today... it was either a bronze medal or nothing (and) they decided that there was no second chance," she said smiling.
But a lot was riding on medal success here, and the Jamaicans can return home as proud ambassadors, having long worn the undesirable tag of being second-rate in the eyes of some.
"This (bronze medal) means we are on our way up, our sponsor can no longer say 'fourth again?' We are on the podium and that's what we came here for," said Reynods.
Shanice Beckford, who operated as a goal-attack in yesterday's game and who has had a good tournament, could only find a few words, caught up in the emotions of the moment.
"It feels good and I am really happy, I am in a bit of pain, but I am overwhelmed and I am happy for it (the medal)," she noted.
Another trouper for the team, wing-defence Vangelee Williams, applauded the team's unity of purpose, in perhaps their most important game ever.
"I am very happy as a lot of things were riding on this win... we came out here today and secured the win as we stuck together as a team and played four solid quarters and I am really proud of myself and my team and I am just giving thanks to God," she fired at reporters before disappearing to celebrate with her teammates.
But the celebration on the Jamaican bench started long before the final buzzer as the scent of victory wafted through the air.
An interesting move by the coaching staff which paid obvious dividends, was fielding both siblings -- Romelda Aiken and captain Nicole Aiken-Pinnock -- at either end of the court. Romelda led the shooting, while Nicole nailed down the goal-keeping duties, as she has done most of this tournament.
Romelda was on target with 44 goals from 52 attempts, while England's offensive response came from Joanne Harten 36 from 39.
In a breakdown of the match, England took the first quarter and the third quarters 13-11 and 13-12, while Jamaica fought back in the second 14-11 and delivered the coup de grace in an exhilarating final push 15-11.
In their preliminary games, Jamaica defeated St Lucia 88-24, Northern Ireland 65-34, Scotland 68-26, Malawi 81-50, then lost to New Zealand 42-50.
Jamaica last medalled at the Commonwealth Games when they won bronze in Manchester, England, in 2002.
Meanwhile, Australia dethroned champions New Zealand 58-40 in the gold medal match later on.