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Nat Panagarry

They say your first title is always the most special, but for Nat Panagarry that is simply not true.

The Loughborough Lightning captain’s world was rocked when wife Katie was diagnosed with cancer, with Panagarry bravely speaking about its impact on their relationship and how netball offered a much-needed escape.

Panagarry has responded with the season of her life on court, earning six Player of the Match awards as she led her side to a third consecutive Netball Super League Grand Final.

Sport offers few true fairy tales, but that Panagarry was able to lift her second Netball Super League trophy is surely one of them.

“It’s just amazing,” said Panagarry. “It’s been the goal this year and I’ve been dreaming about this to be honest, especially this week thinking about it lifting that trophy.

“All this week I felt the momentum with us, the stories that we have had, the connections felt very similar to the year that we won it.

“Everything felt like it was going our way from the second quarter, and I truly believed that we could do it.

“My love of the game came back this year. This year made me realise that netball has been my release, something I have needed to help my health, my fitness, and mentally with everything that has been going on with me and my wife. It is an escape for me that I absolutely love.

“I completely took the pressure off myself this year and leaned into the girls. I needed their help, loads of the players stepped up and I felt like I didn’t need to do anything other than just be me and play. I could just focus on that and they took over. I felt so relaxed within netball this year, loved being around the girls and the team.

“Being in this final for me was enough, I was so happy to get here, but to actually pick up that trophy today was everything I have dreamed of this year.”

Defiance in the face of adversity has been the theme of the season – not just for Panagarry but for Lightning as a collective – with many other players facing their own off-court battles.

Sunday’s Grand Final was a microcosm of Lightning’s season as a whole, as Pulse raced into an early 7-1 lead before Vic Burgess’ side used all their experience accrued over the years to dig deep and fight their way back.

And Panagarry revealed the squad’s togetherness was the key to their comeback victory.

“We have been through a lot, there have been a lot of things going on behind the scenes,” she added.

“It has brought us closer together this year, we have leaned on each other more than ever and a lot of the young ones have stepped up and led.

“That competitive edge we have at Lightning, that is the reason why I love this club, I have been here eight years, it is about constantly pushing each other no matter what age you are or how many medals you have got around your neck.

“That first quarter was all nerves and when we got that out of our system, we relaxed into the game and started playing how we wanted to play.

“I just kept saying to the defence ‘calm’. If we are calm, the attack will calm down as well. We were throwing a few balls away that weren’t really us but I said if we calmed down it would filter through and that is what started to happen.

“We had a talk at half-time, Liv Murphy definitely gave us some strong words before we came back out, which definitely helped in the Thunder game as well, she gave us that rocket and that is what you need sometimes.

“It was a big crowd, lots of noise, their home venue but I think we started to silence them and you could feel the momentum shift in the game.”

Despite a rocky start, Lightning found themselves in total control in the final quarter and soon realised they had done enough to claim a second Netball Super League title in three years.

And Panagarry savoured the final few moments on court of a season to remember, breaking into a laugh with four minutes remaining after a wayward Mary Cholhok pass.

She added: “I told myself do not look up [at the clock], the ball went out and I had a sneaky look up and there was four minutes left and we were up by 10; I told myself do not cry, hold it together as I realised we had probably done it at that point and all that emotion flooded out at the end.

“I felt really lucky to enjoy that, because normally it is goal to goal. “With four minutes to go, to be able to laugh, I thought Mary I am not your height!

“It was a privilege to be able to laugh at that, we had done the hard work. You could feel that we were going to win, they were trying different things to try and get the score back but it was nice to have a laugh with her.”

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