Loughborough Lightning came from behind to beat London Pulse 57-48 and win a second Super League title at London’s Copper Box.
A tense match saw Pulse race to an early lead and left 2021 champions Lightning chasing for the first half.
But momentum swung when Pulse were limited by Lightning to just eight goals in the third quarter.
Lightning and England defender Fran Williams said she felt “pure elation” as the final buzzer sounded.
“I just feel emotional, so proud of my team, they are super-special humans and the whole Lightning family have really come together this season – that win was very much done together,” said Williams.
“I think we’ll be having a few drinks on the bus home but I’m not sure what Loughborough is going to offer on a Sunday night! We’ll make it fun, we always do.”
Lightning head coach Vic Burgess said she felt pride that her side were able to come from behind to take the crown.
“It gets emotional, I’m just so happy that the girls fought so hard after not a great start,” said Burgess.
“I came away from about five hugs with tears so am just in disbelief, but also really proud because we’ve worked really hard for this and deserve it.”
Pulse have never won the Super League, with this their first final appearance and head coach Sam Bird said inexperience was “certainly felt” in her squad.
“There are no excuses, the game was there to be won by us, we had a blistering start but we just got a little bit careless and they gained confidence,” she added.
“You just have to congratulate the side that came out with the better performance and that hurts, but we’ll be back.”
Williams shines as Lightning show experience
After the crowd were treated to a DJ set and saxophonist to prepare them for the league’s showpiece, Pulse twice in the opening stages of the match intercepted the long ball to Lightning shooter Mary Cholhok to race out to a 7-1 lead.
The Loughborough side looked nervy in the opening exchanges as the crowd sensed they might witness Pulse – who topped the table in the regular season – win the trophy for the first time.
But Burgess’ Lightning side quickly sharpened up, realising they were also having to contend with a crowd heavily favouring Pulse, who play their home matches at the Copper Box.
A brilliant interception from Natalie Panagarry did not count after a contact call pulled the game back, a decision the crowd met with boos, but Lightning still managed to get within two by half-time.
Lightning’s Williams, whose performances in defence have earned her a place in England’s World Cup squad this summer, made key deflections and interceptions to get her side back in the contest.
With the scores level at 35-35 midway through the third quarter, the ball zipped from one end to the other as both sides struggled to capitalise on the other’s errors and get the ball in the net.
But it was 6ft 5in shooter Cholhok who eventually managed to put the shot away after Williams’ decisive intercept, giving Lightning the lead for the first time in a pivotal moment in the match.
From that moment Lightning looked in control and, with the introduction of wing defence Beth Cobden who has missed much of the season with injury, their finals experience shone through and Pulse looked shaken.
One year on from Lightning’s final loss to Thunder, where shooter Ella Clarke suffered a devastating anterior cruciate ligament injury, Lightning were determined to reclaim their crown in front of a raucous crowd.
Pulse head coach Sam Bird has previously said that her goal defence Funmi Fadoju turns up when they need her most but, despite winning eight turnovers and making 15 deflections, the 20-year-old could not make the difference on this occasion.
Having drawn out a 10-goal lead in the latter stages of the final quarter, Lightning knew they had the trophy secured and, as the final buzzer blew, scenes of jubilation fell on the squad while the Pulse players huddled together in disappointment.
Captain Panagarry, who has had a difficult season off court with her wife undergoing cancer treatment, ran across the court and leapt into the arms of Cholhok before Lightning’s players huddled together, cheering in unison.
“Nat Panagarry inspires me every day,” said team-mate Williams.
“She has been on a huge journey this year, the way she has led from the front, the performances she has put out and the freedom she has played with, is immense and I don’t think anyone else could do it.”
This marked the final time fans will see players in action before this summer’s World Cup, where attentions will now turn for many of the Super League’s star players heading to South Africa.
Earlier, Manchester Thunder beat Surrey Storm 55-38 in the play-off match for third and fourth place, the curtain raiser to the Grand Final.
Q1 – 17-13
Q2 – 31-29
Q3 – 39-43
Q4 – 57-48