When the full-time whistle of the Netball World Cup grand final sounded, Silver Ferns captain Laura Langman mirrored the expression of every Kiwi netball fan across the nation.
Her face frozen blank and expressionless, it took a moment for everything to sink in. A quick glance up at the scoreboard confirmed what Langman was struggling to believe and suddenly the Ferns captain - like the rest of the country - was bursting with joy.
The Silver Ferns had won the 2019 Netball World Cup.
It was no fluke, with both the England Roses (in the semifinal) and the Australian Diamonds (in the grand final) producing the kind of competition the Ferns would have struggled to combat less than six months ago.
The Diamonds had all the stats on their side, with three back-to-back World Cup titles to their name, while Commonwealth Games champions England were riding the wave of support from thousands of passionate home-crowd fans.
Heading into this year's World Cup, few picked the Silver Ferns to lift the trophy. It had been 16 years since the national side had done so and after last year's disastrous Commonwealth Games campaign - which saw the Ferns return home without a medal for the first time in their history - it wasn't surprising so many scoffed at the thought of New Zealand netball glory this year.
Avenging last year's embarrassing loss to the Malawi Queens and making the semifinals was a huge achievement in itself for the national side. But they wanted more. They wanted gold – and they delivered with a campaign that will likely go down as one of the greatest in netball history.
AdvertisementAdvertise with NZME.
As a tale of redemption, it gets no better.
So much of the Ferns' incredible turnaround was a credit to head coach Noeline Taurua. Once overlooked for the top job by Netball New Zealand, Taurua's influence has been dramatic. Her effort was made even more impressive when considering the fact more than half of the 2019 World Cup team was made up of the same players who played in the Commonwealth Games.
And although she downplayed expectations of being the team's saving grace when she first took to the helm of the Ferns' sinking ship last August, there is a sense Taurua was always quietly confident that she could lead New Zealand to World Cup glory.
Backing her radical selections, structures and game plan all the way to the grand final, Taurua did just that.
What's next for the Silver Ferns? That is the big question left hanging, with so many veterans now set to call time on their careers. World-class defender and legend of the game Casey Kopua has already declared this her last outing in the black dress, while speculation is mounting about Maria Folau also retiring. And although she joked that the next Netball World Cup in Cape Town looked like "a good time", captain Langman will likely also retire from the international netball court, meaning a combined loss of almost 400 test caps of experience.
It's not all bad, however, with the standard set and proof of what can be achieved in such a short amount of time speaking volumes to upcoming players of New Zealand. The Silver Ferns have well and truly buried the ghosts of 2018 and can look forward to what promises to be an exciting future - with an overjoyed country cheering them on all the way.