The equation was simple. West Coast Fever had to beat the Melbourne Vixens to stay in the race for top place and a home final. The Vixens had to beat the Fever just to stay in the top four. With memories of a subpar outing last time the teams met, West Coast Fever laid down their best performance of the season. It was an energetic, hustling, gutsy effort that didn’t let the Vixens into the contest.
Fever’s throughout court defence was stifling, limiting both Liz Watson’s and Tegan Philip’s impact. The voice and passion of a huge home crowd added to the electric atmosphere, lifting the home team to a thirteen goal win and a finals appearance.
West Coast Fever had done their homework, and key to the win was their ability to stick to a well-constructed game plan. Wing defence Jess Anstiss played a crucial role early on Liz Watson, reducing her ability as a playmaker, and forcing the Vixens to reset back to the transverse line. Verity Charles and Ingrid Colyer were seamless in transitioning between defence and attack, showing a confidence to put the ball up to their goal shooter that was missing in their most recent loss.
Colyer was also a serial pest during the night, coming up with an intercept and several crucial deflections. It was quite an effort against Renae Ingles, whose regrettably quiet night didn’t include any key defensive statistics. While the Vixens’ centre Kate Moloney picked up in attack when Watson was quiet, she gave her opponent far too much room. Charles was constantly streaming down court and played a major role in feeding the circle.
Goal defence Jo Weston had a big role in the Vixen’s previous win over the Fever, but she had the tables turned on her in this match. She was torched by MVP winner Nat Medhurst who was at her fluent best, showing off a bag full of tricks as she cut, drove, rolled, screened and perfectly linked play into Jhaniele Fowler. While Medhurst only put up six goals for the match, and made two uncharacteristic breaking calls, it was yet another stellar performance from the former Diamond.
Local fans are used to Fowler’s athleticism, but she added the entertainment factor tonight. The Jamaican goal shooter is usually one of the game’s most impassive players, but her features were animated throughout this match. Frequently smiling, applauding and calling for energy from her teammates, she was also impressive in the air and incredibly agile for such a tall player.
Fever took a five goal lead into the quarter time break, and then upped their intensity on resumption of play. Stultifying defence saw the Vixens restricted to just ten goals in the second quarter, one of their lowest scoring terms for 2018. With Bruce hunting in the circle, the Vixens were hesitant to put passes over her head – a number of them were far too high for goal shooter Mwai Kumwenda to haul in and went sailing over the baseline.
This season we’ve regularly seen Kumwenda clear the circle, leaving space for Philip to drive long and hard to the post. The tactic was completely nullified in this game. Philip’s direct opponent, Stacey Francis, either matched her for leg speed, or Courtney Bruce stayed back in the circle, taking up space to restrict the drive and then switching onto Philip as needed. There was limited interaction between the shooters in the circle, with Philip finding Kumwenda on just five occasions.
Vixens’ coach Simone McKinnis asked Philip for “conviction” in her play, but the goal attack had just two uncontested passes for the game, and put up a solitary goal in a 25 minute quiet patch during the game. With lightning speed Fever pushed their lead out from three into double digits.
With a half time 11-goal deficit to make up, goal keeper Emily Mannix made her return from injury. Her connection with Weston was obvious, and the pair hustled the Fever into mistakes. It was the Vixens’ best quarter – they played error free netball with no turnovers and went on a twenty goal scoring spree. In contrast, Fever’s defensive intensity dropped off and they struggled to transition into their goal third.
However, the Vixens’ efforts were marred by an injury to Kumwenda. She looked proppy after landing awkwardly, and then after a second fall left the court, clutching the outside of her knee. She was replaced by Sam Gooden who has received minimal court time this year. While the young shooter lacked accuracy in the pressure cooker of a big game, her movement showed promising glimpses.
Fever put together a stifling and focused last quarter. In one of the plays of the year, Francis rebounded a Gooden miss, and while falling out of court flicked the ball back into play. It hit the net, Bruce sprinted along the baseline, tipped the ball to Francis and almost took her out in the process. It was a remarkable effort and one that should feature on the all-time best highlight’s reel.
The 7503-strong audience had been in rollicking spirits all night, helped along by great music and entertainment that included the ever-popular and side-splittingly hilarious “Dad Dance Cam”. They were in a mood to celebrate – final home game, final’s appearance ahead, and a belting thirteen goal victory. Few crowds can match Perth’s exuberance, and they stood and lifted the roof in the last minute of play.
West Coast Fever 68 def Melbourne Vixens 55
(19-14, 35-24, 51-44, 68-55)
Player of the Match: Nat Medhurst (West Coast Fever)
West Coast Fever
Fowler 62/66 94%
Medhurst 6/7 86%
Kumwenda 32/36 89%
Philip 20/25 80%
Gooden 3/6 50%
West Coast Fever
GS Jhaniele Fowler
GA Nat Medhurst
WA Ingrid Colyer
C Verity Charles
WD Jess Anstiss
GD Stacey Francis
GK Courtney Bruce
GS Mwai Kumwenda
GA Tegan Philip
WA Liz Watson
C Kate Moloney
WD Renae Ingles
GD Jo Weston
GK Kadie Ann Dehaney
Changes: Q3: GK Mannix, Q4: GK Dehaney, GS Sam Gooden.
Umpires: Bronwen Adams and Josh Bowring
Nat Medhurst (Fever) 39
Liz Watson (Vixens) 26
Verity Charles (Fever) 17
Courtney Bruce (Fever) 7
Stacey Francis (Fever) 6
Kadie-Ann Dehaney (Vixens) 4
Centre pass receives
Ingrid Colyer (Fever) 22
Liz Watson (Phillip) 21
Tegan Philip (Phillip) 21
Nat Medhurst (Fever) 19
Great job by the umpires on calling out deliberate obstruction, a tactic used by players to unsettle shorter opponents. Getting their hands up at point blank range is intimidating, and while advantage may be called, it often causes a pass or shot to go astray. Job done, if illegally.
In this game the Vixens were called for obstruction on 26 occasions, compared to the Fever’s 11. Jo Weston was a serial offender. While she picked up just 13 penalties, only 3 were for contact. The remaining 10 were for obstruction, with Weston’s distance sometimes as little as 30 centimetres. Once the umpires started calling it each quarter, she tidied up.
Weston’s opponent, Nat Medhurst, said, “Some of the defenders do push it. That is something we do speak to the umpires about if needed. We hear, ‘Advantage obstruction, advantage obstruction,’ but where’s the advantage? They are trying to slow us down, and so there isn’t an advantage.”
“I also had to make sure I didn’t step in because Jo is onto that.”
The Fever’s defensive game
With just one intercept by Ingrid Colyer, it would be easy to think Fever’s defence had a bad day at the office. Wrong! The full court defence was stifling, often forcing the notoriously tidy Vixens into error. A classic example in the third quarter saw the Vixens pass the ball 14 times from their centre pass in an attempt to get to the post. With all players closely marked, the last pass finally sailed out of bounds for a Fever throw in.
Jess Anstiss was a prime example of defensive intensity. According to Champion Data she had no intercepts and just two deflections for the game, but her role in shutting down Liz Watson was immense. This year Watson averages 31 goal assists and 21 centre pass receives per game, setting up her team in attack. In the first quarter Anstiss limited her to just 5 goal assists and 3 centre pass receives, and the Vixens stuttered. With their structure in disarray, the resulting play looked crowded and anything but fluent.
Where to from here
Few of the Vixens would be happy with their performance tonight. Despite having six Diamonds squad members on court, they were outplayed by less heralded individual opponents that simply work well together as a team. While the Fever had a strong game, they will look to improve on their third quarter, where their intensity faded, and they went close to letting the opposition back into the game.
Only the Giants can knock Fever off top place on the ladder, and they will need big wins in their two remaining matches to do so. The two teams play each other in round 14, and the result of that game should determine who hosts the semi final between first and second.
After tonight’s loss it seems almost impossible for the Vixens to make the top four. They are now sitting in fifth place, with the Lightning six points ahead of them. So in the next round they would have to pick up seven points against the Lightning, or hope that the Firebirds don’t pick up any points against the Magpies.
What they said
Simone McKinnis, Melbourne Vixens coach
Your thoughts on the game tonight?
“I don’t think that we were in the contest from the word go, to be honest. Fever played exceptionally well from start to finish and didn’t allow us to get in it. I was really disappointed in the way we started the game, and from there on in.”
How difficult is it to pull back a big half time lead?
“Very. We should never have allowed ourselves to get into that position. But credit to Fever for the performance they put out.”
Was it more about your game, or the pressure they applied?
“They put on really good defensive pressure and I don’t think we played smart enough against it. We weren’t going for the depth we needed, we weren’t letting the ball go, but that comes back to the pressure they were putting on.”
Jess Anstiss had a strong first quarter against Liz Watson. How does that impact your structure? “I don’t think it was just Liz. It was also Tegan (Philip), right across that transverse line. We didn’t get the strong drive, we weren’t doing the work to get free. It was across that attacking transverse line – players could have linked arms and said, ‘Here we go!’”
Jess Anstiss, West Coast Fever
You shut Liz Watson down as well as anyone has this season. What were your coach’s instructions to you?
“Just to play my own game, working on my angles to stop her drive onto the circle. Working with Vezzy (Verity Charles) we did our switches really well and that was also important. It was a whole team defensive effort.”
How does it feel to play so well against the Australian wing attack?
“It was at the back of my mind that I wanted to have a good game against Liz, because she is probably the hardest wing attack to play against. I enjoy the challenge of coming up against the best, and that includes Kim Green next week.”
Nat Medhurst, West Coast Fever
What did you expect from tonight’s game?
“The Vixens are fighting for their season and would have had confidence from their last win against us. So tonight’s win was a credit to all our girls, and shows what we are able to do when we stick to our job and do it consistently. Defensive effort has been really stressed at training, and we really addressed that following our last loss to them.”
“We know the Vixens like to play a short game, we know how dominant Liz is in setting up play, so the way that Jess and Vez played together and shut them down was a job well down.”
The ball seemed to go into Jhaniele really smoothly tonight
“The centre courters are taking those strong drives and cuts, and it’s really attracting the attention of the defenders, or they become the option. J is a great target for us.”
It must have been nice to play so strongly against Jo Weston tonight
“The battles against Jo are tough – she’s a tight marking, one on one defender, and she loves really good hands pressure. I know a lot of defenders do that to me. I was trying to do a lot more work off the ball to get space on her and try and open myself up.”
One more game against Giants before finals
“Irrespective of the final score line against the Giants, we want to play well. These final three weeks have been tough, probably the toughest run home of any team. But you couldn’t get any preparation for finals.”
Stacey Marinkovich, West Coast Fever coach
On the game tonight
“The score didn’t reflect how hard each ball was fought for. Vixens are tremendous in the way that they can convert, they’ve got versatility all over the court, and to be able to punch out the score line and they way we did it was really pleasing.”
“I thought we were very disciplined in the first half which allowed us in the contest. It got a little bit scrappy in the third but we tidied up in the last.”
Your preparation for tonight’s game
“This was our best preparation, and compared to what we had against Vixens last time. We were sick, we had black outs at stadiums, all that kind of thing which I kept in-house because there’s no excuses, but I knew we’d done the job during the week to give ourselves the best chance.”
The match up between Liz Watson and Jess Anstiss was interesting
“Liz is a phenomenal player the way she feeds the ball, the way she cuts and drives and controls the attack end. Definitely Jess I think had her measure. They tussled hard, but the way in which she (Jess) took away her space, it got to slow Vixens down. When you make the Vixens pass the ball a lot more you know you’re in a good space because they’re usually so direct and hard to stop.”
What would a home final mean?
“Everything. Something we did during the week was go to the top of the stand and look down to see what we are creating. Sometimes you need to get above the chaos to actually what you’ve got.”