A Courtney Bruce deflection in the first 30 seconds of the match starting set the tone of the match, with Fever’s full court defence smothering the Swifts.
In the first quarter the home team were able to pick off nine intercepts, but errant passing resulting in the same number of turnovers kept their lead from blowing out. After that initial burst of adrenalin the Fever settled, producing just nine more turnovers in the following three quarters of the game.
One of the most remarkable aspects of the match was the speed with which the entire Fever seven transitioned into both attack and defence. Around their shooting circle Verity Simmons, Ingrid Colyer and Nat Medhurst were all options, with the latter’s light hands and quickfire passing a highlight.
Having so many avenues to goal made life challenging for the Swifts goal keeper, Sarah Klau, who was constantly repositioning to keep sight of a netball that was coming in from any angle.
Klau’s quick footwork and reflexes saw her come up with three intercepts and two rebounds. It was no easy feat against the formidable Jhaniele Fowler, whose athleticism and reach saw her again haul in balls even when less than accurately placed.
The Swifts changed their midcourt around in a search for a combination that could match the speed of their Fever opponents. Neither Abbey McCulloch, with her strong marking, nor the fleet Paige Hadley, were able to contain Colyer, who combined explosive speed and deception to be readily available on attack.
Making life more difficult for the Swifts was their midcourt’s combined 35 penalties. Being out of play so often contributed to Fever having ascendancy through the match.
However, it was Fever’s defence that was the game changer – they created 14 intercepts and 15 deflections in comparison to the Swifts seven intercepts and seven deflections. Commentators talk about midcourters adding pressure for the defence to create turnovers, but in this case it started right from the Fever’s shooting circle.
Centre Verity Simmons, who contributed with three intercepts and five deflections in three quarters of a game, said, “At training I’ve really been focusing on that, and with Jhaniele and Nat doing so much work out the front I could just pick off a few.”
As a result the Swifts often stalled in attack, struggling to transition between each third. The Fever blocked up the middle corridor, forcing the Swifts to play laterally.
Far too often Paige Hadley was caught running behind her player into the pockets, a ball that Stacey Francis had little problem in hunting down. Claire O’Brien, introduced to wing attack at quarter time, was more effective at straightening play up and positioning herself around the top of the circle.
Swifts’ midcourt’s ability to reach their shooters was made difficult by the Fever’s through court efforts. The Swifts often had to play high in attack to help transition the ball, giving Jess Anstiss (wing defence) and Charles (centre) time to set up their defensive structures. There was no easy passage onto the circle edge, reducing accuracy of passes into the shooters.
Courtney Bruce and Francis were masterly in the circle, coming up with six intercepts and three deflections and three intercepts and seven deflections respectively.
With her footwork speed and anticipation, Francis was able to hover effectively on the edge of the circle. While it left her goal attack to roam the goal third, it kept Francis positioned for the defensive stop but with also allowed her to deftly drop back into the circle in support of Bruce.
This ability to confuse space was acknowledged by Swifts captain Abbey McCulloch.
“They’re (Francis and Bruce) constantly moving, so it makes it hard to know where to place the ball. We gave them too much ball in that first half. We need to make sure we’re punching through in attack as opposed to going behind them, because that’s when they ate us alive.”
Swifts’ coach Briony Akle tried a variety of shooting combinations across the sixty minutes, with Sam Wallace, Helen Housby and Sophie Garbin all rotating through goal shooter in attempt to quell the dominance of Bruce at keeper.
Housby has become one of netball’s most lethal weapons; her deception and timing providing options to the goal post. She was one of the Swifts’ best, receiving 18 centre passes, providing 18 feeds, and shooting 24 goals across the game.
While Akle is known for using her bench, in this game Fever coach Stacey Marinkovich shuffled the deck in the second half of the match. Shannon Eagland came on at wing defence, Kaylia Stanton at goal attack, and the remaining three midcourters all rotated through a bench rest across two quarters.
It was a clever tactic, given the match is sandwiched between two long road trips to Queensland.
Marinkovich said, “There’s got to be a point in the season where you look at the variation you’ve got.”
“We’ve just come from Queensland, the bodies do get a little bit tired, so we need some versatility.”
“To be able to swing Kay (Stanton) and Nat (Medhurst) around, and rest our midcourters a bit, they’ve been running pretty hard, so it was good to have that break.”
Stanton showed good variety of movement and placement of passes to Fowler, although was inaccurate. While Medhurst isn’t often seen at wing attack, her slick movement and hands showed that she is a genuine option in the role if needed.
Marinkovich laughed when asked why Medhurst, at 34 the oldest player in the team, wasn’t given a break. “She can keep going. She’s got great timing and she’s in pretty good shape, so we monitor her in training environment more than match play.”
While the Fever lead crept out to 16 at one point, the Swifts won the last quarter by three goals, to pull the difference back to nine by the end of the game.
It was a function of both their commitment to fight out sixty minutes and Fever adapting to their little-used changes. Interestingly, the bonus point gained from that quarter kept Swifts in fifth place. Without it, they could have dropped as low as seventh on the ladder.
West Coast Fever 63 def NSW Swifts 54
(16-11, 35-25, 49-37, 63-54)
Player of the match: Nat Medhurst (West Coast Fever)
West Coast Fever
Fowler 54/60 90%
Medhurst 7/7 100%
Stanton 2/5 40%
Wallace 24/28 86%
Housby 24/31 77%
Garbin 6/7 86%
Starting line ups
West Coast Fever
GS Jhaniele Fowler
GA Nat Medhurst
WA Ingrid Colyer
C Verity Charles
WD Jess Anstiss
GD Stacey Francis
GK Courtney Bruce
Changes: Q3 WD Eagland, then Colyer to C, Medhurst to WA, Stanton to GA, Q4 C Charles
GS Sam Wallace
GA Helen Housby
WA Paige Hadley
C Maddy Proud
WD Abbey McCulloch
GD Maddy Turner
GK Sarah Klau
Changes: Q2 WD Hadley, GS Garbin, WA O’Brien, then Garbin to GA and Housby to GS, Q3 GD Eddy, WD McCulloch, C Hadley, GA Housby, GS Wallace, Q4 C Proud.
Umpires: Bronwen Adams and Michelle Phippard
What they said
Briony Akle, NSW Swifts coach
What did you make of today?
“Deservedly one point, but I don’t think we played well enough so for me getting that one point could be the difference at the end of the season, then fighting back in that last quarter is a positive, but we just gave too much easy ball away.”
“Full credit, they’ve got an awesome defence end, but I think sometimes we just did silly little errors like breaking on the centre pass or going offside, which you just can’t do with a quality team like this. So I think we punished ourselves a bit, and that’s what we’ll be working on this week.”
You’ve had tight games so far, was this a bit of a setback?
“No, we always knew this was going to be a really tough battle. For me we’ve got to take out that we did have some good passages of play but it just comes back to basic errors, and basic errors are not going to win SSN games. For me you are going to have bad days, and for me, we’re lucky we pulled it in to that score.”
The positives from today.
“I made so many changes, and those that got the patch at times did a good job. We’ve given us enough opportunity to go back and see where we can really advance our game and work on the result from today, and when we play them next time, we’ve all had a chance we’ll go back and look at it.”
So you played a bad game rather than you were just blown away by the opposition?
“It’s more frustrating. For us we’ve got to finish it when we’ve got the ball. We lost the first four centre passes of the game, so I’ve got to look at that. We can fix those things easily, going into round two against these guys and obviously next week.”
Abbey McCulloch, NSW Swifts
The challenge of playing the Fever at home?
“It’s always been tough to come over here. I think we had a better second half. We didn’t start well and that’s been one of our downfalls across the whole start of this season. So we really need to address that if we want to stay competitive across this competition.”
Did your midcourt do enough to slow the ball to Fowler?
“I think we did a good job every now and then, but I think it needs to be more consistent. As soon as we had hands over we were effective because they couldn’t go straight into Jhaniele, and she is a big target in there and she’s playing well. We need to stop the ball early, and that means forcing them high and wide. We were inconsistent today.”
Briony goes to her bench a lot. Is that partly looking for combinations or partly to give you a look at the game?
“It’s a bit of both. We’ve got a set combination we’re starting with each week, but Briony has confidence in all of us that we can get the job done. It is nice knowing that I’m going to come off for a little bit, sit and watch and then go back out there and be more effective. I think she’s played that really well this year. In saying that, we’ve got a really good team and if we can stick together for a couple of years we’re going to be tough to beat.”
Stacey Marinkovich, West Coast Fever coach
On taking the Swifts away from their game plan?
“I thought our full court defence from the very first whistle, to be able to keep Swifts within their defensive third for long periods of time. You could feel it mounting out there, and once that happens from our attackers then our defenders get really in it, because they know their opportunities are coming. It was a full team defensive effort.”
“The midcourt were getting some really good ball through tight marking and going through on the contest. Our penalty count was low, particularly for the first half. It means we’re playing a really attacking brand of defence, and it’s clean and it’s accumulating pressure across the court.”
Is Courtney Bruce the best goal keeper in Australia at the moment?
“I’d say she’s the number one keeper. The amount of ball that she gets, her versatility out there and she’s got a great attacking brand as well. She’s continuously evolving, and she’s never satisfied with what she puts out there and she really does build the combination with the ones around her. She and Stacey are really switching well and we’ve got our mix up with Shannon and Jess on the wing as well.”
Do people underrate your midcourt?
“I think so. I’ve always loved the quality we’ve got. They’re very much a unit in the way that they play. Vezzy, Ingrid, Jess, Shannon, their defensive pressure as a group is really good and just their backing of each other, they have great connection, real trust and they’re great mates so they have a real ball.”
Verity Charles, West Coast Fever
How is the connection in the midcourt – it looks like it’s grown from last year?
“We’re still working on it. It’s exciting that we’re nowhere near perfect, that we’re hitting our straps and we’re getting wins. We’re still finding our feet and getting that touch right into J (Jhaniele), so once we get that we’ll be a pretty exciting team. There’s still so much to go.”
Jhaniele is a big target, do you consciously have to bring Nat at goal attack into the game?
“Different teams have different strategies. If they’re doubling up on Jhaniele, Nat slides in there. It is tempting just to turn around and give it to Jhaniele, but we’ve got to control the ball and play nice steady netball and work it to the edge. Nat has been outstanding out the front, taking those short balls and being that safe option for us. Nat and J are still working on their combination.”
“It’s amazing they’ve only had four games together with their connection, but they worked hard pre-season. ‘J’ was away with her Comm Games commitments, so to come in and pick up like she has, it’s incredible.”
Cover image: Steve McLeod
Great report, Summerhill, and photos, Steve.
It is interesting to hear from Abbey McCulloch that she is being benched to have a look at the game; I had wondered if she had an injury niggle