West Coast Fever and Adelaide Thunderbirds both came off heavy losses in Round 7 – 14 and 22 goals respectively – and were looking for significant improvement from their playing group.
The trip west would prove to be a difficult assignment for the South Australian team, facing a rampant opposition and an energy-charged crowd. With both teams wearing indigenous dresses in honour of WA’s Shooting Stars program, it proved to be a thrilling encounter as the Fever recorded a comfortable victory.
Fever captain Courtney Bruce managed to take the court for her fiftieth game despite being sick for most of the week. She immediately came under fire, copping Shimona Nelson’s lifted elbow to her chin and strangely being called for contact as a result. It was the most damage the Thunderbirds were able to inflict on their opponents.
Although Adelaide took a narrow lead mid-way through the first quarter, the Fever’s classy, multi-pronged attacking options and defensive capacity soon held sway and they accelerated away.
Fever relied on the game plan that served them so effectively during the early rounds of the season: Ingrid Colyer taking the majority of first phase centre passes, linking with Verity Charles or more commonly Natalie Medhurst in the goal third, who in turn fed Jhaniele Fowler impeccably.
The process relies on Colyer being available. When she is shut down, as Renae Ingles did so effectively last week, Fever struggle with an effective Plan B. Fiona Fowler had terrific hands over pressure once she caught Colyer, but had difficulty matching her initial burst of speed off the line. It was a bustling return to form from the Fever wing attack, who continually offered and reoffered throughout the game, driving strongly onto the circle edge.
A light hearted moment occurred when Medhurst had to leave the court with a cut to her finger. The court and her uniform were spattered with blood; while the boards were mopped and mopped again, Medhurst whipped her dress off on the sidelines, to whistles of applause and admiration from the crowd.
There was no false modesty trying to hide underwear less revealing than a bikini, just a strong desire to get on with the game. Her stint on the sidelines was short – with the game so tightly contested at that point her replacement Kaylia Stanton lasted just two centre passes.
With three minutes to play in the quarter, Fever led by just two goals, a closer start than most had anticipated. However, they ramped up their intensity, taking advantage of a few crucial turnovers to win the first term 20-15.
The second quarter got underway with Fever’s midcourt combining in an outstanding performance. Verity Charles and Colyer were both driving hard through the midcourt, while Jess Anstiss did a remarkable shut down job on her opponent Chelsea Pitman.
It took ten minutes for Pitman to record her first statistic for the term, and she ended the quarter with just one goal assist and three centre pass receives. Considering that she had 17 goal assists and 20 centre pass receives for the other three quarters, it was both a remarkable effort by Anstiss to keep her quiet, and a credit to Pitman that she was able to work her way through the lull.
The influential Charles had the better of her opponent Kaitlyn Brice, who was replaced by Hannah Petty midway through the second. Petty immediately provided more drive through court, with some punchy work on attack.
However, Fever continued to extend their lead. At one point Jhaniele Fowler was called for contact; shortly afterwards she deflected the ball to Medhurst, who was unable to take it cleanly but had the presence of mind to tap it on to Francis before the Thunderbirds could pounce.
Kate Shimmin did her best against Fowler, hunting for any cross court passes outside the circle and occasionally switching with the rangier Leana de Bruin. It was a relatively effective strategy, although Fowler went on a goal scoring rampage in the first and third terms, hitting 19 and 21 goals respectively. To the delight of the crowd the Jamaican demonstrated her outstanding athleticism, hauling in balls and reaching a record equalling 66 goals during the game.
Shimona Nelson showed why she is one of the finds of the season. The 19 year old Jamaican has grown in confidence and ball handling ability, and has a better understanding of where to position herself in the circle. She stood high in the circle: if Bruce positioned in front Nelson would hold strongly for the lob, if Bruce positioned behind Nelson used her split to gain better distance to the post. Her 47 goals in this game was a strong result, although she had 8 handling errors to go with her haul.
Bruce and Stacey Francis had a better match than last week, with Francis using footspeed to quell the influence of her two opponents, and picking up some valuable tips around the body.
It was a sublime 25-15 third quarter for Fever. The understanding between players and speed of handling were apparent throughout, with the play of the day happening at the end of the term. A Fever centre featured three passes between Charles and Medhurst, a de Bruin deflection that Charles tapped on to Fowler, followed by a goal – all within just eight seconds.
The final quarter was a rare patch of sunshine for the Thunderbirds amid their gloomy season. They reduced their error rate to just three for the term (season average eight per quarter), playing some of their finest netball this year.
With Medhurst on the sidelines having her ankle checked, Fever lacked a crucial link in their goal third and were guilty of forcing the long, high ball to Fowler. Kaylia Stanton was quickly replaced, Fever drew level for the quarter and powered to a comfortable but hard fought win.
West Coast Fever 76 def Adelaide Thunderbirds 56
(20-15, 34-24, 59-39, 76-56)
Player of the match: Jhaniele Fowler (Fever)
West Coast Fever
Fowler 66/73 90%
Medhurst 10/11 91%
Nelson 47/52 90%
Hodges 7/11 64%
Latu-Meafou 2/3 67%
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: Q1 GA Stanton (Medhurst blood rule), then returned, Q4 GA Stanton, then Medhurst
GS Shimona Nelson
GA Charlee Hodges
WA Chelsea Pitman
C Kaitlyn Bryce
WD Fiona Fowler
GD Leana de Bruin
GK Kate Shimmin
Changes: Q2 C Petty, Q3 GA Latu-Meafou (Hodges blood rule), Q4 GA Hodges, WD Bryce, GD Fowler
Medhurst (Fever) 28
Colyer (Fever) 21
Charles (Fever) 20
Pitman (Thunderbirds) 18
Centre pass receives
Colyer (Fever) 26
Pitman (Thunderbirds) 23
Hodges (Thunderbirds) 19
Medhurst (Fever) 18
Bruce (Fever) 7
De Bruin (Thunderbirds) 4
Francis (Fever) 3
Where to for the Thunderbirds
With their last win being in Round 1 last year, the Adelaide Thunderbirds continue to struggle. A clean out of their ranks from last year has meant time trying to establish new connections, while the absence of three of their players on Commonwealth Games duties and a raft of injuries has made their task harder.
Disappointingly, some of their best young talent is on display in New South Wales, with Sarah Klau, Maddy Proud and Maddi Turner all contracted to the Swifts.
Given their position on the ladder, it’s surprisingly that Adelaide Thunderbirds have the best centre pass conversion rate in the league. Unfortunately they have the worst turnover rate in the league, and the worst turnover conversion rate of any team. That speaks to their difficulty in retaining the ball and bringing it safely through court. More time together should hopefully reduce those errors, and if they continue to score off their centre passes they should be able to narrow some of the larger quarter margins.
As the season has progressed, the Thunderbirds younger players have shown remarkable development. Shimona Nelson, Charlee Hodges, Sasha Glasgow, Hannah Petty and Kate Shimmin are a nucleus around which the team should be built.
With their experience and ability, Chelsea Pitman and Fiona Fowler are also crucial. Leana de Bruin provides leadership, but while she sits in the top ten for rebounds and deflections, is not a long term prospect. Bongiwe Msomi is far too good to sit on the bench, and as she’s ranked behind Pitman as a wing attack, should look for opportunities elsewhere.
Medhurst doesn’t shoot a lot of goals, leading many to overlook her value as a goal attack.
In previous seasons she’s had to play too high in the court, undermining her ability to control the goal third.
With the midcourt functioning better this year, she is shining. Ingrid Colyer is more available on the centre pass, leaving Medhurst as the vital lynch pin between first phase and the goal circle. She is sitting a comfortable second on the ladder for goal assists, one of only two goal attacks ranked in the top eight for this statistic.
While many could argue that feeding Jhaniele Fowler is an easy job, it is Medhurst’s timing and ability to split the defence that makes her dangerous. Her passing is on par with Kim Green’s, and she can’t be left unguarded. That leaves Fowler one on one against her opponent, a position from which she is rarely beaten.
Although accurate Medhurst rarely takes the penalty shot, something which inflates many a goal attack’s statistics. Fowler takes most of the penalties, and with her high shooting percentage the team doesn’t need her available under the post for rebounds. Instead Medhurst chimes in for goals as needed, and the Fever and their many fans know her worth to the team.
What they said
Ingrid Colyer, West Coast Fever
The difference in playing against a tall like Fiona Fowler versus a player more your height in Kaitlyn Bryce?
“Kaity really matched me for speed, so there’s a lot more change of direction and pre-work, but Fiona comes out with the contest and gets her hands over well. Two very different game styles.”
Does being taken off the court the week before fire you up for the next game?
“It definitely adds fire to my belly. We were trying to make changes (last week) and sometimes it’s not me personally but the unit.”
Tell me about your increased confidence this season?
“The more you’re out there, the more confidence you get. I’ve also been working really hard on my self-belief because it’s an area of weakness for me. So I’ve been driving that hard this year, and along with court time.”
“It’s important to have that positive self-talk, if you make a mistake it’s not beating yourself up. Then going into games telling yourself that you’ve got this, you’re in control of the game, it’s not them in control of you.”
“Stacey and I have a really good relationship and what she’s done with this group is amazing, and I can’t wait to see what we can do for the rest of the season.”
Courtney Bruce, West Coast Fever captain
Congratulations on your 50th game
“Mum messaged me before the game saying it’s only taken me seven years to get there! Thanks for that Mum! It means the world to me to play 50 games for this club I love so much. I bleed black and green.”
You are playing the Magpies last week. It was a bit of a heated encounter in the last round, does that sit in the back of your mind?
“Not really, but we do have a rivalry with them already. We know they’ll be difficult to beat at home, but we’re excited to go over there and prove that we can win away, and win away strongly.”
Leana de Bruin, Adelaide Thunderbirds captain
What was the difference between your strong last quarter and the first three?
“I think we just played like we had nothing to lose. We were 20 down, and defensively I said to just go for the ball. On attack I thought Hannah Petty came on really well and opened up space. That’s the type of netball we know we can play, we just have to do it for sixty minutes.”
You must be pleased with the development of your young players?
“Definitely. They’re growing and the connection is getting stronger. You’ve seen what they can do, so it’s a matter of seeing what they can do and chipping away at it.”
Stacey Marinkovich, West Coast Fever coach
On the game today
“We got a bit of rhythm, we got our speed back which was nice, there’s lots to still improve on. It was a better performance than last week.”
Did you get the response you wanted after last week?
“Yes, you could tell as soon as they turned up. And it’s been like that all week. As soon as they walked in the change rooms you could tell the atmosphere around it, they were really focused, there was a lot of talk, and I think they really looked after themselves this week. Not that they don’t in other weeks, but just making sure they did every single little things to clear their minds, get focused on the game and get connected.”
Can you put a finger on what happens in tough games like the Vixens?
“Yes, I think sometimes the pressure is mounted on and you become like, ‘I’ve got to beat my player’, and then you lose that connection across. That’s something we talked about. ‘How do you adapt?’, ‘How do you get back working with someone rather than just being on your own and not being able to connect the ball?’ And I think that’s the way we like to play, (with) that ball speed.”
“I think you would have seen a lot more possession of us spreading across, using our backline. So we were able to maintain possession for longer periods because we weren’t just bombing them to the circle and that was key for us this week.”
How quickly do your thoughts turn to Collingwood?
“Pretty well straight away. You do focus particularly on going away, we’ve got a shorter week, we’ve got the travel and we need to make sure that we really nail what we need to improve on. Throughout the game we take note of what we need to improve on.”
On home court advantage
“The home court advantage is really playing to team’s favour, which is really different to football, because football has different sized ovals and surfaces and that kind of thing. We’ve got the same dimensions, same surfaces, different type of wood maybe, but at the end of the day it’s the same.”
“It is getting on planes and having different routines and sleeping in different beds, so we know that’s part of the competition so we have to make this an absolute fortress here and we’ve got to nab some games on the road. Beating Lightning on their home court was a massive win when you see the result that went today (Lightning drew with Giants). We’ve got to remind ourselves of the little wins in the first half of the year.”
How do you focus on the game itself against Collingwood rather than the nature of it last time?
“When you’re down or when you’re really trying to close out games it becomes physical because everyone is so desperate for the points. You can see the emotion and we’ve talked a lot about that.”
“I think you saw a little of that in the last quarter with our defenders, and we’ve got to make sure we stick to the system and the structure of working together rather than ‘I have to get the ball’, so therefore you’re more animated. The umpires have to make their calls, and we just have to get on with the job rather than that as well.”