The Queensland Firebirds dished out a ferocious last quarter to take the win against the Melbourne Vixens. The home side led for much of the game, but the Firebirds stayed in close touch before blowing out the margin in the last quarter.
While the message from the Vixens coming into the game was to stop the ball in the midcourt before it got to Romelda Aiken, it was the defensive midcourt for the Firebirds who forced the Vixens into uncharacteristic errors.
Queensland got off to a strong start with Gabi Simpson taking an early intercept in her battle with Liz Watson. Mwai Kumwenda, who was clearly unhappy with the attention she was getting from Laura Geitz, was coming out of the circle to help bring the ball in early on. The Vixens from the first whistle appeared to be struggling to move the ball through their goal third.
Key to this was the pressure of Simpson on Watson – she was struggling to find space, as Simpson wore her like a glove and the hands-over pressure was putting her off the feed into the circle. This, along with the work of Tara Hinchliffe on the edge of the circle meant the ball into Kumwenda wasn’t always eventuating.
Tegan Philip was forced to take several long shots throughout the first quarter, while Kumwenda was kept relatively quiet. The Vixens were generally handling the early pressure well though and both Jo Weston and Emily Mannix were getting dangerously close to Tippett’s lobs into Romelda Aiken.
The Vixens played the last few minutes of the quarter to perfection, scoring six of the last seven goals from some errors in attack from the Firebirds.
Geitz was continually making life difficult for Kumwenda as Phillip, Watson and captain Kate Moloney struggled to get the vision or the space in attack to put the ball into her.
The strain of the intense defensive efforts showed for Liz Watson, who broke on the Vixens centre pass twice in the second quarter to hand the Firebirds an easy possession.
The Firebirds were getting plenty of wins in the midcourt, largely through pressure from Simpson and Mahalia Cassidy coming through the middle corridor. For much of the second quarter it was cat and mouse, with the Firebirds drawing to within one and then making errors which allowed Melbourne to push the lead back out to four goals.
Tippett seemed unwilling to shoot from relatively close to the post, but the ball was going over the top to Aiken with ease. Mannix and Weston knew the feed was coming, but Aiken was holding well under the post. When the wins did come defensively, the Vixens were able to punishing and went into halftime up by two goals.
The Firebirds continued to push at the start the third quarter but were unable to convert. The Vixens were much quicker to the loose ball and the Firebirds were continuing to lose possession in their attacking third.
The tussle between Simpson and Watson continued. Simpson was blocking up Watson’s preferred lines of play, with Geitz and Hinchliffe covering Kumwenda’s drive out of the circle more. Cassidy continued an excellent game both in her feeding and torrid defence in the midcourt against one of the stronger midcourt combinations in the competition.
After withstanding the tussle in the midcourt for much of the game, the fourth quarter was a disaster for the Vixens. They opened with a held ball off their own centre pass, but the Firebirds then lost it in their shooting end, in what had become a pattern for the game. Two mistimed and misplaced feeds around the goal circle in the Vixens attack end were reward from the effort exerted by Simpson, Cassidy and Hinchliffe in particular.
The Vixens, so used to finding space around the edge of the circle and feeding into Kumwenda holding under the post, were having to find alternate avenues to goal. Simpson and Cassidy were driving lynchpins Watson and Moloney wide in the goal third, both missed passes into the pocket and the Firebirds began to steam ahead.
The Vixens took a timeout to try and stem the flow, but lost possession in their attacking end again. Mannix and Weston were doing all they could, but Chloe Watson was allowing too much space to Caitlyn Nevins on the feed into Aiken. The ball into Aiken was perfect and Mannix could only jump as it sailed over her head.
Vixens coach Simone McKinnis changed up the defensive end with five minutes remaining, bringing on Kadie-Ann Dehaney in GK and moving Mannix to GD and Weston to WD. The changes didn’t have time to make a proper impact, but the lead was drawn back slightly.
A held ball by the Vixens, just a minute from the end of the game, told the story of the day.
Queensland Firebirds 59 def Melbourne Vixens 55
(14-17, 15-14, 14-13, 16-11)
Player of the match: Liz Watson (Vixens)
Kumwenda 29/32 91%
Philip 26/29 90%
Aiken 40/47 85%
Tippett 19/22 86%
Hinchliffe (Firebirds) 5
Mannix (Vixens) 3
Mannix (Vixens) 3
Hinchliffe (Firebirds) 3
Moloney (Vixens) 6
Tippett (Firebirds) 5
Starting line ups
WA L. Watson
WD C. Watson
Changes: Q4: Dehaney GK, Mannix GD, Weston WD
What they said
Simone McKinnis, Melbourne Vixens coach
Thoughts on the game
“Obviously we had a good start to the game, but we just dropped off each quarter and I think I look at the conversion in the last quarter and that centre pass was critical. It just sort of dropped off across the game and I thought that the pressure and the work rate of the Firebirds was superior to us in the end.”
On the last term
“I think Firebirds played exceptionally well. There’s nothing and never is anything easy about playing the Firebirds, but I think we got their defensive pressure, we got hesitant, we hung onto the ball instead of letting it go. So against the Firebirds you have to score off the ball that you get and I think we threw too much of that away. Whether it be mistakes or whatever, but also defensively I thought we had too many penalties that cost us a bit.”
On Mwai Kumwenda’s performance
“It wasn’t MJ’s best day, but that’s a rarity. I still think it was on to give to her. She was there – it was still on to give to her, but we weren’t giving it, so we’ve got to be smarter about that and what we’re offering around that. It can’t be just MJ.”
What do you want them to fix up as they head away?
“I actually thought that we played some of our best, attack-wise. I thought we had some of our best flow and best speed of all and some of the best play that I’ve seen so far, in that first quarter. So that’s a real positive, but I don’t think that our defensive pressure was where it should be, whether it be Firebirds or against any team and it’s that ability to put out the quality and the intensity across four quarters which is probably the major thing from today.”
On the battle between Liz Watson and Gabi Simpson
“I thought Lizzy started off well. I thought she was probably having one of her best games so far this year in the first part of the game, but I think what happens though is it’s a bit of a snowball. If one person’s not letting it go and the next person’s not letting it go and the next thing we’re all in the one space and we’re all in the middle of the court – we just lost that confidence to be just letting the ball go and that impacts everything around the attack. And that comes to the credit of the Firebirds defensive work.”
Changes in the last five minutes
“It’s been an option we’ve been working on, but it’s been difficult with not having Emily (Mannix) in the pre-season. But that is an option for us.”
Roselee Jencke, Queensland Firebirds coach
Thoughts on the game and the last quarter
“It was a real tussle. Absolute arm wrestle and they came out in the last quarter and they just grabbed it and they refused to give up. It was tight all the way.”
“I felt that at times we had the momentum and then we’d do something stupid and that’d allow Vixens to get back in. Because you can’t give them too many opportunities because they’re so accurate – they just don’t miss, so you have to win the ball up the court and through the court to have an opportunity and I just felt that our defensive pressure all over the court was excellent… particularly in that last quarter because the pressure had been there defensively right from the start, that really started to tell on Vixens and they were just – they couldn’t connect forward, they couldn’t connect with their flow and connections they normally have. And it just forced them into errors – those little one percenters and we were able to capitalise.”
“I thought that our attack in the last quarter just played smart. I thought they had nice feel and touch and made the right decisions at the right time. Previously I think that we won ball and we’d get it down and then we’d do something under the ring. But I thought that Romelda and Gretel had really good decision-making in that last quarter. Really pleasing to get a win here against the Vixens on their home court.”
Who led the defensive pressure?
“We just trained for it all week. Just really – no real flashy stuff – just contest, hands over, contest, hands over, keep at it, keep at it and they did. We didn’t change up our game structure too much – we just kept at it and I think that got on top of Vixens in the end. They had hands over, they were pressured into rushing and just couldn’t see. I think our defence did a really great job tonight. We managed to finish it off in that last quarter really well.”
On Gabi Simpson’s work on Liz Watson
“I was really, really pleased with what Gabi did and how she played on Lizzy tonight. I thought that she shut Lizzy right down – you know that first intercept of the game was probably a really good indication of that. It was going to be a tough fight – really good to watch – good to witness between two quality players and I thought that Gabi just kept at it and Liz usually is just the feeder that puts it into MJ nice and easy – it wasn’t happening tonight. They just could not get that as readily and as comfortable as they normally do. So the defensive end in Simpson, Geitz and Hinchliffe just played a really, really good defensive game for each other.“
Cover image: Kirsten Daley