In a match which many pegged as a redemption game for the Melbourne Vixens, it was the Sunshine Coast Lightning who proved they were not to be written off. The home side leapfrogged their way into the top four with a convincing eight-goal win.
The match started off with blistering speed, but it was the Lightning who made the first break, thanks in large part to the slick plays between Kelsey Browne and Steph Wood.
In reply, Vixen stalwart Liz Watson amped up her defence. The wing attack shot off the transverse at every centre to ensure her arms-over pressure was supporting her defenders. The move produced a crucial tip and conversion for the Vixens.
Caitlin Bassett had a more relaxed game this week, achieving her first half-century of the season. For much of the game, she and Wood both shoot at 100%.
The Lightning’s tagging and zone defence made it hard for the Vixens to cross their attacking transverse. The move forced Mwai Kumwenda and Tegan Philip out of the circle to offer for the ball.
Philip, because she was unable to get closer, was forced to put up numerous mid-to-long range shots. This is a zone which Philip is more than comfortable in which saw her sink all but one shot for the quarter.
Emily Mannix took most of the first quarter to work out how to stop Bassett’s flow of goals. But once she placed herself between Bassett and the post, the Diamonds’ captain began to look uncomfortable and made one too many passes out to her feeders, resulting in a crucial pickup for the Vixens.
During a Vixens timeout, captain Kate Moloney called for her side to increase their hands-over pressure. Her team responded and caused many turnovers resulting in a six-goal turnaround, winning the first quarter.
Mannix came out for the second quarter with renewed vigour scoring two disruptions on feeds to Bassett. Browne also came out for the second term determined to make amends for a few stray balls she let fly in the first term.
After the game, she said her side, “didn’t like the feeling of losing the first quarter”. So, for her part, she upped her work rate notching eight centre pass receives, four goal assists and six feeds in the second term.
Browne also did a wealth of work off the ball, creating space and reoffering at every opportunity. Returnee Renae Ingles tried to keep up with Browne but was undone by the wing attack’s speed and drives to the circle edge, which often left Ingles in chase mode.
The battle in the Vixen’s scoring circle was fierce. Geva Mentor and Kumwenda were wrestling for position and barely stood still the entire quarter – even behind play.
Jo Weston was able to keep up with Wood for much of the second term and got her hand in to deflect the ball off to her side, which brought the scores level at half-time.
Mentor’s instructions to the Lightning just before the halfway mark were to “keep control and composure.”
Lightning were more composed in the third term, producing a five-goal quarter win.
This was the quarter which Karla Pretorius made her presence known with three gains, one intercept and two rebounds. She and Mentor made it hard for the Vixens feeders to penetrate the circle. Moloney and Watson were forced to lob the balls into Kumwenda, whose supreme aerial skills and strong takes kept her side in touch.
Mannix, in one of her rare wins for the game, was able to steal an intercept thanks to a soft, floating pass which was intended for Bassett, but was never really going to make it.
Just before three-quarter time, Kadie-Ann Dehaney was brought on for the Vixens, in an attempt to match Bassett’s height. But it was a fruitless move as the Lightning were still able to score two goals to every Vixens one and take a six-goal lead into the final break.
The final quarter saw Lightning continue with their superior drives and feeds. One particular highlight saw Wood launch the ball from the centre third straight over the top of Dehaney to Bassett.
Kumwenda and Philip switched shooting roles, and in the circle they didn’t miss a beat. However, Kumwenda wasn’t able to match Philip’s speed off the transverse line for the centre which allowed Pretorius to cause disruptions
After another mini-run by the home side, the Vixens called a timeout to bring Mannix back into the fray which paid off straight away by way of a rebound. Philip and Kumwenda also took this opportunity to switch back to their preferred roles.
The moves were too-little, too-late as the Lightning retightened their full-court defensive pressure, making it hard for the Vixens to cut through the mid-court.
Their woes continued when Philip rolled her ankle and was forced from the court five minutes before the end of the game. The silver lining to come from this was the debut of youngster Sam Gooden.
The former Magpies training partner was unfazed by the calibre of her defenders and was confident enough to put up three shots in her five minutes of court time.
The Lightning now head into the break confident after three wins on the trot which has moved them into third position on the ladder. Their next challenger is the NSW Swifts at Qudos Bank Arena after the Queens Birthday weekend break.
The Vixens head home, having been bumped into sixth position on the ladder. In preparation for their next match against the West Coast Fever captain Kate Moloney said, “We’ve got to work on our four-quarter performance and make sure we can maintain that really composed attack all the way through the game.” Time will tell whether they can find their 2017 form.
Sunshine Coast Lightning 64 def Melbourne Vixens 56
(15-17, 30-30, 48-43, 64-56)
Player of the Match: Karla Pretorius (Sunshine Coast Lightning)
Crowd: 2,073 at USC Stadium
Sunshine Coast Lightning
Bassett 51/53 96%
Wood 13/17 76%
Kumwenda 31/33 94%
Philip 22/28 79%
Gooden 3/4 75%
Liz Watson (Vixens) 27
Steph Wood (Lightning) 26
Kelsey Browne (Lightning) 19
Sunshine Coast Lightning
GS Caitlin Bassett
GA Stephanie Wood
WA Kelsey Browne
C Laura Scherian
WD Maddy McAuliffe
GD Karla Pretorius
GK Geva Mentor
GS Mwai Kumwenda
GA Tegan Philip
WA Liz Watson
C Kate Moloney
WD Renae Ingles
GD Jo Weston
GK Emily Mannix
Changes: Q3 GK Kadie-Ann Dehaney, Q4 GS Philip, GA Kumwenda, then GS Kumwenda, GA Philip, GK Mannix, then GA Sam Gooden
Umpires: Joshua Bowring & Bronwen Adam
What they said
Kelsey Browne, Sunshine Coast Lightning
Would you say that was Lightning’s best game of the year?
“For us we are finally starting to gel and flow as a team and that is what we have been looking for, for most of the season. We knew it wasn’t going to come straight away. Sometimes that stuff takes a little while, but it felt awesome out there tonight, and I am so happy to get that win.”
Vixens had a six-goal turn around in that first quarter, but you won every quarter after that, what changed for the Lightning?
“I think we know when we are slipping and when we aren’t executing what we want to do. So, we just went back to processes, and that was our focus for the rest of the game. I think when you execute the processes then the result wins out.”
“I think we always match up well against the Vixens. They have a really good style of play.”
Three from three, under Kylee. She’s managing this business pretty well isn’t she?
“Yeah, she is. I think she is doing an excellent job. No one is really stressed. But we do really miss Noels (Noeline Taurua). We would love to have her come back soon. But we always put family first, so are happy for to stay away and do what she has got to do. When she comes back, she and Kylee will be a force to be reckoned with.”
A win against a top four team it must do wonders for the confidence before the break
“You rarely get ball off Vixens so for us to be able to capitalise off the balls that they threw away, and to generate some turnovers was awesome for us. But we also put out a consistent performance. And for us to be heading into a break now, we probably would have liked to have kept playing and to have kept pushing on that kind of game that we just had. But I also think that everyone is kind of keen to have a break and get that refresh.”
What turned your season around, after the three losses?
“I think we came out of those three losses really, really disappointed. It wasn’t the netball that we wanted to play and not the brand that we have decided that we wanted to put out there. So, we did tweak a few things. We had to really commit to putting out the brand of netball that we want to play and are reaping the rewards now.”
Kate Moloney, Melbourne Vixens
You’ve got ice on your leg, tough game?
“It was a tough game. They came out absolutely firing. I think we played well for about a half of netball and I think the pressure they put on us, got to us in the end. That is not good enough. That is something we need to work on and maintain for a better performance.”
You won the first quarter, but the Lightning won every quarter after that
“Yeah but I was really impressed with how the girls kept fighting back, no matter how far ahead the Lightning got in that first couple of quarters. We were able to pull it back. And we were in front at quarter-time and level at halftime. It was really just that third quarter that we let them get away.”
The new points system has obviously kept some teams in touch with the top four, has it changed the way you prepare for games this year?
“Not really. I mean, you are aware of it and, like you said, it has really affected the competition and the ladder in terms of where teams are sitting. But despite that, you want to win every quarter and you want to win the game. I think that is the key.”
Sam Gooden, Melbourne Vixens
Congratulations on your 2018 Super Netball debut, how was it?
“It was pretty intense and exciting to be out there. Obviously a disappointing result. But I am proud to be part of this team and grateful for the opportunity on the court.”
What was said to you before you stepped out?
“Go for it. Have fun. Play like I usually do.”
What caused the change, was it Tegan’s ankle or was it a planned change?
“I was warming up, but I think Tegan’s ankle really made the change happen.”
How intimidating was it against, arguably, the best defence outfit in Super Netball?
“Physical and strong. But you just don’t know what to expect when you go out on court. They are a really strong opposition. I tried not to think about how intimidating it could be. I just played how I usually do and take it all in as I went.”
Images: Marcela Massey