Sunshine Coast Lightning held on in the dying minutes of see-sawing match to record their first win of the 2018 Super Netball season against the Collingwood Magpies.
The win sees the Lightning and Collingwood tied at 13 points on the ladder, with only goal percentage separating the two.
It was announced pre-match that Lightning coach Noeline Taurua would not coach this match after travelling to NZ to be with her ill father, leaving assistant coach Kylee Byrne to take the reins in a must-win clash for the winless Lightning.
A massive collision between Geva Mentor and Caitlin Thwaites set the tone for a physical game. The first five minutes were low scoring, with both teams picking up turnover ball, only to throw it away soon after.
Lightning were frequently forced to go backwards and revert to the transverse line. Collingwood were having slightly more success at getting the ball into their goal circle, but their goaling inaccuracy was costly in a tight quarter. In comparison, once Lightning got the ball into Caitlin Bassett’s hands, it was assured to sail through the net.
Collingwood were relying on Thwaites to carry the goaling load as Erin Bell struggled against Karla Pretorius, who was establishing herself as most impactful player on court. Pretorius would finish the quarter with four intercepts, and placed enough pressure on Bell to ensure she scored only one goal from three attempts.
Collingwood coach Kristy Keppich-Birrell opted to inject young goaler Alice Teague-Neeld into the GA position in the second quarter. Teague-Neeld made strong leads off the centre pass and in the circle, despite Mentor doing her best to confuse the space around her.
However, Teague-Neeld’s teammates seemed hesitant to pass to her when she was open. Soon, Teague-Neeld seemed to doubt herself; every time she raised the ball up to shoot, she would pass it off at the last second.
Pretorius took full advantage of Collingwood’s hesitancy in attack, plucking intercepts and pick-ups wherever possible. Meanwhile, Sharni Layton was starting to hunt outside the Lightning circle, although this left Bassett in prime position to take the ball beneath the ring.
As Lightning started to skip ahead, Collingwood called a time-out to bring Kim Ravaillion into the match at centre, after missing the previous week with a knee injury.
Ash Brazill started to get involved, fighting for every ball and forcing turnovers. A fumble from Laura Scherian, followed by a deflection from Brazill, closed the margin to one goal. But just as the Magpies were getting on a roll, another fumble – this time from Ravaillion – stemmed the momentum.
By half time, Lightning had tidied up their errors enough to lead by three goals. The intercept count favoured Lightning 7-2.
Bassett was a rock in their goal circle, providing a target with flawless goaling accuracy. In contrast, Teague-Neeld finished the quarter goalless.
Collingwood were faced with a dilemma: to go with the goal attack who was shooting at low accuracy, or the one who wasn’t putting shots up at all?
Keppich-Birrell chose to bring Bell back in the third quarter and soon after brought young defender Matilda Garrett on to goal defence. But no changes could stop the Lightning, who powered out to a nine-goal lead.
Starting the quarter with an intercept from Pretorius, Lightning capitalised on the Magpies’ mistakes and misses.
As the margin grew, the long, cross court feeds into Bassett found her on the baseline. Ravaillion allowed Scherian slightly more space to run into than starting centre Shae Browne had, which gave Sunshine Coast the opportunity to open up the middle corridor and get free from the sidelines.
Lightning still struggled with occasional basic skill errors, but they were able to capitalise on more opportunities than Collingwood. Some late wins to the Magpies brought the margin back to six goals, but only until Mentor snatched an easy intercept.
Lightning looked confident and ready to run away with the game. The third quarter lapse had done the damage for the Magpies, leaving them eight goals down at the final change.
April Brandley returned to the court in GD for the final quarter. Two held ball calls against the Lightning provided the Magpies with some early opportunities to close the gap. They responded to outscore the Lightning 6-2 in the opening five minutes. Bell had picked up the scoring slack, sharing the load with Thwaites evenly.
Lightning called a time out, sensing the Magpies comeback, but it worked against them. The Magpies were fired up; a rebound to Brandley ignited the crowd, and soon after Thwaites goaled to bring the margin to two.
An intercept to Layton had the crowd cheering, but once again, a golden opportunity was wasted with a throwaway pass. Meanwhile, Lightning were reverting to the transverse line again, playing it safe to protect their lead.
An offensive contact against Steph Wood gave the Magpies their final chance, but a missed goal by Thwaites was rebounded by Pretorius. Brazill won the ball back with an impressive intercept over Scherian’s head, but the turnover had cost the Magpies crucial time.
Ultimately, the settled starting seven of the Lightning held their nerve against the Magpies final quarter onslaught to deliver the ball safely to Bassett, who sealed the match.
Sunshine Coast will be determined to prove this game was the start of a winning streak, and next week they have a chance to stamp their dominance on home turf against the struggling Thunderbirds. They must improve their basic skills and try to address the final quarter fadeout which nearly cost them the match.
Collingwood await a tricky encounter with an emerging NSW Swifts outfit in Sydney. The Pies showed promising signs all match, but will need to tidy up their tendency to make mistakes at crucial times.
Both teams will be desperate to record a second win in the next round. No team wants to be playing catch-up in their quest to make the finals, and in such a close competition, a loss for either team next week will make it very tricky to get there.
Sunshine Coast Lightning 52 def Collingwood Magpies 50
(11-10, 26-23, 43-35, 52-50)
Player of the Match: Caitlin Bassett (Sunshine Coast Lightning)
Sunshine Coast Lightning
Bassett 37/37 100%
Wood 15/22 68%
Thwaites 36/41 88%
Pretorius (Lightning) 7
Mentor (Lightning) 3
Brandley (Magpies) 3
Mentor (Lightning) 4
McAuliffe (Lightning) 3
Brazill (Magpies) 3
Pretorius (Lightning) 9
Mentor (Lightning) 9
Brazill (Magpies) 4
Brandley (Magpies) 4
Layton (Magpies) 4
Mentor (Lightning) 5
Pretorius (Lightning) 2
Layton (Magpies) 2
Starting line ups
GS Caitlin Thwaites
GA Erin Bell
WA Madi Robinson
C Shae Browne
WD Ash Brazill
GD April Brandley
GK Sharni Layton
Changes: Q2 GA Alice Teague-Neeld, C Kim Ravaillion, Q3 GA Erin Bell, GD Matilda Garrett, Q4 GD April Brandley
Sunshine Coast Lightning
GS Caitlin Bassett
GA Steph Wood
WA Kelsey Browne
C Laura Scherian
WD Maddy McAuliffe
GD Karla Pretorius
GK Geva Mentor
What they said
Caitlin Bassett, Sunshine Coast Lightning
On withstanding the pressure and holding the lead in the last quarter
“I think the last three games we’ve been put under pressure and we’ve been playing goal for goal, it’s just in the dying minutes we’ve probably given ball away, so we’ve been kicking ourselves … the last three games. So we knew what we needed to do to finish off well this week.”
On the Sunshine Coast defenders
“I think our defensive end did an amazing job. Karla Pretorius in particular; I think she had six clean intercepts within the first half, which is absolute gold for us. I think defending is the hardest job on court. For her to be coming up with that ball against Caitlin Thwaites and Erin Bell is amazing.”
On how the group has handled Noeline going home
“It’s been tough, but Kylee Byrne has stepped up into that role and we’ve all been supporting her. Our hearts are with Noels; we know it’s a tough time for her and she wants to be here. We’re hoping she’s back with us soon, but we played with heart for her today.”
On the game’s physicality
“Every week it’s physical out there. It’s why we like playing, and it’s why we do some much work in the gym, so we’ll put some ice packs on, we’ll jump on the plane and head home with smiles on our faces.”
Kylee Byrne, acting Sunshine Coast Lightning coach
On the Magpies’ final quarter zoning defence
“They did the job. They pushed us really wide and isolated us, and we probably needed to connect more and make sure that we had one person at the ball and one person to a space. They flooded down the court particularly well, which is something we’ll look at this week, just adapting to when opposition make a change defensively and getting out of it quicker.”
On how the team has handled Noeline leaving, and Kylee taking the reins
“To be honest, it’s been absolutely no difference, and that’s the way that Noeline and I run it. That we’re both coaches, we both have hands on in everything and the players certainly took responsibility for their own actions, and took a little more leadership than they would in the past as well, but it’s really been business as usual.”
Kristy Keppich-Birrell, Collingwood Magpies coach
On the match
“There were some really good runs for us, and then we’d just get broken off, maybe on the fourth or the fifth goal in that run … (The swing of momentum) is massive in this league at the moment. We have to be better at controlling it and pushing it in our direction.”
On why the final quarter defensive changes weren’t made sooner
“Good question. I think you have a plan, obviously, that you believe when you go into the game is going to beat the opposition, and then you have to be able to adjust it, and we adjusted it in that quarter, and could it have been earlier? Maybe. Would it have had the same effect? We don’t know. So you’ve got lots of “if’s” and “but’s” there.”
On how Collingwood can bring Erin Bell into the game more
“We’ve got to look at her. We’ve got to make sure that we see her in that space, and that she’s offering. She is available, so we’ve just got to make sure that we’ve got our vision open as midcourters into that circle and make those defenders accountable to two goalers. Because we’ve got two.”
Cover image: Aleisha Vicars