The West Coast Fever took a trip down memory lane as they rediscovered the energy and connection that served them so well in 2018. The Vixens were lucky to scrape home with a draw, levelling the score with nothing left on the clock after trailing by five goals three minutes earlier.
Sitting winless at the bottom of the ladder, Fever weren’t supposed to trouble the league-leading Vixens. Missing injured captain Courtney Bruce and lacking the full court defensive pressure and swift ball movement of last season, it’s been a grim start to their 2019 campaign. However, they were told by coach Stacey Marinkovich to play with “freedom”, and their ease of letting the ball go was apparent from the start.
Ingrid Colyer was strong across the centre court line, taking 28 centre pass receives, and appeared untroubled by opponent Renae Ingles, who towered 13 centimetres over her. Instead of taking long runs down court, Colyer ducked and weaved to be a constant presence in attack. She was pivotal in linking with Verity Charles and Kaylia Stanton, who both ably fed Jhaniele Fowler with little of the hesitation that’s been apparent in recent weeks.
It was Kaylia Stanton’s best game in the green and black. Often hesitant to contest in the past, Stanton’s determination to impede the Vixens’ free-flowing tempo was critical to the game’s outcome. She put up 12 goals of her own, contributed 21 goal assists and 21 centre pass receives, but importantly was also a menace in defence. Two quick intercepts in the first quarter, plus a number of lesser deflections helped stymie the Vixens flow. In trying to quell her influence, coach Simone McKinnis made several substitutions against her.
It wasn’t the best of defensive games from the Vixens. After hauling in a team total of 11 intercepts last week, they were unable to pull in any at all against the Fever. Emily Mannix and Kadie-Ann Dehaney were both trialled against the dominant Fowler. While they were successful in moving her to the edge of the circle at times, Fowler changed her angles to cleverly reposition herself when needed. After being recently troubled by an ankle injury, Fowler was back to her best as she pulled down even the most improbable of passes.
It was in their attacking end that the Vixens shone. Caitlin Thwaites was a steady presence under the post, although showed plenty of her increased mobility as she cleared the circle for Tegan Phillip to drive into. Three of Thwaites goals were hastily sunk in the split second before the end of the second, third and fourth quarters, showing a mature awareness of the time left on the clock.
Phillip was once again outstanding, shooting 27 goals from 30 attempts and doing a power of work outside the circle. Her form is likely to give the national selectors a few sleepless nights as they try and choose between her and Steph Wood for the Australian team. Wood is one of the incumbent goal attacks, and remains a canny operator. However, her volume and accuracy has been down recently, and she doesn’t have the advantage of playing with any Australian connections at a domestic level. In contrast Phillip has built a strong combination with Diamonds’ regulars Thwaites and Liz Watson, and her volume and accuracy at goal attack is second only to the Firebirds Gretel Tippett.
Olivia Lewis and Stacey Francis have struggled to stem opposition goals in recent weeks, unsurprising given Lewis’ rookie status and the absence of Bruce. It was a much improved outing from the pair; they gave away less of a height disadvantage, and looked more comfortable working together against their mobile circle opponents. Francis has led from the front in the tough past few weeks, and pulled in one of the intercepts of the year in the second quarter.
While a patient game has always been a trademark of the Vixens, they looked static at times against the Fever’s full court defensive pressure. The Fever also struggled to penetrate past the Vixens’ greater height and armspan, but were far more confident in letting the ball go in attack than in recent outings. Crucial to this was the improved offerings on attack, with preliminary work making multiple leads available for the ball carrier. Both teams remained patient with their ball use, and recorded a low 14 team turnovers apiece. The ability to retain possession was a vast improvement on season averages of 22 for the Vixens and 26 for the Fever.
One of the match ups of the night was wing attack Liz Watson against the Fever’s Jess Anstiss. Both are powerful players who were strong in both attack and defence throughout the four quarters. While Anstiss took two crucial intercepts during the game, it was Watson’s brilliance in the dying moments of the fourth quarter that levelled the game for the Vixens.
Down by five with three minutes to go she showed some attacking brilliance around the circle, then got a crucial hand to a Fever centre pass. Phillip picked up the loose ball, slung it long to Thwaites who goaled with nothing left on the clock. While it was probably a worthy result for two teams who slugged it out from the opening whistle, the draw left the athletes and crowd deflated after the match.
Final score: West Coast Fever drew with Melbourne Vixens 63 – 63 (18-17, 14-15, 15-15, 16-16)
MVP: Jhaniele Fowler
West Coast Fever: 63/70 (90%)
Jhaniele Fowler 51/54 (94%), Kaylia Stanton 12/16 (75%).
Melbourne Vixens: 63/73 (86%)
Caitlin Thwaites 36/43 (84%), Tegan Phillip 27/30 (90%)
West Coast Fever: GS Jhaniele Fowler, GA Kaylia Stanton, WA Ingrid Colyer, C Verity Charles, WD Jess Anstiss, GD Stacey Francis, GK Olivia Lewis.
Bench: Shannon Eagland, Sunday Aryang, Alice Teague-Neeld
Q3: Shannon Eagland to GK (Olivia Lewis off, cramp)
Melbourne Vixens: GS Caitlin Thwaites, GA Tegan Phillip, WA Liz Watson, C Kate Moloney, WD Renae Ingles, GD Jo Weston, GK Emily Mannix.
Bench: Kadie-Ann Dehaney, Lara Dunkley, Ine-Mari Venter
Q2: Kadie-Ann Dehaney to GK, Emily Mannix to GD
Q3: Jo Weston GD
Q4: Emily Mannix GK, then Kadie-Ann Dehaney to GK.
James Matthew and Tim Marshall
Turnovers: Fever – 14, Vixens – 14
Intercepts: Fever – 6, Vixens 0
Rebounds: Caitlin Thwaites 5
Centre pass receives: Liz Watson 29, Ingrid Colyer 28
While the West Coast Fever have one of the tallest goal shooting circles in the league, they were outsized across the rest of the court by the Melbourne Vixens. It was particularly apparent in the midcourt, with the Fever players on average 9 cm shorter than their opponents. When the Vixens’ extra armspan added to hands over pressure, the difference became particularly noticeable.
The biggest disparity was the 13cm height difference between Ingrid Colyer (165cm) and Renae Ingles (178cm). However, Colyer’s impressive display of speed and control saw her get the better of Ingles, despite her diminutive stance.
While Olivia Lewis has improved with every outing, at 183cm she is one of the shorter goal keepers in the league, with some balls whistling just above her finger tips. When she returns, Courtney Bruce’s additional 6cm in height will make life that little bit tougher for her opponents.
There’s been some criticism of umpiring in recent weeks, despite the fact that several umpires are relatively new to this level. Generally speaking this game was well controlled, although more playing on to advantage could have been called. Unfortunately an absolute clanger in the fourth quarter changed the course of the game. When Renae Ingles went for a wander in the midcourt, it was missed by both umpires; play went on and resulted in a Vixens’ goal. Umpiring is a tough gig, but with the game on the line this was one glaring error that shouldn’t have been missed.
Looking ahead to next week
It seems tough that Fever have to play the Magpies in Bendigo next week, given that they already have the biggest travel burden of any team. Common sense should prevail in the future, with additional travel legs only given to those teams based on the eastern seaboard. However all eyes will be on whether captain Courtney Bruce will play, and how Nat Medhurst fares against her old club.
While the Vixens are sitting comfortably at the top of the ladder, their form is patchy at times given the number of internationals in their team. They are at home to the second placed NSW Swifts in the game of the round, and will have to up their defensive pressure if they hope to rein in goal shooter Sam Wallace, who’s been in sparkling form.
What they said after the game
Simone McKinnis (coach, Melbourne Vixens)
Your thoughts on tonight’s game? I’m pleased that we’ll go home with a couple of points. There wasn’t enough pressure defensively to get enough ball. I think there were moments in the game where we should have pushed on a little bit. But backing ourselves in for a draw was a pretty big effort, because it was five or something with three (minutes) to go. But they need to have that intensity and fight from start to finish. I don’t think it was there.
It was probably the first game you’ve been pushed hard on the scoreboard. We knew it was going to be tough, because Fever have had a rough couple of weeks without the results and without their captain, and they were going to come out fighting and hard and desperate for this game. Credit to them for the way they played today.
It wasn’t a good performance across the game (for us) but you have to give Fever credit for the way they came out and played. They played a good, hard, tough game from start to finish, and we didn’t, and that’s where you don’t get the results. We were below par for most of the match.
Jo Weston (goal defence, Melbourne Vixens)
After such an energetic match what did it feel like to draw? It’s a weird feeling, and we would have liked to won a few more quarters, but it showed the close competition of the match.
It was the first game you’ve been pushed on the scoreboard this season. Was that a good test for you? I thought we did really well particularly in that last quarter when we were a few goals down with only a couple of minutes to play, to then equalise. There were times in the game when we had momentum which we would have liked to capitalise on more, and I think we will go back and look at that.
Kaylia Stanton (goal attack, West Coast Fever)
That was a much improved performance. How did it feel on court? “We had a lot of tenacity tonight. We were really good at scrapping the ball, and then able to convert when we did turn it over.”
You all looked more confident letting the ball go to each other. Has that been a focus at training? “Yes, Stacey told us to go out there and play with freedom and have a go. I think we really tried to take that on board this week.”
Stacey Marinkovich (coach, West Coast Fever)
On tonight’s game: “There was so much to like tonight about the way we played, and that was gutsy and hard fought. We increased our defensive pressure and that’s been the biggest thing lacking over the past couple of weeks. So to come out here against the top of the table and be able to put that defensive pressure across the court was sensational.”
“We are good with ball speed but we need to also know when to use it and get that tempo right. We contributed ahead and behind the ball which is something we always talk about, and I thought our midcourt took a lot of load and passed really well into the circle.”
The players’ energy looked much better tonight. What was your message to them during the week? “Sometimes you have to lead it hard. I’ll give them everything I’ve got and certainly when there’s the moment that you want to drive the confidence, the best confidence you can give is to show that you believe in them. That’s what I wanted them to see tonight. I’ve got their back every step of the way.”