Hoping for a change of fortune against the Sunshine Coast Lightning after their previous confidence-sapping outing, West Coast Fever needed to bring nothing short of their ‘A’ game if they were going to challenge the 2018 champions. But coming up against last year’s premiers on the Lightning’s home court was always going to be a massive test.
Both teams started confidently shooting goal for goal, but an early caution against Shannon Eagland for a deliberate contact was not the ideal start to the match for the determined goal defence. The dominance of West Coast Fever shooter Jhaniele Fowler was obvious from the very beginning. Sunshine Coast Lightning’s goal keeper Phumza Maweni worked hard to defend her – mixing up her defence moving in the front and sometimes from behind, causing Fowler to move to the top of the circle to take the ball which pushed her to offload again. The 198cm Jamaican international and the league’s lead goal shooter was key in Fever’s circle. Her incredibly long reach and ability to pull in balls, high over her opponents pushed the Lightning to re-think their game plan. Fever pulled confidently ahead part way through the first quarter, leading the home team by 13-9.
Goal keeper Courtney Bruce took some time to find her rhythm against the difficult to defend Lightning goal shooter Peace Proscovia. Proscovia continually re-positions her body and constantly moves around making it difficult for her opponent to defend her. Bruce worked hard against Proscovia and managed a couple of deflections for the quarter.
After a strong rebound by Pretorius, Lightning fired the ball swiftly up court, but Laura Langman struggled to off-load at the top of their goal circle and a held-ball was called. The Lightning battled to find space to play their free-flowing game, but after a time-out, Lightning returned shooting three quick goals to start reeling in the Fever.
Steph Wood attacked the ball with confidence, moving around the circle, taking shots from all over the circle. With 35 seconds left on the clock and the scores level, the Lightning continually moved the ball around, using up time until just the right moment, feeding the ball into the safe hands of Wood who scored to pull the Lightning into the lead. With only seconds remaining on the clock, Fever attempted to get the ball down to Fowler to level the scores, but taking the centre pass, Kaylia Stanton had nowhere to pass before the quarter time siren sounded. The Lightning were lucky to take the first quarter bonus point with the scores 17-16 at the first break.
In a strong and confident start to the second quarter, Lightning wing defence Maddie McAuliffe took a scorching intercept in Fever’s pocket in front of wing attack Ingrid Colyer. Unfortunately, Lightning were unable to capitalise following an offside penalty by goal defence Karla Pretorius as the ball made its way downcourt. Fever steadily worked the ball back down into their goal; Stanton preparing to shoot and then quickly offloading to Fowler who scored under the post.
Proscovia surprised Bruce with what appears to now be her signature move – passing to the post. Having found herself out wide and in space, with no-one else to pass to, she appeared to do a lay-up, but instead of shooting passed to the post, regathered and settled herself for the shot. “It bought a wry smile onto Courtney’s face, I don’t think she knew what the heck was happening. It’s fantastic – it just adds a bit of flavour to the game. Everyone loves it, so it’s good”, Lightning coach Noeline Taurua said after the game.
Wood was a standout on court. Shooting 100% for the first half, her play was impressive as she worked hard to find space and make herself available. “I thought her balance of feeding in and the offloads into Peace or when she took the shots herself was brilliant, so it’s really hard to counter that with a defence, whether they stay on Peace or they stay on Steph. I think she’s got the balance nicely”, Taurua commented after the game. The appearance of the dynamic Stacey Francis into goal defence was a strategic move by Fever to try and shut down Wood. Francis is a fabulous player to watch – determined and gritty, she has a never-say-die attitude and never gives up.
It was never going to be an easy job to shut down Wood. Her connection with the energetic Laura Langman around the circle was a standout. Their dizzying feeds in and around the circle highlighted their strong understanding of each other’s moves. Add Scherian into that mix with her lightning fast passes to Wood and pin-point accurate balls into Proscovia, and Fever had to work overtime to anticipate Lightning’s next move. Australian Diamond defender Bruce read the movement of the ball well and with her incredible reach was able to get hand to it on five occasions for the quarter.
With Maweni and Pretorius working hard to contain Fowler, Stanton hesitated at times to offload. Looking for Fowler she appeared conflicted as to whether to risk a pass into her shooter, throw to the strongly defended circle edge or take the shot. Stanton shot a very respectable 85.7% for the second quarter, but her moments of indecision attracted the umpires whistle.
Although Fever appeared to struggle to open space into their goal, they held on gallantly to only be within one point of the Lightning at half time.
The third quarter began with a quick intercept by Pretorius just outside the Fever’s circle. Heading quickly back down court with crisp, potent passing, a fast feed by Scherian into the safe hands of Wood, saw it offloaded swiftly into Proscovia under the post. Lightning continued with their brilliant form, content to move the ball around until space opened up. Pocket-rocket Scherian was in-form. With 43 feeds, 26 goal-assists and 33 centre pass receives – she was having a sizzling game.
Francis was dogged in defence, on the hunt in and around Lightning circle and mid court. Her tenacity paid off when she challenged hard for the ball against Langman, winning the contest. Fever moved the ball swiftly back down court into Fowler to score.
With Langman and McAuliffe defending strongly around the Fever circle and goal third, Fever struggled to get the ball into their shooters and within shooting range, but centre Verity Charles deserves a special mention. The super-athletic centre worked tirelessly against the in-form Langman and laboured hard to get the ball into her circle with 37 feeds and 19 goal assists for the game.
Gritty defence by Bruce, Francis and Jess Anstiss in wing defence helped get the ball out of Lightning territory, but Fever laboured to find space through the mid-court, and penetrate their goal third, forcing them to pass around. Anticipating the movement of the Fever’s passes, Langman was rewarded with four strong intercepts for the game. Maweni reading the play beautifully took a strong cross-court intercept away from Charles and it was rewarded with a goal. The double defending of Fowler continued, forcing Stanton to take long shots, but failing to capitalise in the third quarter with no success from only attempts. Lightning forged ahead taking the quarter 18-11.
The last quarter saw an almost total re-shuffle to Fever’s line-up. The change in their tempo and confidence was instant as they took the court invigorated and re-energised.
A quick feed by Alice Teague-Neeld, into Fowler set her up beautifully under the post to score early in the opening minutes. Although Fowler appeared frustrated by the attention of the Lightning defenders, she still managed 95.7% for the game.
Francis, now up against Scherian, made a determined deflect at the top of the Lightning circle and this was backed up beautifully by Anstiss who gathered safely for possession. Fever steadily brought the ball back down court for Teague-Neeld to score her first goal for the game. Although Teague-Neeld shot a respectable 60% for the game, she hesitated at times in taking her shots, looking to offload to Fowler. With the Lightning goal defenders not letting up on Fowler, Teague-Neeld’s indecision found herself being pulled up for held ball.
The air in the stadium was momentarily sucked out and into the mouths of 3000 fans as crowd favourite Steph Wood hit the deck hard. It appeared at first, she may have injured her knee after getting caught up in a tussle for the ball with a determined Eagland. A collective sigh of relief could be heard as she quickly returned to her feet, shook out her leg and continued with the game.
Although the Lightning continued with a steady and clean game, they appeared to take their foot off the accelerator, allowing a determined Fever to take the final quarter 15-14 and the bonus point. The points for the win, plus three bonus points has guaranteed the Sunshine Coast Lightning second spot on the ladder as teams now break for the world cup.
Sunshine Coast Lightning 65 def West Coast Fever 57
(17-16, 16-15, 18-11, 14-15)
Player of the Match: Laura Scherian (Sunshine Coast Lightning)
Peace Proscovia 44/45 97.8%
Steph Wood 21/25 84%
Sunshine Coast Lightning 65/70 – 92.9%
Jhaniele Fowler 45/47 95.7%
Alice Teague-Neeld 3/5 60%
(Kaylia Stanton 9/16 56.3%)
West Coast Fever 57/68 – 83.8%
Laura Langman (Sunshine Coast Lightning) 4
Courtney Bruce (West Coast Fever) 4
Laura Scherian (Sunshine Coast Lightning) 26
Verity Charles (West Coast Fever) 19
Laura Scherian (Sunshine Coast Lightning) 43
Verity Charles (West Coast Fever) 37
Sunshine Coast Lightning
GS Peace Proscovia
GA Stephanie Wood
WA Laura Scherian
C Laura Langman (c)
WD Madeline McAuliffe
GD Karla Pretorius
GK Phumza Maweni
Bench: Jacqui Russell, Cara Koenen, Annika Lee-Jones
West Coast Fever
GS Jhaniele Fowler
GA Kaylia Stanton
WA Ingrid Colyer
C Verity Charles
WD Jessica Anstiss
GD Shannon Eagland
GK Courtney Bruce (c)
Bench: Stacey Francis, Olivia Lewis, Alice Teague-Neeld
Q2 Stacey Francis GD
Q3 Alice Teague-Neeld WA
Q4 Jess Anstiss C, Shannon Eagland GD, Verity Charles WA, Stacey Francis WD,
Alice Teague-Neeld GA
Umpires: Michelle Phippard and Marc Henning
What they said:
Congratulations on the win. What are your thoughts on how the girls played today?
“I’m really happy we’re number 2 on the ladder, and that’s fantastic. It was a target we wanted to set, and we’ve met that, and I’m elated. Reason being post-world cup, I’m not too sure how we’re going to come back in, so it gives us a bit of a buffer for the second part of the season. [I’m] elated that we’re currently sitting at number 2 on the table.
“I thought first and second quarter were pretty smart. I think we were down by one, but we were able to squeeze that [bonus] point out. I’m really happy that we used our smarts in the things that we did in training to get that extra point in the first and second quarter, I thought defensively they were tough, especially inside circle and especially when Francis came on in the second quarter, I think that changed it up defensively as well.
“When we attacked with intention, I thought we opened it up, but when we stayed on the outside, it kept us apart and I think that’s also giving respect to their type of defence, which is a zone, so they kept us out. I thought when Karla and Phumza, once again, when they attacked and got quite creative they turned over ball. We got caught up a bit when we got too close to the body and I thought there was some where we got a few held balls, but overall, I am really pleased. I think we haven’t gone down and I feel each week, we’re chipping away and I’m really happy where we’re sitting at this half of the season.”
To say at the beginning of the season you wanted to be the top one or two at this point in the competition and to actually be there is quite an achievement, wouldn’t you say?
“I think we’ve always got to be able to back ourselves and probably after the first game everyone was thinking “holy heck!”, but I’m really confident in the players we have, what we do, our systems, our practices, our routines and what we do behind the scenes and the people involved. I just feel it just takes its time to set and settle, but I feel slowly that’s coming every week. I suppose the big question mark is what’s going to happen after worlds, but I think everyone else is in that boat, so those ones that are staying behind are going to build the base and hopefully can use them more in the second half so that we can give the world cup players a wee bit of a rest to recover and get them back in.”
Laura Scherian, player of the match today, but do you think she often goes unnoticed?
“Yes, I do. I can understand why she did [get player of the match]. Her feeds into Peace were beautiful and she opens up the space with the delivery of the ball into the circle, gives us something a bit different, so it’s hard to counteract with a defence. And like always, she’s a hard worker and grafter, and she’s one those players that’s the glue in our attacking end, so it’s great that she was acknowledged today.”
Peace Proscovia did the old ‘pass to the post’ again today – we saw you having a laugh and a cheer from the side.
“[Laughing] Yes, yes! It’s just a bit of ‘X’ factor that is something a bit different and she loves it.”
And Steph Wood was nailing some long shots tonight, which were impressive.
“I think it was very impressive. Not only her shooting percentages, but also her court work on the outside. Defensively, it was pretty torrid, but she was able to get herself available. I thought her balance of feeding in and the offloads into Peace or when she took the shots herself were brilliant, so it’s really hard to counter that with a defence, whether they stay on Peace or they stay on Steph. I think she’s got the balance nicely.”
A few of the girls hit the deck today, how are the Lightning travelling, injury wise, as they head into the break?
“Look, we’re really lucky. The girls are really robust and physical and they’re strong. There are areas in regard to their knees and ankles and those sorts of things that we worry about, but we’ve got good trainers and good people behind the scenes that support the players and make sure they are as strong as possible and can handle those knocks. So, I think we’ve come out quite well over the season, we haven’t had any injuries (touch wood), everybody’s been able to present every game, and as I say, it’s not only the players, their involvement and what they’re able to do, it’s everyone in the club who contributes to the bigger picture.”
After also being in camp this week with the Silver Ferns, are you now looking forward to only having one team to concentrate on?
“I’m rapt! I feel like this part is a big tick and now after tomorrow I can focus on the Ferns and I’m really looking forward to it. It seems like a long time coming, working both programs. But as I said, I’m absolutely rapt finishing at number 2, it positions us nicely post worlds, but I’m really elated to now go home [to New Zealand] and coach the Silver Ferns. I can leave here now feeling really comfortable and confident about ourselves and ready to take on the next step.”
How was the Silver Ferns camp that was held here last week?
“It was fantastic! They worked really hard. They had three trainings a day and so their bodies were very tired by day five, but it was purposeful training. We needed to load the bodies to see how they could handle the eight games in ten days, which is what’s going to happen over at worlds and also make sure that we’ve got players who’ve got bodies that can handle and manage the load. So, they were very much tested over the week and came out not too badly. But we’re very lucky in that we’ve got another step with the Cadbury Series with the four teams we’re going to play up against and then Colchester is another step as we lead into the worlds, so I’m really happy about the timeframe and the planning behind it.”
How are the Silver Ferns looking for the world cup, Noeline?
“Look, we’ve still got a long way to go. Next week will be a good tester when we put ourselves out on court in real time, but I’m actually quite confident where we are at the moment and we were able to make a good dent in our training and once again, I know what personnel we have, and what needs to happen behind the scenes to bring it all together after each stage. Like Lightning, we’re happy and confident where we’re sitting and it’s the same for the Silver Ferns as we lead into the worlds.”
You’re in superb form this season. This MVP award seems to have been a long time coming.
“I’m not sure to be honest. I think tonight, there was so many girls in our team who could have got player of the match. Everyone played well and connected right through the court. It could’ve been anyone tonight.”
Your passing into Peace was outstanding today – what are your thoughts on the connection you’ve developed?
“To be honest, Peace is one of the easiest players to feed once you find that connection and understand her and where she wants the ball. She’s great at communicating that with me at training and we’re building that connection each week so it’s been really good to finally nail some of those feeds into her and understand her and where she wants the ball.”
In terms of the season, and this award, do you think this was your best game so far?
“That’s a tough one. I think as a group, we’ve played a couple of really good games over the last few weeks and, as I said, those connections are really happening. It’s not something I think about -whether or not I played well, it’s whether we won as a group together and winning those four quarters, so we were a bit disappointed with that last quarter, not coming through with the win, but we fought right to the end and tried our best to get that [bonus] point.”
Sitting second on the ladder today, what were Noeline’s instructions coming into today’s game?
“Obviously to win the game – we wanted the eight points and we wanted to be sitting one or two coming in to the break, so that after the break we have that second on the ladder, and that was our goal. That landscape after the world cup is unknown and we want to be in a comfortable position when we come into that.”
What is the plan during the break? What are you getting up to?
“So, we have a week off next week, to regenerate and then we have three or four weeks of training and we want to be in a good place for the girls to come back into the squad and build from there. So we have the energy and the plays in place for when they come back, as we’re not sure what we’ll be like.”
With possibly the only [SSN] team with five players playing in the world cup, good preparation is going to be crucial going into the second half, isn’t it?
“I think we’re really lucky, the position we’re in with 5 girls being chosen for their countries to go and play and it’s going to be awesome to be able to watch them, but it is half of our team going away, so as I said the five of us here really want to create something special for them to come back into to, and to have that settled and ready to go in the second half of the season.”
A few late nights for you watching the world cup?
“[Laughing] Yes, I might have to record to be honest! I’m not great at late nights, so I’ll see how it goes.”