Sunshine Coast Lightning have thrown down the gauntlet to the rest of the competition, producing their highest ever score as they steamrolled a disjointed West Coast Fever, 80 to 55. After an ordinary outing last week the Lightning had winners all over the court, while the Fever struggled with their connections as the margin blew out across the game.
With four incoming players – including the returning Laura Langman – Lightning Coach Noeline Taurua was pleased with the integration of her new look side, and said after the match, “I felt quite confident in what we had, and a reflection as well that this is our third season so our programme, all the stuff off court, we have a better understanding of what that looks like. There are stats and data to be able to measure if we’re on the right track.”
“So from my perspective it was easier and (I was) more confident, and I suppose we needed to embed the combinations and get individuals out there, especially in our attacking end. Even though Schers (Laura Scherian) and Stephanie (Wood) were an attacking unit, with Laura (Langman) going into centre it’s pretty well a whole new unit, so the timing and the rhythm is still uncertain. I thought at times it flowed through nicely. Still a bit of work to do to get our attacking strategy better so it’s tidier, but it’s definitely a step up.”
Lightning started the match in blistering fashion, moving the ball at speed through court with little defensive pressure to slow them down. After coughing up 36 turnovers last week they were determined to play more accurate netball, and despite having their foot on the accelerator only committed an impressively low 11 turnovers for the match.
Their opponents, West Coast Fever, had been hoping for an improved performance at home after being narrowly beaten last week by 2018 wooden spooners, Adelaide Thunderbirds. It was always going to be an uphill battle, with inspirational captain Courtney Bruce sidelined following a heavy fall, Jhaniele Fowler proppy with an ankle injury, while still adjusting to life after dumped goal attack Natalie Medhurst.
At the front of the court, Lightning’s Ugandan import Peace Proscovia had struggled to find her groove in her first ever Suncorp Super Netball match last week, but was exceptional in this game. She craftily positioned herself towards the top of the circle, leaving plenty of back space for her feeders to drop the ball into. Stacey Francis had reasonable impact against her in the first quarter, before being replaced by young Olivia Lewis in just her second game for the Fever. Too often she followed Proscovia to the edge of the circle and was caught in no-mans-land, uncertain whether to drop back and defend the post, or fly for the linking feed. However, Lewis came up with three gains and an intercept and was one of Fever’s better players.
Steph Wood had an exceptionally creative game at goal attack, appearing to have acres of room to move instead of the confines of a netball court. Her opponent Shannon Eagland was penalised a number of times high in the midcourt, leaving Wood unchecked in the attacking third and goal circle. Eagland managed to pull in a couple of intercepts which were all too often wasted as the Fever transitioned through court.
The Lightning have had to adjust their midcourt this season, moving Laura Scherian into wing attack to cover the loss of Kelsey Browne, with the incoming Laura Langman holding sway at centre. Both were in outstanding form today, meeting little opposition as they moved the ball throughout court at speed. Both players used their angles well around the goal circle, finding innovative ways to feed Proscovia, Wood and Cara Koenen with some particularly effective triangular play.
Last year a feature of Fever’s game was their strong through court defence, but it was lacking in this match. Guilty of 27 turnovers in this game, mostly in the attacking third, the Fever players were too slow transitioning into defence, and as a result the Lightning had little trouble whisking the ball into the safe hands of their shooters. There were a number of passages when Lightning players ran through court virtually unchecked.
While Fever were able to make some gains in defence, it was in their attacking game that the nightmare began. Last year midcourters Verity Charles and Ingrid Colyer were able to go efficiently about their business knowing that they had two get-out-of-jail cards: goal shooter Jhaniele Fowler and goal attack Natalie Medhurst.
In today’s game, Lightning defenders Karla Pretorius and Phumza Maweni consistently double teamed Fowler throughout the four quarters. They either kept her pinned along the baseline, from where there was little room for the towering Jamaican to work, or forced her out to the top of the circle. As a result too many errant passes either flew over the baseline or were snaffled by the agile South African pair before they reached Fowler’s hands. Despite this, she put up 51 goals at 93% accuracy and will have to carry most of the shooting load in 2019.
Fever’s biggest struggle is going to be in the goal attack position. While Medhurst’s shooting volume has dropped over recent years, but she’s lost none of the court craft that’s seen her become a three times world champion. Last year Medhurst opened up the court, using it’s depth and breadth, and was generally able to find Fowler with her quick, precise passing. In today’s match, no one stepped up to fill that void. Too often the midcourters and goal attacks were caught behind their defenders, or cramped into corridors by the stifling attention of Langman and Madi McAuliffe. Resulting passes were risky or unbalanced, and often gobbled up by the opposition.
At goal attack Alice Teague-Neeld moved nicely through court and generally fed Fowler well, but lacked confidence at the post, putting in zero goals from five attempts, plus a couple of held balls when hesitating on the shot.
Kaylia Stanton also had her opportunities but lacked the ability to let the ball go quickly and cleanly into Fowler. Stanton had the right idea of putting up more attempts to take the pressure off her double-teamed goal shooter, but with Karla Pretorius and Phumza Maweni prowling the circle Stanton was unable to get within easy striking distance of the post. Stanton’s return of four from six, with an additional held ball and air ball, both while shooting, weren’t enough to make her a convincing alternative to Teague-Neeld.
The Lightning were able to extend their lead at every quarter, and in the fourth brought on Cara Koenen, Annika Lee-Jones and Jacqui Russell. The changes made little difference to the Lightning juggernaut, and they went on their merry way to produce their highest ever score, winning convincingly in front of a bitterly disappointed West Coast Fever crowd.
It doesn’t get any easier for the West Coast Fever next week as they travel to Sydney to take on the red hot NSW Swifts. The Swifts are undefeated after two rounds and sit jointly with the Vixens at the top of the ladder. In addition, Fever coach Stacey Marinkovich has flagged that Courtney Bruce may not recover from her elbow injury in time to take the court.
After being on the road for two weeks, the Lightning return to Brisbane to battle the physical Firebirds outfit, in what should be a bruising encounter between the Queensland based sides.
Final score: Sunshine Coast Lightning defeated West Coast Fever 80- 55 (21-15, 22-10, 17-15, 20-15)
MVP: Laura Langman
West Coast Fever: Jhaniele Fowler 51/55 (93%) , Kaylia Stanton 4/6 (67%), Alice Teague-Neeld 0/5 (0%)
Sunshine Coast Lightning: Peace Proscovia 48/54 (89%) ,Stephanie Wood 18/20 (90%), Cara Koenen 14/17 (82%)
West Coast Fever: GS Jhaniele Fowler, GA Alice Teague-Neeld, WA Ingrid Colyer, C Verity Charles, WD Jess Anstiss, GD Shannon Eagland, GK Stacey Francis.
Bench: Kaylia Stanton, Olivia Lewis, Sunday Aryang
2nd Q – Lewis GK, Stanton GA, Anstiss C, Francis WD
3rd Q – Charles WA
4th Q – Teague-Neeld GA, Colyer C
Sunshine Coast Lightning: GS Peace Proscovia, GA Stephanie Wood, WA Laura Scherian, C Laura Langman, WD Madi McAuliffe, GD Karla Pretorius, GK Phumza Maweni.
Bench: Cara Koenen, Jacqui Russell, Annika Lee-Jones
4th Q – Koenen GS, Lee-Jones GK, Russell WD
Goal assists: Wood 23, Scherian 22, Langman 21
Centre pass receives: Scherian 38
Intercepts, Pretorius 3, Maweni 3
Turnovers: Fever 27, Lightning 11
What they said after the game
Noeline Taurua (coach, Sunshine Coast Lightning)
For your overseas players coming in, you’ve got the extra challenge of settling them off court as well as on court?
“Exactly. I don’t think people realise that. Even the high performance grind, day in, day out, takes a lot. If you’re not used to it, it takes a lot physically, but also mentally and emotionally it takes a toll. So I suppose as well, we’ve got a really good programme and all of our players are at a higher level than what we were over the last couple of years, but we’ve got to be patient with the others. Instead of pushing it really hard, just be patient and let them settle, and that takes time. So with both of the players, they’re getting used to the different style and how we play as well, and that’s not an easy transition. We’ve just got to take time to embed it.”
How happy were you with your intensity that you were able to play at all game. They turned the ball over a lot and that was down to the pressure you were able to put on them.
“I thought that defensively even last week we were not too bad. We were able to turn over a lot of ball, but coughed it up in our attacking end. This week we were able to get the value out of that defensive end, but once again it was working with our combinations and our strategy and embedding it, and getting those combinations into real time. I thought it was a good defensive effort right from our attacking end, and we’ve been working really hard to try and get the opposition to turn over ball through tough defence, so I thought we did that at times today.”
Laura Langman has been out of the game for a year, but is still playing very well. Do you think she has further room to grow?
“Yes. Being out, you wouldn’t think it but it does take the timing and the rhythm and getting her feet back on the ground, once again the daily grind. There’s still work to do in regards to both her attack and her defence end, but it’s a good start. Once again every week we have to get incremental improvements. The good thing is that she’s got memory, so she can link things to what she used to do, but once again there’s acknowledgement that she’s one year older and what we do in regards to the programme, it’s not going to be what she used to do. We’ve got to acknowledge that and work it, and make sure she moves at the pace her body can handle one year later.”
Phumza Maweni (goal keeper, Lightning)
How have you adjusted to the Lightning?
“I feel like I’m home, and I’ve adjusted really well to living here.”
What is it like playing week in and week out with Karla Pretorius, because you’ve previously formed a strong connection for South Africa?
“It’s amazing. For me it’s a privilege to be with this amazing lady. We’ve been playing together back home, and now have had a long preseason together. It’s such a huge impact for our game, to grow as a partnership.”
What’s it like being surrounded by a full team of support staff, because Karla has previously mentioned that it is different in South Africa.
“The first month I struggled because I’m not used to the structure, but it’s good as a player, but I recognise now that everything is made much easier. It’s easier to be fitter, because back home we don’t have that in place. You are responsible for your own fitness, you do your own job, so you have everything around you here and that is so good.”
Peace Proscovia (goal shooter, Lightning)
How did it feel out on court today?
“It feels amazing and it’s always good to go back with a win. Most importantly taking step by step now.”
How do you feel your game is progressing here in Australia?
“It’s all about having a positive mind, and taking every day the way it is and forgetting yesterday.”
You are coming up against the goal keepers you will play at the World Cup. What is that like for your preparation?
“It’s amazing to play against the greatest defenders in the world. It’s like practicing and competing, and challenging myself against them. It’s good for me.
On today’s game:
“We didn’t come out as a collective on song today. I don’t think it was in any one particular area, I think everyone contributed. Probably not to their best or what they’re capable of. Disappointing, I thought we gave it too much space across the court which enabled them to grow great confidence and they certainly let that ball go quick. From an attacking point of view we were too one-dimensional in our play which is, that’s part of work rate and backing each other and getting some really good court balance. So it wasn’t the greatest of performances, that’s for sure.”
“We never built any kind of momentum in the game, and didn’t reward or put them under pressure at any time on the score board.”
How do you come back from that?
“I think that’s the thing. We go back to what we usually do, just because you get beaten doesn’t mean you change your process. We review as openly and as hard as we need to, and what we do after last week and what we did last year. We’ll certainly have that robust conversation, because we can’t start quarters in particular like that and open the floodgates. It’s something that we need to make sure that we come out next week with better intent and get back to playing the way we know how.”
Are there positives you can take from this match?
“It was good for Liv (Lewis), Shannon and I to get some out there today together. I think Liv is a phenomenal young talent.
There were a few attacking woes. What do you need to work on?
“I think we were off all across the court. We didn’t let the ball go, and we have to be confident to let the ball go to build speed and also to bring the umpires into the game to protect us. We were also off defensively, we didn’t do the work enough and Lightning really built a rapid pace against us.”