Indigenous Round was a pivotal match in the Round 10 clash in Western Australia. With the Giants breathing down their neck, West Coast Fever wanted to stay on top of the ladder, while Sunshine Coast Lightning could have pushed their way into the top four.
An enthralling, physical encounter – well controlled by the umpires – saw the Fever prevail by just one goal. It was the closest that any team has edged the Fever at home this season and will give the Lightning confidence as they push for a place in the final four.
Steph Wood and Kelsey Browne dominated early as Lightning shot out to an early four goal lead. Their crisp passing and strong drive onto the ball helped their team take advantage of several careless Fever turnovers.
Wood used her power and pace, running the baseline and combining fluently with Caitlin Bassett. At 30 – an age when many players have already peaked – the goal shooter is showing impressive growth in her skills after an inconsistent start to the 2018 season.
Bassett has added movement to her game, allowing her to leave and re-enter the circle, dodge and pop out for the pass. The variety made life challenging for her opponent and Australian teammate, Courtney Bruce, who didn’t have a significant impact until the second half.
Kelsey Browne had the better of her opponent Jess Anstiss early, tucking into her opponent before driving hard into space. She is thriving in what is effectively just her second season of regular court time and is now one of the form players of the competition. She and Laura Scherian make a lot of their attacking moves deep into the pockets around goals.
Very few defenders are prepared to leave the circle for a crack at the intercept, perhaps because Bassett is so strong under the post, and Wood prepared to shoot from anywhere. However, it is a potential chink in the Lightning’s attacking armour, and one that defenders could exploit by creating doubt in feeders looking down court.
The play of the quarter occurred when Colyer ran a long deception lead towards the pocket, luring Mentor out of the circle. Anstiss spotted Fowler alone under the post and rifled a pass to her. It was a move that was repeated several times during the game, the ball travelling safely across almost an entire third.
With Lightning leading by four goals at the start of the second quarter, Anstiss and Stacey Francis tightened up against their opponents. They were far more effective in restricting Browne and Wood, reducing their influence across the remaining three quarters.
While Anstiss and Francis didn’t feature highly in the statistics, their ability to mark their player, confuse space and transition quickly into attack were important factors in the win. Their work streaming down court allowed the Fever attackers to play closer to the goal circle, from where their feeds were far more effective. In having several options available on the pass, it has also limited the number of held balls called against Fever this season.
It was the most torrid quarter for the match, with both circles particularly physical. Bassett and Bruce were pushing off each other, while at the other end Jhaniele Fowler was having a rugged time against the agility of Geva Mentor and Karla Pretorius. Their strategy was to double team Fowler inside the circle, with either Pretorius or wing defence Jacqui Russell sagging off her player to block goal attack Nat Medhurst.
The contest between Fowler and Mentor was awesome to watch – two phenomenal athletes at the peak of their powers giving and receiving no quarter. While Fowler usually won out in the air, Mentor’s pressure forced the shooter into some uncharacteristic misses and errors.
In a messy end to the term, Mentor accidentally flattened Medhurst after the diminutive goal attack set a screen for Fowler. The last minute of play degenerated into a rough and untidy tangle of limbs, with Francis, Ingrid Colyer, Fowler, Russell and then Medhurst again all hitting the floor in rapid succession. With players limping behind play, the umpires were quick to take control and tidy the game up. At half time, the Lightning held a narrow 32-30 lead.
The third quarter saw Fever shuffle the deck, with Colyer rested after receiving a heavy knock to the ankle. The changes had an immediate impact. At wing defence Shannon Eagland’s added height and hands over pressure made life more difficult for Browne, while Verity Charles was influential at wing attack for the Fever. Bruce started to move out of the circle for a fly at pocket balls, creating further hesitation in the Lightning feeders.
Medhurst racked up the biggest stats for the quarter, playing high to help as a ball carrier and her passing too quick for even the Lightning defenders, known for their ability to read and react instinctively to play. She was also valuable in defence, blocking the middle corridor and forcing the Lightning feeds wide.
Fever picked up their full-court efforts, causing a few errors to creep into their opponent’s game. Several passes sailed over Bassett’s head, while Russell got called for two held balls when there was little on offer ahead of her.
Fever held a narrow two goal lead heading into the fourth quarter but were quickly overrun after Pretorius and Scherian hauled in intercepts. The game then see-sawed, with the lead changing repeatedly.
As the final minutes ticked away Fever lifted their defensive intensity, the biggest ever crowd at HBF stadium roared, Jhaniele Fowler’s family – newly arrived in Perth – danced in the stands, and the home team snuck away with the narrowest of wins.
West Coast Fever 59 def Sunshine Coast Lightning 58
(14-18, 30-32, 47-45, 59-58)
Player of the Match: Nat Medhurst (Fever)
West Coast Fever
Jhaniele Fowler 50/56 89%
Nat Medhurst 9/12 75%
Sunshine Coast Lightning
Caitlin Bassett 43/47 91%
Steph Wood 15/19 79%
Starting line ups
West Coast Fever
GS Jhaniele Fowler
GA Nat Medhurst
WA Ingrid Colyer
C Verity Charles
WD Jess Anstiss
GD Stacey Francis
GK Courtney Bruce
Changes: Q3 WD Shannon Eagland, Anstiss to C, Charles to WD.
Sunshine Coast Lightning
GS Caitlin Bassett
GA Stephanie Wood
WA Kelsey Browne
C Laura Scherian
WD Jacqui Russell
GD Karla Pretorius
GK Geva Mentor
Changes: Q4 Erena Mikaere to WD, Maddy McAuliffe to C, Scherian to WA
Umpires: Josh Bowring and Marc Henning
Nat Medhurst (Fever) 34
Verity Charles (Fever) 28
Laura Scherian (Lightning) 26
Centre pass receives
Kelsey Browne (Lightning) 24
Steph Wood (Lightning) 19
Nat Medhurst (Fever) 14
Nat Medhurst (Fever) 26
Laura Scherian (Lightning) 21
Verity Charles (Fever) 18
Karla Pretorius (Lightning) 6
Courtney Bruce (Fever) 6
Jess Anstiss (Fever) 4
The Australian squad to be announced next weekend
From the Lightning, Caitlin Bassett and Stephanie Wood are certainties. Kelsey Browne’s dominance this season, and connection with her Diamonds’ shooting circle could see her overtake the Firebirds Caitlyn Nevins for a place in the squad. However, given the current depth of the Australian midcourt, it will be a tough ask.
For the Fever, Courtney Bruce is also guaranteed a place in the squad. Two fascinating questions remain from the West Australian team. Will Jess Anstiss, perhaps the competition’s only player who is capable of filling all three midcourt roles, be selected for her versatility? She’s been in fine form in defence, and will be close to earning her maiden berth.
Nat Medhurst has been having a stellar season, and her deception, nous and quick hands may see her earn a recall. Her X factor could be crucial in what are certain to be some more testing encounters against the English Roses. However it’s another tough call for the selectors with Wood, Pettitt, Tippett and Phillip also playing well across the season.
The Jamaican goal shooter has rapidly become a crowd favourite in Perth. Her laidback personality, enthralling athleticism and influence on the Fever’s fortunes are appealing, but it wasn’t until this week that fans saw her beaming. Fowler arrived in Western Australia in January, and her mother, daughter and brother were set to join her here after the Commonwealth Games in April. Visa issues delayed their arrival until this month, with Skype no replacement for their presence in Perth. The family are set to stay until September.
Fever, Vixens and Giants have all but booked their place in the finals, with one spot on the ladder still up for grabs. It will most likely come down to a titanic struggle between the two Queensland teams, with the Firebirds currently just one point ahead of Lightning.
Three of Lightning’s last four games are against the bottom teams in the competition, and they will be hoping to make a last minute run into the final four. In contrast the Firebirds finish with two home games against bottom teams, but in the interim have to face the Giants and the long road trip west.
The Fever have three tough matches against the other top four teams, a huge test. They do need to address an issue with increasing tunnel vision. In this game a number of Fever’s errors came about because a high ball was overly forced in to Fowler, often overlooking Medhurst when free on the cut and drive. It’s a predictable move that other teams will look to exploit.
What they said
Stacey Marinkovich, West Coast Fever coach
The changes at half time
“Ing (Colyer) got hit pretty hard in the last part of that second quarter, and we just thought with the dynamic we’d put some defensive pressure on out there. Obviously Jess has a very defensive background, and Shannon’s been doing a tremendous job at training. I knew that leadership in the backline really working and giving us that voice would give us real composure bringing it down into the attack line.
The ebbs and flows in the midcourt
“I put it down to the pressure that’s out there. Both teams have really athletic players that like to play with speed. When both teams are working really hard and putting them under pressure, it was who was prepared to work the ball for longer and then back their skills in to give the ball into the circle. I think Vezzy (Charles) did a really good job of that tonight when she was moved to wing attack. She moved the ball and was prepared to give the pass.”
Jhaniele’s family arrived this week. How’s she been?
“Jhaniele has been on cloud nine since they arrived. They’re tremendous people, and now you can see her real personality out there, how she’s settled in, the girls just love her. The kids come into training, it’s really our Fever family.”
Will the signing period be distracting in these last few rounds?
“We really focus on what we need to do on the court. Obviously it bubbles away in the background, we haven’t really put a lot of emphasis on it at this point in time.”
“The girls are really focused. We haven’t worked this hard for this long to let this opportunity slip.”
Stacey Francis, West Coast Fever
“It’s brilliant that we’re able to ride the pressure that a quality team like Lightning put out against us.”
What has changed in that ability to cope with the pressure?
“The belief is definitely there, I don’t think we had the foundations for that last year. We had the world’s longest preseason, and for teams that had a lot to do it definitely worked in our favour. We also recruited fantastically, then we put together a brilliant game plan, and brought in coaches that complemented Stacey (Marinkovich). When we go back and play our game we’re a good team, we’re yet to be unstoppable because we haven’t yet played sixty minutes of netball. But that’s exciting because we will only continue to grow.
The challenge of playing Steph Wood
“Steph is a world class goal attack. She really challenges me as her timing is impeccable as is her accuracy on the shot, but I hope that I gave her a run for her money tonight.”
Noeline Taurua, Sunshine Coast Lightning coach
On tonight’s game
“We didn’t come out with the win, but I’m pretty happy coming over here with the travel, the tussle that we had out there on court. We had a lot of heart, and definitely there’s a lot of learnings coming out of that. It’s a fantastic competition.”
Your losses have been close
“It’s only been the last couple of games that I think we’ve pushed ourselves through. Prior to that we did lose, and we lost big – quarters by five or six, sometimes 10 in the quarters. And the positive out of that is we were able to chase back. Against teams we can’t afford to do that. We’re not losing quarters in the same manner as before.”
On Kelsey Browne
“I’m really proud about what she is doing, particularly considering this is only her second year in the competition. She hadn’t much court time before she came to Lightning, and every day she is growing. She is learning a lot of things. She had a torrid time out there and they had close contact on her. She could have had a better game today, but she’s growing and improving and that’s all I can ask.”
Geva Mentor, Sunshine Coast Lightning
On tonight’s result
“I think it’s frustrating to think that we were in it, particularly with the start that we had. We will have to look at the areas where we let it slip and what we have to work on, particularly in the last quarter when we needed a turnover ball.”
The changes in the last quarter?
“It’s great that we were able to bring Madi and Erena on – just changing it up but also their height made it more difficult for the Fever attackers. We needed to get ball and those two do that well. We managed to get a few but just weren’t able to convert it, so our through-court attack was an area we need to work on.”
Playing against Jhaniele?
“She can beat you on height and arm reach, and she’s putting the goals away as well. It’s tough in there. You have to be able to turn over the ball higher up the court and I think we weren’t able to do that as much today. Defence was okay in the first quarter but slipped after that.”