Queensland Firebirds captain Gabi Simpson has issued a warning to all the other teams in the Suncorp Super Netball competition.
After the Firebirds’ one-goal loss to the Melbourne Vixens, Simpson said that the loss would not break the team, “If anything, it will put more fire in the belly and watch out next week.”
The statement comes after the Firebirds fought back from a seven-goal deficit, in the third quarter to finally take the lead in the final quarter. They looked to be building momentum, taking out a three-goal buffer, when a fumble from Mahalia Cassidy saw the Vixens earn a turnover and go on another mini-run of their own.
In the blink of an eye the Firebirds saw themselves in another fight to the finish where they were pipped by one with a mere three seconds to go. The second time this has happened in as many weeks.
It was always going to be a hard-fought battle as both teams play a similar style of game: fast and in the air to their shooters. Any shot which was missed, or turnover earned, was punishing for the offending side.
Fans were on the edge of their seats as the first quarter went unbroken for nine minutes. Tegan Philip and Mwai Kumwenda were showing why they are one of the most formidable shooting combinations in the league, both netting 29 goals in the game.
Both goalers were happy to come out of the circle and play feeder to the other. But it was their movement in the circle which had the Firebirds struggling to get hands over. On many occasions throughout the first, Kumwenda was easily able to block Tara Hinchliffe from getting in front of Philip, which allowed the Vixens goal attack to put up shots uncontested.
Of course, this movement backfired on the odd occasion when Philip missed. One such fault saw Hinchliffe get the rebound then quickly set the Firebirds into transition, which resulted in Gretel Tippett scoring as she fell out of court.
The Firebirds transition play was much tidier this week. They opted to play a shorter, sharper style. But it was the Vixens who had the more clinical game, with fewer turnovers and more gains than the Firebirds.
Caitlyn Nevins’ feeds into Tippett were slightly different this week. Realising that Jo Weston would be onto the higher feeds, Nevins opted to bounce pass into Tippett several times throughout the game. Romelda Aiken even took the opportunity to practice her bounce passes, across the circle to Nevins.
Gabi Simpson had a quiet first term, thanks in large part to Liz Watson’s fleet-footed changes of direction. The wing attack finished the game with the highest number of feeds and goal assists of all players on the court. Her second phase attack, including front cuts in front of Simpson, saw her ability to get to circle edge and feed without interference.
Watson also utilised ball movement to draw the attention of the circle defenders. This allowed her to put the ball high into Kumwenda who had safe hands for the first half of the game – and only gave the ball away twice in the second.
The Firebirds took a three-goal lead in the first quarter, off the back of some uncharacteristic Vixens’ errors. However, they let them back in, thanks in large part to equally silly errors. With less than 15 seconds on the clock, the Vixens were hoping to take a one-goal lead into the first quarter.
With the ball in hand, Philip was set to put up a shot from mid-range. However, two baulks from Laura Geitz saw Philip hesitate then rush the shot, sending it way over the post where Kumwenda was unable to retrieve it.
This quarter-time victory caused the Firebirds to increase their centre court pressure at the start of the second term. Simpson came out better able to match Watson for speed. Nevins also increased her arms over pressure through the centre.
But the Firebirds still had no answer for Philips’ strong drives into the circle. After 10 minutes of grinding to catch-up with Philip, Firebirds coach Roselee Jencke opted to inject Kim Jenner into the game, at the expense of Hinchliffe.
The move sparked a surge in energy from the Firebirds. Their intensity lifted, and all players got arms over. The pressure put on in the Vixens in their offensive third, saw Simpson take her first side-line intercept for the game.
Unfortunately for the Firebirds, once the ball entered their circle, they were unable to hold it. Weston adapted to the bounce passes between Nevins and Tippett and got her hands around to deflect one to her captain, Kate Moloney.
It turned in to a comedy of errors though. The Vixens worked the ball down, but a wayward pass from Weston to Moloney saw the ball re-enter Firebirds’ hands. The passage of messy play eventually ending thanks to a goal from Aiken.
Three minutes out from half-time, Jenner forced Watson’s only bad pass for the term. From circle edge, Watson released the ball to where she thought Philip would be. However, Jenner blocked access for Philip which resulted in a gain for the Firebirds.
It wasn’t enough for the home side to take a quarter win but did allow them to stay within two going into the half-time break.
The third term started disastrously for the Firebirds with a held ball. The error was forced thanks to the Vixens blocking all options and vision for the Firebirds in attack.
A miss from Aiken followed by stifling circle defence from Kadie-Ann Dehaney and Weston gave the Vixens their largest lead of the game in seven goals.
As Nevins began to lift her work rate, so did Renae Ingles. The defender wasn’t showing much by way stats for her time on the court, but during the third term, she began to put more pressure on Nevins’ passes. The wing attack was forced to rush several of her passes into Aiken and Tippett.
The added pressure wasn’t enough to force Nevins to shut down as she took an intercept up near the Vixen’s transverse line. The gain sparked the Firebirds fight-back who then went on a six-goal shooting spree and brought their deficit back to within one.
Momentum flowed both ways in the final term. It became a defensive game with both teams blocking access to their opposition’s offensive ends.
Sparks came by way of the teams’ ‘big play’ winners in Kate Moloney and Liz Watson for the Vixens and Laura Geitz for the Firebirds.
Moloney and Watson used their impressive closing speed to get to any loss ball and get valuable pick-ups for their teams.
Geitz who was having a quiet game on Kumwenda began to use all her knowledge to stop the shooters. Using blocks from behind and smart positioning, she was able to disrupt the shots and get rebounds to keep her side in touch.
But the most impressive gain came when her side was one goal down. Kumwenda was out of the circle and trying, in earnest, to get the ball to Philip. But Geitz read the pass and snaffled it. The work was rewarded by Tippett who, at that point was sitting on 100%.
After the game, Geitz said that her team lost composure and froze under the pressure which the Vixens applied. This inability to close allowed the Vixens to re-enter the competition with less than three minutes to go, and eventually seal the win.
The loss sees the Firebirds hanging on to the fourth spot on the ladder by their teeth. A win over the Giants next week, should sure up their spot in the run to finals.
The Vixens look to host Adelaide Thunderbirds who come off their best performance of the year and will be looking to maintain that momentum.
Melbourne Vixens 58 def Queensland Firebirds 57
(16-16, 32-30, 44-43, 58-57)
Player of the Match: Laura Geitz (Firebirds)
Crowd: 4,251 at Gold Coast Sports and Leisure Centre
Aiken 38/47 81%
Tippett 19/20 95%
Kumwenda 29/32 91%
Philip 29/35 83%
Liz Watson (Vixens) 38
Kate Moloney (Vixens) 30
Gretel Tippett (Firebirds) 27
Liz Watson (Vixens) 30
Gretel Tippett (Firebirds) 17
Kate Moloney (Vixens) 13
Kadie-Ann Dehaney (Vixens) 40
Jo Weston (Vixens) 16
Laura Geitz (Firebirds) 15
Kadie-Ann Dehaney (Vixens) 7
Kim Jenner (Firebirds) 5
Jo Weston (Vixens) 5
Liz Watson (Vixens) 3
GS Romelda Aiken
GA Gretel Tippett
WA Caitlyn Nevins
C Mahalia Cassidy
WD Gabi Simpson
GD Tara Hinchliffe
GK Laura Geitz
Changes: Q2 GD Kim Jenner, Q4 GD Tara Hinchliffe then Kim Jenner
GS Mwai Kumwenda
GA Tegan Philip
WA Liz Watson
C Kate Moloney
WD Renae Ingles
GD Jo Weston
GK Kadie-Ann Dehaney
What they said
Renae Ingles, Melbourne Vixens
Vixens sort of let them back in at the end, but you showed a lot of character to stay in the hunt and finish them off
“Yeah, we knew with the Firebirds, regardless of what the score line was that they have such scoring power and really fast scoring power. So, for us, it was about the full 60-minute contest, and it certainly was that. It came down to those last few seconds of the game. But that is what you come here for: games like that. I am really proud of all of the girls for getting us over the line.”
That was your fifth win a row, do you feel like the Vixens have momentum now?
“For us, it is nice hearing fifth win in a row but, I know it is cliché, but it really is just one win at a time, one win at a time. So now we will recover, look at this game, celebrate a bit and then look to next week.
“But coming up here to the Gold Coast and taking on the Firebirds, we knew it was going to be tough in front of their home crowd. But we are really pleased to go home with five points today.”
What was the message delivered to the girls to entice you to bring back the scoreline in the end there?
“We just kept saying ‘we need one ball’. And obviously, one of our biggest focuses is scoring off our centre pass and then any gained ball you get against a team like the Firebirds you just have to treasure it. So, it came down to that and across the rest of the 60 minutes.”
You seemed to inject yourself more in that third quarter, what was going on in your head to bring you into it?
“It is a really hard game against teams with a really tall shooter back there. Sometimes, as centre courters, you feel like you aren’t doing much. But it really is whatever Kate (Moloney) and I can do out the front to make it easier for our defenders behind us. So, just going in with that mindset to just keep chipping away and chipping away and then treasuring any ball we can get out hands on.”
You’ve got Thunderbirds next week, what is that going to be like for you?
“Yeah. It will be really exciting to take on Adelaide again. I haven’t played on them in a very, very long time. But like I said we will celebrate this and then just look to take them on.”
Gabi Simpson, Queensland Firebirds
Two games, with last-second losses, in a row, it must be heartbreaking
“Yep. It really is. We deserved to take the win then. Everything about that fight there, everything about the purple heart that we put out, the fearless play when we were down by seven at one stage. We really deserved it. And it is just such a shame that a little error at the end saw us come undone.”
It is something you can build on though. You have a month to go, and you pretty much have to win all of the games from here, is that something which will drive the Firebirds?
“I think there are so many positives to take from this game, other than the result. We can definitely work on the energy we brought to the start of the game. But to see that when we needed to, we could take it up another notch is something so special about this team and that has the potential to be a championship winner for this team.”
What was the cause of the switch-up between Tara and Kim?
“Kim has been providing amazing options at training. As you saw tonight, and which we see every day at training, is her first ball contest and her ability to grind down a player is really second to none. So, I am really proud of the way she entered the court, and she really ignited the team. That lift in energy I think came, one, from her, and two from the drive that Gretel provided in that second half.”