In a rematch of the recent Taini Jamison trophy outing, the Jamaicans confidently explored all their combinations and dominated the world number twelve Fiji, with a particularly slick 21-goal margin in the second quarter. Coach Vicki Wilson was in contrast forced to keep her team safe and fresh and not too despondent in the face of one of the competition favourites. Unfortunately, while they kept a brave face and learned a bit about top-flight netball pressure, they lost one of their junior players for the rest of the tournament, and wound up losing 88-30.
Preliminary Round, Day 1, Pool A, Gold Coast Commonwealth Games
GS Jhaniele Fowler-Reid
GA Shanice Beckford
WA Nicole Dixon
C Paula Thompson
WD Vangelee Williams
GD Stacian Facey
GK Shamera Sterling
GS Unouna Rusivakula
GA Maliana Rusivakula
WA Nina Cirikisuva
C Alanieta Waqainabete
WD Lusiani Rokoura
GD Alisi Naqiri
GK Episake Kahatoka
The very first netball fixture of the Commonwealth Games was an opportunity to make improvements since their last bout in March, where the world number four triumphed by 45 goals. From the first whistle the Fiji attackers were under immense pressure, and made errors in pass selection and placement, leading to 16 turnovers in the first half. The ball frequently was more than a little off the mark, and the errors were spread across the whole front line but particularly from the hands of wing attack Cirikisuva.
While any close feeds to Jamaica’s 1.96m shooter Fowler-Reid were unstoppable, the Fiji tactic had to be to interrupt the ball before circle edge. Tough goal keeper Kahatoka acted on the brief to target any balls to lofted to midcourters heading for the backspace. She was often assisted on a double-team by Naqiri, but Beckford, so adept at the front cut, would get perfect baseline shooting position for herself, or draw one of the defenders away for an easy feed. It was 10-5 to Jamaica halfway through the first quarter.
The crowd was equally behind both teams, roaring with approval for slick and flashy play, which they got in swathes from Shamera Sterling. She immediately began progress towards her seven intercepts and further gains for the match, with a tip on seemingly every passage forward, including two early deflected shots off Unouna Russiakula. At wing defence Vangelee Williams was making life very hard for Cirikisuva, giving her absolutely no space, forcing her into breaking errors and precarious dancing on the circle edge, while snatching away difficult intercepts right on the sideline.
After a short lull in scoring, Jamaica reasserted their dominance, with a sequence of easy lead-ups and feeds to Fowler-Reid, who in her usual fashion finished the first half with only three misses at 93%. Quarter time score was 22-9 to the Sunshine Girls.
In the second quarter an early response was seen from the Fiji Pearls, especially Cirikisuva showing a touch more decisiveness in clearing then driving to circle edge. After a few minutes the sprayed balls returned, and both Fijian shooters were caught behind the defence and invisible to the feeders.
In a telling statistic, the Jamaicans increased their time in possession from 53% to 63% in the second quarter. Despite the easy flow, they were employing some bad habits, such as relying too much on multiple passes down the sidelines, or taking and passing completely on the run. In this match they had justifiable confidence that the elusive Dixon or towering Fowler-Reid would be available, but not against the tougher opponents next week. After 9 mins of the second quarter, they lead 39-13.
With four minutes to go, Cirikisuva went off exhausted and injured with a knock to the head, replaced by Waqainabete. This created a different attacking rhythm, with very wide spacing, and some nice sharp shoulder passes into small windows where shooters appeared.
Throughout the first half, the tracking of Facey and the footwork around the body to take front position of Sterling were spectacular to watch. Sterling had five deflections and three intercepts for the first half, leading her side to be up 49-15 at the main break.
Predictably for the third quarter both coaches trialled new combinations. Jamaica now used Aiken at shooter, with many of the younger players – Robinson at goal attack, Khadijah Williams, Thomas, Ward, Vangelee Williams, and Facey. Fiji were Waqa, Unouna Rusivakula, Waqainabete, Galo, Rokoura, Waqanidrola, and Kahatoka.
The Jamaican juggernaut slowed after the phenomenal second quarter, with the lesser experience and different styles of the new centre-court lineup. Facey at goal keeper tended to target the body, with Fiji shooters trying unsuccessfully to burrow under or get around, while her new defence partner Williams shadowed almost every move and flew through for touches and clean possessions.
Robinson was being used a little less in the buildup to goal compared to the skills and pace of Beckford in the first half. With Aiken’s less solid stature, access to the goal shooter saw lot more repositioning on the hold, and spectacular leaps to seemingly impossibly high passes.
With the attack line facing more congested space making by the Fijians, the scoring rate was the lowest so far in the match, Jamaica taking a 69-22 lead with 15 minutes remaining.
The final quarter started with yet more changes – Dixon returning at centre for Jamaica, Thomas wing defence, Ward goal defence, and Vangelee Williams on the bench; and Paul at goal attack for Fiji, Sawana at wing defence, and Naqiri back on, this time to goal keeper. It was a struggle for both teams, as grinding defensive pressure blocked any clean possession. Attackers got steadily more frustrated by niggly physical attention, such that both sides were awarded multiple defensive throw-ins, and had to scramble to bring the ball across their transverse lines.
After seven minutes tragedy struck the young Fijian goal attack Alesi Paul, as she caught a routine pass and landed, crumpling in agony with what appeared to be a serious knee injury. With the scoreline 76-25, she received a huge ovation but a somber mood hit the stadium.
Meanwhile, Stacian Facey took a seat on the bench for the first time, and Sterling returned at goal keeper, immediately pulling in two excellent intercepts. Dixon was playing well in centre, driving off Khadijah Williams on the double play and occupying the centre channel.
Aiming to have their best quarter, Fiji took advantage of the relatively junior Jamaican defence, and strung together two consecutive straight-line passages to the post, to the delight of the crowd. Jamaica was less organised overall, and actually committed 18 turnovers to Fiji’s 9 in the second half. The final act was Romelda Aiken comically missing two easy goals on the buzzer, leaving the final score at 88-30.
Jamaica 88 def Fiji 30
Fowler-Reid 40/43 93%
Beckford 9/11 82%
Aiken 24/32 75%
Robinson 15/16 94%
U Rusivakula 3/5 60%
M Rusivakula 17/21 81%
Waqa 6/10 60%
Paul 3/5 60%
Waqainabete 1/1 100%
Shamera Sterling, Jamaica
“Every team here is looking at Jamaica now – we’ve come, we’re going to come hard, and hopefully we’ll come with a victory.”
“Sasher-Gay Henry is a coach that we really respect. She socialises with the players, and she teaches us a lot. She tells me mostly to keep moving my feet more, around the body.”
“It’s a pleasure to watch Jhaniele play, but we know she can do better! She can score 100%!”
Vicki Wilson, Fiji coach
“The only way to battle Fowler-Reid is to find a player that stands 196cm, it’s as simple as that! You don’t have to be a rocket scientist!”
“Jamaica showed tremendous control and great decision making. For us it was always going to be a challenge, but I was pleased that we battled on. At one stage we ran six of the under-21 players at once. It’s a huge learning curve for them.”
“I wish it was as simple as learning over a couple of days. It comes down to fatigue, and when you’re chasing, trying to find space, and you feel suffocated by that high-quality team, that’s when you have errors in passing. There’s not an overnight fix. We’re currently ranked twelfth in the world, and Jamaica are playing very very well – they’ve knocked off the Silver Ferns, and they’ve got some experienced campaigners. So, it’s about us gradually learning, and recognising which games that we’re in with a chance.”
“Alesi Paul’s injury isn’t that flash. I don’t think she’ll be back on court. Also, Nina Cirikisuva copped a bit of a knock to the head in that second quarter, so we’ve done the concussion test and that was okay, but she’s got an injury to the soft tissue of her neck as well. It’s just through our own inability to keep up with the pace – it was tough going.”