Heading into the mid-season break both the NSW Swifts and Adelaide Thunderbirds had specific goals in mind – the Swifts to take their fourth win and move into the top four on the ladder, and the Thunderbirds to at least win their first quarter of the season.
Adding to the spice was the 2-0 win/loss record of the hosts over Adelaide, and four athletes, including Kaitlin Bryce, Maddy Proud, Maddy Turner, and Sarah Klau, playing against their home state.
The Swifts started well, but neither side kept momentum for long. An inspirational play from Thunderbirds keeper Kate Shimmin late in the first quarter undermined the confidence of the Swifts’ shooters, and gave her team a chance to run at the lead. A standout game from opposing goal keeper Klau was a major factor, and in the end, while Adelaide did win two bonus points, a lucky Sydney advanced further into finals contention with a two-goal victory.
It was a dismal start from the visitors, as the Swifts lead 7-1 after four minutes. The Thunderbirds simply squandered possession with poorly placed passes – intercepts to Proud and Abbey McCulloch, a tip from Klau scoring possession, and an unnecessarily risky, overcooked feed from Chelsea Pitman to Shimona Nelson.
Abigail Latu-Meafou had a very strong front hold and sank three midrange shots, but it took her partner Nelson more than five minutes to even have an attempt. She was often double-teamed, and at other times moved off her hold too early.
Even without the benefit of a timeout the Thunderbirds revived their timing in attack, suddenly converting all their centre passes and gains, taking a 7-1 run themselves. They benefited from offensive penalties on Proud and Sam Wallace, and were no longer letting themselves be outmuscled by the Swifts defenders. Stifling defence from Adelaide lead to two held balls. As a result, it was the hosts called a timeout.
With the scores level at nine-all, the energy level of both teams ramped up. Some beautifully constructed transition plays from Adelaide got interrupted on the transverse line by heroic intercepts by Helen Housby, then Paige Hadley. However they weren’t converted to goal, due to Shimmin’s magnificent block of Wallace’s shot, and then Wallace’s next shot looking very hesitant and missing.
Even though the block was a single statistic on the page, the ripple-on effect in causing missed goals and rebound opportunities was noticed throughout the match. Until that point, the Swifts had been at 100%, and thereafter they shot at only 77%. At the first break the hosts lead 15-14.
The first centre pass for quarter two was fumbled by Pitman, and McCulloch followed that easy pickup with a spectacular lateral-running intercept from behind. Shimmin continued to be a concern for the normally composed Wallace missing yet again when the Thunderbirds keeper merely baulked to jump. Still, Wallace was doing a much better job maintaining a solid hold under constant pushing compared to Nelson.
The usually sound connection between Hadley and Housby was lost, both of them pegging balls over the other’s head. Now under different umpiring eyes, Fowler was getting away with a lot of holding of her opposing wing attack. With Swifts leading the quarter 5-2, coach Briony Akle again called the timeout.
Aiming to remedy and provide more than one option in attack, Hadley headed to the bench, replaced by youngster Claire O’Brien.
“We didn’t have two options to the ball. That was one of our main game plans. If you don’t have anyone to throw the ball to, that slowed our end down,” Akle later explained.
Herself with a jolt from the coach, all of a sudden Wallace began to employ her admirable game of economical movements to the post – she nailed the next three goals and made Shimmin look somewhat lost. O’Brien was doing a good job of turning and sighting her shooter early, with Shimmin much less time to adjust and beaten in the one-on-one.
The Swifts had the lead out to as much as seven, before a rally from the Thunderbirds saw them only down 22-26 with four mintutes to the half.
Both teams were contesting every ball in the midcourt – a combination of fatigue or lack of commitment to the drive, or passes with inadequate pep or placement in front, saw players like Pitman and O’Brien not sprint hard enough and their opponent pick up tips and intercepts.
Thunderbirds biggest issue though was feeding from too far off the circle, giving Klau three intercepts for the quarter. The Swifts took a 31-25 advantage at the main break.
Echoing the half-time change made by coach Briony Akle in the previous round, Kate Eddy joined the game and McCulloch went to the bench, while Adelaide brought Sasha Glasgow on at goal attack at the expense of Latu-Meafou. The small changes helped the Thunderbirds proceed to taking their first win in a quarter for 2018.
Klau continued her dominance, once again getting the ball from the lobbed feed to Nelson. Klau and Turner’s footwork was outstanding the whole match, always creating doubt as to the placement and timing of the feed. Meanwhile the Swifts frontline was finding it easier to get an attempt within four or five passes, from either a centre pass or a defence stop.
A very borderline short pass from Glasgow at circle edge wasn’t given by the umpire, and in the next moment the Adelaide goaler missed her shot. The score flow became much more even, despite the at-times messy play from Adelaide.
Lead by the confident and strong England international Pitman, through the middle of the third quarter the Thunderbirds finally saw a series of open passes given to their tall timber shooter. They edged closer to trail by just two goals.
It was time to freshen the legs in the middle for the Swifts, Akle bringing Proud off and putting Hadley in centre. Unfortunately the visitors’ momentum was interrupted when captain de Bruin was sent off to attend to blood from a hit to the mouth, required the move of Hannah Petty on to wing defence and Fiona Fowler back into the circle. de Bruin had been very effective, keeping Housby to just 1/2 in those first ten minutes.
Bryce continued to take too many risks with her feeds, granted under swarming pressure from the hosts – she topped her team for both turnovers (six) and intercepted passes thrown (five) in the match. Even with Glasgow directly in front of her, she chose Nelson at the back and they lost the ball again.
Soon after, Glasgow joined added to her own error statistic, passing to Nelson while she was still performing a preliminary move. The new goaler only shot 1/4 for the period, but with the eleven turnovers from NSW, equalling their tally from the whole first half, there was a huge drop off in scoring from the hosts.
The Thunderbirds won the quarter 12-9, taking their first bonus point of the season, and with fifteen minutes remaining, the score was 40-37 to the Swifts.
Needing more access to goal, the Swifts frontline was changed to Housby at shooter, Sophie Garbin, Hadley, and Proud, seeing Wallace and O’Brien go off. McCulloch also resumed her spot and Eddy was rested. De Bruin resumed her spot in the starting backline. Garbin brought along her usual excellent hold, often staying in the circle for the one-on-one feed, with Housby roaming.
Now only down by two, Pitman was incensed when she cleanly took a loose ball and was clearly dispossessed by McCulloch, and yet the Adelaide wing attack was called for contact. Fortunately, some justice was done when Shimmin intercepted the ball moments later.
There was global confusion when de Bruin attempted to call a tactical timeout as Fowler was about to take a penalty pass. It appeared to the umpire that she was calling for injury, but then play had to resume, because tactical timeouts may only be used immediately after a goal.
Indeed the Thunderbirds captain was ailing and needed to go off, but it was a very good breather for her squad. The alternative defensive lineup of Shimmin at the back, Fowler, Petty was now on, the scores 46-44 favouring the Swifts. The importance of every ball was etched on Fowler’s face when a ball she thought she deflected was deemed a contact, allowing a two-on-one in the circle.
Somehow though the mere thought of Shimmin’s intimidating jump caused Housby to miss twice, and finally Adelaide were able to level the scores 48-all.
Both sides had enough chances in the last 90 seconds. In the end it was stellar intercepts from experienced Swifts Hadley and McCulloch, and three accurate shots from their goalers amidst massive pressure and noise that got the home side over the line 51-49.
NSW Swifts 51 def Adelaide Thunderbirds 49
(15-14, 31-25, 40-37, 51-49)
Player of the Match: Sarah Klau (Swifts)
Wallace 30/35 86%
Housby 15/21 71%
Garbin 6/8 75%
Nelson 34/40 85%
Latu-Meafou 11/13 85%
Glasgow 4/8 50%
Paige Hadley – 10 goal assists, 2 intercepts, 5 pickups, 6 turnovers
Maddy Proud – 17 goal assists, 5 deflections, 3 pickups, 8 penalties, 4 turnovers
Maddy Turner – 2 deflections, 2 rebounds, 16 penalties, 1 turnover
Sarah Klau – 4 intercepts, 7 deflections, 1 pickup, 2 rebounds, 21 penalties
Shimona Nelson – 6 rebounds, 6 penalties, 7 turnovers
Chelsea Pitman – 16 goal assists, 3 deflections, 2 pickups, 6 penalties, 6 turnovers
Kaitlin Bryce – 11 goal assists, 2 deflections, 4 pickups, 5 penalties, 7 turnovers
Kate Shimmin – 3 intercepts, 6 deflections, 1 rebound, 17 penalties
GS Sam Wallace
GA Helen Housby
WA Paige Hadley
C Maddy Proud
WD Abbey McCulloch
GD Maddy Turner
GK Sarah Klau
GS Shimona Nelson
GA Abigail Latu-Meafou
WA Chelsea Pitman
C Kaitlyn Bryce
WD Fiona Fowler
GD Leana de Bruin
GK Kate Shimmin
Umpires: Tara Warner, Andrea Booth
What they said
Briony Akle, NSW Swifts coach
On her overall impression of the match
“Obviously disappointed with how we played, so you only play as good as your opposition. I think they brought it to us. So we needed to be better, and obviously we won it, but the break has come at a very good time for us. We looked exhausted to be honest. Someone like Helen hasn’t had a break since Comm. Games, I thought she looked exhausted. They need a break. We were very lucky to get away with that.”
“They’ll go away for five days, do nothing, think nothing about netball, and just relax – as will the coach!”
On the inaccuracies in passing by the Swifts
“Yeah, just a little bit! It looked like we don’t do a lot of work on passing at training, but we actually do spend a lot of time on it. This was a big game with a lot of pressure on it, in a different way to last week. They knew that Thunderbirds hadn’t won a point, and everyone’s talking about it. That’s where the young comes in. If we had a few more older heads that they can just play their game, everything would be okay. I think the pressure got to them. They knew they wanted to walk away with four points, and they made it hard for us.”
“We spoke pre-game that we were going to play to our speed. Under pressure it’s a different story out there. We didn’t have two options to the ball – that was one of our main game plans. If you don’t have anyone to throw the ball to, that slowed our end down. But we played to their speed. Lots to work on….”
On what she was happy with from her team
“We had patches of defence that were great, I thought Sarah Klau did a good job of it. We turned ball over – Abbey McCulloch in those dying seconds again getting those turnovers. That’s obviously a thing that I’m really happy with, that’s consistent. Even our defence through the midcourt, we’re still there, we’re still trying to challenge.”
On whether she made the right substitutions during the game
“I think you think it’s right at the time. We had to give these guys something more to think about other than throwing a lob into the circle. We needed a bit more of a moving circle. I’ll reflect, and probably comment on that later.”
On the preparation for a showdown with the reigning premiers
“Abbey’s comments at the end in the huddle were that our focus now turns directly to (Sunshine Coast) Lightning, even though we know we’ve got the time off, we’ve got loads of work to do. The shift won’t be in the intensity of what we’re doing, that’ll definitely stay there. These guys have got a goal that they want to win more games and be in those finals at the end of the year.”
On the hesitancy that was seen in the shooters after Shimmin blocked Wallace’s shot
“Absolutely. Kate’s obviously known for her vertical jump, and she’s intimidating, and we spoke about that. Shooters have got a very hard job out there, I wouldn’t like to do it. They still kept putting the shots up, so full credit to them.”
Maddy Turner, NSW Swifts
On her overall feelings about the match
“Look, it wasn’t our best output. We’re happy to take home any points after the way we played today. It just wasn’t the Swifts way out there. I think we just got out of rhythm. We sorta stopped trusting each other and backing each other, and we started playing with a bit of fear. We let that creep into our game… but, we managed to get the win, so we’ll take it!”
On how Klau got up to a lot of difficult high balls, and the defence end muscle up well this season
“Her footwork is unreal, and she’s got to practise against some tough competition at training like Sam Wallace, and Sophie, so I think that’s definitely helping her put that out on court.”
“I think Briony’s sort changed the way we play a bit, to be a bit more one-on-one, tighten up a bit, and keep the shooters out. Always one-on-one with Sarah to get those awesome intercepts which is what she did today to keep us in the game.”
On how important the break is at this point of the season
“Yeah, the break’ll be good, it’ll give us the time to kinda go back to our families and have a bit of “me time”, but then when we come back here it’s going to be so exciting to be back together, and I think we’ll build on from there.”
On how the team responded in the tense and loud last minutes
“I think the crowd definitely helped life everyone, in those final moments, they’d have been like an eighth player on court. I think in those last minutes I knew we could get the job done, and we had it in us to get the points.”
Kate Shimmin, Adelaide Thunderbirds
On whether there were positives to take out of the performance in this match
“Yeah, (I’m) really optimistic. It was a very very slow start to the season, but with a new team that’s always gonna happen. I’m really excited to see us come together as a team, and we’re getting there. I’m so excited for the second half of the season. It’s a totally new and progressive Thunderbirds outfit.”
On what it felt like to watch the Swifts defence disrupting the Thunderbirds flow
“In terms of the flow in attack, it’s just that we need to stick to game plan, and because we are an inexperienced team we’re going to have lapses in concentration. It’s about being patient and getting around each other, and being on that reset (transverse) line every single time, because if you’re not there for your teammates, they’re gonna be in trouble.”
On the blocked shot in the first quarter
“That was my first block of the season, that’s usually my little go-to. So it was really nice to finally get one, hopefully many more for the rest of the season.”
On playing against Sophie Garbin for the first time
“I have never played against Sophie Garbin, but I was extremely impressed with her – her stretch, and the way she can come on in a high pressure situation, good on her! She’s a young player, but an exciting player to watch.”
On what is planned for the squad during the break
“A lot of the girls are going to be going away, back to their families, just to spend some quality down-time, just to get ready for the other half of the season. I myself and going to be hanging around at home, just with my little chocolate labrador, so I’m really excited, but I’m gonna miss the girls.”
Report: Andrew Kennedy
Cover image: May Bailey