The Melbourne Vixens produced a dominant second half performance to overrun cross-town rivals Collingwood Magpies in a crucial match which elevates the Vixens into the top four.
The Vixens continued their clean sweep of the all-Victorian derby, dubbed ‘The Battle,’ however the win came at a cost with an injury (suspected dislocated finger) to Emily Mannix.
It was a match in which the vast majority of play went goal for goal, particularly in the opening quarter. The two teams traded goals, with a rebound to Jo Weston and an intercept to Kim Ravaillion the only disruptions to the alternating play.
The Vixens were putting pressure on each pass, forcing the Magpies to use the high ball, and opening the door for Mannix to hunt for intercepts. This didn’t deter Mannix’s opponent in Caitlin Thwaites, who found her scoring sweet spot on the right of the post and managed to land in and score from this position on almost every entry.
Mwai Kumwenda was also utilising the overhead lob, driving up the centre of the goal circle to draw out April Brandley, and using the back space to her athletic advantage. Collingwood’s choice to start youngster Matilda Garrett in GD meant that Brandley had been switched back to GK where she could hunt for intercepts and have more opportunity to read the play than her usual goal defence bib allows.
A stepping call against Liz Watson finally broke the deadlock, and Thwaites capitalised to deliver the Magpies a two-goal lead. Thwaites was the early standout, with 15 goals at 100%, although Mannix and Brandley were also impressing early and threatening to pick up any loose balls or misdirected passes. While both teams were playing clean netball and making minimal errors, neither were doing anything dynamic to take on the game.
Brandley and Thwaites combined their efforts to bring the Magpies a five-goal margin within the opening two minutes of the second quarter. Brandley was relishing the chance to sit back and read the play, holding the front space over Kumwenda, and picking off the drop passes into the circle.
Vixens coach Simone McKinnis called a timeout, which reignited her team to pressure a held ball call against Thwaites immediately upon return. With the defenders out hunting, both teams began playing close to the sidelines, which caused errors to creep into the match. A miss by Bell allowed Weston to rebound, and put the heat back on the Magpies.
Now Collingwood were calling a timeout, which swung the momentum back to their advantage. A poor pass missed Watson, and Erin Bell rebounded her own miss to bring back the five-goal buffer. The goal for goal play had resumed, with the Magpies holding their slight scoreboard advantage.
Ravaillion, who had been visibly frustrated and beckoning her team forward, was now combining with her fellow attackers for lovely passages of play, such as a perfect bounce pass from Bell which found Thwaites on the baseline. In comparison, the Vixens’ attack was lacking.
Watson was making uncharacteristic skill errors, and often Kumwenda’s impressive ability to snatch the ball from mid-air was making the circle feeds look better than they were. Brandley was influential (4 intercepts, 4 gains) while Garrett had held Tegan Philip to just 3 second-quarter goals.
A missed pass by Watson was gobbled up by Ash Brazill, leading to a seven-goal lead which was only thwarted by a late, misdirected pass by Madi Robinson, which saw the Magpies in front by five at the main break.
The Magpies came off the back of half time full of confidence. Brazill was launching herself into every contest. Thwaites was being creative with her space, and was starting to get free of Mannix along the baseline.
All seemed promising until Collingwood threw the ball straight out of court on their own goal line. With Philip offering the low foil to Kumwenda’s athleticism, a quick burst of scoring by the Vixens brought the margin back to just one, and after a Magpies timeout, the scores were once again equalled.
The crowd were starting to show their favouritism towards the Vixens (at a Magpies ‘home’ game), with several frustrated choruses of “held” starting to spring from the stands.
In a disruptive and pressurised quarter, Mannix finally got the game-changing intercept she’d been building towards all match, but nastily dislocated her finger in the process. She was taken away from the court in agony, leaving the Vixens to throw young Jamaican defender Kadie-Ann Dehaney into the deep end and match up against the best player on court in Thwaites.
Brandley intercepted a bounce pass with four minutes on the clock, pulling the margin back to two, where it stayed until the end of the quarter, in which the Vixens had outscored the Magpies 19-12.
Collingwood brought Sharni Layton into GK to give Garrett a rest, and shifted Brandley forward to run out at GD. They also brought impact player Shae Brown in for a stint in C, despite Ravaillion having played an excellent, linking game.
An intercept to Moloney kept the good times rolling for the Vixens, and the team’s confidence was contagious. A win to Brazill was counteracted by an intercept from Dehaney. A perfect drive by Philip, straight to the post, opened up a four-goal lead.
After another period of trading goals, Watson – whose strong takes and drives were starting to break open the attack – interrupted the pattern with her own intercept. Collingwood chose to bring Ravaillion back on court, and Layton won the ball with six minutes to go, but a miss from Bell was rebounded by Dehaney.
It must have pleased McKinnis to see the young defender step on court with such confidence against the Magpies’ most prolific scorer, with Dehaney even forcing a held ball against Thwaites on the shot. Philip rewarded her efforts with a goal, clinching the seven-goal win. A final intercept to Weston closed out a final quarter that saw the Vixens score seven of the last ten goals to claim the match 65-57.
This win spurs the Vixens from sixth to fourth positionon the ladder, but the injury to Mannix soured the victory. Mannix is a crucial player for the Vixens defence, and the potential loss of two of their defenders (Mannix and Chloe Watson) in the lead up to finals is hardly ideal for a team that needs to get consistent wins on the board.
The Vixens travel to Sydney next week to face the emerging NSW Swifts, in a playoff for a spot in the top four.
The Magpies will rue another contest that slipped out of grasp late, although Thwaites’ dominant display and the improved performance of rising star Garrett are two positives to take away. In the next round, Collingwood face a tough challenge against top team West Coast Fever, where another loss may shut the door on their already slim finals hopes.
Melbourne Vixens 65 def Collingwood Magpies 57
(15-17, 28-33, 47-45, 65-57)
Player of the match: Liz Watson (Melbourne Vixens)
Crowd: 6328 at Margaret Court Arena.
Kumwenda 42/43 98%
Philip 23/24 96%
Thwaites 49/51 96%
Bell 8/16 50%
April Brandley (Magpies) 5
Liz Watson (Vixens) 3
Jo Weston (Vixens) 2
Emily Mannix (Vixens) 2
Centre pass receives
Tegan Philip (Vixens) 26
Madi Robinson (Magpies) 23
Liz Watson (Vixens) 18
Erin Bell (Magpies) 18
Ash Brazill (Magpies) 14
Matilda Garrett (Magpies) 4
Kate Moloney (Vixens) 2
April Brandley (Magpies) 6
Emily Mannix (Vixens) 4
Jo Weston (Vixens) 3
Liz Watson (Vixens) 3
Kadie-Ann Dehaney (Vixens) 2
Starting line ups
GS Caitlin Thwaites
GA Erin Bell
WA Madi Robinson
C Kim Ravaillion
WD Ash Brazill
GD Matilda Garrett
GK April Brandley
Changes: Q4 C Brown GD Brandley GK Layton, C Ravaillion
GS Mwai Kumwenda
GA Tegan Philip
WA Liz Watson
C Kate Moloney
WD Renae Ingles
GD Jo Weston
GK Emily Mannix
Changes: Q3 GK Dehaney
What they said…
Kristy Keppich-Birrell, Collingwood Magpies coach
On the difference between the first and second half of the match
“It was definitely a game of two halves. A really exciting, consistent first half, and a really disappointing, inconsistent second half. We knew they’d come out fighting at that half time break – we just again drifted from what we needed to be doing … We’re just not performing under scoreboard pressure. When there’s no scoreboard pressure we fly, so that’s something that we need to keep working on.”
On her hopes for the Magpies closing out the pointy end of the season
“You never give up hope because of the calibre of this team. You know that when they’re at their best, they’re better than anyone in the league. It’s just that that part where we’re not at our best is not good enough at the moment.”
On the decision to start Matilda Garrett instead of Sharni Layton.
“That decision was based on form during the week.”
On Matilda Garrett
“She’s pretty exciting, isn’t she? She’s an amazing young athlete. Obviously, she just tired a little bit towards the end, but her ability to get in the play, and get in the passing lane, and contest hard cleanly is a beautiful thing to watch. She’s a really exciting talent.”
On Erin Bell and Caitlin Thwaites
“Erin’s role is about making sure when the ball’s in her hand that she does have the confidence to turn and take the shot, and she did that today. It didn’t go through the hoop as often as she would have like it to, but we’ve got to have a draw to take them away from Caity (Thwaites) because when Caity’s one-on-one with anyone in the league, she’s unstoppable.”
Simone McKinnis, Melbourne Vixens coach
On the second half turnaround
“Particularly in attack, we started taking the drives and letting the ball go. In the first half, there wasn’t much movement … we weren’t proactive, we were quite stagnant, so we had a good chat about it at half time and they came out and started doing the work.”
On her message to the team at half time
“It was just about acknowledging that it wasn’t going to just happen. We’re playing against a quality side that’s fighting for their win, and we have to find more and do the work before getting the ball or getting off – all of those sorts of things. It’s not going to be easy.”
On winning against Collingwood
“It was a really tough game but I’m really happy because we were struggling in that first half … They were playing some great netball, so I’m just really happy to see our ability to be able to dig deep, adjust, change and push on in the second half.”
On handling the loss of Mannix mid-match
“I think we actually did that quite well. And Kadie (Dehaney), she just loves playing … When she’s out there, she’s going to make the most of every opportunity she gets and I thought that she did a great job, and got some rebounds, and (was) having a crack at the ball, so it was good to see her do that.”
On Emily Mannix’s injury
“All I know is a dislocation of the little finger … but it obviously hurt, because Em’s pretty tough and she wouldn’t come off.”
On recovering from the half time deficit and prospect of Collingwood taking home all eight points
“To be honest, we didn’t go in thinking about that. We went in thinking ‘alright, it’s only five goals. That’s two turnovers, it’s nothing in this game,’ and it was just acknowledging the things that we needed to do differently in the second half, and backing ourselves to get out there and have a real, red hot go at it.”
Report: Bethany Slaughter
Images: Aleisha Vicars