There’s nothing like an emotional interstate rivalry to shake-up a game.
But when you add in the high stakes of securing a top-four position, receiving the glory of the Sargeant-McKinnis Cup and honouring injured comrades, that’s when the battle becomes personal.
Round nine at the Quay Centre was no exception, as fans either rejoiced with the triumphant Melbourne Vixens, who sit comfortably in fourth on the ladder, or shared the NSW Swifts growing apprehension for the danger-zone, after their 7-goal loss leaves them trailing behind on the ladder.
Both teams experienced vital losses, with Swifts duo Claire O’Brien and Sophie Garbin out after suffering from a ruptured Achilles tendon and foot troubles respectively. Brought in as replacement players were Kelly Singleton and Tayla Fraser from the Australian National League team NSW Waratahs.
Vixens also lost their star goal keeper Emily Mannix following a dislocated finger in last week’s match against the Magpies. But with every door closed a window opens, and goal keeper Kadie-Ann Dehaney passionately seized this opportunity to make her mark on the Vixens endeavours.
In a stellar performance, Dehaney truly defied gravity against the 193cm Swifts shooting powerhouse Sam Wallace.
Initially, the Swifts executed several long balls into Wallace, whose astonishing splits established optimal position under the ring. However, their strategy was quickly shut-down by an arduous Dehaney, who proceeded to steal six intercepts and deflections in the first half alone.
It was this early conflict, along with wing defence Renae Ingles’ bold intercept along the Swifts goal ring, which created cracks in the Swifts game play and saw the beginning of their defeat.
The early domination caused some tentativeness in the Swifts delivery, with their resulting inaccurate passes allowing Vixens to convert three consecutive goals into a 7-goal lead.
Despite a Swifts time-out occurring after six minutes, it wasn’t until another three minutes later that they broke the Vixens trance and transformed their hesitancy into tenacity.
Altering the group dynamic was goal keeper Sarah Klau, whose ball captures from two inaccurate Vixen throws were urgently directed to Wallace and goal attack Helen Housby.
Within a few minutes, these critical gains were rewarded with two sets of three-goal blitzes that minimised the lead to 3-goals. Although, their comeback was short-lived, with a Vixens time-out allowing them to re-engage with their defensive unit.
A last-minute intercept from formidable goal defence Jo Weston was pertinent in allowing the Vixens to salvage their first bonus point. Entering her 50th national game, Weston celebrated the milestone with two intercepts, two deflections and an uncompromising influence over Housby, who was quite tame and denied of sought-out space.
The Swifts inability to consistently maintain their competitive edge, especially in the final minutes of a quarter, was a trend which characterised most of the game.
Spurts of smooth, determined play from the Swifts in the second term lead to crucial turnovers from overthrown passes and intercepts. To strengthen their position, Kate Eddy was swapped into wing defence halfway through to try dampen Vixens wing attack Liz Watson’s spirits.
However, their one-goal second term lead was eventually overcome by the Vixens clinical outfit in the final three minutes.
A huge asset to this display was Liz Watson, who provided a record-breaking 40 goal assists, which were often very calculated and purposely dragged out to support Kumwenda’s sly drops into the goal ring space at the last millisecond.
Complimented by the unstoppable drive of goal attack Tegan Philip, who manoeuvred across the goal third with ease to flawlessly shoot from any position, they were a dangerous attacking machine which refused to be sabotaged by the Swifts.
Consequentially, the Vixens expertly scored five-consecutive goals to boast a second bonus point and establish a promising 37-29 lead at half-time lead.
All four shooters maintained an impeccable shooting average, with only two goals escaping their clutches in the first half.
Therefore, the scoreboard difference primarily came down to the Vixens precise ball movement and greater capitalisation of turnovers.
And potentially the biggest nuisance for the Swifts attacking force was the Vixens suffocating defensive pressure. Their collective effort and overbearing hunger for the ball often victimised the Swifts, as Vixens secured 20 gains (over double the Swifts efforts), 10 of which were intercepts retrieved by six out of seven players.
Whilst the Swifts attempted to match this vigour, their mere conversion of 20% of deflections, as opposed to Vixen’s impressive 56% success rate, highlighted their inability to take the final leap and draw in those turnovers.
But while the Vixens conducted a deafening first half, the Swifts were quick to silence their victories in the third and fourth term (amply aided by their extremely vocal home crowd).
At first, the lethal Vixens trio of Dehaney, Watson and Ingles continued to congest the space and pressure Swifts shooters into losing the ball from attempting to off-load when it could have been shot.
Except the mistakes were no longer one-sided, with the more empowered Swifts causing slight falters with the Vixens, who mainly surrendered ball possession in their goal third to missed goals or clumsy errors.
Klau’s tough combat against Kumwenda proved particularly troublesome, as she was caught out on her footwork and ball fumbles. But her ruthless denial of four goal opportunities was most impactful, and reflective of the Swifts successful reduction of Vixens shooting chances, which didn’t exceed that of the Swifts.
In the offensive line-up, Swifts had finally found the formula which provided a thriving momentum.
Unlike previous rounds, the only Swift player changes (besides Eddy) involved the exchange of centre and wing attack between Maddy Proud and Paige Hadley. With the Swifts averaging on 7.9 changes per game, their loss of two offensive players presented the challenge of their starting line-up maintaining a full 60 minutes.
But Proud’s aggressive drive and ball contests against Vixens centre Kate Moloney saw her flourish in centre, while Paige Hadley successfully intervened in the Vixens flow twice.
They also shared a combined effort of 35 goal assists, many of which were carefully directed lobs into Wallace, whose aerial performance prospered in the final terms.
Though the excruciatingly close second-half battle occasionally left Swifts doubtful of the bonus points, Akle perfectly utilised time-outs to motivate the girls with final bursts of energy and control the lead.
In the third term, this included a far-range goal from Housby after the whistle, which levelled the score 15-all and denied Vixens another bonus point.
And to finish on a high, the Swifts fought for redemption from the Vixens overall 13-goal advantage and claimed their only bonus point after winning the fourth term 14-13.
Whilst the Swifts can be commended for their valiant second-half contest, the Vixens irreparable first-half damage meant they were left playing a catch-up game they simply couldn’t win.
In the home-stretch before finals, Swifts will desperately be seeking maximum points against the Giants next week. The Vixens to Queensland to face the Firebirds.
Melbourne Vixens 65 defeated NSW Swifts 58
(20-16, 13-17, 15-15, 14-13)
Player of the Match: Liz Watson (Melbourne Vixens)
Kumwenda 37/39 95%
Philip 28/30 93%
Wallace 48/50 96%
Housby 10/11 91%
Kadie-Ann Dehaney (Vixens) 3
Sarah Klau (Swifts) 3
Liz Watson (Vixens) 40
Maddy Proud (Swifts) 19
Kate Moloney (Vixens) 17
Paige Hadley (Swifts) 16
Liz Watson (Vixens) 6
Helen Housby (Swifts) 4
Tegan Philip (Vixens) 4
Kadie-Ann Dehaney (Vixens) 6
Maddy Turner (Swifts) 6
Jo Weston (Vixens) 5
Sarah Klau (Swifts) 5
GS Mwai Kumwenda
GA Tegan Philip
WA Liz Watson
C Kate Moloney
WD Renae Ingles
GD Jo Weston
GK Kadie-Ann Dehaney
GS Sam Wallace
GA Helen Housby
WA Paige Hadley
C Maddy Proud
WD Abbey McCulloch
GD Maddy Turner
GK Sarah Klau
Changes: Q2 WA Proud, C Hadley, Q3 WA Hadley, C Proud
Report: Georgia Musolino
Photos: May Bailey