The Melbourne Vixens held their own to take a closely fought 63-61 win over the NSW Swifts.
An injury to defender Jo Weston in the first quarter saw the Vixens struggle to find their usual rhythm against a slick Swifts outfit, with the Vixens only clinching victory in the last few minutes. Momentum swung throughout, with accurate shooting from both sides the only constant.
The ball into Mwai Kumwenda was slow to come at first. The Vixens midcourters were guilty of forcing the high ball in off their first centre pass and lost it with Maddy Turner and Sarah Klau doubling back on her.
Kumwenda found her feet midway through the first quarter and began dodging behind and around Klau. As always, her elevation saw her able to get the ball against taller opposition. Tegan Philip was also working well around the circle to draw the defenders away from Kumwenda and opening space for her to run into.
The Swifts were also finding the passage into the circle onerous with miscommunications coming thick and fast. Although Wallace was holding her own against some tight defensive work from Emily Mannix, misplaced feeds were bouncing out over the baseline.
On the rare occasions where Klau and Turner won turnovers, they were being lost in transition play in the midcourt. The Swifts called a tactical timeout after the Vixens went ahead by three goals midway through the term.
The Swifts came out of the break with some particularly impressive passages of play from Wallace and Housby. The ball was still being lost over the baseline and the feeders were struggling to place it accurately into Wallace. When there was loose ball, it wasn’t being chased down by the Swifts midcourt.
Jo Weston was forced to come off three minutes before the first break after falling awkwardly on her ankle. Kadie-Ann Dehaney came on at goal keep and Mannix moved into goal defence. Dehaney struggled on the hold of Wallace, but was able to get hand to some ball, with the Swifts feeders failing to adjust their placement into Wallace for Dehaney’s 192cm height.
The second quarter saw the Swifts step it up a notch while the Vixens struggled with their new line up. The second phase off the centre pass was messy for the Vixens who were having to play the ball around a lot before eventually finding a passage into the circle.
The Swifts midcourt stepped up their defence with Abbey McCulloch shutting down Liz Watson’s drive to the circle edge. The Vixens managed only 14 circle feeds for the quarter, their lowest for the whole game.
Meanwhile, Wallace and Housby were weaving rings around the defence. While Dehaney was able to get a few tips, these did not turn over possession. Maddy Proud stood out with 15 circle feeds for the quarter finding both Wallace and Housby all over the circle.
Vixens coach Simone McKinnis changed the line up again with Khao Watts coming on at WA, Liz Watson moving to C, Kate Moloney moving to WD and Chloe Watson at GD. Mannix went back into GK and Dehaney to the bench.
The Vixens continued to struggle and the midcourters all turned over the ball at least once each. Chloe Watson seemed out of sorts in the circle and was unable to have a meaningful impact on Housby, who was shooting from everywhere. The Swifts fightback saw them go into halftime up by one goal after a magnificent buzzer beater goal from Wallace.
McKinnis opted to put Dehaney back on at GK for the third quarter while Watts went to the bench. Klau opened the quarter with an important defensive pick up against Kumwenda and this put the Swifts out to a three-goal lead early.
Liz Watson was driving the attack for the Vixens, hitting the circle edge easily and finding both Philip and Kumwenda inside the circle.
Both teams scored off their centre pass for the bulk of the quarter, with neither team willing to give an inch. The outstanding shooting continued with Wallace managing to score from further out when Dehaney managed to push her further from the circle.
Weston came back on at GD with seven minutes to go in the quarter and Mannix went back to GK. The Swifts also tried to limit Liz Watson’s impact on the game, putting Kate Eddy on in WD.
The effect for the Vixens was almost immediate with Weston shutting down the pass into Housby. The Swifts were struggling in their second phase and the ball was being played around, into the circle then back out.
The Vixens were out hunting and shortly after, a forced feed into Wallace was picked off by Mannix. The Vixens then drew level with three minutes to go in the third quarter. A rushed feed into Wallace from Hadley saw the Swifts cough up the ball again and the Vixens drew ahead going into the final break up by a single goal.
McCulloch replaced Eddy at WD for the last quarter, with her and Proud restricting the options off the centre pass for the Vixens and causing the first turnover of the quarter.
Uncharacteristic errors were coming for the Vixens in the midcourt and the Swifts went out to a two-goal lead. But the torrid defence of the Vixens saw the Swifts having to play the ball around to even get close to the circle. Mannix was threatening to take an intercept and Weston was taking Housby out of the contest.
A mistimed feed into Wallace was picked up by Mannix allowing the Vixens to draw level with seven minutes to go in the quarter. A misplaced pass into Kumwenda was enough to put the Swifts out to a two-goal lead again.
With just five minutes remaining, Weston tipped the ball away and the Vixens scored. A tactical timeout was called, but the momentum was by this point well in favour of the Vixens.
While the Swifts were able to score quickly off their own centre passes, the Vixens were showing their experience in tight situations driving forward on their centre pass but letting the time tick down when they could. With the Swifts unable to make any gains in defence, the Vixens walked away victors by two goals.
The loss of Jo Weston for much of the game and how it impacted right through the midcourt will no doubt be a focus for the Vixens in the days to come.
Melbourne Vixens 63 def NSW Swifts 61
(17-12, 31-32, 48-47, 63-61)
Player of the match: Emily Mannix (Vixens)
Kumwenda 34/34 100%
Philip 29/32 91%
Wallace 37/38 97%
Housby 24/25 96%
L. Watson (Vixens) 44
Proud (Swifts) 37
Mannix (Vixens) 4
Klau (Swifts) 3
Starting line ups
WA L. Watson
WD C. Watson
Changes: Q1 GK Dehaney, GD Mannix; Q2 GK Mannix, GD C. Watson, WD Moloney, C Watson, WA Watts; Q3 GK Dehaney, GD Mannix, WD C. Watson, C Moloney, WA L. Watson then GK Mannix, GD Weston.
Changes: Q3 WD Eddy; Q4 WD McCulloch
What they said
Simone McKinnis, Melbourne Vixens coach
On the injury to Jo Weston
“She went over on her ankle. So we’ll see how that pulls up after today. I actually don’t know what she did. I didn’t see. I just saw her limping and I could tell she wasn’t right so I said get off and we’ll get it sorted.”
On the fantastic final quarter
“I thought Jo was brilliant. Brilliant in just that defensive pressure in that one-on-one work that she did and also fantastic in that drive and just going for it – just strong and definite. I thought she was exceptional when she was on there today.”
How did they handle her absence?
“Not good. I was particularly disappointed in the second quarter and I don’t think that we adapted to the changes so that’s something that we’ve got to address and talk about because anything can happen at any time and you’ve got to be able to swing those changes and you need to be able to just get on with it without missing a beat. But that second quarter was quite poor and very disappointing.”
Was it good to see the fightback in that last quarter?
“Yeah and that is a real positive, but you know what, I’d like to just grab a game by the throat and just run through with it though and not let a team back in. But that is great to be able to fight because Swifts are a quality team and they will fight and they’ve got great determination. They’ll fight all the way. So I was really pleased that we were able to pull it out in the end, but for us as a team I’d like to be able to not let teams get back into the contest.”
Were you happy to win three quarters?
“I was pleased about that. I don’t get hung up on the points, but it just shows a stronger performance across the board.”
On wanting a four quarter performance
“We haven’t seen it yet this season. It’s there, but that’s what it’s about is that ability of getting better next week. We have to find it. Mind you, I love the fight and the hunger and the never giving up; that goes a long way as well, but you just don’t want those lapses. 20 goals [scored against them in the second quarter] – that’s not good to have scored against you. That was a poor quarter, yeah. You can’t have that.”
On the performance of Mwai Kumwenda
“Probably in and out of it a little bit and sometimes hard to find. We’ve got to have a look at that – there was a bit of a disconnect at different times and not the flow with the ball. Obviously, I’m a hard marker.”
On getting the flow and the drive back in the last quarter
“That’s probably one we’d have to talk about. Prior to that we were passing the ball and looking, rather than passing the ball and going hard and that way you move the defence or you create space. We were just standing still, but when someone does that driving like Jo and they’re going hard it just creates a more open – it makes a huge difference down in the attack end. It just does allow more space and flow.”
Images: Kirsten Daley