The NSW Swifts have again fallen short in what was a tightly contested five-goal defeat to the Sunshine Coast Lightning. Spear-headed by captain Geva Mentor’s remarkable fourth quarter efforts, Lightning overturned a four-goal deficit at three-quarter-time to run away with the win.
The game opened with a goal-for-goal quarter, where both teams’ defensive pressure forced a high amount of turnovers that couldn’t be capitalised on by either side. Swifts goal keeper Sarah Klau impressed with two intercepts and a deflection, but the reply from Lightning defence was immediate, with Geva Mentor and Erena Mikaere snatching an intercept and a deflection each for the quarter.
Both teams were well structured and flowed freely through the centre third but could not find space in attack due to the work rate of both defensive units, causing miscommunication between the shooters and midcourt. What finally ended this back-and-forth style of play was a contact from Caitlin Bassett, giving Klau another small win, and allowing Swifts to round out the quarter a break ahead, 16 -15.
While the Swifts can be rewarded for their maturity, patience and grit on court, and applauded for their ability to smother the artillery of stronger teams, unfortunately when the pressure is on the Swifts, they are unable to punish the opposition. Early on in the second quarter, with the score 21-18, a rebound from Klau gave Swifts the chance to dig their heels in and drag out the lead. But in this key moment the Swifts buckled as wing attack Paige Hadley uncharacteristically sent a stray pass over the head of Maddy Proud.
Lightning then stormed down the court but in true Swifts nature, captain Abbey McCulloch gave her team a second chance with a desperate deflection, but again, her efforts went unrewarded as a missed shot from Helen Housby allowed Lightning to retain possession. And Lightning struck. They capitalised on the Swifts’ unforced errors, scoring 14 of the next 19 goals. Caitlin Bassett was accurate as ever, but worked overtime, as Klau forced her to circle edge and in tandem with Maddy Turner, won plenty of ball.
Coming on after half-time with a changed midcourt, the Swifts forgot about the six-goal deficit they needed to chase down. With Hadley switched to centre and Claire O’Brien at wing attack, they manoeuvred their way through a suffocating zone defence with patience and precision, eventually feeding to Sam Wallace or Housby, who each missed just a shot for the quarter. Laura Langman continued to push O’Brien wide and Mentor applied more pressure but it wasn’t enough to smother the Swifts’ newfound energy.
At the other end of the court Sarah Klau kept hunting. Any ball that Bassett didn’t snatch in, Klau would get a fingertip to, allowing Maddy Turner to pick up the crumbs. Although Klau had no intercepts or deflections, it was the mistakes she forced Bassett into that paid off, with the shooter contacting twice, having two turnovers and being limited to just 5 goals. Momentum kept building for the Swifts as they punished Lightning for footwork and obstruction calls, having learnt their lesson from the previous quarter. Lightning were forced to call a tactical timeout but could not stop the hungry Swifts from scoring before they headed into the final term 43-39.
Just when we thought the game couldn’t seesaw enough, Geva Mentor put the foot down. She was simply sensational, and played the perfect captain’s quarter to steer her team to victory. And by perfect, I mean perfect. She had four gains, three intercepts, two deflections, a rebound and just one penalty to her name. Under her influence, Lightning edged away. Caitlin Bassett was back on fire and Laura Langman excelled in her move to centre. Their intensity forced Swifts into a tactical timeout half-way into the quarter, but even that couldn’t save them as they continued to make mistakes at critical moments.
Despite a late surge from the Swifts, Lightning sealed the victory, denying them of yet another close win, making it clear how cutthroat the league is to a team that can’t polish off a full four-quarter performance. Although frustrated, the NSW Swifts and their fans are no doubt proud of the scares they’ve given star-studded line-ups, and will be a force to be reckoned with in years to come.
Sunshine Coast Lightning 55 defeated NSW Swifts 50
Player of the Match: Geva Mentor (Lightning)
Sunshine Coast Lightning
Bassett 38/41 93%
Wood 17/21 81%
Wallace 33/37 89%
Housby 17/23 74%
Kelsey Brown (Lightning) 31
Paige Hadley (Swifts) 28
Maddy Proud (Swifts) 21
Geva Mentor (Lightning) 5
Karla Mostert (Lightning) 5
Sarah Klau (Swifts) 4
Geva Mentor (Lightning) 6
Sarah Klau (Swifts) 4
Laura Langman (Lightning) 3