Heading into this match off a demoralising 17-goal loss to West Coast Fever, Dan Ryan chose to name his most experienced players at his starting seven. Unsurprisingly, the Melbourne Vixens named an unchanged line-up to the one that defeated the Magpies last round and has proven to be so strong this season.
With the Thunderbirds first centre pass sailing out of court untouched, their fans would have been hoping this wasn’t a sign of the night to come. Unfortunately, despite some very good passages of play and positive signs of improved connections it was once again a disappointing loss.
After trailing, 11-4 at the 8-minute mark of the first quarter, the Thunderbirds fought back and were within two goals with five minutes remaining. At this point Dan Ryan may have had confidence that they would head into the second quarter on an even keel, however would rue the turnovers which allowed Vixens to draw out to a seven-goal lead at the first break. The Vixens continued their strong, safe play of the first round, converted their turnovers and showed beautiful connections between Liz Watson and Kumwenda in particular.
The second quarter showed stronger defensive pressure from the Thunderbirds slowing down the quick playmaking of the Vixens. The connections between the Thunderbirds attacking end were looking so much better and both Pitman and Bell were looking for Bailey on the hold in the second attacking phase which has been missing in recent weeks. Pitman (in her best game of the year) drove to the circle edge quickly and was winning the contest against Chloe Watson. The Vixens went into the half time break with a five-goal lead and Thunderbirds were showing their best endeavours for the season. Both teams shooting accurately with Vixens shooting at 95% to Thunderbirds 89%.
The Vixens started the third term with an unchanged line-up with Tbirds making the one change with Fiona Themann replacing Malysha Kelly at GK. The Vixens drew away in this quarter with some excellent defensive efforts from Mannix and Weston which were converted at the other end. It was a full team effort by the Vixens and the lead was stretched to 12 at three quarter time.
The Thunderbirds changed their defensive end again to commence the final quarter with Themann moved to GD, Kelly to GK and Agbeze to the bench. These moves allowed increased space for Philip who was driving easily into the circle and paired with the brilliant vision of Moloney and Watson, the lead quickly blew out to 20 goal. It is understandable that Dan Ryan was trying to have a settled line-up however when players are not performing and you have talented replacements on the bench, it is puzzling that they weren’t used. Jade Clarke had a very quiet night with only 10 circle feeds for the game and bringing Abernathy may have brought in some much needed spark.
If the Thunderbirds played their best netball for the season and still lost by 21 goals, how impressive are the Vixens?
Where to from here?
The Melbourne Vixens have shown that a relatively inexperienced team working together with strong leadership can exceed expectations and it will be very interesting to see them continue to develop. They seem to really enjoy their netball and look like a very cohesive team. At the start of the season few would have seen them as serious title contenders however they are proving that they have the mettle to push anyone in the competition. Vixens coach Simone McKinnis must be thrilled with how her young charges have taken it up to every team this year.
Thunderbirds in contrast are showing that experience and individual reputations are not enough to have a performing competitive team. With finals out of the question this year, they should be looking to 2018 and giving players like Sasha Glasgow and Gia Abernethy more court time and leaving them out there to form new combinations. This is no gift, both have performed very well in their performances this year and it could be argued have out-performed some of their more experienced teammates. Thunderbirds fans need something to look forward to and seeing young South Australians on court at least gives them hope for the future. It is one thing to see your team lose week after week but quite another to see no passion or fight. In short, they need to find the joy in netball again.
Melbourne Vixens 75 def Adelaide Thunderbirds 54
Player of the Match: Mwai Kumwenda (Vixens)
Kumwenda 38/39 97%
Philip 37/40 93%
Bailey 39/44 89%
Bell 15/19 79%