Coming from three wins in a row – their only streak this season – the Magpies must have had high hopes to defeat the Lightning, who were returning to the scene of their humbling defeat by the Vixens in Melbourne a week earlier. The Magpie army were firmly behind their favourite back-line marauder, and Sharni Layton acknowledged her outright crowd favouritism with a businesslike grimace as she bodied up to Diamonds star Caitlin Bassett in the goal circle. But the real questions were all down the other end of the court. Collingwood has rotated three players through the GA position in its last two matches. Against the Lightning’s stellar rest-of-the-world defence of Geva Mentor, Karla Mostert and Laura Langman, who was going to get the star-crossed bib? And were they going to keep it for four quarters?

 

Team Lineups

 

 

Magpies Lightning
GS Caitlin Thwaites Q1, 3, 4 Caitlin Bassett
  Lange Q2  
GA Cody Lange Q1 Stephanie Wood
  Thwaites Q2  
  Alice Teague-Neeld Q 3, 4  
WA Madi Robinson (Captain) Kelsey Browne
C Kim Ravaillion Q1, 2 Laura Scherian
  Shae Brown Q3,4  
WD Ash Brazill Laura Langman
GD April Brandley Karla Mostert
GK Sharni Layton Geva Mentor
Coach Kristy Keppich-Birrell Noeline Taurua

 

Quarter by quarter play

The Magpies found themselves down 4-0 in the first two minutes of the game. The Lightning defenders were playing an interesting zone defence across the transverse line, leaving Lange to run free while Langman doubled up on Ravaillion and Mostert picked up Robinson. This caused the Magpies attackers to look around in doubt, and turnovers resulted, with Robinson putting a foot out of court leading wide under pressure, and Mentor taking an easy baseline intercept. The Magpies midcourt players fought back from their initial hesitation to bring the score to 5-all with clever intercepts by Ravaillion and Robinson being converted. Wood was finding plenty of uncontested space in front of Brandley to relieve the defensive pressure Layton was placing on Bassett, and her feeders had the presence of mind to go to her instead of to a precarious Bassett hold. Lightning went to the first break two goals ahead at 14-12.

Lightning quickly converted two turnovers early in the second quarter. Langman had two sensational intercepts, and Thwaites was being held to account well by Mentor who picked up an offensive contact. Four minutes into the second quarter, Mentor had restricted Thwaites to seven goals and five missed shots. With the score at 19-13, the Magpies called a technical time-out to make their first substitution at GA for the game. However, in a new twist on the theme, coach Kristy Keppich-Birrell found her fourth GA for the season: Thwaites was moved there, with Lange going to GS. If the object was to provide Thwaites with more access to the ball, the substitution worked wonders. Thwaites scored the goals on the next four Collingwood centre passes.

Although Layton forced two turnovers in the Lightning goal circle, the Magpies were unable to honour her efforts by converting them. Mostert and Langman continued to confuse the Collingwood feeders, and the Lightning converted a crucial third turnover for the quarter when Ravaillion gave away an offensive contact at the circle edge. Bassett was standing up against some torrid body defence from Layton and the Lightning pulled away for a decisive quarter win 15-11. They led at half time by six goals, 29-23.

Come the third quarter, enter a third GA for the Magpies. Teague-Neeld stepped into the zone of opportunity, and provided some cross-court leads that gave the mobile Mostert something more to think about than picking off intercepts from the Collingwood feeders. Teague-Neeld scored six from six in the third quarter, as the Magpies slowly clawed back from a nine goal deficit. Layton rose to the challenge on the rising encouragement of the crowd, which had the dual objective of causing the Lightning to fumble the ball and to influence close umpiring decisions. The Magpies converted three turnovers from intercepts, and won the quarter 14-13.

In an exciting last quarter, Layton played a new defensive strategy. She came away from Bassett and adopted a menacing stance wide in the goal circle, practically daring the feeders to make a choice between passing to Bassett at the post or to another feeder at the circle edge and give her a chance to intercept. The Magpies were behind 42-47, when they won two turnovers on consecutive centre passes in the Lightning’s goal third, and converted them quickly. Suddenly, the score was back to 46-49.

The Lightning, however, called a technical timeout with five and a half minutes left in the match, which settled the team for the win. The Magpies gave up turnovers on their next two centre passes, which effectively ended their chances of causing an upset win.

 

Sunshine Coast Lightning 56 def Collingwood Magpies 49
Player of the Match: Caitlin Bassett (Lightning)

 

  Quarter 1 Quarter 2 Quarter 3 Quarter 4 Total
Magpies 12 11 14 12 49
  Thwaites 6/10

Lange 6/8

Lange 2/6

Thwaites 9/11

 

Thwaites 8/9

Teague-Neeld 6/6

 

Thwaites 10/11

Teague-Neeld 2/3

77%
Lightning 14 15 13 14 56
  Bassett 10/10

Wood 4/6

Bassett 10/10

Wood 5/6

Bassett 8/8

Wood 5/6

Bassett 9/9

Wood 5/5

93%

 

Key matchups

Stephanie Wood had a successful game against April Brandley, the significance of which was easy to overlook. She found plenty of uncontested space in front of her opponent. Many of Wood’s 19 goals were long-range shots that released the defensive pressure Layton was applying to prevent access to Bassett under the post. The speed and accuracy of her ball movement defeated the intercept-hunting Collingwood defence, and with 14 goal assists (feeds to a shooter who scores) she led the Lightning attack with flair and confidence through some close checking of Bassett.

Sharni Layton worked hard early to make the Lightning feeders think twice about passing to Caitlin Bassett. She was allowed to contest vigorously, but still had the vision to take four intercepts and nine deflections, many from leaving Bassett to come outside the circle. Despite this one-woman goal circle effort (Brandley had only one deflection for the match), it is questionable whether she had much impact on Bassett, who shot 37 goals at 100%. Bassett scored 66% of her team’s goals in this game, which is a performance entirely consistent for the Lightning GS since Wood’s return to the side in Round 5.

 

Caitlin Bassett percentage of Lightning goals

Round Opponent Result Total goals Basset goals % of goals  
1 Firebirds D 56 48 86%  
2 Vixens W 58 50 86%  
3 Thunderbirds W 51 43 84%  
4 Giants L 54 45 83%  
5 Magpies W 51 38 75% *Wood’s return from injury
6 Fever W 66 43 65%  
7 Firebirds W 60 45 75%  
8 Swifts W 55 38 69%  
9 Thunderbirds W 59 37 63%  
10 Vixens L 59 41 69%  
11 Magpies W 56 37 66%  

 

Geva Mentor comprehensively won her matchup against Caitlin Thwaites. She restricted the Diamonds shooter to 33 goals from 41 shots and had nine defensive gains for the match, from two intercepts, six deflections and four defensive rebounds.

Given that the selectors judge with their statistics instead of their synapses, Mentor was an obvious player of the match contender. Spare some admiration, however, for the enabling work that Laura Langman and Karla Mostert did out in front of Mentor to delay and misdirect the feeds, giving Mentor a chance to pull in the turnover. Langman was tireless in marking Robinson, Ravaillion and Brown across the goal third, slowing their progress to the circle edge. Mostert seemed to be everywhere in her sagging defence role. She often double-teamed to cover Robinson’s leads as well as those of her three GA opponents, collecting two intercepts and five deflections.

Post-match, coach Kristy Keppich-Birrell pointed her finger at Langman as the most damaging player against the Magpies. “She may not have won many intercepts, and Madi certainly kept her busy, but she played an important role for them and played her part well.”

Keppich-Birrell lamented the opportunity lost by the Magpies to cement their position in the top four. “We’ve got the players, we’ve got the plan, we just couldn’t execute. We need to treasure it. We got sucked into playing at their speed, and when you try to play that fast for the full length of the game, errors creep in.”

Keppich-Birrell stated rather emphatically that she is “sick of hearing questions” from the mainstream media about the instability at Goal Attack. “We’ve played netball the same way for 90 years,” she exclaimed. “Why can’t we play with different lineups? My players are perfectly capable of adjusting to a new entrant on the court, and I would like to keep trying to find something new and exciting in a game.”

The netball world may well applaud Keppich-Birrell for her enterprising substitutions, but Magpies fans are unlikely to find the sacrifice worthwhile unless one of the shooting combinations can produce a match-winning score across four quarters. But 49 goals is the Magpies’ lowest return for the season and comes at a time when they would be hoping to demonstrate more than mere competitiveness against the top teams in the competition. This win sent Lightning decisively to second place on the ladder, leaving the Magpies two games adrift of the third-placed Giants in fourth.

Nevertheless, the Collingwood players seemed more upbeat about this loss than after their defeat by the Vixens in Round 7. There were more smiles and fewer teary faces as they stayed on court long after the match to spend time with their fans. It is a delight to see how much they are adored, and how earnestly they value that support. Perhaps now that they are safely in the four, with a cakewalk of matches against the bottom three sides to come, there is less anxiety over their future prospects and a sense of relish for the hard work to come.

 

Key stats

Team Penalties
Lightning: 54 contacts, 14 obstructions
Magpies: 60 contacts, 17 obstructions

Contact penalties
Sharni Layton (Magpies) 20
Karla Mostert (Lightning) 17
April Brandley (Magpies) 13
Geva Mentor (Lightning) 13
Laura Langman (Lightning) 10

Goal Assists
Stephanie Wood (Lightning) 14
Kelsey Browne (Lightning) 13
Madi Robinson (Magpies) 8
Shae Brown (Magpies) 8

 

Photos: Marcela Massey Photography