The Suncorp Super Netball catch-phrase “It’s all on the line” has never been more poignant than it was when the Sunshine Coast Lightning hosted the West Coast Fever.

Both teams headed into Round 3 with something to prove – the Lightning that they are still a formidable team capable of taking the 2018 title, and Fever that they can win on the road.

Photo: Marcela Massey

Earlier in the week, Fever juggernaut Jhaniele Fowler proclaimed that no one could stop her. The sentiment was reverberated by Australian Diamond’s legend, Liz Ellis, who advised the only way to stop the power-house was to ‘cut off her supply’. The Lightning seemed to have heeded the advice, as they started the game with stifling defence.

A sea of yellow was the cause for the first turnover of the game off a misplaced feed from Verity Charles. The awkward pass was too low and left the 198cm Fowler trying to take it around her knees. An eager Geva Mentor mopped up the ball and Lightning quickly transitioned into attack which was scored by Steph Wood.

Photo: Marcela Massey

Fever’s Stacey Francis, stuck with her usual style of play, showing a lot of body-on-body attention to the Lightning attack line. Despite this attention she finished the game with only nine contact penalties, the lowest she has incurred so far this season.

Courtney Bruce and Caitlin Bassett were also having an absorbing battle. The two Diamonds were involved in many in-the-air contests for the ball and even ended up in a tussle on the floor at one stage. Bruce’s continuous smile showed how much she was enjoying the contest.

It was almost halfway through the first quarter before Fever veteran Nat Medhurst contributed to the score. Thanks to the double-teaming on Fowler, Medhurst was forced to take more shots than in her previous two outings, finish the game with 17 goals from 21 attempts.

Having lost the first quarter, the Fever came out for the second looking for redemption. Their first ball contest was stifling, cutting off all clear vision to the Lightning shooters.

Photo: Marcela Massey

Francis was putting in a herculean effort out of the circle which caused the first turnover of the quarter – a wayward pass into Bassett. Unfortunately for Fever, the ball was quickly turned over, this time off the hands of Medhurst.

Scoring off turnovers seemed to be a talking point for both teams at half time, with both Lightning’s Laura Scherian and Fever’s Medhurst saying their respective teams needed to make better use of the turnovers.

The third quarter continued like much the same as the first half, with Karla Pretorius and Mentor double-teaming Fowler and leaving Medhurst to gain easy access to the circle. However, the Pretorius and Mentor connection worked well with the former getting her hands to two intercepts, and three deflections for the quarter.

Photo: Marcela Massey

During the first time-out of the second half, called by Fever, coach Stacey Marinkovich focused on Charles, advising her to “keep going” as the team needed more movement from her. Charles did so by focusing her attention on Kelsey Browne, momentarily culling her connection to the goal circle. Up until that point, Browne was effective in her quick drives to the top of the circle, allowing her to be the leading feeder on the court.

With only one goal difference heading into the final quarter, defenders were on the hunt. In one of the rare moments where she left Fowler’s side, Mentor made a late charge for a ball and collided hard with Charles.

The score see-sawed for the first ten minutes of the last term. However, Lightning were hesitant to put the shot up and were passing the ball around the circle edge. Eventually one wayward pass by Scherian sailed over the baseline and allowed the visitors to gain a two-goal buffer. But, Mentor won the ball back, off a speccy mid-air-tussle with Fowler.

Photo: Marcela Massey

The connection between Mentor and Pretorius was again on show with the South African quick to scramble and clear the ball from the defence-end.

Again a tactical use of the new time-out rule was implored, with Lighting calling for a break with only 32.7 seconds left on the clock – Fever were up by one and had the next centre pass.

Steph Wood advised after the match that the break was called to instruct the team to push hard for the turnover, in the hopes of drawing the game. But the effort was futile with the Fever eating up time, by passing the ball around the mid-court before eventually getting it to Fowler who was beaten by the final whistle.

Photo: Marcela Massey

West Coast Fever return home next week to take on the energetic NSW Swifts. Sunshine Coast Lighting hit the road next week, still in search of their first win of the season, as they take on the Magpies at Margaret Court Arena.

 

West Coast Fever 56 def Sunshine Coast Lightning 55
(14-15, 29-29, 43-44, 56-55)

Player of the Match: Jhaniele Fowler (Fever)

Crowd: 2,065 at USC Stadium

 

West Coast Fever
Fowler 39/44 89%
Medhurst 17/21 81%
56/65 86%

Sunshine Coast Lightning
Bassett 33/39 85%
Wood 22/25 88%
55/64 86%

 

Key stats

Intercepts
Courtney Bruce (Fever) 6
Karla Pretorius (Lightning) 4

Goal Assists
Verity Charles (Fever) 20
Kelsey Browne (Lightning) 16

Turnovers
Lightning 14
Fever 12

 

Starting line ups

Sunshine Coast Lightning
GS Caitlin Bassett
GA Steph Wood
WA Kelsey Browne
C Laura Scherian
WD Maddy McAuliffe
GD Karla Pretorius
GK Geva Mentor

West Coast Fever
GS Jhaniele Fowler
GA Nat Medhurst
WA Ingrid Colyer
C Verity Charles
WD Jess Anstiss
GD Stacey Francis
GK Courtney Bruce

Umpires: Bronwen Adams, Marc Henning, Andrea Booth (reserve)

 

A look at…

Connections in defence
This game was marketed as a ‘battle of the shooters’ but it turned into more of a battle of the defensive structures. Both teams showed solidarity in defence, with both goal keepers and defenders willing to play backup for each other.

Having only played one season together, the connection between Mentor and Pretorius was great to see. Pretorius quite often instructed her skipper on which player to tag or which position to take. Young defenders could learn a lot from watching this duo.

Key match-up: Geva Mentor v Jhaniele Fowler
As expected, it was an enthralling battle. Mentor used every ounce of her speed-stores to confuse the space in the circle allowing her to pick up many misplaced feeds.

The only time we noticed the 7cm height difference between the stars, was in the air – when Fowler utilised every centimetre of her one metre vertical jump, and her lofty reach, to snaffle the ball. But, the fact that she only scored 39 goals this game shows that Mentor has been the most effective defender Fowler has faced so far this season.

 

What they said

Ingrid Colyer, West Coast Fever

How happy were you with your performance
It was nice to be able to fight out one of those games. As a team we kind of live for moments like that; the pressure moments. We practice it a lot throughout the week and I think it went really well.

How does the crowd affect your momentum?
The Lightning have an awesome crowd and the stadium being so intimate is great. I think you can take it either way and use it to your advantage and lift off that or you could block it out. So it is nice to be supported and to have netball supported all over Australia.

How excited were you to have three wins in a row
It is so nice. Last year we only won two games, so to have beaten that already is a really good way to start the season and build confidence for the year ahead.

How is the points system affecting your game preparation?
I really enjoy the points system. I think it adds another element to the game and you can hear the crowd get behind that too. To be able to get two extra points by winning quarters is something that we do try to do. And, we just try to play consistently over the four quarters, that is our main aim and if we get the points, we get the points. But, ultimately you want to get the four points at the end.

 

Steph Wood, Sunshine Coast Lightning

Thoughts on the game
Pretty disappointing. It can’t get much closer but we will go back to training and work on those crucial errors. We don’t come out to go 0-3. But full credit to the Fever, they are playing some great netball. And despite being 0-3, we aren’t playing terrible netball. I do think it is just those crucial times; we can’t do those at the moment. I feel like we are heading in the right direction though.

Are you still confident you can make the top 4?
We try not to look too far forward or do any analysis on how many games we can win – especially with the new point system. We will just take it week by week. If we start looking too far ahead you can get a bit caught up in it.
There were seven turnovers which Lightning did not convert on. How crucial is that to the end result of the game?
Turnover scores are massive, especially against a team which has Fowler in it. We need to make sure we score off turnovers and we didn’t do that today. It is just the silly things which we are doing. I think that makes the loss worse, because it is really uncharacteristic of us.

How do you feel about your own performance today?
I definitely think I am improving. I am pretty happy with my game, but I definitely think I am guilty of some of those turnovers at crucial moments. So I will go back and watch the footage and get ready for next week.

How was it to play on your home court?
It was absolutely amazing having a home crowd, for the first time this season. The crown can be an eighth player on court.

You had no changes today…
I think anyone of our 10 can come on. And, I think it is exciting that we are all different players and any of those three that were on the bench today, can come on and offer something different It is really exciting, because we have that depth.

 

Noeline Taura, Sunshine Coast Lightning coach

It was such a close game…
We were just out the back and having a look at the stats. It is such a close competition. Looking at our own game and comparing it to this time last year, we are running the same stats. So it just shows that everyone (else) have just gone up a notch in this competition which is what is is all about and it is exciting. Unfortunately, we did have ball in hand and some of the things we coughed-up, we can kick ourselves for. It may be hard for someone else to comprehend, but we are actually improving.

Thoughts on the turnovers
We are getting ball out of our defence end but we are also coughing it up. And, it is becoming consistent. In saying that, our numbers are getting less-and-less in terms of the errors, but it is still costly in the end.

What do you say to your players to motivate them going in to next week?
It is always about looking at the things we are doing well and trying to emulate it and do better. The philosophies and structure never change from week-to-week.

Was it your plan to double-team Fowler?
Not at all. We wanted to push her out of the circle by one-on-one. Medhurst is an amazing attacker and I think if we disrespect her she will kill us under the post.

Your thoughts on Maddy McAuliffe’s performance?
It was great to be able to leave our seven out there. I thought Maddy was really good. I loved when she could contest the ball and she is potent when she does that. She still needs to work on being able to hold that intensity and be able to keep contesting.

 

Cover image: Marcela Massey