The Sunshine Coast Lightning came into this game oozing confidence after handing the Adelaide Thunderbirds their biggest loss of the season last week. To keep their finals chances alive, Lightning needed to dispatch the NSW Swifts in a similar fashion.

But the Swifts, coming off a tough draw against the Magpies last week, were playing for pride and weren’t about to let the Lightning have it all their way.

Photo: Marcela Massey.

Unfortunately for the visitors their star goal attack, Helen Housby, was shaky on the shot right from the start and handed the Lightning a two-goal advantage straight away. She ended the game with one of her lowest goal percentages (79%) of the season and only single digit feeds and assists.

By comparison, Steph Wood had a standout performance, shooting at 100% for half of the game and contributing 28 feeds and 21 goal assists.

Part of the reason Wood was so impactful was that Maddy Turner was playing off the body. Her floating style of defence allowed Wood to use her impressive footwork to reoffer for the ball outside the circle.

Turner’s style did have an impact for her team though. She was able to pilfer a couple of pickups and rebounds. One such instance saw the Swifts launch a direct, middle corridor transition which brought them back level halfway through the first term.

Sarah Klau (Swifts) and Caitlin Bassett (Lightning). Photo: Marcela Massey.

Sarah Klau proved why she has earnt herself a Diamond’s call-up. Her hold on Caitlin Bassett allowed her to get arms up to some deflections early on in the game. Her first for the match allowed her team to take a two-goal lead – their only lead for the game.

Impatient is a way to describe the Swifts attacking line from then on.

Sam Wallace, while athletically impressive, was costly for the Swifts. Geva Mentor forced Wallace outside the circle to act as another feeder. And, like many shooters outside the comfortable confines of the circle, her forced passes resulted in numerous turnovers.

Photo: Marcela Massey.

Karla Pretorius and Mentor seemed to have some sort of telepathy in defence. With every move that Mentor made, or forced her opposition to make, Pretorious was there to reap the reward. This was particularly noticeable around circle edge where Pretorius was able to take five impressive intercepts.

At the start of the second term, the Lightning seemed to have found an over-drive switch as they notched up an 8-goal lead less than four minutes into the period.

Maddy McAuliffe and Laura Scherian found their own synergy in defence. The duo regularly swapped players or double-teamed arms over in the defensive end. Their efforts resulted in held balls, replays or bad passes.

Maddy McAuliffe (Lightning) and Paige Hadley (Swifts). Photo: Marcela Massey.

After the lead extended, the Swifts called a time-out and brought in Sophie Garbin to goal attack, pushing Helen Housby back to shooter. The extra movement in the circle worked for the Swifts, even though Housby was getting batted around like the target inside a pinball machine.

Swifts captain, Abbey McCulloch, still wanted more from her team demanding that “everyone move down” off the centre. Her focus on what everyone else was doing, resulted in Kelsey Browne having free run of the first, second and third phase of attack.

There was no lack of opportunity for the Swifts to close the gap. But their impatience or lack of discipline was their undoing. Dissimilarly, the Lightning played with control and contested the ball more cleanly than their counterparts.

Swifts coach, Briony Akle, opted for more changes in the third term when she emptied the bench. Unfortunately, it didn’t have the desired impact with Natalie Haythornthwaite lacking combination with her attacking teammates.

The newest Swift was often caught under Paige Hadley’s feet and even fought for the ball with Garbin, resulting in both players ending up on the floor and turning over the ball.

Sophie Garbin and Nat Haythornthwaite (Swifts). Photo: Marcela Massey.

The Lightning made things tough for the Swifts transition. They clogged up the transverse line and forced numerous passes. Their work was rewarded time and again by McAuliffe and Pretorius who took easy intercepts.

The Swifts were looking deflated and were caught flat-footed on many occasions. In defence, they lacked follow-through. Hadley vocalised her frustration at this when she called for her players to offer again.

Swifts continued to look lacklustre in the final term. They were caught behind which allowed the Lightning to get their most intercepts and gains for the game.

Kelsey Browne (Lightning). Photo: Marcela Massey.

This lack of movement by the Swifts allowed Lightning to make uncontested drives between Swifts players and find safe passage to the circle. Wood, Browne and even Bassett, exploited these opportunities and swung the ball across the court and into the circle with speed and flare.

Interestingly once Housby was forced to the bench with a knee injury, bringing Wallace back onto the court, the Swifts lifted. Wallace is a better physical match for Mentor, and her ability to take high passes provided more confidence to her feeders.

Photo: Marcela Massey.

The Swifts will now look to their game against the Adelaide Thunderbirds with a chance to end their season on a high. The Lightning will be looking to put in another strong performance next week, but they are in for a tough fight against the Melbourne Vixens at Hisense Arena, in the last game of the regular season.

 

Sunshine Coast Lightning 61 def NSW Swifts 51
(17-13, 31-26, 45-38, 60-51)

Player of the Match: Laura Scherian (Sunshine Coast Lightning)
Crowd: 2,045 at USC Stadium

 

Sunshine Coast Lightning
Bassett 42/46 91%
Wood 19/22 86%
61/68 90%

NSW Swifts
Wallace 16/17 94 %
Housby 23/29 79%
Garbin 12/15 80%
51/61 84%

 

Key stats

Intercepts
Karla Pretorius (Lightning) 6
Maddy McAuliffe (Lightning) 3
Paige Hadley (Swifts) 2
Abbey McCulloch (Swifts) 2

Goal assists
Steph Wood (Lightning) 21
Kelsey Browne (Lightning) 17
Paige Hadley (Swifts) 14

Turnovers
Sophie Garbin (Swifts) 9
Kelsey Browne (Lightning) 6
Caitlin Bassett (Lightning) 4

 

Starting lineups

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

NSW Swifts
GS Sam Wallace
GA Helen Housby
WA Paige Hadley
C Maddy Proud
WD Abbey McCulloch
GD Maddy Turner
GK Sarah Klau
Changes: Q2 GS Housby, GA Garbin; Q3 GD Eddy, C Hadley, WA Haythornthwaite; Q4 GS Wallace, WD Turner

Umpires: Marc Henning and James Matthews

 

A look at…

Geva Mentor & Karla Pretorius’s double defence
The Lightning’s defensive duo is the most impactful of Super Netball. The pair sit in the top three for defensive rebounds, intercepts and deflections, with Mentor sitting 23 ahead of her closest rival of the latter category. But these impressive figures aren’t what netball fans are talking about.

It’s the pairs ability to double defend which is having the most influence. They have an uncanny ability to do one-two arms over the shot which is causing shooters to either hold the ball for too long or fault on the shot.

Mentor says that the tactic is one which the pair accidentally developed, “It comes with experience and with being bossy. We both want to have a go at the ball.”

Regardless of how it came about, the tactic is as impressive as it is effective and if they stay together for another season, the other teams will be scrambling to find a way to counteract it.

 

Has Browne done enough to be the next Diamonds wing attack?
Diamonds fans across Australia were scratching their heads when Lisa Alexander only named one specialist wing attack in the squad two weeks ago. But, the Diamond’s coach did admit that there are still names to be added to the list.

Kelsey Browne is surely one of the top names to be picked out of all the hopeful wing attack callups. The Lightning attacking specialist is having an impressive season. She is second for the most centre pass receives (behind her sister Madi Robinson) and in the top five for goal assists. Her cuts, drives and speed to circle edge and her reliable feeds, coupled with her established combination with Caitlin Bassett and Steph Wood are all strong points in her favour for a call-up.

But, her speciality could play against her. In our Netball Scoop exclusive article, Alexander noted that our centre court defence was one of the areas in which the Diamonds needed to lift. Therefore, she may be on the hunt for a more versatile midcourter.

Browne does have one intercept to her name, but players like Laura Scherian, Caitlyn Nevins, Maddy Proud and Paige Hadley are having stronger defensive seasons and may pip Browne to the call-up. These players can swing between two or three of the midcourt positions and not miss a beat, whereas we have not seen Browne play any other position all season.

 

 

What they said

Geva Mentor, Sunshine Coast Lightning

It wasn’t a pretty game, but you got the job done and came away with eight points.
“Exactly and that is what we were after. It was really important that we chase every point coming into the last two rounds of this regular season. I am really impressed with how the girls came out. We know that the Swifts are a tough team to play against and last time we played them they actually schooled us. So, we had a point to prove, and I am really pleased with how the girls responded.

“Sixty minutes is a long time out there. It really becomes a bit of a mental game as well. Particularly when you are up, and you got control. It is important that we are still ruthless and make sure we finish things off.”

There were quite a few turnovers. It’s a problem which has been haunting Lightning all season, how are you going to combat that for next week?
“This game is so amazing now. You think ten goals on the board is enough to put a team away, but at this level of competition,, it is so easy for them to come back and momentum shifts. I think it is definitely something we need to address, especially if we, hopefully, move into finals. We just can’t let it slip. So, it is really important that we ride that positive momentum every minute of every quarter.

“For us, it was the slips in that middle patch. Whether it was a loss of concentration, or not presenting to the ball, it is something we will go away and address.”

Your season could still come down to next Sunday. It will be like a mini grand final…
“Ohh. It is really exciting. But we love playing away. Travelling brings us closer as a team. Melbourne isn’t that far for us so we will be looking to continue the momentum we created here and hopefully set us up for a finals berth.

“We know it isn’t going to be easy. We know that Vixens will probably be hurting from last year when we sent them out in straight sets so they will have a point to prove as well. It just sets it up for a really exciting battle. And, that is what this competition has been about. I think it has been a great season so far.”

Your attacking end was quite physical today, how impressed were you with Steph and Caitlin?
“I am really pleased with how our attack end is doing. Even Kelsey and Laura were playmakers. But Steph, in particular, today with CBass getting knocked all around in the circle, Steph was a bit of a decoy and dragged the defenders off her. It was a stellar performance.

I think all credit to everyone; I was really happy with how everyone performed today. Maddy McAuliffe lifted, particular the way she got crucial turnovers for us at circles edge.”

On her partnership with Karla Pretorius
“I love playing with her. She’s so tenacious, and she’s so quick that I can afford to jump and know that she is going to be there backing me up and vice versa.”

How much does the experience of having played a grand final impact your drive toward the end of the season, particularly if you do make it through?
“I think it puts us in good stead, not just as a team but as a club. We know what to expect now. We know what sort of demands to put on players on and off the court. It is definitely important in making sure that we are firing come training time and come those weekends when we are stepping out on the court. You can take a lot from the way we came into finals last year but also if, hopefully, we do make finals this year, it will see us through.”

 

Noeline Taurua, Sunshine Coast Lightning coach

A crucial eight points…
“Yeah, that’s massive for us leading into the final game. But it was a grind. They were very tough, which we knew they were going to be. That second quarter I think we choked up but also respect to the Swifts, they put pressure on us, and we didn’t handle or absorb it. But, we all wanted those eight points. And now it puts the pressure on the top four.”

Your full-court defensive pressure was impressive today
“Yeah, I am really happy with that and think the base of what we do is good. But, we still need a few a more weeks to settle the full defence properly. We still go up and down and are a bit inconsistent, but that is how it goes. Once again, full respect to the opposition, it is what they do to us that we are not handling as good as I would like.

“Every week we are getting tighter as a group. We got a lot of confidence last week with the whole team going out against the Thunderbirds. That performance really consolidated us as a team in our team spirit, so today was just one more opportunity to get out there and test ourselves and see what we can do.”

Is it frustrating knowing that your fate in this competition rests on the performance of the other teams?
“It is fantastic to be the first cab off the rank and to be able to sit back with a glass of wine and watch it play out. I am really happy that we came out with the maximum points. Now it is going to be exciting and interesting to see how the other games pan out over the weekend. But, we will also be focusing on getting ourselves prepped and ready for the last game next week.

“I will be keeping a close eye on the result of the Fever and Vixens games. It will be a really telling point for us to see where they sit and what we need to achieve to get over the line. Currently, we probably need to squeeze at least two points out of that game to definitely be in the top four. But also, we need to see what happens if the others are too put the nail in our coffin.

“Those opportunities will present, so we are looking forward to it, and it is great that we have done what we need to do. But, what will be, will be.”

 

Paige Hadley, NSW Swifts

Tough loss…
“Absolutely. It’s really disappointing. We obviously knew that finals for us was a long shot but, we wanted to finish the season with two wins. We had such a cracking game against the Lightning last time, so yeah it was really disheartening for us today.”

But there must be some positives, like that second quarter when you were down by 11 and fought back
“Yeah, but imagine if we didn’t get down by 11, how much we could have just got back and pushed on. That’s the disappointing thing; it’s like we have to get down to get the fight back and kick into that next gear. Obviously, it is still a positive to not let them run away with it but also disheartening that we wanted to win that game.”

I noticed that at times you and Nat (Haythornthwaite) were running on top of each other. You don’t have the synergy like you and Claire (O’Brien) had. How much do you think that hurt you today?
“Claire is a massive loss for us, not just on the court, but off as well. She is an absolutely awesome teammate. But, Nat has only been with us for three weeks, so we are still getting used to combinations. I think at the moment, me and Mads (Maddy Proud) are probably the most set combination, and Nat comes in when we need something to change. But we are still finding out feet, and credit to Lightning, I think they sort of forced us into that.”

How is Helen’s knee?
“I’m not too sure. Any bloody fall on the court, she has a bruise because she is so skinny. I’m sure she will be fine. She is a massive competitor and will want to be on the court to beat the Thunderbirds.”

What do you have to work on to get on top of the Thunderbirds?
“I think patience is one. We had some big brain-farts today when we let the ball go. We need to cherish possession because we have world-class shooters who should get the ball easier.”

 

 

Report: Katrina Nissen
Photos: Marcela Massey

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