After coming off a disappointing 10-point loss against the Sydney Swifts last week, and a draw against West Coast Fever in round 4, it was a determined and controlled Melbourne Vixens who stole the show against the Sunshine Coast Lightning at the University of the Sunshine Coast.

Taking early control, the first quarter began positively for the Lightning. Playing their usual potent and energetic game, they pushed away to a  six point lead in the first 10 minutes. Tight defence by the Lightning caused the Vixens problems at the top of their goal third and they struggled to get the ball to the top of their shooting circle.

Lightning captain Laura Langman and goal keeper Phumza Maweni were effective with three deflections a piece in the first quarter. Langman, in her 200th National League game, worked well with Maddie McAuliffe in defence, splitting and switching players to maintain continued pressure on the Vixens, making it difficult for the attackers to feed into their circle. Lightning took advantage of deflections and loose ball, returning it methodically back down court, finishing with long high passes in to Peace Proscovia under the goal.

Taking their time to settle into the game, the Vixens found their rhythm and steadily chipped away at their front line. Their perseverance finally paid off, getting the ball into the safe hands of Caitlin Thwaites and Tegan Phillip under the goal. Showing why she’s heading to the Netball World Cup next month, Thwaites shot an impressive 100% for the quarter, with Phillip a consistent support shooting 90%.

 

Tegan Phillip shoots over Phumza Maweni. Image Marcela Massey

 

The 2nd quarter saw an energetic and determined Vixens take the court. Excellent game plan saw them blocking up the centre corridor and forcing balls out wide into the pocket. Speedy movement by the Lightning through the mid-court is an impressive feature of their game, but both Steph Wood and Laura Scherian laboured to get in front and drive hard enough towards the ball.

The water-tight defence by Jo Weston, Kate Moloney and Renae Ingles frequently pushed the Lightning to sit behind their players where they struggled to open up space in the goal third. Grinding away to find room forced them into some bad passes as they laboured to get the ball into their circle. Resorting to lots of pressured long arm over-passes only fed into the waiting and hungry Vixen defence. With Weston and GK Emily Mannix all over the shooters, the Lightning strained to feed the ball into their circle. Pressured defence by the Vixens, saw Lightning shooters struggle to capitalise on any ball that made it under the post, with Wood shooting 75% and Proscovia 80%.

Unrelenting defence by Ingles restrained the usual speedy Lightning feeds into the circle. The persistent and determined wing defence certainly earned her MVP award, confining Scherian to 23 feeds for the game, compared to Vixen’s wing attack Liz Watson on 41. The newly crowned Diamonds vice-captain, Watson showed her superiority on the wing, getting the better of both her opponents (McAuliffe and Jacqui Russell) driving hard through the court all game. However, it wasn’t all bad news for the energetic Scherian. Repeatedly double defended by the seemingly impenetrable Vixen defence, Scherian worked hard and managed to receive 13 centre passes for the half and 23 for the game.

 

Renae Ingles reduced Laura Scherian’s effectiveness. Image Marcela Massey

 

Sustained pressure applied by Emily Mannix saw the normally unflappable Proscovia suffer uncharacteristic ball-handling errors, leading to dropped balls and easy turnovers for the Vixens. A gutted Proscovia was replaced by Cara Koenen half way through the second quarter. However, Koenen, who was steady in her time on court, was guilty of too much movement – which at times left no one in the circle or no focal point in the circle and today the feeders didn’t adapt well to that.

The Vixens moving circle of Thwaites and Phillip continued to trouble the Lightning defenders who struggled to contain them. Maweni often found herself out of play, which allowed some easy passes or shots into the circle. The Vixens continued to punish the Lightning, with Thwaites shooting 94% for the first half and Philip on 93.3%, heading into half time with a solid lead of 32-25.

If the adoring and vocal Lightning crowd were expecting the miraculous half time turnaround their team produced last week against the Giants, they were to be sadly disappointed.

Vixens continued to apply relentless one on one defence and dominate play throughout the court.  Mixing up her game, Thwaites moved around, in and out of the circle and at times holding and breaking at the exact right moment to take a high ball under the post, leaving Maweni and goal defence Karla Pretorius struggling to interrupt her momentum. Maweni played a physical match against Thwaites, surrendering 16 contacts for the game, compared to Pretorius on 5.

 

Jo Weston and Em Mannix put the pressure on Cara Koenen. Image Marcela Massey

 

With what appeared like a hint of desperation by Lightning coach Noeline Taurua, the Lightning line-up underwent a considerable shake-up in the second half. Proscovia returned to GS, Koenen moved out to GA, Wood to WA, Russell on at WD, with Lightning heavyweights Scherian and McAuliffe relegated to the bench.

However, Taurua saw the move as a positive. “We didn’t have any momentum and we looked really flat. Personally, I thought the game was gone already – with regards to the score-line, with regards to how Vixens were playing – so the changes did happen. We were never going to pull ourselves back out, it was probably impossible… So, the change up with those bench players going in, they went in with a lot of energy and it’s a good reminder for us as a team, that that’s the level that’s expected within Lightning, and that’s the level we have to play otherwise we’ll get run over”, said Taurua after the game.

Taurua rarely gets it wrong and the unexpected change-up of positions was no exception. Fresh players, along with the return to court of a determined Proscovia, saw Lightning advance the ball down to their third and keep the circle moving in the last quarter.

Proscovia continually came out of the circle, giving herself plenty of room to move, calling for the ball high and dropping back under the post. Coming out of the circle however, did at times prove problematic for the unsuspecting Proscovia, finding herself in zone defence by Weston. With the Vixens slipping ahead by a massive 17-points in the early minutes of the last quarter, Proscovia gathered herself and steadily regained her confidence, and along with a composed Koenen reeled the Vixens back in to come within 10-points. Both Proscovia and Koenen shot an inspiring 100% for the final quarter, winning the quarter 17-14 and securing the final bonus point, but it was not enough to stop the Vixens juggernaut who took out a well-deserved win 62-52.

Melbourne Vixens def Sunshine Coast Lightning

(16-13, 16-12, 16-10, 14-17)

 

Player of the Match:   Renae Ingles (Vixens)

Crowd: 2964 at USC Stadium

 

Ine-Mari Venter has joined the Vixens from South Africa. Image Marcela Massey

 

Sunshine Coast Lightning shooting statistics

Peace Proscovia – 26/28 (93%)
Steph Wood – 9/12 (75%)
Cara Koenen – 17/19 (90%)

52/59 (88%)

 


Melbourne Vixens shooting statistics

Caitlin Thwaites – 33/37 (90%)
Tegan Phillip – 26/32 (84%)
Ine-Mari Venter – 3/3 (100%)

62/72 (87%)

 

Key Stats

Intercepts:

Emily Mannix (Vixens) 2

Kate Moloney (Vixens) 2

 

Goal Assists:

Liz Watson (Vixens) 27

Kate Moloney (Vixens) 20

Laura Scherian (Lightning) 19

 

SUNSHINE COAST LIGHTNING

GS Peace Proscovia

GA Steph Wood

WA Laura Scherian

C Laura Langman

WD Maddie McAuliffe

GD Karla Pretorius

GK Phumza Maweni

Bench – Jacqui Russell, Annika Lee-Jones, Cara Koenen

Changes:

Q2 Cara Koenen (GS)

Q3 Cara Koenen (GA), Jacqui Russell (WD), Steph Wood (WA), Peace Proscovia (GS)

Q4 Phumza Maweni (GD), Annika Lee-Jones (GK), Scherian (WA),    

 

MELBOURNE VIXENS

GS Caitlin Thwaites

GA Tegan Phillip

WA Liz Watson

C Kate Moloney

WD Renae Ingles

GD Jo Weston

GK Emily Mannix

Bench – Kadie-Ann Dehaney, Ine-Mari Venter, Lara Dunkley

Changes:

Q4 Kadie-Ann Dehaney (GK), Ine-Marie Venter (GS), Lara Dunkley (WA)

 

Congratulations to: Laura Langman – 200 National League Games

 

Caitlin Thwaites congratulates Laura Langman on her 200th appearance. Image Marcela Massey

 

What they said

Jo Weston (Vixens)

What are your thoughts on the game today?

“We were pretty disappointed with our performance last week against the Swifts. Today, I think across the game, we really built on those middle 2 quarters and they were probably some of the best performances we’ve put out on court – some of the passages of play from our attackers, I think were spectacular and they were really showing that nice balance between control and flair. I think defensively, we worked really hard to shut down all of their options and stop that really quick flow the Lightning are known for, especially with Langman and Wood. We would’ve liked that last quarter, but that’s something we’ll go back and have a look at.”

You and Emily Mannix worked hard to shut down the shooters, how did it feel to see Proscovia subbed off so early?

“I think in that second quarter her hands were a little bit off. So, them having that versatility in the shooting circle makes them quite difficult to play against – even having Cara out at GA, she offered something really different for me as a personal opposition. I think they’ll come out much stronger next time we play them in Melbourne.”

How did you feel you playing against your Diamond team-mate Steph Wood today?

“I love playing against Steph! She is so smart out on court, she’s able to make the plays and she’s a really good shooter. I did my best to frustrate her out on court today, which was probably part of my defensive style and I just really tried to break that connection that her and Laura have, especially in the attacking third.”

 

Laura Langman (Sunshine Coast Lightning)

Thoughts on today’s game?

“We definitely got enough ball, and I thought their ability to push us wide and their 3-foot mark was pretty impressive, so some real clear things for us to work on this week.”

What did Noeline say to the team at half-time?

“Just to have the patience to wait for the court to open and be prepared to do the grind to get circle edge, and to put in a good unstressed ball. I thought it was great to get the points in the last quarter, but we can’t leave it a whole half before we take action. So again, that’s another thing we’ll look at this week.”

Thoughts on the Scherian and Ingles match up?

“I think the work she (Scherian) does at WA is pretty awesome and what a match up that was. I thought their defensive end really caused some havoc for us and pushed us apart and we didn’t get the double plays that we would normally like, but she still fed amazing, some of the balls she puts in – you just sit back and enjoy those moments. I thought she had a solid game.”

Was it a shock to the system, coming off the back of four straight wins and then coming out and getting beaten by ten points?

“No. It wasn’t a shock to the system. They were in top form and have been and I think if you get caught napping against a team like that, they will put 10 points on you. So, they just went from strength to strength in the game. We would chip away, but we just weren’t able to square away our must haves when we needed to. But we were getting enough balls – there is some silver linings in there.”

That’s super netball, isn’t it? There’s not much difference between the teams is there?

“No there’s not and I think it’s a real challenge for players and coaching staff this season with the 2 mini seasons, actually you could nearly push it out to 3 mini seasons with the pre-season, so it’s exciting and it’s going to come down to the last round like it does every year.”

It’s a big personal milestone today (200 League games). How do you feel about it all?

“Yeah, I just feel lucky to be here. Not many people get a second chance like I have, and it was just another day at the office, but the girls made it really special for me.”

After 200 games, is there any game or moment that sticks out for you?

“Nothing jumps to mind, straight off the bat. If anything, it just makes you really grateful; when you see some of the athletes who are playing and the skill sets that are out there and to be playing out there and amongst it, it is pretty special. To get a second chance or a second life to be in the Lightning – I’m very lucky to be here.”

How do you think you made it to 200?

“Honestly, a bit of luck and some great sport scientists around me and my support network is pretty top notch back in New Zealand and obviously here. It’s always been the people for me. I get to do the icing on the cake – the running around – they keep us well-oiled behind the scenes”.

Can you remember the hype around your first elite games?

“Yes, I do. It was probably back at National Bank Cup and honestly, I think if anything, a moment like this – I’m sure Kimmy Green would agree – shows how far netball has come. When I first started, you used to get win bonuses and you got given a free pair of shoes. So, netball has come a very long way. We’re semi-professional now, and some ladies are lucky enough to call it their job, 24/7. I just think it’s fantastic that netball’s come this far.”

 

Laura Langman – legend. Image Marcela Massey

 

Image Marcela Massey