The Sunshine Coast Lightning kept their hopes for the minor premiership well and truly alive last night with a determined last quarter onslaught, coming from six goals down to defeat the injury plagued NSW Swifts 50-48. A record-breaking Sunshine Coast crowd, hoping to see a great game between their home town heroes and the competition leaders, packed into the University of the Sunshine Coast Stadium and they did not leave disappointed.

The announcement during the week that Silver Ferns international Katrina Rore would be joining the Swifts for the remainder of the 2019 season replacing the injured Kate Eddy, was quickly followed only days later with the disappointing news that English international and Swifts goal attack, Helen Housby was sidelined due to a thigh injury.

Both the Lightning and the Swifts settled in to the game well, finding their rhythm and playing goal for goal in the opening minutes. The Lightning struggled to play their usual free-flowing game early on as the Swifts maintained tight one on one defence. Swifts goal keeper Sarah Klau and goal defence Maddy Turner worked hard to keep Lightning goal attack Steph Wood contained and unable to capitalise.

Although Wood played a solid support for goal shooter Cara Koenen, with nine feeds and eight goal assists for the quarter, she lacked accuracy returning a disappointing 50% for the quarter. Goal shooter Cara Koenen was rewarded for her MVP performance last week against the Queensland Firebirds with a place in the starting line-up. Her efforts in freeing herself up around the goal third, pulling the ball in strongly near the post, and shooting with pin-point accuracy of 90.9% for the quarter helped the Lightning move out to an early 10-5 lead half way through the quarter.

Cara Koenen was rewarded for her performance last week with a start. Image: Marcela Massey

Both teams laboured hard to get the ball into their shooting circles, passing around to try to open up space through the mid court. With the loss of regular goal attack Helen Housby, the combination of Swifts goal shooter Sam Wallace and goal attack Sophie Garbin worked well together shooting 90.9%. Lightning were lucky to pull away at the first break with the bonus point, leading 13-10.

The second quarter started well for the Swifts, breaking the Lightning with a quick turnover on the Lightning’s circle. Swifts moved the ball quickly back down court, with Wallace positioning herself on the top of the circle – giving herself plenty of space to move over Lightning goal attack Phumza Maweni, stretching out wide to take a strong pass from wing attack Natalie Haythornthwaite to position herself under the post to score.

The Swifts continued to apply potent and physical defence. Silver Fern international Katrina Rore appeared at wing defence in the second quarter, making an instant impact on the game. Working tirelessly to limit the effectiveness of the always reliable WA Laura Scherian, Rore’s long reach and her never-say-die attitude wreaked havoc on Scherian.

Katrina Rore (Swifts) had an impressive SSN debut. Image: Marcela Massey

Reading the play well, Klau came out of the circle to take a scorching intercept away from Langman. Both Klau and Turner worked tirelessly to restrict the shooters in the Lightning goal, with consistent support from Rore and centre Paige Hadley around the circle edge.

There were flashes of brilliance from the Lightning. Langman firing a centre pass to Lightning wing attack Laura Scherian who bulleted the ball into the circle, bypassing any Swifts defence for Koenen to capitalise. Lightning WD Jacqui Russell was another player rewarded for her hard work with spot in the starting line-up. Getting the call up over regular Maddie McAuliffe, Russell was tenacious in her defence and stuck close to Haythornthwaite, causing early problems for the English international. Haythornthwaite had a solid quarter with 10 feeds and four goal assists and two intercepts before being rested and replaced by Tayla Fraser.

Both shooting 100% accuracy for the quarter, Wallace and Garbin combined well, Garbin with nine feeds and five goal assists for the quarter. Her quick feeds to Hadley on the circle edge and her fast passes to Wallace allowed the Swifts to claw their way back to level the scores 25-25 and take the bonus point for the quarter.

Sophie Garbin (Swifts) shoots over Phumza Maweni (Lightning). Image: Marcela Massey

The third quarter started with a legendary Karla Pretorius intercept in the Swifts goal third which resulted in a speedy Lightning transition. Making room for themselves, the Lightning moved the ball swiftly down court with Koenen scoring under the post and the Lightning quickly stretching their lead out by three. Langman supported the circle well throughout the game with 33 feeds and 21 feeds with an attempt.

Both teams played a similar game – physical with punishing one-on-one defence. Lightning applied strong defensive pressure through the midcourt, but the Swifts held tight, patiently moving the ball around until safely feeding it into their shooters. With Garbin happy to play out along the outside of the circle, Pretorius joined Maweni in double defending Wallace in the circle to try and limit her effectiveness. A surprise double defence ‘lift’ on Garbin by Maweni and Pretorius as she shot for goal initially put the goal attack off her shot, but she was able to rebound, steady herself and capitalise. The connection between South African team-mates Maweni and Pretorius has been growing this season and the trust and understanding between them is obvious to see.

Phumza Maweni (Lightning) prepares to launch teammate Karla Pretorius into the air to block Garbin’s shot. Image: Marcela Massey.

The quarter belonged to NSW who were able to score under pressure and saw them pulling away from the Lightning 39-35 at the break.

Quickly stretching their lead out by six points within the first minute of the final quarter, a solid win looked on the cards for the Swifts. But, much to the dismay of the Swifts, the final quarter began with the appearance of crowd favourites goal shooter Peace Proscovia and WD Maddie McAuliffe.

With the vocal Sunshine Coast crowd coming alive, the Lightning returned from the break with a renewed and determined energy. To have two high-calibre players such as Proscovia and McAulifffe waiting fresh on the bench was a master stroke by coach Noeline Taurua. With Wood being rested, Koenen came out to goal attack, moving effortlessly around the court and supporting Proscovia well in the circle. Proscovia is renowned for being difficult to defend. Moving out and around the circle, Proscovia continually shifts her position making her hard to defend. Giving herself space, she was able to pull in strong high feeds by Langman and Scherian. Back to playing their trademark game, the Lightning patiently passed around for space to open-up as they made their way through the mid court and into their goal third.

Sarah Klau (Swifts) tries to prevent Peace Proscovia (Lightning) taking the ball. Image: Marcela Massey

A huge pass into Proscovia from Scherian looked to be going out of court, only to be miraculously scooped back into play into by Proscovia into the waiting hands of McAuliffe backing up on the midline, before firing the ball into Koenen near the top of the circle. Klau mysteriously hit the deck, allowing a short pass to Proscovia under the post. Newly minted Diamond, Klau put in a gritty effort against a fresh Proscovia, but her determined struggle to contain the Lightning shooter was not enough to hold back the Lightning onslaught. Proscovia played a flawless fifteen minutes, shooting 100% for the quarter.

Shell-shocked, NSW continued to pass the ball around in a gallant effort to try and open-up space, but they appeared to fatigue as the Lightning, buoyed by the screaming crowd and the return to the court by Wood, steam-rolled their way into the lead. “We were waiting to see what was going to happen as to whether we stuck with the starting seven and when changes needed to happen”, said Taurua after the game. “I was quite happy with the timing of the changes. I thought when we did make those changes that there was a point of difference. Cara coming out [into goal attack], just giving a rest to Stephanie, for her to be able to regroup herself and then in the dying stages when we needed a ball maker, Steph comes back in and does her thing”, Taurua said.

Laura Langman (Lightning) in flight. Image: Marcela Massey.

The experienced Haythornthwaite also returned to the court, and along with Hadley continued to work tirelessly to try and steady the Swifts. Moving the ball into their goal third, they were wary of Maweni and Pretorius, who were hunting around in the hope for a sneaky intercept. But it was a quick pass from Garbin into Wallace in the dying minutes to bring Swifts to within a goal’s reach of the Lightning. With one point the difference, hearts of Swift fans everywhere shattered as Steph Wood was rewarded a penalty out wide in the Lightning circle. Finding form in the final quarter, the champion goal attack found the ring, taking the Lightning to a thrilling two goal win over the Swifts and taking away six points for the game.

 

Sunshine Coast Lightning 50 def Sydney Swifts 48

(13-10, 12-15, 10-14, 15-9)

 

Player of the Match: Karla Pretorius (Sunshine Coast Lightning)

Crowd: 3054 at USC Stadium

 

Shooting

Cara Koenen 26/30 – 86.7%

Steph Wood 13/20 – 65%

Peace Proscovia 11/11 – 100%

Sunshine Coast Lightning 50/61 – 82%

 

Sam Wallace 36/37 – 97.3%

Sophie Garbin 12/15 – 80%

NSW Swifts 48/52 – 92.3%

 

Key Stats

Intercepts:

Karla Pretorius (Sunshine Coast Lightning) 6

Sarah Klau (Sydney Swifts) 4

 

Goal Assists:

Laura Langman (Lightning) 15

Steph Wood (Lightning) 14

Sophie Garbin (Swifts) 14

 

Feeds

Laura Langman (Lightning) 33

Sophie Garbin (Swifts) 22

 

Line ups

Sunshine Coast Lightning

GS Cara Koenen

GA Stephanie Wood

WA Laura Scherian

C Laura Langman

WD Jacqui Russell

GD Karla Pretorius

GK Phumza Maweni

Bench: Peace Proscovia, Maddie McAuliffe, Annika Lee-Jones

Changes:

(Q4) GS Peace Proscovia; WD Maddie McAuliffe; GA Cara Koenen; GA Steph Wood

 

Sydney Swifts

GS Sam Wallace

GA Sophie Garbin

WA Natalie Haythornthwaite

C Paige Hadley

WD Sophie Halpin

GD Maddy Turner

GK Sarah Klau

Bench: Kayla Cullen, Tayla Fraser, Elle Bennetts, Katrina Rore

Changes:

(Q2) WD Katrina Rore; WA Tayla Fraser

(Q4) WA Natalie Haythornthwaite

 

What they said

Noeline Taurua

It was a close game in the end. It must feel good to come away with the win.

“It’s always good to come out with a win and those points are really crucial and knowing that’s going to make a difference to the final positioning. It probably wasn’t the best game or wasn’t probably one of our best overall performances, but we were able to clamber when we needed to and especially some of the turnover ball and getting it down to the other end was quite nice knowing that we had to grind it out.”

Swifts had two losses this season, both to the Lightning – is an ugly win still a good win?

“It’s pleasing. I think it’s one of those games that could’ve gone either way, it just feels that tight and both teams have the ability to beat each other. It just feels that we’re very close. Even though we’re able to pull some of that stuff out in the dying moments I think there were moments when we were on the back foot as well. So, I think that’s great for the competition and it’s great that we were able to come out on top today and as normal we will meet them again, so we need to be prepared.”

Laura Scherian had a tough game against Silver Fern Katrina Rore. What are your thoughts on that match up tonight?

“I don’t feel our overall unit worked together, and I thought we actually got ourselves really wide. We do have a strategy where we do first and second channel, but I also don’t feel we had the mindset of really attacking it and we got caught up in attacking the body.

“Laura, I think she had two wing defences, with Katrina coming on in that second quarter, she’s a big unit there and she’s an established player as well, and very experienced, so you’ve got to be able to work her to be able to receive the ball freely. I thought at moments we did that, especially towards the end, but probably not enough. I feel, as I mentioned, our whole unit wasn’t firing to the degree we usually do and that puts a lot of pressure on one person. It’s an area we’ve really got to look at.”

What was your thinking behind starting Maddie McAuliffe and Peace Proscovia on the bench?

“So, we started with Jacqui Russell coming in first up. One of the learnings that we had last week was, yes, the Netball World Cup players came back, but also those who hadn’t taken the court or hadn’t been playing also found it quite difficult to get their legs out there.

“So, we know we’ve run Jacqui in the past and we needed to get her out there on court to keep her in touch. Not only that, she’s been pushing for a few months to get her opportunity, so for a few of those reasons we needed to start her. With Cara, I think it was giving her that opportunity to back up – it’s the first time she’s done that in her career, and we wanted to see if she could do that and put out a consistent performance.

There are areas that I know that we can improve on, that we’ll take a lot out of today’s game and we’ll be able to really identify those areas and we can be better off for next week.”

The tempo certainly lifted when Steph returned to court.

“Cara did an amazing job out there and she did what she needed to do, but we needed someone to actually be able to take the ball to Peace or pull the defence off and that’s what Stephanie does and does well. So, if they put two on Peace, then Stephanie can come and shoot. So, the change ups I think worked at that time. And those ones I mentioned before will get a lot of confidence out of that and knowing that if we make a change out there that it’s going to make an impact and that’s really valuable moving forward.”

The Lightning has made a habit of winning games on the line, 6 goals down and they managed to find a way to win. What is it about this team that they’re able to do that?

“To be honest, I wouldn’t want to be in that position of when we are down, that’s the first thing. I think to some degree, it’s unnecessary or the reasons we have gotten ourselves down – it’s either because of an error which in our attacking end we’ve got ourselves too wide, and not keeping control of the ball. Sometimes I feel we don’t necessarily do the passes and we’ve got more in our back pocket to go back to the line and reset. However, we do know that we can get ball and when we’re down, we’re not out (so to speak), but also realistically when it does come down to that business end in the likes of the Swifts and the Vixens, they’re not going to cough up too much ball.

“We’re quite lucky at the moment that our defence end is creating and that’s definitely our strength along with Karla coming in and doing her thing and getting turnovers is also very helpful as well, but I don’t feel we need to be in that predicament, I really don’t. I think we can control the tempo, the momentum and keep ball in hand more than we’re currently doing.”

They seem to have the confidence to know that they can get themselves out of these situations.

“The thing is they actually do have confidence when we’re down and they do have belief and knowing that somebody is going to come up or take ball or do their thing, and that’s a really good place to be in, and I don’t want to be a ‘Debbie Downer’ on that either, because it’s definitely a strength of ours, but I think we can do, I know we can do more and I don’t feel once we get ourselves into the ability to control whatever’s happening – whether it’s the body on the body or if it’s not on, we can reset and go again.

“That’s when I think we’ll really be able to take our game to another level. So, there’s room for improvement, which is really good and we’ve got a couple more weeks until we hit the business end, so we should be able to make a dent in that.”

And what a great game Karla had

“I suppose with Karla, there’s an expectation not only from her team-mates, or us, or even the crowd that we know she’s going to get some ball and she does. She’s formidable. She’s a game-breaker and she hunts it, and she gets the ball and that’s why she’s classed as the best defender in the world and we’re really rapt that she’s on our side and an absolutely lovely person on top of it. So, I think, as I mentioned before, there’s areas that we can improve on. We can’t leave it to our defence because sometimes we’ll come up against an opposition that’s not going to cough up too much, so when we do have ball in-hand we’ve got to be able to the job, so we definitely want to improve on that.”

 

Karla Pretorius

Another MVP Karla, but this one is particularly well deserved

“Yeah, what a great game overall. I mean, being down and how we fought back was quite impressive and it just shows the quality side we’ve got and the faith we have in our different structures. I’m very thankful to be named MVP and we just do our job and if we get that award – well it’s a bonus.”

Noeline said you shouldn’t be in that position to have to fight back and relying on the defensive end to keep you in the game, even though you were six goals down at one stage towards the end. In the defensive end, you and Phumza have really developed your relationship and she’s really coming on so well also?

“Definitely. It’s not ideal to be down, you want to have the pressure on them, and be in front and then push it forward, but that’s the position we found ourselves in and we need to get ourselves out of that. But yes, I think the whole defensive structure was quite good. We really chipped away during the week getting that right which last week wasn’t that effective for us. This week that was really our focus to get make sure that we get that structure right and the faith we have in the different defensive structures we put out there to get some ball worked for us today.”

What’s it like, as a player, coming from behind and winning in the end?

“You can choose to either look at the scoreboard and look at the time, but that makes you feel a bit anxious, or you can just play it, get some ball and play it – and that’s the route I choose. You just do what you have to do and have faith in the structures we are calling on defensive pressure, we want to put to get some ball and we managed to that, so that’s great for our confidence going forward.”

With the finals in sight, are you noticing an increase in the intensity of the play?

“Last week wasn’t our best performance – it could’ve been due to all the travelling, coming back from worlds, and last week was just to basically recover and getting back those connections again and I feel like it really went according to plan and the preparation the support staff did was amazing and I feel like it showed in this game. The work we – or they – did for when we came back from worlds and definitely the team stepped up and it was a fantastic game out there by both sides. I’m pretty happy with the win.”

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