THE top two clash lived up to the hype as the Melbourne Vixens and Sunshine Coast Lightning battled it out in a precursor to the major semi-final next week. It was an enthralling battle, however it was the minor premiers that flexed their muscles in the final term to run out four-goal victors (58-54).
The Lighting started with a real pep in their step, having secured second spot on the ladder and subsequently a double chance no matter the outcome of the game. They forced a turnover off the Vixens centre pass and converted before delivering off their own to open up a two goal zip lead. But the challenge was quickly answered as the Vixens fought their way back into the contest to level the scores thanks to the dominance of Mwai Kumwenda. It was a hard fought battle between the two sides as no pass was left uncontested and both sides went goal for goal. The gears well and truly started to kick into gear for the Vixens as Caitlin Thwaites and Kumwenda dominated to post as they created a handy three goal buffer. The speed through the centre coming from centurion Liz Watson was virtually unstoppable as the Lightning had no answers for her dynamic movement and pinpoint accuracy as the Vixens extended their lead to four goals.
Calling a timeout, the Lightning looked to regroup, coming out of the break with a real fire in the belly as Jacqui Russell picked up an intercept and sent the ball into attack. The Lightning steadily pegged the margin back as Cara Koenen held strong under the post and showcased her impressive timing to pop out and score. It was tit for tat for the majority of the quarter as the Vixens held onto a slim lead but an Emily Mannix inspired intercept and Kumwenda super shot on the buzzer gifted the minor premiers a five goal lead.
The Melbourne Vixens picked up where the left off, hitting the scoreboard within the first 20 seconds of the second. An element of inaccuracy started to creep into the Lightning frontend as the Vixens capitalised on their chances time and time again. Thwaites turned it on in the second quarter with the goal attack running rampant not only under the post but so too in the centre picking up a timely intercept along the transverse line. The hands over pressure from Jo Weston and Mannix was second to none forcing the Lightning to play the ball around and labour in attack while it was a completely different tale up the other end for the Vixens who oozed nothing but pace and precision.
Phumza Maweni injected some intensity into the Lightning defence end with an impressive rejection as her partner in crime Karla Pretorius reaped the rewards and the Sunshine Coast converted to reduce the margin to five. The offline defence from the Vixens caused chaos for the Lightning but a super shot from none other than Steph Wood seemed to be exactly what the doctor ordered. Russell came alive, driving through the centre third while Laura Langman flexed her defensive muscles to take a big intercept. But the ability for the Vixens to remain composed and clinical in attack allowed them to continuously ride through the Lightning’s attacking forays and maintain a five goal margin at half time.
Both sides made some changes out of the break with Elle McDonald coming on in wing attack for the Vixens and Peace Proscovia pulling on the goal shooter bib. A couple of errant passes in the Vixens attacking end saw missed opportunities while the injection of Allie Smith allowed Laura Scherian to run rampant. The changes did not stop there for both sides as Tegan Philip made her way onto the court in hope to provide a spark in the goal circle while Sunshine Coast wing defence Maddy McAuliffe brought plenty of intensity. Everything seemed to be falling the Lightning’s way as the attack started to hum and the defence got hands to ball drawing within one goal.
Proscovia was proving to be a menace under the post with her strength on the take, prompting the Vixens to inject Kadie-Ann Dehaney. The desperation from the Lightning came to the fore as they scrapped hard for any loose ball. Missed shots from Proscovia gifted the Vixens plenty of chances to add to the scoreboard but Wood was not content to let the game slip away sinking a super shot.
With only one goal separating the teams at three quarter time the Vixens put their foot down creating a six goal lead. McDonald steadily built into the game while Thwaites’ return to the court gave the Vixens more ascendancy. Sunshine Coast started to labour across the court with wayward passes plaguing them as the Vixens went on a tear. Out by as many as 10 goals, Wood put on a super shot spree with three consecutive goals but it was not enough to get the win as the Lightning went down by four goals.
Koenen continued her stellar form to post with 22 goals at 82 per cent accuracy, while Wood once again starred converting five super shots along with 15 goal assists. Langman was at her best through the midcourt picking up two deflections and 12 goal assists while Watson’s return to the Vixens bolstered their attack as the wing attack amassed 15 goal assists in her half on court. Kumwenda topscored for the Vixens with 43 goals while Thwaites was rock solid once again notching up 11 goals at 85 per cent. Defensively, the likes of Pretorius and Maweni inflicted a wealth of pain collecting five gains as their counterparts in Mannix, Dehaney and Weston registered 13 gains, five of them intercepts.
Sunshine Coast Lightning 13 | 13 | 16 | 12 (54)
Melbourne Vixens 18 | 12 | 13 | 15 (58)
Sunshine Coast Lightning:
GS: Cara Koenen
GA: Steph Wood
WA: Laura Scherian
C: Laura Langman
WD: Jacqui Russell
GD: Karla Pretorius
GK: Phumza Maweni
GS: Mwai Kumwenda
GA: Caitlin Thwaites
WA: Liz Watson
C: Kate Moloney
WD: Kate Eddy
GD: Jo Weston
GK: Emily Mannix