2021 SSN: Season review – Sunshine Coast Lightning

THE 2021 Suncorp Super Netball (SSN) season has come to a close with the focus now on the off-season and next year. Draft Central takes a look at each teams respective season with the next team under the microscope the Sunshine Coast Lightning.

Ladder: 4th
Win-loss: 8-6
Percentage: 98.92%

The Sunshine Coast Lightning were once again among the thick of things making their fifth consecutive finals series and while they did not make it to the big dance they still managed to have a strong season. The Lightning collected a couple of big wins throughout their campaign – the biggest against a fully fit and firing West Coast Fever outfit – but also suffered a couple of surprise losses to the likes of the Adelaide Thunderbirds and Queensland Firebirds which ultimately pushed them down the ladder. With a couple of fresh faces joining the fray and new connections being made across the court the Lightning took some time to settle and really hit their straps. They displayed impressive glimpses of form with their speed and precise ball movement coming to the fore, but ultimately did not have the consistency to get the job done.

What worked well?

The connection between Cara Koenen and Steph Wood was just about unstoppable when they were on song. The pair had an innate connection that enabled them to carve up the court with their shooter to shooter interplay allowing the Lightning front-end to dominate. Koenen was a lynchpin under the post with her movement along the baseline causing all sorts of headaches for the opposition while her increased volume also took centre stage. The solidarity in defence was another key component for the Lighting as Karla Pretorius and Phumza Maweni combined to shut down the space and cause a ruckus down back. The pair were relatively stingy in defence working in tandem to reduce the amount of space afforded to opposition attack units while also proving they are not afraid to go out hunting for any cross-court ball that goes their way.

What went wrong?

There were plenty of positives for the Lightning however there were times that things broke down over the transverse line. When things got stagnant in attack they were unable to forge a way forward with Laura Scherian, Binnian Hunt, Mahalia Cassidy and Maddy McAuliffe all rotating through the midcourt but sometimes getting caught on the body of their opponent rather than creating space. The Lightning struggled with their one-dimensional movement, often stuck up high and unable to penetrate into the circle especially in attack. Sunshine Coast also had issues when it came to moving the ball from defence to offence, unable to get over the mess and find any easy way through the mess.

Most valuable player:

There is no denying that Wood was well and truly the barometer of the Sunshine Coast Lightning with the goal attack proving time and time again that she is the missing link between a win and a loss. Her missed connection was obvious when not out on court with the side struggling to generate any type of attacking momentum. The goal attack showcased her impressive timing, composure and smarts to consistently create space both inside and outside the circle to set up teammate Koenen under the post. Wood did a mountain-load of preliminary work to get the defenders off her tail and used her turn of speed to dart into the circle. Throw in her willingness to go to post from range and cool, calm nature in difficult situations, and it is fair to say Wood was a force to be reckoned with for the Lightning. 

Most improved player:

McAuliffe took on a very different role in season 2021 with the talented midcourter splitting her time between both centre and wing defence. A tried and tested member of the Lightning squad, McAuliffe enjoyed some extra court time and used her defensive mindset to have an influence on the play in attack with her drive and vision. She showcased her tenacity and adaptability to transition between the two positions with great ease and used her endurance to get to consecutive contests. She did some of her best work around circle edge down in defence while her timing in attack also developed as did her creativity on the pass as the season went on.

Photo credit: Sunshine Coast Lightning via Twitter

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