2023 VNL | Semi-Finals preview: Four remain in title hunt
JUST four teams remain in the race to the Victorian Netball League (VNL) title, with the red-hot City West Falcons the side to beat, but three willing competitors still in contention. We preview the two massive semi-finals that take place tonight at the State Netball Centre.
City West Falcons vs. Geelong Cougars
Wednesday, July 26 @ State Netball Centre, Court 1 (8:45pm)
In what is shaped to be a potential grand final preview, minor premiers City West Falcons have shown to be the dominant team all year, picking up 17 wins from 18 matches and running at a red hot percentage of 134.9. Though the Falcons are the team to beat, Geelong Cougars come into the major semi-final with ultimately a ‘free hit’ given they got home into the double chance spot by two points.
The Cougars won 14 matches and drew another from 18 in total, with still a handy percentage of 113.68 per cent, but critically were the only team to pick up a win against the Falcons. Granted, it was way back in the opening round of the season and the Falcons have been on a 17-game inning streak since, but the result would give the Cougars belief they could do it.
Geelong is coming off a commanding win over ninth placed Peninsula Waves, which gave the Cougars some relief following a one-goal win over Hawks Netball, and draw with North East Blaze the fortnight prior. Though that form might seem shaky, the Cougars starved off third placed Boroondara Express back in round 15, winning by 15 goals.
City West Falcons have never been short of shooting options, with the likes of Uneeq Palavi, Jane Cook and Kim Borger able to roll through the team. The Geelong defence will be key, with Brooke Allan a large part o that, as well as pressure from up the court from players such as Ally O’Connor and Zara Walters.
Boroondara Express vs. Melbourne University Lightning
Wednesday, July 26 @ State Netball Centre, Court 11 (8:45pm)
There is no turning back for either Boroondara Express or Melbourne university Lightning in their knockout semi-final out on Court 11. The Express will be strong favourites, having easily secured their finals spot weeks ago and remaining in the hunt for a double chance. Though they ultimately missed out on the latter, they finished the season with a percentage of 120.72 and won 14 of their 18 games.
In contrast, the Lightning only booked their spot thanks to some important wins late in the season. They won 10 of their 18 games, but were 6-7 five weeks ago and on the precipice of missing finals. Luckily a win over the Southern Saints last week secured their spot in the finals series, but their form has stood up with only a 10-goal loss to the Falcons in Round 16 the sole blemish of the past month.
The last time these sides played, it was the Lightning who stormed to a 19-goal win (61-42) which will give them great confidence heading into the do-or-die semi-final. In that match, it was the pairing of Claudia Mawson (31 goals at 91 per cent) and Mikaela Vaughan (30 goals at 83 per cent) who stepped up, while Gabby Coffey and Shae Brown are crucial members of the team.
Boroondara is never short of quality talent which is why the Express finished third on the ladder, with the likes of Casey Adamson in midcourt, Ruby Barkmeyer in attack and Sarah Szczykulski in defence. Isabelle Hodgson scored 31 goals from 36 attempts in the last time these teams faced off as a threat in the shooting circle as well.