Vixens clip Firebirds’ wings in nail-biter

AFTER trailing by four goals at half-time, the Melbourne Vixens have fought back to defeat Queensland Firebirds in front of a big John Cain Arena crowd to deliver a 66-64 Suncorp Super Netball (SSN) victory. In what was an enthralling encounter, the Firebirds still lead by a goal at the final break, and scores remained the same heading into the Super Shot period, before the Vixens – or more specifically Mwai Kumwenda – scored seven of the last nine goals to grab the home side the win.

The match started off goal for goal before the Vixens pinched goal number five of the match off a Firebirds’ centre pass. That lead did not last long though as the Firebirds pinched a goal off the very next centre pass.

The Vixens then pinched one off the next centre pass and landed the next one to solidify their lead. Despite having the lead, the Vixens shooters were uncharacteristically inaccurate, missing a number of shots early.

It was also an interesting choice by the Vixens to start Olivia Lewis at goal keeper instead of the much taller Emily Mannix, and the height disparity between her and Donnell Wallam was clear to see.

The Firebirds took the lead seconds before the power five, and then really started to get going during that period, using Wallam’s height over Lewis to their advantage. The Vixens bridged the gap slightly, but at the first break the Firebirds still led by three goals.

The opening part of the second quarter was characterised by a lot of little swings of momentum. One team would get on a run before the other team would steady, goal, and then go on a run themselves. The Firebirds then started to stretch things out in the middle part of the quarter, which saw the Vixens change up their midcourt in the hope of stopping the Firebirds’ momentum drive.

It worked briefly as the Vixens bridged the gap slightly, but then the Firebirds got on a run again. The Vixens also finally brought on Mannix in the back end of the term and after a few calls went their way, the Vixens kept bridging the gap. In the end, at the main break the margin was four goals in favour of the Firebirds.

The Vixens came out firing in the third term and drew level within the first three minutes of the quarter. Queensland then rallied and rebuilt its lead.   Although the visitors maintained their lead at a consistent level for much of the term, it still felt like an even term, with errors coming from both sides. Melbourne was starting to come back at the visitors though.

The hosts did get the opening super shot of the term to bring it back to one, and then drew level the very next centre pass, and took the lead with the one after. The Firebirds re-pinched the lead late in the term and going into the final change held the lead by the narrowest of margins. It felt like it could go either way though.

Melbourne retook the lead in the opening minutes of the final term, but it was a tense final 15 minutes. There were simple mistakes from both sides and no one knew which way the result would go. The margin remained at around the one to two goal mark for the vast majority of the last term, with the Firebirds unable to fully bridge the gap while the Vixens could not break things open.

Then in the shadows of the power five the Firebirds levelled things up and took the lead. Melbourne retook the lead with just under three minutes to go but the Firebirds kept pushing and were not going to go down without a fight.

The lead got out to four goals, but Gretel Bueta then nailed a super shot to halve the margin and double the nerves for the home crowd. The Vixens got one back before Wallam then landed one of her own and suddenly the margin was down to only one. It came down to the final 10 seconds, but the Vixens held on for a nail-biting two goal win thanks to the last goal from Kumwenda.

Kumwenda finished with 51 goals from 56 attempts, two rebounds and one deflection, pairing well with Austin (13 from 21, 11 goal assists, two intercepts, one rebound and one deflection). Liz Watson and Hannah Mundy combined for 40 goal assists, as Kate Moloney replaced Kate Eddy in wing defence from midway through the second term. Mannix replaced Lewis in goal keeper with five minutes to go in the first half, with Watson and Mundy also rotating bibs twice during the match.

The Firebirds did not make a rolling substitution at all, keeping with the starting seven, as Wallam (48 goals from 56 attempts, three goal assists, six rebounds and one deflection) was superb, supported by Bueta (14 from 17 and 13 goal assists). Lara Dunkley (26 goal assists, two deflections) worked well in wing attack, whilst Gabi Simpson (three deflections, one intercept) had a great battle with Watson. Ruby Bakewell-Doran gained plenty of experience against Austin with her three rebounds, three intercepts and two deflections in the defensive goal circle.

Next week sees the Vixens in Sydney to face the GIANTS, while the Firebirds are back in Victoria to face the Magpies.

MELBOURNE VIXENS 15 | 17 | 17 | 17 (66)
QUEENSLAND FIREBIRDS 18 | 18 | 14 | 14 (64)


Melbourne Vixens:

GS: Mwai Kumwenda
GA: Kiera Austin
WA: Liz Watson
C: Kate Moloney
WD: Kate Eddy
GD: Jo Weston
GK: Olivia Lewis

Queensland Firebirds:

GS: Donnell Wallam
GA: Gretel Bueta
WA: Lara Dunkley
C: Kim Ravaillion
WD: Gabi Simpson
GD: Ruby Bakewell-Doran
GK: Eboni Usoro-Brown

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