Fever weather Lightning storm to earn preliminary final chance

A HUGE do-or-die clash played out between the West Coast Fever and Sunshine Coast Lightning in the minor Suncorp Super Netball semi-final. It was the Fever that reigned supreme by eight goals, 75-67 despite a hard-fought effort from the Lightning, heading into next week’s preliminary final against the GIANTS and ending the Lightning’s season in the process.

The Fever entered the game fired up, as both sides were chomping at the bit and seeing some uncharacteristic errors pile up early and the physicality mounted. While it was the Fever that earned the early ascendancy, leading 7-3 early in the quarter and forcing an early timeout from an uncomfortable-looking Lightning outfit. Fired-up Lightning defence in Karla Pretorius and Phumza Maweni was negated by the huge work rate from Fever’s Courtney Bruce and Sunday Aryang, with the Fever duo working in overdrive to force Cara Koenen and returnee Steph Wood into errors. Wood’s radar was not on early with a couple of misses on the board as Maddy McAuliffe was well and truly put through the wringer, faced with an early ankle stinger and then copping the brunt of a Jess Anstiss drive at the top of the circle. While Jhaniele Fowler had no issue with accuracy, Alice Teague-Neeld was forced to take some uncomfortable shots as Maweni and Pretorius found their groove and blocked easy passes to Fowler at the post. Despite a couple of early coach killers on the transverse line, the Lightning’s defensive pressure ensured they kept close to the Fever each time they edged out the margin, as Koenen exploited the goal line like no tomorrow. While the Fever edged out to an eight-goal lead early in the term, the first break saw just three goals between the two sides, 19-16 as Lightning scored seven of the last 10 goals of the quarter to stay in the contest.

Wasted opportunities continued to plague the Lightning early in the second, undoing their hard work as Stacey Francis-Bayman worked hard to negate Laura Scherian’s drives. The Lightning lacked a bit of punch in their front-end with Scherian closely marked, however that did not stop the wing attack’s pinpoint and speedy passes directly into Koenen at the post. While it was all Aryang early on, Bruce made herself a nuisance down back with her ability to cleanly steal ball out of the air, as the Fever extended their lead back out to seven within the opening five minutes. Each time the Lightning worked their way back into the contest, the Fever were there to put a stop to it with the amount of pressure they piled on across the court. It was accuracy off the hand of both Fowler and Teague-Neeld and Verity Charles’ excellent feeds that allowed the Fever to retain control, while Anstiss’ defensive pressure on Mahalia Cassidy proved crucial, not allowing any easy passes in transition down court. Despite looking dangerous in the last 30 seconds of the term, the Lightning could not put any last-second offensive pressure on the scoreboard as the Fever held a 40-33 lead at the main break.

A huge third term opened up with both teams making a couple of errors before the Lightning were first to add to their tally, putting up the first two goals to put some pressure back on the Fever. Cassidy and McAuliffe continued to put their bodies on the line down back to eat up the Fever’s time and patience, cutting off that quick pass into the goal circle and seeing the Fever forced to reset on a couple of occasions. While the Fever were able to mop up the scraps in their attack despite the pressure, the Lightning front-end looked rejuvenated as Koenen and Wood fired on all cylinders and commanded the goal circle as their own. The momentum swung back and forth throughout the opening half of the term with no easy passes for either side, as Sasha Glasgow entered the fray and had an immediate defensive impact to put a dent in the Lightning’s hard work and force a tactical timeout. The physicality stepped up a notch both through the middle third and in the goal circles, as Koenen continued to rule the roost against Bruce and saw theFever captain test the physical boundaries under the post to limit Koenen’s ability to dodge. While Pretorius had been relatively quiet, she stepped up her game in the second half of the term and used her leadership set Koenen into motion at the other end, snatching some huge intercepts to turn the tides and get the scoreline down to within one goal, although the Fever were able to add one more to lead 54-52 at the final change.

The scoreline did not budge in the early stages of the last quarter, with the two teams going goal-for-goal in the opening minutes before Fever was able to break Lightning’s centre and extend the lead back out to four. Great vision from Francis-Bayman saw a home alone straight into Fowler, as the Fever’s defensive pressure amped up once more to see a six-goal margin. Wood needed to step up, and step up she did as she showcased a goalline drive of her own and forced the Fever defence to take notice of her to draw pressure off Koenen. But the Fever continued to tick along well, keeping the Lightning at an arm’s length in the process off the back of their strong start to the term. There was no easy chance for the Lightning to turn over the ball as the Fever cleanly and patiently drove down the court and the Lightning failed to rustle up critical gains. The super shot period would prove crucial with a nine-goal margin, and Wood was unafraid to risk it to whittle down the scoreline. But the Fever looked calm and composed where the Lightning were wasteful in comparison, and a couple of super shots off the hand of Wood were not enough to steal the win as the Fever ran away with a monumental 75-67 result.

Fowler piled on 54 goals from 55 attempts in another terrific and accurate effort to post, as Teague-Neeld (11 from 15, four from four super shots) and Glasgow (six from eight) aided her well and combined for 20 goal assists. Charles finished with 30 goal assists, while Anstiss added another 17 assists to the team’s tally and six pickups to go with her two gains. Defensively, both Aryang and Bruce had pockets of brilliance, and even despite their quiet moments the duo combined for 11 gains (three intercepts). Koenen and Wood shared the load in the Lightning front-end, with the former finishing with 33 goals at 85 per cent and two intercepts, and the latter slightly less accurate than intended with 28 goals from 39 attempts (six from 13 super shots) at 72 per cent. Cassidy and Scherian shared the feeding role, with 17 and 16 assists apiece, while McAuliffe, Pretoirus and Maweni combined for nine gains (three intercepts).

WEST COAST FEVER | 19 | 21 | 14 | 21 (75)
SUNSHINE COAST LIGHTNING | 16 | 17 | 19 | 15 (67)



GS: Jhaniele Fowler
GA: Alice Teague-Neeld
WA: Verity Charles
C: Jess Anstiss
WD: Stacey Francis-Bayman
GD: Sunday Aryang
GK: Courtney Bruce


GS: Cara Koenen
GA: Steph Wood
WA: Laura Scherian
C: Mahalia Cassidy
WD: Maddy McAuliffe
GD: Karla Pretorius
GK: Phumza Maweni


Picture credit: West Coast Fever

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