The Melbourne Vixens have held off a fast-finishing Collingwood side to claim a one-goal victory in the opening game of the season.
THE MELBOURNE VIXENS HAVE WITHSTOOD A FURIOUS COLLINGWOOD MAGPIES COMEBACK TO CLAIM A MEMORABLE 59-58 WIN IN THE OPENING MATCH OF THE 2018 SUNCORP SUPER NETBALL SEASON.
A 16-9 second quarter had the Vixens well placed, leading by as much as eight goals and looking set to record their third straight win over their Melbourne rivals.
But the Magpies came surging back and led by two goals in the final term, with all the momentum behind them. The Vixens locked the scores up with two minutes to play and were able to secure the result with a goal inside the final minute.
"It was a pretty exciting game and a brilliant start for the league," Magpies coach Kristy Keppich-Birrell said post-game.
"We won three quarters, which is a telling stat for us. We'll celebrate the small victories and work towards that four-quarter performance next week."
It was a team effort from the Vixens that, with strong contributions from Tegan Philip, Liz Watson, Kate Maloney, Chloe Watson, Jo Weston and Emily Mannix.
The Magpies had plenty of Diamonds talent at their disposal, with Caitlin Thwaites starting on court alongside Erin Bell, Madi Robinson, Kim Ravaillion, Ashleigh Brazill, April Brandley and Sharni Layton.
Thwaites – the competition’s highest scorer in 2017 – got proceedings underway with the opening goal of the match.
If there were any nerves or rust coming into the first match of the year, it didn’t show as both sides adopted a physical approach, with the scores locked at 5-5 after the five minutes.
Vixen shooter Mwai Kumwenda’s reach and athleticism was hard to stop under the ring, but the Magpies were first to break the deadlock to open up an 11-8 lead. That advantage pushed out to five as the Magpies went on a run, but Kumwenda hauled the Vixens back into the contest and gave the vocal crowd something to cheer for.
The Vixens tied the scores at 17-17 with just seconds to go in the first quarter, but a Thwaites goal on the siren meant the Magpies claimed the competition’s first bonus point for winning the quarter – a new innovation in Suncorp Super Netball in 2018.
The arm wrestle continued in the second quarter, with nothing separating the teams. But the Vixens continued to apply pressure and finally grabbed a turnover to claim a 22-21 lead after five minutes – their first lead of the match.
That turnaround continued, with the Vixens opening up an eight-goal advantage with a noticeable lift in their defensive intensity.
"We drifted off what we wanted to defensively (in the second quarter)," Keppich-Birrell explained post-match.
"We let them dictate what we wanted to be doing. That played into their hands, both offensively and defensively."
Trailing 29-23, the Magpies needed to dig deep to stem the flow of goals. Bell finally snapped a six-minute goal drought, but at half-time it was the Vixens who led 33-27.
Bell, in her first game as a Magpie since crossing from the Adelaide Thunderbirds, provided Keppich-Birrell's line-up with an important target in the final third.
"Erin's speed and agility at the moment is the best I've ever seen from her."
"To be able to outmuscle someone like Jo Weston - who is a magnificent defender and a competitor - I think she's added something already to our team."
The Magpies needed to start the third quarter well, and they did just that with a 3-1 goal run to cut the margin back to four.
A crucial intercept by Layton allowed them to close to within one goal before the Vixens steadied to take a slender 47-45 lead into the final term.
The scores were again deadlocked early in the fourth quarter, setting up a thrilling finish, and it was the Vixens who were able to remain composed and secure the result through Kumwenda, who netted the winning goal with 42 seconds remaining.
The Magpies will play the West Coast Fever on Saturday 5 May at 7pm at Perth Arena, while the Vixens will meet the NSW Swifts on Sunday 6 May at 3pm at Margaret Court Arena.