Rob Wright and the NSW Swifts got the job done in their opening game of the 2014 ANZ Championship, overcoming a defiant West Coast Fever, 54-51, in front of a vocal home crowd at Sydney Olympic Park Sports Centre on Sunday.
After trailing by three goals at half-time, the Swifts surged in the third quarter to get back on even terms before a monster effort in the opening minutes of the final quarter – led from the back by Goal Keeper Sharni Layton (six intercepts for the match) – gave the home team the advantage they needed to seal victory, ensuring Head Coach Wright started his tenure as Head Coach on a winning track.
“It’s always good to get that first win out of the way, and against a really tough team… [It’s the] perfect start in terms of that we got the two points. I guess the beauty of today was that there [are] certainly lots of things that we were far from perfect in; we’ll certainly go away and have to work really hard,” Wright said.
“I thought we stuck to what we were meant to be doing and grew into the game which was really pleasing.”
Debuting six new faces to the Swifts 2014 roster, Wright was pleased with the new combinations on court that built across the match.
“I feel like we saw [Susan] Pratley evolve today; that creativity, that movement combined with [Caitlin] Thwaites, who is obviously just a great shooting target in the circle. And those defensive combinations … grew across the game.”
2014 recruit Thwaites opened the scoring for the Swifts, slotting her first goal for the franchise. The defenders were up on their toes with GK Layton and GD Sonia Mkoloma switching between Fever and Australian Diamonds shooting partners Natalie Medhurst (GA) and Caitlin Bassett (GS).
However it was the Fever who gained the early upper-hand with defenders Josie Janz (GD) and Eboni Beckford-Chambers (GK) forcing turnovers in the Swifts frontend to lead by three goals at halftime, 15-12.
The visitors got away by as many as six goals early in the second quarter as the Swifts new attack end took some time to settle. Thanks to terrific backup support in the defensive end, plus intercepts from Kimberlee Green and Layton, the home side were able to inch back to within three goals at halftime, 30-27.
Fever hit the scoreboard first for the third quarter however pressure on the high ball won back possession for the Swifts and soon they were back within one goal. West Coast weren’t to be deterred, and upped the ante again with some slick transition play to find towering shooter Bassett under the post, who quickly pushed the Fever back out to a four-goal lead.
The Swifts held tough and with some inspirational play between Green and Susan Pratley, the home side hit the lead for the first time since the opening minutes of the game. A late goal to Fever captain Medhurst levelled the scores at the final break, 43-43.
It was a focused and confident Swifts side that hit the court in the final quarter, outscoring the Fever six goals to one in the first few minutes. Tensions were high as unforced errors crept into the match from both sides, and it was the team that could keep their heads that would prevail.
With a performance that earned herself Game MVP honours, Pratley was steady going to the post and drained 10 goals from as many attempts to reward her defenders’ hard work and help the team start their season on a winning note.
The NSW Swifts now hit the road to take on the Mainland Tactix (Round 2) and Adelaide Thunderbirds (Round 3), before returning to their home court at Sydney Olympic Park Sports Centre to host the Queensland Firebirds on Sunday 23 March – tickets available from www.swiftstickets.com.au.
SWIFTS – Q1: 12 – Q2: 27 (15) – Q3: 43 (16) – Q4: 54 (11)
FEVER – Q1: 15 – Q2: 30 (15) – Q3: 43 (13) – Q4: 51 (8)
SWIFTS: 54/63 @ 86%
Caitlin Thwaites: 25/30 @ 83%
Susan Pratley: 29/33 @ 88%
FEVER: 51/60 @ 85%
Caitlin Bassett: 42/47 @ 89%
Natalie Medhurst: 9/13 @ 69%
SWIFTS – GS Caitlin Thwaites, GA Susan Pratley, WA Paige Hadley, C Kimberlee Green (c), WD Abbey McCulloch, GD Sonia Mkoloma, GK Sharni Layton
FEVER – GS Caitlin Bassett, GA Natalie Medhurst (c), WA Chelsea Pitman, C Khao Watts, WD Ashleigh Brazill, GD Josie Janz, GK Eboni Beckford-Chambers
SWIFTS – Q2: WA Green, C Hadley.
FEVER – Q3 Timeout: C Shae Bolton, GD Chanel Gomes.