THUNDERBIRDS IMPROVEMENT NOT ENOUGH TO CONQUER HIGH-FLYING KUMWENDA

It was the Adelaide Thunderbirds’ best first half for the year, but they were unable to sustain the pressure against a slick Melbourne Vixens unit who stormed home to a 21-goal win. The Thunderbirds opted to begin with their most experienced line-up, book ended by Karyn Bailey and Malysha Kelly. It was a shaky start for the Thunderbirds, with early turn overs giving plenty of opportunities to the Vixens. Tegan Phillip was particularly dangerous at goal attack for the visitors, with her strong drive to the post and ability to shoot from range.

The Thunderbirds’ game plan appeared to be to move the ball quickly to give the young Vixens defenders less time to position themselves. After an unsettled initial few minutes, the plan began to show reward, with Bailey holding strongly and Bell and Pitman delivering a quicker, flatter pass directly into her hands, rather than putting it up for Mannix to contest in the air.

While the Thunderbirds were able to drag the difference back to three, again it was unforced errors which saw the lead blow back out to seven at the end of a very high scoring first quarter.

Q1 THU 13 – VIX 20

The Thunderbirds’ defenders lifted their pressure on the visitors. The Vixens’ strength over previous weeks had been their strong court structures, however, these seemed to falter as they were forced to pass back to their midcourt to reset on a number of occasions.

Confident feeding from the Thunderbirds midcourt continued, with Chelsea Pitman driving hard into the pockets, attracting the attention of Mannix at GK and leaving Bailey alone under the post for an easy feed on a number of occasions. The big difference for the Thunderbirds was in their turn overs. They reduced their wasted ball to just two for the second quarter from nine in the first, allowing them to put real pressure on the score board and win the quarter by two.

Q2 THU 31 – VIX 36

Fiona Themann entered the game at goal keeper, with coach Dan Ryan relying on her experience playing against Kumwenda in the Victorian state league. While Themann was disruptive and able to get into a better position than Kelly, Kumwenda’s athleticism was almost impossible to contain. This was made even more difficult as the Vixens’ midcourt found good feeding position at the top of the circle through quick footwork and sharp front cuts.

An increase in pressure, particularly from Vixens’ captain Kate Maloney at centre, saw the Thunderbirds attack line begin to again hesitate on their feed to Bailey. Turnovers again increased, with the Vixens always ready to pounce on any lose ball.

Q3 THU 42- VIX 54

There was a drop off in intensity from the Thunderbirds in the fourth quarter, as they were unable to sustain the focus of the first half. The Vixens took advantage, with their defenders picking up two intercepts and three deflections for the quarter from lose passes and the speed and vision of Maloney and wing attack Liz Watson burning them in transition.

Kelly returned to goal keeper, allowing Themann to move out to goal defence. The reduced pressure across the court from the Thunderbirds allowed the Vixens attackers to settle into their regular attacking patterns. The Vixens shooters started to set screens to confuse the Thunderbirds and showed why they are considered one of the best shooting partnerships in the competition.
Pitman continued to drive hard and Bailey was a strong target under the post with 11 goals at 85 per cent for the quarter, but the Vixens were a class above in the second half to win the game by 21 goals.

FINAL THU 54 – VIX 75

MVP: Mwai Kumwenda

PLAYER IN FOCUS – Chelsea Pitman
After an indifferent few weeks, Chelsea Pitman was back to her best in this match. Her strong drives and ability to pull in ball under enormous pressure was invaluable for the Thunderbirds, but this week, it was her quick release the ball that made all the difference. Her intensity lifted those around her, as did her confidence to feed Karyn Bailey who was a strong option under the post.
Pitman finished the match with 24 centre pass receives and a game-high 26 goal assists, with only one turnover against her name in what Thunderbirds’ fans hope is a return to form for the English international.

Adelaide Thunderbirds
GS Karyn Bailey
GA Erin Bell
WA Chelsea Pitman
C Jade Clarke
WD Renae Ingles
GD Ama Agbeze
GK Malysha Kelly
Shooting stats
Bailey 39/44 (89%)
Bell 15/19 (79%)

Melbourne Vixens
GS Mwai Kumwenda
GA Tegan Philip
WA Liz Watson
C Kate Maloney
WD Chloe Watson
GD Jo Weston
GK Emily Mannix
Shooting stats
Kumwenda 38/39 (98%)
Philip 37/40 (93%)