The Super Netball finals in 2023 continued to give thrilling matches and heartstopping finishes, as the preliminary final delivered a gut-wrenching loss to the Fever, and a heist by the Swifts to book a place in the Grand Final.
NSW Swifts def West Coast Fever 65-64
The NSW Swifts stole the victory from the West Coast Fever in a thrilling finish, as things came together to present them with an opportunity to win.
The result was despite the best effort of Courtney Bruce, who recorded 11 gains, in a massive performance to try and will her side over the line.
Bruce, who worked hard against the Swifts all game, upended attacking play repeatedly on her way to a titanic performance, drawing praise from Fever coach Dan Ryan after the game.
"I thought Courtney's game last week was unbelievable, and I thought her game today was equally unbelievable," Ryan said.
"What I said to [her] at the end of the game was every time that we were getting challenged or we needed something extra it was Courtney Bruce that found it for us and that's a captain's performance.
"We did everything right to give ourselves the chance and Courtney certainly led from the front in that regard."
Each of Bruce and teammate Sunday Aryang recorded an intercept in the first quarter, as the Fever troubled the Swifts' passing early. Ryan explained after the match that his defensive group had varied their tactics to try and stymie the Swifts' early.
"We had a lot of different structures and tools that we wanted to roll out, but the biggest element of our game plan obviously was just grinding and locking down our direct opponent, knowing that we need to find ways to win ball as the game goes on.
"We kept trying lots of different tools that we've been using the past month and and again, we absolutely won enough ball to win the game today."
In the end, Ryan was right. The Fever turned over plenty of ball, with Bruce recording 11 gains, the team recording 17 gains and 52 per cent time in possession. The Fever actually had one more shot than the Swifts, but it was the Super Shot that played a big role in the final outcome.
These are the two teams that have been most prolific with the Super Shot in 2023, and the star goal attacks, Helen Housby and Sasha Glasgow have been the season leaders for the Super Shot. But in the dying moments of the match, neither was in the spotlight.
Glasgow was out of the game with what was initially described as a groin injury, but was later diagnosed as a concussion. In her place, Emma Cosh took the court, for her first minutes of the match just before the Super Shot period started, and was tasked with trying to replicate the Fever’s strategy that has worked well for much of the season.
At the other end, the Swifts thrust young shooter Sophie Fawns into the spotlight. The young shooter played just three minutes in the preliminary final, and had struggled to find her rhythm in the pressure cooker environment.
There were no such issues this time around, as Fawns was a pest on defence, recording a deflection, and was unflappable in the last quarter, shooting three of four super shots, and rebounding her miss to keep possession.
Late in the first half and in the second, Fawns found her range, shot without hesitation and brought the crowd to its feet, and its lungs. After the game, Swifts stalwart defender Sarah Klau praised Fawns and her young teammates, as they stepped up in the big moments.
“This is just amazing, I think we’re all level, we all back each other, we all give each other confidence,” Klau said.
“We are all buying into the same thing, and I think that’s a credit to Briony [Akle] from the top down.
“I think, like Sophie mentioned, just having that confidence at the end, we are all going to make mistakes but its about fighting really hard to get that ball back and giving as much opportunity to the shooters, so its great.
“The depth that we’ve got at the Swifts, and knowing that we can rotate at any time gives Briony a lot of confidence going forward”.
The key for the Swifts wasn’t just at the attack end, but also at the defensive end. Klau came up with an intercept midway through the fourth quarter that helped shift the momentum of the match, but explained after the game that it wasn’t just a magical moment.
“Obviously being disciplined is a key thing,” Klau said.
“Last week, we were one of the highest penalised teams and if you’re constantly out of play, you lose that pressure and that build up down the court.
“I feel like a lot of the penalties [in this game] came under the goal ring, at the end of the day, it’s a 95 per cent chance of going in anyway.
“I think it is a key focus for us, staying on the good side of the umpires and staying clean and getting off the body where we have to play the ball cleanly.”
Klau finished with 12 contact penalties, and her circle partner Teigan O’Shannassy finished with just six, as the Swifts’ defensive end kept mostly out of the umpire’s ire in the preliminary final.
They will need a repeat performance against the Thunderbirds next week if they are to turn the tables and take home another premiership.
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