THE Vixens, Pulse and Fever all made big moves in Round 7 of the ANZ Championship as we prepare for a fascinating second half to the season.
Here’s what we learnt from the latest round.
Cox kicks off her farewell tour in style
It was always going to be an emotion-charged game in Sydney between the NSW Swifts and Melbourne Vixens following Catherine Cox’s retirement announcement on the eve of the game. It was, possibly, the last time the veteran would play in front of a Sydney crowd – her original hometown – and the 37-year-old looked determined to make it a memorable appearance when she got out on court for the second half to replace Tegan Caldwell at goal attack. At one stage early in the third term her Melbourne Vixens side trailed by nine goals but Cox led the fightback. She shot 18 goals at just under 95 per cent accuracy to spearhead the Vixens to a stunning victory that took them to the top of the ladder – although they have played a game extra than the Kia Magic. Cox is determined to end her decorated career with another ANZ Championship winner’s medal. That would indeed be the fairytale finish.
Pitman adds another string to her bow
Chelsea Pitman cleaned up her captain Natalie Medhurst with some ‘friendly fire’ during the second half of Sunday’s clash in Perth, so Fever coach Norma Plummer asked her to step in and replace her teammate at goal attack. Pitman is actually a competent shooter, having played in goals throughout her junior career and also at ANZ Championships level in her first season at the Mission Queensland Firebirds. While she shot just three goals, the 25-year-old’s feeding to Caitlin Bassett was crucial in helping Fever power over the Firebirds to make it back-to-back wins. It would have been a sweet victory for Pitman against her former teammates – and no doubt she owes Medhurst a few favours or two after leaving her with a bloodied nose. Fever is almost in exactly the same position it was at the half-way mark of last season with three wins from seven matches played. Their next month after a bye this weekend will decide their top four credentials.
Bold coaching moves on both sides of the Tasman
Some of our experienced ANZ Championship coaches have been courtside since before we were born while others are still fine-tuning their craft week in and week out. What we learnt after round seven is that none of them are afraid to make the gutsy calls. The inclusion of former Mystics stalwart Temepara Bailey in the Mystics v Tactix match was a big move which could have spectacularly backfired with no match-practice as a new-look attacking end. And to inject Fever midcourter Chelsea Pitman into goal attack for the final quarter to topple the Firebirds was a stroke of genius, which too, could have boomeranged. They are the first ones to cop criticism for a teams’ poor performance, but in this case, they deserve plaudits.
Pulse finally starting to beat strong
It seems the Haier Pulse have put their early season wobbles behind them and are finding form midway through the round robin phase of the competition. Their experience throughout the court is starting to show as the combinations become more seamless the more the team play together. The way they played the ball around the attacking third, patiently frustrating the Steel defenders was applauded by coach Robyn Broughton on the bench. Katrina Grant, Joline Henry and Donna Wilkins offer the team leadership throughout the court and it all seems to be coming together. Back to back wins over the Steel will do a lot for their confidence moving forward, and with no trips across the Tasman until Round 13, they are on track to vie for a Finals spot. Their biggest obstacle? Winning in Australia.
Time for a quick recap
At the half-way stage of last season the top four sides on the ladder were the Adelaide Thunderbirds, Vixens, Firebirds and Magic. The fourth-placed Magic were one of four sides equal on six points with the Thunderbirds, Vixens and Firebirds way out in front. History shows the top four teams didn’t change by the end of the season. The top four right now is Vixens (10 points), Magic (10), Swifts (8) and Pulse (8) with four teams all equal on six points. Theoretically, all spots in the top four are still up for grabs over the next seven weeks. No one can lock away their spot – just yet.