- Monday 20 February 2017
The Sunshine Coast Lightning did everything but collect the victory over defending champions the Queensland Firebirds in their Round 1 Suncorp Super Netball clash at the Brisbane Entertainment Centre.
Both outfits had key players missing – Queensland lost centre Mahalia Cassidy for the season and the Lightning were without goal attack Stephanie Wood – but Sunshine Coast handled the setback better in a 56-56 draw.
“I’m proud of the girls the way they managed to fightback after that first quarter,” said Lightning captain Geva Mentor who had the edge over star Firebirds goal shooter Romelda Aiken in the latest chapter of their decade-long duel.
Aiken scored 37 goals but her accuracy dipped below 70% at one stage as Mentor’s pressure dulled her influence.
Sunshine Coast’s goal shooter Caitlin Bassett was brilliant with 48 goals at 92% but she could not have done it without a Laura Langman-led midcourt which will trouble the competition’s top sides.
It was a slow start to an epic first outing for the Lightning who took most of the first quarter to find some rhythm.
By early in the second term, however, the newcomers were right in it.
An inspirational hand from captain Mentor pumped belief into the hearts of the Lightning.
Debutant goaler Cara Koenen gained confidence with every touch and another first-gamer, Madeline McAuliffe, lunged desperately to win an intercept.
The Lightning’s surge prompted a midcourt retort from champion coach Roselee Jencke who replaced Kristen Oxenford with Jemma Mi Mi, and switched Caitlin Nevins to centre.
Kim Jenner was also on debut for the Firebirds, replacing defender Kate Shimmin as pressure began to build on the Firebirds.
The service into Sunshine Coast’s star shooter Caitlin Bassett began to flow more freely and she drained 100% of her shots in the first half.
Sunshine Coast enjoyed a five-goal lead at halftime and hardly looked like relenting.
With an average age of 26, this expansion team boasts plenty of experience.
Laura Langman’s strong body and sharp mind exposed the Firebirds’ makeshift midcourt, and another seasoned campaigner, Laura Scherian, looked composed against her former club.
All that hustle paid enormous dividends for the Lightning as they charged into the final quarter with a 43-40 lead.
The Firebirds thrust Shimmin back into the action for the fourth quarter and she started with a bang by blocking a shot from Bassett.
Gretel Tippett made a couple of match-turning defensive plays as the Firebirds began one final tilt, erasing a six-goal deficit to draw level with less than four minutes on the clock.
Firebirds defenders Shimmin and Laura Clemesha had their moments in the dying minutes but the Firebirds ultimately ran out of time.