Howarth helps Vixens stun Firebirds
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Rookie shooter Karyn Howarth was an influential figure as Melbourne Vixens caused the first boilover of the season with an upset 47-42 win over defending champions, the Queensland Firebirds in Brisbane today.
Being overshadowed through the first half, Vixens coach Julie Hoornweg showed faith in the versatility of her squad to make major changes, the visitors going on to end Firebirds’ unbeaten run which stretches back to June 2010.
With the result, Vixens, who were rank outsiders for today’s outing, have sent an ominous warning. There was no panic in the ranks when things didn’t go their way early on and they adapted well to the raft of changes, unleashing a strong and determined first-up game against the previously high-flying Firebirds.
It was a mixed start from both teams, first game jitters apparent as mistakes and turnovers highlighted the opening stanza. But it was Firebirds who edged out to a 13-10 first quarter buffer, cracks appearing in Vixens play as the home team began to find their feet.
It did not take long for Hoornweg to react, making wholesale changes midway through the second quarter in a bid to resurrect their fortunes. Goal shooter Kate Beveridge was the only player to retain her starting position as Vixens reshuffled their defensive line, midcourt and shooting end.
The only change in personnel was unknown shooter Howarth, making her ANZ Championship debut, in place of Tegan Caldwell. Howarth’s superior height gave Vixens more options on attack and in the shooting circle.
Opening their game up with quick transition through court, Firebirds found an easy passage to their key strike weapon Romelda Aiken. The towering Jamaican shooter showed she had added a few nifty moves to her formidable arsenal as Firebirds skipped out to a six-goal advantage.
The changes, however, did pay dividends for Vixens, who on the back of a stirring late quarter fight-back pegged the deficit back to just two as the home team went into the main break with a 24-22 lead.
The third quarter belonged to Vixens, who levelled the scores five minutes after the resumption, hitting the lead with a confident showing while the Firebirds, clearly rattled, continued to turn the ball over.
Strong pressure from goal keeper Geva Mentor, who started the game at wing defence, and Bianca Chatfield helped minimise the threat of Aiken while at the other end the unheralded Howarth was all composure under the hoop as she helped steer Vixens into a strong position and a 35-31 three-quarter time lead.
Trailing by six, goal attack Natalie Medhurst and goal keeper Laura Geitz came to life in a stirring Firebirds rally with seven minutes to play as the home team rattled in five unanswered goals.
However, with the hard work done, Vixens held their nerve, regrouping to finish strongly and in the process earning a famous win.
K Beveridge 15/19 (79%)
K Howarth 26/38 (68%)
R Aiken 29/35 (83%)
N Medhurst 13/21 (62%)
With thanks to TTNL