For a second straight week, the Melbourne Vixens face a do-or-die scenario in pushing for a finals berth, when they host the in-form NSW Swifts at Margaret Court Arena on Sunday.
Buoyed by Vixens defender Geva Mentor stating that nothing less than a win will satisfy the curtain being drawn on captain Bianca Chatfield’s remarkable career, the Vixens – like last weekend before overhauling the ladder-leading West Coast Fever – require a win on Sunday to remain a mathematical chance of reaching the ANZ Championship finals.
The Vixens are currently a game and a half behind the Swifts in third place in the Australian conference, while the Swifts are enjoying a five-game unbeaten run dating back to Round 8.
Historical and recent form favours the visitors, who have won six of the last seven encounters played in Melbourne, and as well having one hand – and a 24-goal advantage – on the Sargeant-McKinnis trophy after a huge win over the Vixens in front of a record crowd at Allphones Arena 67-43.
The Swifts boast a wealth of quality all over the court led by captain Kimberlee Green in the mid-court, and supported ably by tenacious defender Sharni Layton and shooting link, Susan Pettitt.
With Mentor’s return to form off the back of an exquisite performance against Fever giant Caitlin Bassett last weekend, the match seems certain to be highlighted by the goal shooter-goal keeper battle at both ends of the court.
Melbourne goaler Karyn Bailey accumulated her fourth match MVP last weekend; shooting 39 goals from 42 attempts to lead her side to the upset win.
Bailey’s opposition to Layton will be pivotal in not only how the Vixens can bring their leading goal-scorer into the game, but also how they can limit Layton – who leads the competition in deflections (66) and intercepts (34) – and her ability to set up attack.
With the success of bringing mid-courters Liz Watson and Kate Moloney up one position on court last round, coach Simone McKinnis is almost certain to maintain the starting seven – plus the addition of Jo Weston after half time – that brought a victory back to Melbourne just seven days ago.
The Swifts have proved themselves to be a scoring powerhouse in recent weeks, scoring 60 goals or more in four of their past five matches, and it will be up to the same Vixen’s full-court suffocation they applied on the Fever that will be necessary in keeping the finals dream alive for at least another week.
LAST MEETING: Rd 10, 2015: Swifts 67 def Vixens 43, Sydney