The Melbourne Vixens quest to defend their ANZ Championship title has ended, following a heart-stopping 52-48 loss to NSW Swifts at Margaret Court Arena on Sunday.
In front of 6,220 fans eager to send off retiring captain Bianca Chatfield in style, the Vixens looked likely to steal the match after trailing by as much as eight goals late in the second quarter.
The result today sees the Vixens out of finals contention.
The Swifts saw a seven-goal margin materialise to just a solitary goal at the final change, before watching their lead disappear when Tegan Philip and Karyn Bailey goaled within seconds of each other to have the Vixens lead by two goals halfway through the final quarter.
But led by captain Kimberlee Green at wing attack and red-hot goal keeper Sharni Layton, the visitors regained the lead late to crawl to the four-goal win.
After a stalemate opening few minutes that saw both sides capitalise on each other’s errors, it was the Swifts who would take 13-11 advantage at quarter time.
Green, opposed to young defender Chloe Watson, was pivotal early in feeding a slightly below-par Caitlin Thwaites, while Karyn Bailey was blanketed by Layton, leaving a busy Tegan Philip to shoulder the scoring workload.
The visitors would again push hard as they regularly extended the margin, as Bailey looked to work her way back into the match.
Kate Moloney found the going tough early against Paige Hadley, as the margin blew to eight goals. Some strong defence from Chloe Watson and lift from Liz Watson at wing attack saw the Vixens try to eat into the deficit, closing to within five before a mid-range effort from Thwaites on the half time siren saw the Swifts lead 30-24 at the main break.
Similar to the previous week, Vixens coach Simone McKinnis called upon young defender Jo Weston and the move pay dividends, amid a third quarter that saw players calling multiple injury time outs.
Philip’s assessment on her ankle was matched by a blood nose to Susan Pettitt and cut lip to Julie Corletto, in a high-paced, physical match. Corletto’s day wouldn’t get any better when she collected a wayward finger to the eye in the final quarter.
As the match seemed to peter out toward a comfortable NSW win, some supreme efforts from Weston and Geva Mentor kick started the home side, as their defensive execution lifted, forcing the Swifts into mistakes the home side had been originally making.
A six-goal-run to close out the third term saw the margin return to just one at the final change.
With the Margaret Court Arena crowd at their backs, a comeback win loomed for the Vixens as they took the lead for the first time in the match with eight minutes remaining.
It would be to no avail as Layton’s tenacity and the freshness of Abbey McCulloch off the bench and into wing defence for Jade Clarke, turned the tide – and eventual result – in the Swifts favour.
Post-match Simone McKinnis said despite the effort to overturn the deficit, there was a disappointed feeling among the group to have their season finish prematurely.
“I can’t be happy with a nice try. Yes, we were eight down, but when we were two up and the game was there to be won,” McKinnis said.
“It was great to see the girls fight and play well, but overall it’s a disappointing day and disappointing season.
“We put ourselves in a position where we were relying on end of season games and other results.
“The positive has been the fight and spirit over the last few weeks has been a positive, particularly from the young ones, but we’re pretty disappointed not to play finals.”
Captain Chatfield was similarly despondent in analysing her swansong.
“(In terms of emotions) there’s a little bit of everything going on at the moment,” Chatfield said.
“It’s hard that our season ends today, it’s all a bit surreal. I think the main thing is that having fought so hard to get back into the match today and not get the result we wanted, that’s the most frustrating thing.”
The Vixens will finish the 2015 ANZ Championship home-and-away season against the Northern Mystics next Monday in Auckland.