The Melbourne Vixens gave captain Bianca Chatfield the farewell she deserved with a rousing 56-48 victory over New Zealand’s No. 1 side, the SkyCity Mystics, to end their ANZ Championship season.
In her 111th and final match in this competition, exceptional defender Chatfield led her side to a meticulous and determined win in Auckland, even though the Vixens’ fate in the league had already been decided.
The Mystics lost their way after a strong first-quarter performance, but still end the round-robins at the top of the New Zealand Conference.
With Cathrine Latu unwell with a throat infection, Paula Griffin stepped up to the starting goal shoot role after a long time warming the Mystics’ bench. While it was the long, sure shots of Maria Tutaia that got the Mystics cracking, Griffin’s ability to snaffle rebounds and score without miscue kept the home side’s total ticking over.
Vixens’ goal attack Tegan Philip was in typically stellar form – in her shooting, her availability and her vision down-court to Karyn Bailey. But she had to employ all of her smarts in the opening quarter to outfox the nippy defence of Serena Guthrie and Kayla Cullen, who collaborated to disrupt the Vixens’ rhythm before they reached the circle. Guthrie’s impressive string of three intercepts helped the Mystics get a four-goal jump on their opponents just before the first quarter ended.
The Vixens made a late comeback to trail by just two, 16-14, at the break, and carried on the momentum at the start of the next spell with young goal keep Jo Weston going the extra mile to keep Griffin out of reach, and Chatfield making Tutaia work doubly hard.
As the Vixens drove through the midcourt with purpose, and Bailey made more room to move in the circle, they found themselves two goals ahead halfway through the quarter. Through some determined midcourt defence, particularly from Chloe Watson, the Vixens pushed that out to three, to lead 30-27 at halftime.
Needing better intuition to interrupt the Vixens’ attacking patterns, the Mystics brought on Temalisi Fakahokotau at goal keep, and the impact was instant. While the Vixens circle defenders did their best in trying to undermine the Mystics shooters, Griffin stood strong and the Mystics drew even.
But the symmetry between the two sides was shortlived; the Vixens pounced on a lapse in their rivals’ concentration and accuracy, scoring three on the hop, to take a four-goal advantage, 42-38, into the final 15 minutes.
The Mystics looked to a new line-up for the last stanza - Latu at goal shoot and Katherine Coffin at goal defence – when the chasm grew to seven, through sustained precision play from the Vixens, Cullen was hastily returned to the court. But by then, the cracks were set in concrete. After ensuring they ended their season on a high, the Vixens formed a guard of honour for Chatfield as she left the court and a 17-year elite netball career.
Simone McKinnis spoke to Linda Pearce from The Age after the Vixens final match of the season.
"You sort of look back and think what could have been, but there's just no point in that, so just enjoyed the win, enjoyed the good feeling in the group from that, and we just have to look ahead now and debrief what has been a tough year and move on," McKinnis said before leaving Auckland.
"The disappointment is obviously not getting the results and performances that we wanted and that we were capable of ... but I think what has been really good is just seeing some other players step up as the year progressed, and that's been really positive."
Vixens shooting statistics:
Karyn Bailey 34/39 (87%)
Tegan Philip 22/25 (88%)
Mystics shooting statistics:
Paula Griffin 23/28 (82%)
Cathrine Latu 9/10 (90%)
Maria Tutaia 16/30 (53%)
MVP: Tegan Philip (Vixens)
Article: ANZ Championship