In the spotlight: Melbourne Vixens

How can a team go from five straight wins, with an average winning margin of 11, to four straight losses at an average losing margin of 12 points? That's the question many Netball fans are asking.
The inability to keep a consistent line-up due to injuries seems to be a major reason for the reversal of form. The Vixens have used 13 players in total this season, with only three playing all nine games. In contrast, the WBOP Magic and the NSW Swifts have used 11 and 12 players respectively, and both have had six play every game this season. Even though the West Coast Fever and the Mercury Energy Tactix have used 13 players as well, unlike the Vixens, both have had seven players play all games this season.

Another reason for this form reversal comes down to the Vixens defensive pressure across the entire court. During the first five rounds, opposition teams averaged 23 turnovers per match against the Vixens, compared to 15 for the Vixens, and they gave away a massive 65.4 penalties, with the Vixens conceding an average of only 54. However during Rounds 6 to 9, the opposition have averaged only 13.5 turnovers and have conceded only 42.5 penalties per match, compared to the Vixens average of 17 turnovers and 55 penalties.

The Vixens have also lost form in front of the ring, with their shooting attempts and shooting accuracy both dropping significantly over the past four games. During the first five rounds of the season, the Vixens scored an average 58 goals from 71 attempts, at an accuracy of 82%. During this time, their opposition teams averaged a shooting accuracy of only 77%, scoring 47 goals from 61 attempts. Over the last four rounds, however, the Vixens are shooting at only 78%, the equal-second lowest of any team in the competition, scoring an average of 46 goals from 59 attempts. Compare this to their opposition who are shooting at an accuracy of 86%, averaging 58 goals from 67 attempts, and you can see rival teams have now overtaken the Vixens to grab the important statistical advantage that they once held.

It can also be said that during this period of poor form, it is not a coincidence that the Vixens have been playing without their chief playmaker, Natasha Chokljat, who has been missing due to injury. Any team that loses a player of the calibre of Chokljat will struggle to fill the void. The fact that Chokljat controls the play from her centre position has really presented a dilemma for the coaching staff of the Vixens.

Over the first five rounds, Chokljat recorded 41 goal assists, the equal-highest of any player in the Vixens team. She was also ranked equal-second in the team for intercepts (5), second in the team for loose ball pickups (9), recorded seven deflections, and also created three gains. Along with these statistics, it is her experience and influence whilst on court that her team mates are greatly missing.
All four of the Vixens losses have been against Australian opposition on home soil. The bye last weekend gave the Vixens the chance to recharge before their final four matches, with the hope they can regain that early season form every ANZ Championship fan, and more importantly every ANZ Championship opposition team, knows they are capable of. Their remaining four games include two away games in New Zealand against the competitive Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel (Round 11) and the determined Haier Pulse (Round 14). However it may be the two home games that will determine whether the Vixens have what it takes to defend their 2009 ANZ Championship title. In Round 12 they take on fellow aspiring finalist, the Adelaide Thunderbirds, and then in Round 13 the Vixens confront the NSW Swifts, who so far this season have taken all before them.

Everyone knows the Vixens have the names and talent to regain form and compete in the semi-finals for the third straight year. The question is though....can they recapture this form before it is too late?