In the Spotlight: Natalie Medhurst

Champion Data, Wednesday, 2 March 2011.

The Queensland Firebirds are indeed on FIRE, commanding three victories from three starts to kick their season off the best way imaginable. What makes it an even more impressive performance is that two of the victories were against potential finals challengers. A close fought victory over last year's Minor Premiers, the NSW Swifts in Round 2, and then a thoroughly convincing display over last season's Champions, the Adelaide Thunderbirds in Round 3. All players are heavy contributors to the team's early success, but leading the way is their often over-shadowed goal attack, Natalie Medhurst.

The "three's" tell the story of a dominant beginning to the season for Medhurst. Over the first three games of 2011, Medhurst is averaging three more goals per game (25 goals compared to 22 goals), three more goal attempts (30 goals compared to 27 goals), and a 3% increase in shooting accuracy (84%, up from 81%) compared to the entire season 2010.

The importance of Medhurst's versatility on court should not be underestimated. After scoring 23 goals in the first game of the season, she then played a significant support role to Romelda Aiken in the first of two games in Round 3. Scoring a modest 13 goals herself, Medhurst was a star around the court, recording 11 goal assists and 21 feeds, both statistics the equal-third highest in her career. The dominant display assisted Aiken in scoring an astonishing 50 goals, thrashing the Adelaide Thunderbirds by 23. Medhurst then proved her shooting skills are very much at the forefront of her talent, scoring a career-high 39 goals from 45 attempts in the Firebirds' second game of Round 3 against West Coast Fever, a defensive unit she obviously feels at home against. Four of her top five shooting performances have come against the West Coast Fever.

Medhurst is not only contributing considerably to the score sheet via goals and goal assists, she is keeping the statisticians busy in her general court play. She has received the ball from the centre pass on 45 occasions this season, ranked No.1 at the Firebirds, averaging 15 per game. Having such a versatile Goal Attack creates the perfect situation for the Firebirds up front, as defensive pressure must be equally applied to Medhurst as much as Aiken this season, whereas in the past teams generally knew that ball was going to Aiken whenever in the goal circle.

Medhurst's game against the Fever in Round 3 will arguably go down as her best in the maroon and yellow of the Firebirds. Along with her dominant display up front with 39 goals, she also took an intercept, deflected the ball on four occasions and got the loose ball pickup three times. Considering she was everywhere, Medhurst only gave away one turnover and two penalties. She must have known the Round 3 'In the Spotlight' was going to be dedicated to her, as her game was simply outstanding.

Even though it is early in the season the Queensland Firebirds are well positioned to finally realise their full potential and become the fourth Australian team in ANZ Championship history to lift the trophy. Their next three games are tough but all winnable. Next round they host the Southern Steel, a match they would be disappointed to drop. They then hit the road with two difficult away trips meeting both the Thunderbirds and the Swifts in consecutive rounds. If the Firebirds can win two of their next three they will be well positioned at the half way mark of the 2011 competition. For them to do this, Natalie Medhurst must continue her excellent early season form.