24 May 2010

The NSW Swifts rewarded captain Cath Cox with a special 34th birthday present tonight – keeping their unbeaten record while fending off a bona fide challenge from the West Coast Fever, 61-52, in Perth.

Throughout the match, the Swifts kept in front on the scoreboard, but when they stopped attacking the ball, the Fever pounced – drawing within three in the third quarter and staying within striking distance for much of the fourth.

Cox, who made a robust contribution to the victory with 33 goals, said the competition leaders were only too aware of the Fever’s ability to come back.  “The Fever are a quality side and we got stuck in that trap with them last year when we were over here – we had a bit of a lead and they kept fighting. We ended up in an overtime game, and losing. We just had to make sure we didn’t repeat that,” she said.

The Fever were able to match the steps of the Swifts for the opening stages, with Jo Curran, at wing defence, throwing herself into the action, and keeper Susan Furhmann doing her best to cover every movement of Cox.  But with Vanessa Ware and Kim Green unrelenting with their drilling passes to Cox and Susan Pratley, the Swifts pulled out to a five-goal advantage, which they held until the end of the quarter, 18-13.

Fever coach Jane Searle rearranged the defensive end in the break, benching Furhmann, pushing Bianca Reddy back to deal with Cox, and adding Emma Beckett to the mix. 

But it seemed little could be done to stem the Swift’s flow, with the agile Sonia Mkoloma swooping on any long ball earmarked for Fever shooter Caitlin Bassett, and the gulf expanding to 10 goals. Swifts goal defence Rebecca Bulley was equally destructive to the Fever attack.  But the Fever are renowned for never surrendering, and showed signs of a fightback just before halftime, with the score 32-24.

Searle was still desperate to find the best defensive combination to shut down ball to the Swifts shooters, and brought Fuhrmann back into the game for the third quarter.  At the same time, she urged her players to tighten up their one-on-one marking.  They answered her call, forcing the Swifts to look wide for their passes, stepping up their confidence in their own passing, and narrowing the difference to three in an impressive comeback.

But a five-goal run by Swifts, thanks to the certain hands of Cox, put them back in control going into the last quarter, up 46-39.  Again the Fever surged to within four with 10 minutes left on the clock, with Bassett shooting superbly under Mkoloma’s pressure (ending the match with figures of 38 from 45). But they weren’t able to continue the momentum, and the championship leaders marched on.

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