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LIGHTNING SET THE TONE FOR 2024

By Chloe Pilkington (Suncorp Super Netball)

A new look Sunshine Coast Lightning have pulled off a statement performance, coming away with an impressive 79-63 win over the NSW Swifts. The 2023 Minor Premiers kept themselves in range but ultimately were unable to find answers in slowing down the home side, as Lightning stormed home with a commanding final quarter.

Going goal for goal early, the Swifts were first to blink with a wayward ball caused by the relentless pressure from Courtney Bruce. The former West Coast Fever skipper, made her debut in the yellow dress alongside veteran Liz Watson and youngster Leesa Mi Mi. Bruce dominated on court for her new side, coming away with four intercepts and four deflections.

The NSW Swifts were thrilled to welcome back Sam Wallace-Joseph into their starting seven, with the goal shooter taking the Suncorp Super Netball court for the first time in two years. Lightning vice-captain, Tara Hinchcliffe also made her return from injury and seamlessly linked up with her new defensive partner Courtney Bruce.

In a riveting opening quarter, the Lightning attack end displayed exceptional patience, with the unstoppable trio of Fretwell, Koenen and Watson shining on court. Key player Steph Fretwell, set the tone early during the Power Five, confidently sinking the first Super Shot of the match.

At the other end of the court, it was Helen Housby who kept her side in contention, sinking two consecutive Super Shots but it was the Lightning who held a three-goal lead going into quarter time (19-16).

Sam Wallace-Joseph makes her return to SSN

Looking for answers to shut down Lightning’s attacking flow, Allie Smith entered the game at wing defence. Despite best efforts, it was the defensive pressure of the home side who caused doubt in the feeder’s minds, as play continued to unravel for the Swifts.

As the Swifts trailed by three, coach Briony Akle called a tactical timeout going into the second Power Five of the match. Housby made an instant impact on court, sinking two crucial Super Shots, but Lightning maintained their three-goal buffer going into the main break (36-33).

Liz Watson looked right at home in her new side, finishing the game with the highest Nissan NetPoints across the court (122.5). Watson, Cassidy, Black and Mi Mi all played effortlessly in Lightning’s attacking end, feeding confidently into the circle and applying defensive pressure in the mid-court.

Ash Ervin entered the game in the third quarter, winning ball over immediately, as Lightning continued to push out their lead. Trailing by ten-goals, Sophie Fawns was brought into the mix, with herself and Housby forced to sink crucial two-pointers, bringing the deficit back to four (56-52).

Tough battle between Koenen and Klau

After a mountain of work to claw back their deficit, the Lightning blitzed the Swifts early in the final quarter, going on a four-goal run. With complete control over the game, the home side were able to blow out to a ten-goal lead (63-53), with the Swifts unable to find answers in shutting down a formidable Lightning side.

Player of the match Cara Koenen called the baseline home, dodging her defenders with ease. Koenen impressed with an almost perfect shooting performance of 50/53 goals.

Trailing by twelve, Wallace-Joseph sunk her first Super Shot, a much-needed two-pointer for the Swifts. But the hosts were happy to take one-pointers and continue to push out their lead.

Reilley Batcheldor made her long-awaited return to court after rupturing her ACL back in 2022. The sharp shooter showed she was more than ready to be back out there with her team, sinking the final two Super Shots of the game.

Both sides finished with an impressive 91% shooting accuracy, but it was the Sunshine Coast Lightning who came away with an impressive win over the NSW Swifts in the opening round of the 2024 season.

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