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Netball - 01. April 2011.

Swifts advance to Finals Series in the ANZ Netball Championships

NSW Swifts will take their place in the Finals Series after a compelling third quarter burst paved the way for a 45-33 win over Melbourne Vixens in Melbourne today.

In the crucial Round 12 match that both needed to win to ensure a spot in the top four, Swifts weathered an even and testing first half from the Vixens before taking off in the second half. On the back of a dominant performance from shooter Catherine Cox and an uncompromising defensive effort from Sonia Mkoloma, Mo'onia Gerrard and Kim Smith, Swifts shut their arch rivals out in a compelling second half.

Vixens now face a nervous wait, having to rely on other final round results to determine whether they will make the play-offs.

The atmosphere of this all-important clash had all the ingredients of a final in its own right as an absorbing arm wrestle took place from the opening whistle. The low scoring of the first 15 minutes highlighted the nature of the game.

Turnovers marred a tight and tense start, some the result of big defensive pressure, others the result of fumbles and poor passing caused by what was at stake. The home team's defensive line of Geva Mentor, Bianca Chatfield, Renae Hallinan and Madison Browne stifled Swifts' attacking options, the visitors having problems getting anywhere near the circle early on.

At the other end Vixens shooters Kate Beveridge and Tegan Caldwell were having much more success, their combined accuracy of 82 percent easily outweighing the Swifts' meagre 57 percent as the home team eked out a narrow 9-8 first quarter lead.

The arm wrestle continued on the resumption, Vixens settling into a solid attacking rhythm with a cracking start. Twice in the quarter the home team stretched out to three-goal margins but could not take a firm grip on proceedings.

Swifts captain, Cox, stepped up with a strong second quarter after a slow start. With Susan Pratley well contained by Chatfield, the veteran shooter received little support and was forced to work overtime to find space under the hoop.

At the other end, Sharelle McMahon's replacement, Caldwell also stepped up her involvement. Showing clever variations, the rising talent made sure there were plenty of options in the Vixens' shooting circle, ably splitting the load with Beveridge.

While the Vixens sat on an 83 percent success rate in the shooting stakes, improving to 70 percent helped Swifts keep the scores all tied up at 19-all heading into the main break.

The introduction of abrasive Swifts defender Mo'onia Gerrard for Rebecca Bulley had an immediate impact on the game. Vixens were completely thrown off their stride, the intensity lifting to another level as the court opened up to produce more flow.

Pratley became more involved, enjoying more space and finding her range as Swifts went on a five-goal unanswered scoring spree. Vixens lost their momentum on attack becoming a little hesitant as a succession of goals rimmed out. Swifts, on the other hand, sparked into life through the midcourt as Pratley and Kim Green orchestrated an attacking revival, allowing the visitors to bolt out to a seven-goal advantage.

Feeling the defensive heat, Vixens' shooting percentages plummeted as goals became elusive with Beveridge being replaced by Kathleen Knott in a desperate bid to revive the home team's fortunes. Despite taking a heavy knock to the head, Cox was an inspiring figure for the Swifts, a steadying influence in the heat of battle as she took control under the hoop to guide the visitors to a 33-26 lead at three-quarter time.

Pulling out to a comfortable 10-goal advantage in the first five minutes was enough to sweep the Swifts into the Finals Series as the sting went out of the Vixens' challenge.
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