The Melbourne Flames took on the Canberra Freeze for their round three game; overcoming an early deficit to turn the game around as the Flames emerged victorious with a score of 13-11.
In his pre-game interview, coach Cheok Funn Lee was not worried when he was told that the Freeze were looking to defensively shut down specific players. “The beauty of our team and the way that we built it is that we’ve got plenty of players, we’ve got 6 players on the field and we can run through every single one of them,” he said.
When asked about the pressure of expectations going into the game, coach Cheok emphasized the Flames’ focus of taking it one game at a time. “We’re not thinking too much about the expectations, we’re just taking every game as it comes. We obviously have a lot of competitive players, competitive coaches but again, just one game at a time,” he said.
The Flames were without Lochlan Wise and Georgia Egan-Griffiths, but enjoyed the return of Mikhaila Dignam and Tom Rogacki.
Conditions were harsh as strong winds decided to join the elemental battle between the Flames and the Freeze. Netflix could use this match as a point of reference for the production of their recently announced live-action adaptation of Avatar: The Last Airbender. It was windy.
The Flames started off the match on upwind offense and turnovers gave their opponents the opportunity to earn a break on the first point, which the Freeze grabbed with both hands.
What followed was a series of long points with uncharacteristic turnovers from both sides. Frustration may have got the better of both teams, as Canberra and Melbourne resorted to trying for long shots in the windy conditions which proved unsuccessful.
The windy conditions and tenacious Freeze defense had an obvious effect on the Flames as they ended the half with an 83% pass completion rate, a vast difference from the 99% they had in their previous game.
When asked what the game plan was going into the game, Cat Phillips identified the strength of the Freeze women, as well as the athleticism and throwing abilities of their opponents.
“The Freeze women are particularly strong, so this was definitely something we talked about shutting down pre-game. They have some amazing athletes and great connections and we knew it would be difficult to stop them once they got going.
“They’ve also got players well suited to the windy conditions we were expecting, with a combination of elite level throwers and aggressive dynamic movement.”
The Flames came out in the second half raring to go and it did not take long for them to come back and re-establish their lead, scoring three points in a row to take the game to 11-9.
Phillips credited the team’s turnaround to sticking to their guns and being confident of tactics that have served them well in the league so far.
“The focus at half time was around coming back to our strengths and our style of play. The coaching staff were confident that our strategy was sound, we just needed to increase our efficiency with the disc and come back to the safe offence that we were able to demonstrate in the first two rounds of the competition,” she said.
While the winds continued to torment both sides and the Freeze had a late resurgence to bring it back to 11-11; the Flames had to grit to hold on and see the game through, with Phillips scoring the winning point to take the game 13-11.
No one was more deserving of scoring the winning point for the Flames than Phillips and she could not hide her delight as let out a passionate cheer of celebration after grabbing Rogacki’s pass in the end zone. She was the star performer of the game, racking up 3 assists, 2 goals and a block.
However, she was quick to credit the team’s overall effort for the result was focused on the next game at hand.
“The team did really well to pull back a halftime deficit and I’m proud of the group for maintaining a positive attitude throughout. Facing the top of the table Brisbane Breakers next round, the team is well aware that we’ll need to be much more efficient than we were today in order to keep up our winning streak,” she said.
“On a personal level, I have a lot of takeaways from the game and am looking forward to testing myself against the strength of the Brisbane women next game,” she added.
The round four top of the table clash between the Melbourne Flames and Brisbane Breakers look set to be a decisive match up for the league’s top spot. Can the Flames keep the fire going or will Brisbane break their spirits? Tune in on 1st October, 7:00pm to find out.
Written by: Alex Tsui
Photography: Mark Milne