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Vixens (58) defeat Lightning (54)

The high-flying Melbourne Vixens have rounded out their preparations for the finals series with a 58-54 victory over the Sunshine Coast Lightning.

The two sides will meet again in next Saturday’s major semi-final but the minor premiers took the honours in Sunday’s dress rehearsal at USC Stadium to finish more than two wins clear of the second-placed Lightning.

Mwai Kumwenda celebrated her 31st birthday in style with 43-of-44 shooting, including one Suncorp Super Shot, to guide the Vixens to their 11th win of the season.

“It’s always hard when you’re playing against the Lightning – you just need to go hard every time because they are a good team,” Kumwenda said about closing the regular season against their upcoming semi-final opponent.

“I’m just proud of the girls and the way they passed the ball to me today.”

The Lightning were guaranteed to finish in second spot after the West Coast Fever and NSW Swifts were unable to record wins in the final round, handing the two-time champions a double chance at a fourth consecutive grand final berth.

While both teams were eager to grab a confidence-building win ahead of the finals, it was the Vixens demonstrating all the qualities that saw them hold onto top spot on the ladder since round two as they led by five goals at halftime.

Vixens coach Simone McKinnis opted to rest starters Liz Watson and Kate Eddy in the second half and Sunshine Coast capitalised to draw level in the third quarter.

But with Lightning coach Kylee Byrne ringing the changes to her lineup, Melbourne took charge of the contest with an 11-1 start to the fourth quarter, Kumwenda piling on 10 goals without a miss in that stretch to seal the victory.

Vixens co-captain Watson took part in her 100th national league game after missing two matches with an ankle injury, the standout midcourter picking up 15 goal assists and 21 circle feeds before sitting out the second half.

The match also marked the 50th national league appearance for Sunshine Coast’s Jacqui Russell, the former Queensland Firebirds defender announcing her retirement from the sport having played the past three seasons with the Lightning.

Score breakdown
Q1: Lightning 13 v Vixens 18
Q2: Lightning 13 v Vixens 13
Q3: Lightning 16 v Vixens 12
Q4: Lightning 12 v Vixens 15

Nissan Player of The Match – Mwai Kumwenda (Melbourne Vixens)

Lightning shooting statistics
Cara Koenen: Total points – 23 G1 21/25 (84%) G2 1/2 (50%)
Steph Wood: Total points – 21 G1 11/13 (85%) G2 5/9 (56%)
Peace Proscovia: Total points – 10 G1 10/13 (77%) G2 0/0 (0%)

Vixens shooting statistics
Tegan Philip: Total points 3 – G1 3/4 (75%) G2 0/0 (0%)
Caitlin Thwaites: Total points 11 – G1 11/12 (92%) G2 0/1 (0%)
Mwai Kumwenda: Total points 44 – G1 42/43 (98%) G2 1/1 (100%)

Lightning starting seven: GS – Cara Koenen GA – Steph Wood WA – Laura Scherian C – Laura Langman WD – Jacqui Russell GD – Karla Pretorius GK – Phumza Maweni

Vixens starting seven: GS – Mwai Kumwenda GA – Caitlin Thwaites WA – Liz Watson C – Kate Moloney WD – Kate Eddy GD – Jo Weston GK – Emily Mannix