From the shadows of the Melbourne Vixens’ Suncorp Super Netball disappointment, a new international season dawns.
Having provided six out of 17 Diamonds squad members named so far, the Vixens thus have a majority presence among Lisa Alexander’s chosen group in the earliest days of preliminary training for the upcoming Quad Series and Constellation Cup.
A recovery week - or “active rest”, as Lizzy Watson calls it - followed the end of the Vixens’ season via their Round 14 loss to the Sunshine Coast Lightning. Beginning this week, coach Simone McKinnis is overseeing the VIS-based component of a co-ordinated club-based Diamonds’ program, as the West Coast Fever, Giants Netball and Sunshine Coast Lightning continue to fight for the 2018 SSN championship.
Five of the Vixens were members of the 2017 Diamonds squad: Commonwealth Games duo Liz Watson and Jo Weston, as well as already-capped trio Tegan Philip, Kate Moloney, and Emily Mannix.
The other is Renae Ingles, the veteran of 67 Tests including the 2015 Netball World Cup in Sydney.
“I think I’ve become tagged as the newbie veteran that’s been hanging around!’’ laughs Ingles, whose most recent appearance for the Diamonds came before the birth of her twins Jacob and Milla two years ago.
Her recall came after just a handful of club games, following a surprise return to the Vixens after Ingles jetted back home to Melbourne. And, at Diamonds level, the 31-year-old is in good and familiar company.
“We’re really proud of each other at the Vixens and were pleased when six of us were announced in that squad. It’s really nice knowing that we’ll go into camp with five of your teammates there next to you and pushing you along,’’ Ingles says.
“We were disappointed that we didn’t make finals, but I guess when you look at the year and the amount that was thrown at the team, it was good that we were in a position to be challenging for finals.
“But being from Victoria means you’re never satisfied if you don’t make finals. So there’s a bit of soul searching, and extra fire to burn when we get in there to the Diamonds.’’
Having missed the pre-season, Ingles is treating this stretch as a chance to help rebuild the base already established by her rivals for a Wing Defence/Centre role. Still, the superfit veteran's main challenges are logistical, with Joe scheduled to return to the Utah Jazz in September and her parents, Margaret and Denis, on standby for more of the essential family/child-minding support they have unfailingly provided so far.
“It’s all just a bit of whirlwind!’’ Ingles says. “When I think back even four, five, six months, this is so far from my reality.
“Getting back out on the Vixens court was obviously very exciting to me, so the thought of heading into a Diamonds preparation and into a squad camp in September is really, really exciting.
“When Lisa announces the teams for Quad Series and Constellation Cup after the SSN grand final then I’ll know whether I’ll be getting on a plane with the kids to Joe in the States, or whether I’ll be logistically managing a Diamonds tour, which would be a really good problem to have.
“Even now getting back into the gym and training for the Diamonds squad, I’m all in bonus points right now given that I was sitting retired 12 months ago. For me, it’s about putting my head down, getting some really good training done in this block and hoping for the best come team selections.’’
One apparent certainty in that regard is Watson, one of the standout international players of recent times. The 15-Test midcourter admitted the premature end to the Vixens’ season has been a huge disappointment but said the strong Diamonds’ representation was validation of the more positive aspects to emerge.
“From my past experiences, when your team’s playing well that’s when you individually start to perform as well and I think that’s shown across all our players who have been chosen in the squad,’’ Watson said.
"We had really good games and some really good patches as a team and showed what we can do, and that brings out individual skills.
“We’re really proud that we’ve got six Vixens up for selection at the moment, so hopefully we can get a few into the team, travel around and be part of Team Australia together.’’
By Linda Pearce, multi-award-winning netball writer with over 30 years experience.