For the Melbourne Vixens’ two newest training partners, their maiden court session under coach Simone McKinnis did not begin exactly as planned. Elle McDonald tripped over a cone, then Ruby Barkmeyer jarred her finger receiving her first pass. Welcome.
“We did have a bit of a laugh,’’ McDonald admits. “It always seems to be the way: you’re concentrating so hard and want to do it perfectly, make a good impression… and I fall straight over a cone onto my bum, and Ruby hurt her finger straight after.
“So it wasn’t the best start, but we just had a bit of a giggle to ourselves. I was like ‘well, it’s over and done with now’.’’
Seymour-based midcourter McDonald, 25, and Bendigo shooter Barkmeyer, 18, are among the five Vixens training partners for 2020, joining returning trio Jacqui Newton, Sacha McDonald and Allie Smith.
At that first training session, which followed an introductory one in the gym, both newcomers noticed the huge leap in intensity and quality - even from the ANL level where the pair went from starting 2018 in the secondary squad to playing in the Victorian Fury’s premiership win under Di Honey.
If Barkmeyer is among those to have emerged from a long Netball Victoria pathway journey that started at 12-and-under level and this week included selection in the state 19/u team, then Bupa VNL stalwart McDonald has waited far longer for recognition at the elite level.
The secondary school phys ed and health teacher also coached Seymour to this year’s A-Grade premiership in the Goulburn Valley league, while always remaining committed to pursuing an elite playing career that has recently taken on a more attacking midcourt edge.
“I don’t think I’ve ever given up hope,’’ says McDonald, who shared a junior club, Diamond Creek, with Vixens’ captain Kate Moloney, and has also long admired her - and the Diamonds’ deputy - Liz Watson.
"Obviously it’s disappointing when you don’t make those teams, but for me I always had a ‘what have I got to lose?’ sort of attitude and would try and put my name out there and see what I could do against those girls that were getting picked each year. So I never gave up and was always going to continue to try and play that next level.’’
She is both honoured and excited by this opportunity, and determined to improve in every way. The same goes for Barkmeyer, who also plans to move to Melbourne in the new year to be closer to training, and was relieved to discover that all five training partners - including Smith, her former schoolmate at Geelong Grammar, where Honey is the head coach - were together at the Fury this year.
“ANL was a big step up this year, playing in Fury, and then obviously this is another huge step up, training in the Vixens environment,’’ says Barkmeyer.
“I’m just looking forward to working alongside the Vixens girls and learning a lot from them and learning a lot from Simone. Very grateful to be coached by Simone, she’s an amazing coach, and I always looked up to Sharelle as a junior, and now she’s my coach, which is pretty cool.’’
Along with Sacha McDonald and Newton, Smith has experienced what lies ahead, and the former circle defender who moved out to the wing is now making the transition to centre, too. A wildly successful 2019 for the Australian 19/U squad member delivered not just the Fury flag but another at VNL level with the Geelong Cougars, and now the return invitation from the Vixens, as well.
She sees it as exceptional learning environment in every respect, and also one of possibility, as Lara Dunkley recently showed. Having been promoted to replace the injured Tayla Honey in the main Vixens’ group, the midcourter has ended up with a Queensland Firebirds’ contract for the 2020 Suncorp Super Netball season.
“You’re one step away but that one step can be a leap, especially with the amount of talent that’s around at the moment, so you’ve just got to wait for your opportunity’’ says Smith, 19.
“You’re so close, but I guess that drives you to want to actually get there. Being only a fingertip away, it makes you want to be a better player and perform at the highest level to get recognised.’’
Written by Linda Pearce