Simone McKinnis likes to tell the playing group that her aim is not just to make great Melbourne Vixens, but to also produce Australian Diamonds.
Three current Vixens - the most from any Suncorp Super Netball club - are among four Victorians named in the 2019 World Cup squad, with several more expected to be chosen as training partners in preparation for Liverpool in July.
New vice-captain Lizzy Watson and defender Jo Weston will debut at World Cup level, along with former teammate, now Magpie, Kelsey Browne. Shooter Caitlin Thwaites, is the second most-experienced Diamond in the 12, returning for an encore after being part of the 2015 triumph in Sydney.
The bittersweet taste in an emotional week, however, was the disappointment that national squad members Emily Mannix, Kate Moloney and Tegan Philip did not make the final cut.
“I’ve been here right from the start, and so has Joey, and Kate and Emily and Teegs as well - we’ve all been through this pathway, so I think it’s a real credit to Netball Victoria, too,’’ said Watson, the reigning Liz Ellis Diamond winner and automatic midcourt selection.
“There were a few mixed emotions this week with the three of us making it but a few of the girls missing out. But they have been amazing in the support and encouragement they’ve showed us, and they just want to celebrate us being a part of the team, which is special.’’
Weston, too, always seemed a safe choice in the defensive circle, although she believes many of the selection calls “were pretty close, in terms of players, and combinations and form, all that sort of comes into it.
“So it’s really tough to see our teammates miss out, especially given that it was the same three that didn’t come to Commonwealth Games with us last year, but they’ve been incredibly supportive, and we’re very lucky to have them in our corner.’’
For her own part, Weston's excitement combined with the feeling that it was all slightly surreal. Like others in her age bracket, the 25-year-old said she had watched the past two World Cups: the double-overtime drama in Singapore in 2011 and the home-soil heroics in Sydney four years ago. “So it’s a bit crazy to be going to a tournament like that.’’
Also a relief, no doubt, to have finished a selection process that coach Lisa Alexander said had unofficially started back in 2015. However much performances for the Vixens have been the focus, no longer is the thought lurking that every SSN game has been doubling as an audition of sorts.
“Although we hadn’t really been talking about it that much, it’s impossible probably not to have it subconsciously sitting there in your mind - the pressure of ‘oh, am I gonna make it?’. Or 'what did they think about that game?’,'' Weston said.
“All those sorts of things come up, so I think now as the Vixens, we’re looking at getting on with the job with Suncorp, and then those of us who are with the Diamonds and even those who are going away with other international teams will get on with business in Liverpool.’’
One of the original Vixens, as a foundation player in 2008, Thwaites is also the last of the current group to arrive - her shock delisting by the Magpies at the end of last season having worked out as well as anyone could have hoped.
“It’s been great to be able to play with the likes of Lizzy and Tegan and Kate. and you can’t ask for a better attacking combination than that,’’ said Thwaites, 32. “It’s been awesome to try and slot into those combinations and to be able to grow as an attacking group, and it’s awesome that I’ll have my teammates Lizzy and Jo by my side.
“We would have liked six, though! Victoria’s always been such a really strong pathway in terms of we’ve always had really strong representation in the Australian team. That's a nod to the calibre of coaches that we’ve got in the state and also the high performance standards that are being driven throughout.’’
Written by Linda Pearce