In a case of déjà vu, the Melbourne Vixens are once again preparing to face the Sunshine Coast Lightning this weekend. However, this week the stakes are significantly higher, with a spot in the 2020 Suncorp Super Netball (SSN) Grand Final on the line.
It’s been a big week for the Melbourne Vixens with the culmination of the SSN regular season – where they finished as Minor Premiers, a win-and-a-half ahead of the second-placed Lightning – the announcement of the retirements of Caitlin Thwaites and Tegan Philip at season’s end, and squad members Jacqui Newton, Elle McDonald, Allie Smith and Sacha McDonald all officially receiving their Vixens numbers for their commitment to the team and the hub in a truly unusual 2020.
“It was important for us to put a bit of a full stop in the regular season as we’ve come so far but also that kind of means nothing now too,” explained the retiring Thwaites. “I guess to celebrate some of those things that we’ve done across the first 14 rounds, and then to be able to move on and really just put our best foot forward for the finals series. It has been a challenging year in so many ways, but for us to kind of celebrate some of those little things along the way that’s really important too.”
Sunday’s Round 14 outing against the Lightning served as a handy dress rehearsal for both sides ahead of this Saturday’s Major Semi-Final, which the Vixens took full advantage of, testing out different combinations and how they stood up against their opposition.
“We’ve seen so many changes and so many different combinations and really used the depth of our squad across this entire season, so I know that Simone has got full faith in everybody to be able to get out there and play whatever role is required on the day,” Thwaites explained. “I think we’ve seen some really good game time [get] into some of the younger ones too, so I think that’s a huge positive and a strength of the squad and the group that we’ve got.”
In unusual circumstances befit of 2020, despite finishing top of the ladder and earning the rights to hosting the Major Semi-Final, the Vixens will be hosting the Lightning on their home court at USC Stadium. Thwaites insists though, it’s not something that will phase the team.
“We’re ready to go any court, any time, and that’s been the mentality and the attitude that we’ve had throughout the year, and we have really embraced that and taken it on. We’re making this our home court no matter where we are, and sure there were some vocal fans there at the Lightning [home game on Sunday], and that’s a great thing for netball. Partly in my mind I think, ‘you know what, maybe they’re just cheering for us!’” Thwaites laughed. “But we know that we’ve got big support and we know that we’ve got all of our fans at home that are yelling and screaming from Victoria as well.”
So how will the Vixens handle the pressure of knowing the goal they have sacrificed so much for in 2020 is just two wins away?
“I think we’re not shying away from the fact that that’s where we’re heading [the Grand Final], we’re aiming for that and we’ve worked really hard along the way with that in mind, but we do need to kind of narrow our focus this week and make sure that we’re getting the job done out there this weekend.
“There’s no point in getting too far ahead of yourself, but we would love to be able to secure that [Grand Final berth] this weekend instead of having to play two games to get there, so we’re going to put absolutely everything we can into this week.”
The Melbourne Vixens will host the Sunshine Coast Lightning in the SSN Major Semi-Final, this Saturday 3 October at USC Stadium. The match will be broadcast live on Channel 9 from 1pm.
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