Coach Simone McKinnis is optimistic star defender Jo Weston will be fit for Saturday’s home clash with the Queensland Firebirds, as the Melbourne Vixens seek to extend their unblemished 2018 Suncorp Super Netball into round three.
Weston needs to complete Friday’s light training session at Hisense Arena to confirm her recovery from the left ankle injury that forced the 24-year-old from the court early in Sunday’s stuttering 63-61 defeat of the NSW Swifts.
Her third quarter return demonstrated Weston’s crucial role in not only negating opposition shooters but creating opportunities for the Vixens’ attacking end with her strong drives through the midcourt.
The Commonwealth Games silver medallist missed Wednesday’s team session to work under the expert eye of team physiotherapist Steve Hawkins, who declared himself happy with Weston’s progress.
The Vixens are third on the SSN ladder with 12 points (two wins and four bonus points), behind West Coast Fever (15) and Giants Netball (14).
“Jo’s very important for us, particularly going into a match with Firebirds, the way that she can just really work a player,’’ McKinnis said of her uncompromising goal defence.
“That hard work one-on-one and that aggression and hunger for the ball, it’s fantastic for us.
“Having watched the Firebirds against Lightning last weekend, that attack end, and Romelda (Aiken) and Gretel (Tippett), played really well together and that’s dangerous.
They’re a dangerous team that can potentially score very quickly and easily, so we’ve got to be on our game every quarter, every minute.’’
McKinnis is anticipating the return of former Diamonds’ captain Laura Geitz after a week sidelined with a back problem, but was impressed with the Firebirds’ defence end and circle pair Laura Clemesha and Tara Hinchcliffe during their 55-52 win over reigning premier Sunshine Coast Lightning in the Queensland derby.
While the Vixens eked out a second consecutive victory after trailing late in the game, a four-quarter effort remains elusive. The second term that was the standout against the Magpies (16-9) was the lapse against the Swifts (14-20) that McKinnis says her team can ill-afford to repeat.
“I don’t think we’re anywhere near playing our best, and that comes to the opposition, as well, that we haven’t been able to. We’re still reaching for our best and we’re still managing to win games, which is great,’’ she said.
“And we’re learning some stuff about ourselves in each match, too, which is a real positive.
“I’m rapt with the fact that we have been able to come from behind; I guess some people would have seen us as frontrunners somewhat, last year, because most of the time we were in front.
“I love the fact that we’ve been able to do that, and to find a way to win in the two matches. It’s so important and valuable for us to have the composure to do that. But just the ability to be able to maintain absolute control of the match from start to finish is what we’re pushing for.’’
As is the need to adjust and adapt should an injury intervene as it did in round two, when only shooters Mwai Kumwenda and Tegan Philip remained in their starting positions throughout and Khao Watts and Kadie-Ann Dehaney both spent time on court.
“You work the different combinations all the time at training, and I think that’s a real wake-up call for the girls: we practice them for a reason, because anything can happen and you have to be prepared,’’ McKinnis said.
“But the other part of it is that ‘ok, so we’ve had to make adjustments down the defence end; we still only just need to score off our ball’. It shouldn’t affect what’s happening down the attack end; we should be able to just maintain that control to keep scoring off our centre pass, but we didn’t do that.’’
The teams, that between them claimed five of the nine trans-Tasman championships before Super Netball’s introduction in 2017, are led by a pair of former Victorian greats, with McKinnis having been a long-time defensive partner of Firebirds coach Roselee Jencke.
Saturday’s fixture ends a three-round opening stretch for the Vixens at home, with away games to follow against the Adelaide Thunderbirds, Giants and Lightning before a 16 June return to Hisense Arena against the much-improved Fever.
By Linda Pearce, multi-award-winning netball writer with over 30 years experience.