While it was not the fairytale finish the Vixens were after following their Championship celebrations moments before the first whistle, the fight from the new-look squad was highly respected by the home crowd in the stands.
The West Coast Fever brought the heat early in the first quarter, hoping to redeem themselves after their two-goal defeat in the grand final – the last time the two teams met. Kaylia Stanton made her long-awaited debut against her old side in style, starting at goal attack and finishing with 12 strong feeds and contributing 10 goals for the day.
Head coach Simone McKinnis OAM was disappointed with the loss, but was adamant there was plenty to take from it going into next week.
“There were some really positive things out there and I think there were some huge learnings. It was great to see a couple of debutants making their mark,” McKinnis said.
“I thought there were some good patches, but then other moments of the game that opened things up too much.
“We got to see different combinations and different players and I think there is a lot to be gained from it.”
After the receiving the call up on Thursday to replace Liz Watson in wing attack, Hannah Mundy was quick to make the most of her dream opportunity and was welcomed into the Vixens family. Her strong presence on the transverse line was felt, lending a helping hand to the ever-reliable captain Kate Moloney who again put her heart on the line for her team, and led from the front with 17 goal assists and an inspiring 33 feeds.
Half time saw a seven-goal deficit and the Vixens searching for a burst of energy. It was experienced Vixens defender, Kadie-Ann Dehaney and new debutant Ruby Barkmeyer who brought the electricity to John Cain Arena as the crowd shifted in their seats.
Dehaney was soaring in defence against a dominant Jhaniele Fowler, gaining possession of the ball five times for her team under pressure, whilst drawing one memorable intercept that sparked new motivation.
“Kadie-Ann can have a really good impact, and it’s having that ability to maintain that. Bringing Emily back on changes it up again, but I’m really pleased with how Kadie-Ann went.”
Down the other end, Barkmeyer impressed in her three quarters, teaming up well with Mwai Kumwenda in the ring and working the ball cautiously into the circle. Her calm demeanour settled the untried combination in attack and allowed the 20-year-old to soak in the moment.
“I like what Ruby brought out there, and I think she stepped up to it - it’s a huge learning for her. There was some strong movement, we gave her the ball and the timing was good and when she drove hard there were some really good passages. She’s only going to get better and better after that.
“Obviously, it is a big difference without those senior players (Thwaites, Philip and Watson), but there is a real sense of team and camaraderie that they’re building themselves, and the support they are providing each other. There is a sense of excitement as they are helping the young players make their stance at the Vixens.
“It’s just new and it’s different, and I loved seeing Ruby and Hannah out there for their first match.”
Trailing by nine at three-quarter time saw the Vixens rely on the accuracy of Kumwenda, who was solid with 97%, while Jo Weston appeared to not miss a beat after recovering from a calf injury across the last few weeks. Gracing the court of John Cain Arena after a long 615 days saw Weston with her hands over every ball, obtaining seven deflections for her team that led to pivotal turnovers. However, it was not enough to rally them back in front, as Fever stretched their lead in their final quarter burst, claiming the win 51-65.
While it was a game of trials and tribulations and mixed combinations, it was not all doom and gloom in the Vixens camp as three debutants etched their name in the club’s history and got their moment to shine. Going into next week’s game against the Lightning, McKinnis hinted the line-up will adapt week in, week out.
“We’ll work with the mentality of, ‘what is the best line up for this game’ and that is how you start. You pick your best line up for the game and you adjust as needed.
“You never want to have a loss like that, it’s not what we are after, but I think there is plenty for us to take from that game. We are going to get better each week.
“It was an opportunity to see different combinations and that is part of our growth as a team.”
The Vixens will switch their focus to their round 2 clash against the Sunshine Coast Lightning on Sunday, 9 May. They will return to John Cain Arena on Mother’s Day at 1pm with hopes to get back on the winners’ list. Tickets are available via Ticketek.