The Melbourne Vixens are the 2020 Suncorp Super Netball (SSN) Champions, after defeating the West Coast Fever in a two-goal thriller at Brisbane’s Nissan Arena.
The win secured the Vixens maiden SSN title, as well as broke the hoodoo of no SSN minor premier being able to go on and lift the Premiership Trophy at season’s end.
Melbourne Vixens Head Coach, Simone McKinnis OAM, said she was incredibly proud of her team’s performance to finish off what will arguably be the most unique season the sport will ever see.
“It was just exhilaration that moment when the game was over, and pride and relief and everything in between and around that...and now it’s just satisfaction for what’s been a really full-on season and a full-on year,” McKinnis explained post-match. “I’m just proud of the girls [and] we can now actually breathe and enjoy what has been a well-and hard-earned Championship.”
Co-Captain, Liz Watson, echoed her coach’s sentiments, saying that the 2020 season would be truly remembered as one like no other.
“I think in my career so far all the seasons seem to merge into one, but this one’s definitely going to stand out, not just because of this Premiership but because of the whole year…we’ve become super close on and off the court, and to finish it off - like Simone said - it’s satisfaction, relief, you can breathe and then we can kind of just relax now…so it’s been unreal.”
The Vixens narrowly trailed the Fever at both quarter and half time, but McKinnis said she was proud of how her charges remained calm and composed.
“One of the things we spoke about beforehand was being composed and controlled, and there’s going to be ups and downs and they’re going to be coming at you, and there’ll [also] be times when you are in front. But you just have to stick to what you need to do; just keeping it simple, don’t get distracted by score lines or two-point shots or intercepts - just keep at it and it will come.”
There was much talk about Fever’s attack headed into the match – mainly around just how to stop the dominant Jhaniele Fowler – however the Vixens attack also put on a show, with Mwai (MJ) Kumwenda shooting at an impressive 92%, earning herself a Nissan Player of the Match performance.
“MJ got player of the match [and] Courtney’s [Bruce] been playing really well - she’s been getting a lot of ball and putting a lot of pressure on opposition, so MJ played a critical role in…keeping her busy, but also with the feeders not having any fear putting the ball over to MJ because she’s going to get it, and she did…and finished it really well,” McKinnis continued.
“Defensively we changed it up throughout the game,” McKinnis continued, speaking of her team’s tactics when it came to combatting Fowler, “but the bottom line – our fundamentals – is our ability to be able to work one-on-one, hands over pressure, little things like slowing the ball down, causing hesitation across the game, making them have to look at one option and then another option…and this is where the girls have been fantastic, the ability to be able to maintain that sort of work rate,” McKinnis added.
There had been a lot of emotion surrounding the Vixens camp in the lead up to the Grand Final, led by the fact that today marked their 93rd day away from home, and that it would be the final outing for two club stalwarts; Caitlin Thwaites and Tegan Philip. However, McKinnis explained her process in keeping her team grounded and focused on the task at hand.
“There was a lot going on, particularly at the start of this week, but we had a moment yesterday where we sat together in the changeroom here and said this is about ourselves and each other and that’s what we focus on because the rest will come from that.”
Watson praised her coach’s tactics to keep the team focused in a stressful and busy week.
“I think it was smart by Simone yesterday to have us in the changeroom,” Watson explained. “We could acknowledge what was going on and really brought it back to ourselves, and then today it’s all business - we got up, we did our usual pre-game routine, meeting back at the hotel and everything that we would do, and now all that emotion has probably come out post-game.”
“I mean we want to obviously acknowledge what’s happening in Victoria and, you know, our family and friends are living through it so we’re definitely in that moment and we’re there with them, but we wanted to do this job for ourselves and for them, and we had to stay fully focused within our immediate group for that to happen, so that I guess…relieved a little bit of that pressure so we could go out there and play.”
Thwaites added that her ability to compartmentalise helped get her through the two-week period in the lead up to her 232nd and final national league game.
“I’ve always known that I’ve had a really good ability to compartmentalise, and that’s through managing my mental health and things like that, and being able to switch off and cross the line and go, ‘I’ve got a job to do’,” Thwaites said.
“This year hasn’t been any different in terms of that – there’s been so much in terms of the retirement stuff and the reason why that happened early was because we wanted to draw a line in the sand and say ‘great, that’s one thing, but we’re here to do a job, we’ve still got a job to do and we want to move on’, and be able to execute and do the things that we needed to do for the team.
“So that’s been forefront of our mind, and that ability to compartmentalise really came into play today and…[we] crossed that line, stepped out there, did what we needed to do.
“I think there will be moments of emotion that kind of spill over in the next little bit, but I couldn’t be prouder of what this team has overcome to get here and I think unless you’ve been a part of it and known the ins and outs, it’s a pretty incredible feat to have got this far this year.”
The Melbourne Vixens 2020 season celebrations will culminate tomorrow night when the club hold their annual best and fairest award presentation, the Sharelle McMahon Medal. The event will be held in Brisbane, and broadcast live on the Melbourne Vixens’ Facebook page and YouTube channel from 8pm AEDT.