After 60 minutes of play the Melbourne Vixens and West Coast Fever could not be split, playing out a thrilling 63-all draw to open Round 10 of Suncorp Super Netball (SSN).
The 1-versus-4 clash lived up to its billing of being a top-four blockbuster, with the Vixens coming from as much as 14 goals down to nearly snatching the game from right out under Fever’s noses.
Melbourne Vixens Head Coach, Simone McKinnis OAM, said that whilst her side is never aiming for anything less than a win, she was proud of the way her team fought back after looking out of contention mid-way through the third term.
“I’m really proud of the way that they came back,” McKinnis confirmed. “I mean, we got ourselves into a big mess there in the first half, but you know I really admire their capacity to pull it together and get themselves into a position to get in front and get themselves into a position where they could’ve won the game, so I think that’s a great quality to have as a team, that fight and that heart and that hunger for the win.”
“[At halftime] we certainly spoke within our groups…about what we needed to adjust and change, but from there it’s just, ‘ok, this is a great opportunity…to show what you’re really made of’, and that’s what the best teams do - they’re never out of it - so I am really pleased about that.
“Win, lose or draw, that’s what we always do after a game, we say ‘what do we need to take out of that’, and I think that’s probably something we need to look at…could we have used a bit more time at the end of that game that didn’t allow them the opportunity to then go and equalise it? So, they’re some of the learnings that you have to take out of it,” McKinnis continued.
It was an inspired coaching performance from McKinnis, who was thrown a curveball with the last-minute withdrawal of starting goal keeper, Emily Mannix, due to calf soreness, just hours prior to the match. This saw defender, Kadie-Ann Dehaney, get the opportunity to start on her Jamaican teammate, superstar shooter, Jhaniele Fowler.
“It’s recovered really well the last couple of days,” McKinnis said of Mannix’s injury, “but with a calf, it’s not the sort of injury you want to risk or to push when we’ve got it all ahead of us still, so I’m hopeful she’ll be fine, but I’m not going to push it. And you know, it was great seeing KD out there and even Jo back there…I thought that worked nicely for us.”
With the Vixens trailing the Fever by seven goals at the main break, McKinnis moved Jo Weston back to goal keeper, kept Kate Eddy at goal defence – a move that had been made after switching Eddy and Weston from their starting positions in the second quarter – and brought on Allie Smith at wing defence, making her the fifth Vixen to debut in 2020.
“It was great to see Allie Smith out there on court in wing defence for her first game,” McKinnis enthused. “She’s a great wing defence and I think she grabbed the opportunity with both hands and did a great job out there on court…we had to play around a little bit to find how we were going to get it to work again but ultimately in the end they found that energy and that connection to make it happen.”
Smith took to the Suncorp Super Netball court like a duck to water, collecting two gained balls, two intercepts and three deflections in just two quarters.
“She’s been a favourite of mine coming up for a long time,” McKinnis continued. “She’s super competitive, she’s got that bit of mongrel as well for the contest and she’s building up in that mid-court, but certainly wing defence is her preferred position. But she’s got speed and athleticism and loves an intercept and will contest and contest all the way, so great to see her out there. Then it’s just the little things, about tidying up and the discipline with penalties, but she did a great job.”
Smith shared the words that her coach told her at the half time break when she told her she’d be starting on court in the second half.
“She just said, ‘play our game plan, play your own game, go hard and have fun’.”
“It’s just all a blur at the moment!” Smith laughed. “But obviously playing alongside the likes of Caity [Thwaites]…it’s amazing. These girls I’m playing with are my idols, so playing alongside them is awesome. I just wanted to get ball – just get ball the whole time and work with the girls behind me [and] in front of me, and make that impact that we needed.”
Veteran goaler and Confident Girls Foundation ambassador, Caitlin Thwaites, was once again impressive in her new-found position out at goal attack, being named Nissan’s Player of the Match after shooting at 91.7%. Thwaites shot all 18 of her attempted one-point shots, and four of six Suncorp Super Shots – all at clutch moments which allowed the Vixens to get their eye back in the game.
“It wasn’t the ideal result for us being a draw, but I’m definitely proud of the fight back that we showed because we definitely looked a bit down and out there for a little bit,” Thwaites said, echoing the comments of her coach.
And just how – in her 18th season of national league netball – is Thwaites picking up the goal attack role seemingly seamlessly?
“I’m just trying to play it on instinct because I don’t know…I’m still learning out there at goal attack, learning the patterns and the lines that I need to be running and things like that, so I guess to a certain extent I feel like a little bit of the pressure’s off because I haven’t played there much before so nobody probably expects me to be very good at it!” she laughed.
“We did so much running in the pre-season, so I have been working really hard at the fitness component of it, but still obviously a lot to learn…all of the patterns and things that we’re doing out there. For me, I think it’s great that we’ve got the versatility of rotating through all of the three shooters that we’ve got, and I think it adds something different for our attacking end.”
The Vixens now look to their Round 11 clash with the NSW Swifts on Tuesday. Always fierce rivals, the two teams will once again battle it out for the Sargeant-McKinnis Cup; a trophy the Vixens already have one hand on after their three-goal win over the Swifts in Round 8.
The match will commence proceedings for Round 11 of the condensed SSN season on Tuesday 8 September. The game will be broadcast live on Telstra TV and the Netball Live App from 5pm.
Round 10 Statistics
Mwai Kumwenda: 28/33 (84.8%)
Caitlin Thwaites: 22/24 (91.7%)
Tegan Philip: 4/4 (100%)
Jo Weston: 3 deflections, 2 pickups
Kate Eddy: 1 gained ball, 1 intercept, 3 deflections
Kadie-Ann Dehaney: 1 gained ball, 1 deflection, 1 pickup
Allie Smith: 3 deflections, 2 gained balls, 2 intercepts, 1 pickup
Don’t forget, you can still support the Vixens from home on the couch! Use the hashtag #VixensAtHome on your social media, and become a Beyond the Court member for just $55 here.