The Melbourne Vixens have both righted a wrong and solidified their position atop the Suncorp Super Netball ladder, with a 43-50 win over the Adelaide Thunderbirds in Brisbane tonight.
With the Thunderbirds the only team to have defeated the Vixens so far this season, the ladder leaders had a point to prove, after being outspoken of their disappointment in their own performance in their previous Round 4 clash, just 10 days ago.
In a game of defence, the way the match played out mirrored the previous clash between the two sides; the Thunderbirds lead at every change, before the Vixens powered away in the final term to take a seven-goal advantage at the final change.
Star goaler, Caitlin Thwaites, summed up the game as a tale of two halves.
“We didn’t have the start that we wanted to obviously. I think that first five minutes was really great and we opened up some good ball speed, and the use of the triangles to open it up in there so that we weren’t sending it up into Shamera’s hands, but then we kind of went away from that a little bit.
“We definitely need to address what didn’t work for us in the first half, but the really encouraging thing was the fact that we managed to find a way and work our way out of it, and we kind of came back at them a couple of times up until that three-quarter [time] break, and we had a really good start to the fourth.”
“It was a good game, the Thunderbirds took it to us really,” Thwaites continued, “and in the first half I kind of felt like ‘no, they’re our kryptonite’…with how well they played in the first game [in Round 4] and the fact that so far they’re the only team we’ve lost to.”
“The fact that it was a real grind, we’re super happy with that because we’ve now had games where we’ve taken charge from the get-go, but we’ve also had games where we’ve managed to grind it out and come from behind, and we’re going to need to be able to do both of those things.”
Melbourne Vixens Head Coach, Simone McKinnis OAM, was similarly pleased with the effort her team showed across the court.
“I think defensively we were getting some great ball and working hard to turn some ball over… It took a half for the attack line to get the feel of it and to catch up with it, so once we clicked in attack then we were converting that ball that we were getting and it made a huge difference.
“I just loved in the second half…at the attack end, we were just running hard and really taking those hard power drives, which just opens it up and it’s easy to be able to read the options to pass to,” McKinnis continued. “We were letting it go to the right options and we were having vision to see what was available there, so it just made a huge difference.”
Emily Mannix was adjudged the Nissan Player of the Match, with an outstanding performance at goal keeper, which included eight intercepts – just one off her League record she set in 2019 – and 10 deflections.
“I thought she was outstanding right from the start,” McKinnis agreed. “As a defensive end when you’re getting ball, we sort of have a rule; send it back down as many times as we have to, and she kept taking it on herself, it was like her responsibility to get that ball and send it back down there.”
“But credit to the defence that was out the front of Emily, like Kate Eddy and Jo Weston,” McKinnis continued. “Even through the court and the middle, the pressure that’s out the front of Emily goes a long way to allowing Emily to be able to read the play and to be able to pick those intercepts, [so] I was really pleased overall with the defensive effort.”
With one of the most experienced and versatile goaling circles in the competition, McKinnis kept the opposition and fans alike guessing, using three different combinations throughout tonight’s match. Whilst the combination of Thwaites and Tegan Philip is tried and true, in a change up from routine, Philip spent the entire second half at goal shooter, whilst Thwaites had more movement around the court at attack.
“Tegan offered that really sharp movement, good timing, and when the middies were hitting the circle there were some really good, strong options there in the circle, so I think that worked very well for us and [it’s] obviously another combination that we can utilise,” McKinnis confirmed.
Thwaites added that in her 18th season playing at the national level, she was enjoying the challenge of learning a new position.
“It’s a new challenge for me to have to learn new patterns, and obviously the work rate has to be up and things like that, but again, point your eyes to a very long pre-season,” Thwaites laughed, “and I’ve done a hell of a lot of running! So, it’s just something I’ve been working on and for me, having been around for quite a long time, it’s just an exciting new thing for me to continue to keep learning in that position, and I’ve got some of the best people around me to be able to do that.”
The end of Round 7, it also marks the halfway point of the condensed 2020 SSN regular season. The Vixens currently have a 6-1 win-loss record, and sit atop the ladder with a healthy percentage of 117.71%.
The Vixens will not be able to rest on their laurels however, as next they face reigning Premiers, the NSW Swifts, in a battle for outright top spot on the ladder. This will be another cause for redemption for the Vixens, with the Swifts ending their 2019 campaign in the Preliminary Final.
When asked what she would say to motivate her charges to front up in just two days’ time for what is arguably the biggest game of the season so far, McKinnis said there would be no need.
“The girls love playing, and they love competing, and it will be about competing against the best in the competition. Swifts are playing really well at the moment so it’s a great opportunity and a great challenge for us [that] we look forward to… We get a couple of minutes to recover from this one, and then you just reset and focus on Swifts.”
For Thwaites, this season is truly one that is incredibly different from the previous 17 she has experienced, but the end goal remains the same.
“It is very different, so we’re just navigating our own way. With the amount of things that have kind of been thrown at us, we’ve definitely kind of taken the attitude of really releasing and letting go of everything that we can’t control, and just controlling the things that are within our power.
“We know that it’s a super different season this year and…we’ve chatted about the fact that a lot of teams or leagues around the world will probably have an asterix next to this year because it’s such a different year…but to us, that asterix is there because it’s so frickin’ hard to be able to win this year - and we want to be that team.”
The Round 8 top-of-the-table clash between the Vixens and the Swifts will be broadcast live on Channel 9 this Saturday 29 August from 1pm.
Round 7 Statistics
Caitlin Thwaites: 30/32 (93.8%)
Tegan Philip: 14/21 (66.7%)
Mwai Kumwenda: 6/6 (100%)
Emily Mannix: 12 gained balls, 8 intercepts, 10 deflection
Jo Weston: 4 gained balls, 1 intercept, 2 deflections, 2 pickups
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