The Melbourne Vixens have all but secured the 2020 Suncorp Super Netball (SSN) Minor Premiership, with a convincing seven-goal win over 2019 Premiers, the NSW Swifts, to open Round 11 at USC Stadium tonight.
In another hotly anticipated, one-versus-two clash, both teams came out firing and couldn’t be split at the first break, shooting 17-goals apiece. However, the Vixens then broke the game open in the second term, taking a three-goal lead into the main break, before a huge 16-10 third term.
Following on from a disappointing performance against the Fever in Round 10 that resulted in a 63-all draw, Melbourne Vixens Head Coach, Simone McKinnis OAM, said she was pleased with her side’s performance today.
“I’m really happy with it,” McKinnis reiterated. “It was a tough, hard match to finish, and I was really happy with the way that we worked through our game right to the end.”
“I was pleased because last game against Fever I thought we didn’t contest the ball so we certainly had an objective coming out of that game that we wanted to be…yes do the hard work, the dictating, the holding up and the hands over, but be having a crack at the ball, and I thought we did that much better today.”
The Vixens’ shooting circle was once again formidable, with Mwai Kumwenda and Caitlin Thwaites playing out the entire 60 minutes at goal shooter and attack respectively for the first time this season.
“MJ [was] amazing in the circle there,” McKinnis continued, speaking of her star Malawian shooter, “but with Caitlin out the front at goal attack and the work that we did out the front was instrumental in getting the ball to her.”
Tonight marked Thwaites’ 227th national league match, tying her with Vixens legend - and Assistant Coach - Sharelle McMahon, at sixth on the all-time record for national league games played. However, ironically at the age of 33, it was the first time in a long time (if at all!) she had spent an entire 60 minutes at goal attack.
Despite Thwaites being one of the country’s most renowned goal shooters, McKinnis said the variation this transition required was vital for her team.
“I think it’s important that we have that variation and not be predictable in what we do. I think we’ve certainly improved in being able to hit any of them in that circle and be putting that ball in, and certainly Caitlin has a great high release to put that ball in to MJ as well.”
Kumwenda was breathtaking at the shooter position, playing arguably her best game since rupturing her ACL in 2018. She shot at an incredible 94.1% - missing just one of the regulation one-point shots she attempted, as well as picking up two deflections. Deservingly, she was named Nissan’s Player of the Match.
“I feel great,” Kumwenda said after the match. “It’s good to get a win always, and because last week we were very disappointed that we got a draw.”
“I feel good…because last year they [Swifts] beat us twice, or three times…when we’re playing against Swifts it’s always tough, so I’m just proud of my team and how they played today.”
Vixens’ fans hearts collectively leapt to their mouths near the end of the first quarter, when Co-Captain, Liz Watson, hit the floor awkwardly and limped from the court. In more positive news for the Vixens, 2020 debutant, Tayla Honey, more than aptly filled the gap of one of the best wing attacks in the world, until Watson returned to the court during the second term.
“She just tweaked her ankle…it was a ‘stinger’ as she called it,” McKinnis explained post-match. “But I actually thought Tayla came on and came on really well, [she] did some great stuff out there on court.”
The Vixens were once again without 2019 Sharelle McMahon Medallist, Emily Mannix, who was also rested for the Fever clash with calf soreness, but Jamaican defender, Kadie-Ann Dehaney filled the goal keeper role with ease. Playing on the Swifts 2019 Grand Final MVP in Sam Wallace for majority of the game, Dehaney finished with impressive stats, including five gained balls, four intercepts, and four deflections.
“Em’s going really well,” McKinnis said of Mannix. “And you know what? It was a tough call, a fine line of her being available today or not, but the decision was made it’s not worth risking her when we’ve still got quite a bit of netball ahead of us. So [we’re] just playing it safe, giving her the extra days to get that right.”
“She tried hard though!” McKinnis laughed. “She tried hard to talk the physio [into clearing her to play], but she’s smart enough to know that you’ve got to look after it, and we’ve got capable players in the squad that can come into the 12.”
Tonight’s win also means the Vixens can now take the Sargeant-McKinnis Cup back home to Victoria for the first time since 2018. The cup is named after two greats of NSW and Victorian netball – Anne Sargeant and Simone McKinnis.
The Vixens will now look towards their Round 12 clash with crosstown rivals, the Collingwood Magpies. The two Melbourne teams haven’t met since Round 1, in a bizarre match that was played to a closed stadium due to both teams still completing their mandatory 14-day quarantine period.
The Magpies will host the Vixens at Brisbane’s Nissan Arena on Saturday 12 September. The match will be broadcast live on Channel 9 from 3pm.
Round 11 Statistics
Mwai Kumwenda: 48/51 (94.1%)
Caitlin Thwaites: 11/14 (78.6%)
Jo Weston: 4 gained balls, 1 intercept, 3 deflections, 4 pickups
Kate Eddy: 2 deflections, 1 gained ball, 1 pickup
Kadie-Ann Dehaney: 5 gained balls, 4 intercepts, 4 deflections
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.