The Melbourne Vixens have returned to the winners list, wrapping up the 2020 regular season in style with a four-goal win over the Sunshine Coast Lightning.
After 13 consecutive weeks sitting atop the Suncorp Super Netball (SSN) ladder – equalling the record set by West Coast Fever in 2018 – the Vixens finished the season with the tone they have set for the majority of the year, with the victory set up by a dominant 18-13 opening term.
Melbourne Vixens Head Coach, Simone McKinnis OAM, said she was pleased to see her side return to the quality of play she had come to expect of them this year, after a disappointing loss to the Queensland Firebirds in Round 13.
“It wasn’t so much changing things up,” McKinnis said of her team’s strategy to bounce back after a loss. “We had a good week training-wise, and we were just really focused on getting back to our game and playing the way that we have been playing all season."
“So, I’m happy that we bounced back from what was a pretty below-par performance last week, to some good stuff out there today.”
When asked if her side’s win today meant they now had the edge over the Lightning – who they will ironically meet again in next week’s Major Semi Final – McKinnis was cautious in her optimism.
“One of our primary goals was to be feeling good about what we’re doing out there on court, but we also know it’s [today’s result] irrelevant. It starts again next week, and certainly, we’ve got a team like Lightning that have the smarts and the ability to turn things around and to change things up, so we really have to take the time and have a look at [today’s game] and take out of it what we need to take out of it.”
McKinnis played 11 of her selected 12 players across the 60 minutes on court today, giving the team a chance to test their combinations and set plays because facing the Lightning in very similar conditions next week.
“The teamwork, the fight, the work rate – defensively and in attack – I thought it was up there right from the word go, and Lightning do a very good job at maintaining possession of the ball and being able to play the ball around, and certainly that can be hard work defensively and frustrating defensively, but I felt that we kept to task really well and ultimately we started to get ourself some ball. I thought that we were strong physically, we were strong onto the ball which was something that was missing last week.”
They Vixens were also buoyed by the return of Co-Captain, Liz Watson, who has been cautiously sidelined following an awkward fall on her ankle in her side’s Round 11 victory over the NSW Swifts. After having played 99 consecutive national league games, Watson started at her signature wing attack position to notch up her 100th game in the signature dress – becoming just the fourth Vixen to do so.
“It felt amazing,” Watson enthused. “I think I probably jinxed myself on that 99th game because up until then I hadn’t missed a training session, so it has been a really tough couple of weeks because I’m not used to this prehab and sitting-on-the-bench business, so it was nice to get out there.”
“I didn’t really think too much about the 100, it was more about getting the ankle right and getting out there to play. I absolutely love this club - I’ve played all my netball in Victoria, so to play 100 with this dream club has been unreal.”
McKinnis was ever complimentary of her star midcourter.
“Just her work rate and her smarts and her ball skills,” McKinnis replied to just what makes Watson so good. “She’s a huge performer – she loves to take it on. When there’s those moments that matter, Lizzy wants the ball in her hand, and she’s just a great leader, [a] calm, composed leader within in our group, and we’re super fortunate to have her."
Still playing it cautious, Watson was never going to play more than 30 minutes of today’s game, but it gave Elle McDonald another chance to come on and impress in the WA bib.
“She’s been doing awesome,” Watson said of McDonald. “I love her confidence just to let the ball go into MJ - she’s quite sharp on her movements as well - so they’ve been working really hard [on feeding] at training, so it’s nothing new to us and I think she did a great job.”
Another special occasion which coincided with the final game of the SSN regular season was star shooter Mwai Kumwenda’s 31st birthday. Kumwenda put on a Nissan Player of the Match performance for the occasion, shooting at an incredible 97.7% - missing just a single goal for the entire match.
“She was great, she had a birthday game!” McKinnis said of Kumwenda’s dynamic performance. “She was very happy today but I thought that she was going to have a good one because you can just tell sometimes with MJ - she was happy, she was excited about getting out there [and] playing, and I enjoy watching her, I enjoy watching her play with a smile on her face.”
As McKinnis keeps reminding her charges, the Vixens how have a big week ahead where all of the good work that has been put out on court during the season now becomes somewhat irrelevant.
“It’s going to be pretty similar this week training-wise,” Watson explained, “but Simone did just mention that the intensity picks up in finals and every team’s going to be going at it.”
“There’s four teams left now - we know the top four, [and] we know who’s playing who. We’ll be back here [at USC Stadium] so it’s kind of been a good practice run for us with the travel down on the bus, what time we had to leave, all that kind of thing, it was a good test run for next week. Everyone’s just really excited. I think we can kind of see where we want to be right now, which is right there at the end with that Premiership, so that’s the focus of the whole team.”
After West Coast Fever’s surprise one-goal loss to the Adelaide Thunderbirds last night, today’s match had no bearing on the make up of the finals’ fixtures for next week. However, with the Minor Premiership locked in and today’s win being the first time the Vixens have defeated the Lightning multiple times in one season, they will take confidence into next week’s Semi-Final re-match.
The Vixens will return to USC Stadium next weekend to host the Sunshine Coast Lightning in the Major Semi-Final. The match will be played on Saturday 3 October, and broadcast on Channel 9 from 1pm.
Round 14 Statistics
Mwai Kumwenda: 43/44 (97.7%)
Caitlin Thwaites: 11/13 (84.6%)
Tegan Philip: 3/4 (75%)
Emily Mannix: 5 deflections, 5 gained balls, 3 intercepts, 1 pickup
Kadie-Ann Dehaney: 4 gained balls, 4 deflections
Jo Weston: 4 gained balls, 4 pickups, 2 deflections, 1 intercept
Allie Smith: 3 deflections, 1 gained ball, 1 intercept, 1 pickup
Kate Eddy: 1 gained ball, 1 intercept, 1 deflection
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