In this most difficult of seasons for the dethroned Melbourne Vixens, at least one thing remained unchanged, with captain Kate Moloney claiming her second consecutive Sharelle McMahon Medal and fourth top-two finish in as many years.
Moloney (67 votes) pipped shooter Mwai Kumwenda (64) for the 2021 MVP award, ahead of last year’s joint runner-up Jo Weston (29) and Kadie-Ann Dehaney (26), as judged by the coaching panel of Simone McKinnis, Di Honey and McMahon herself.
Yet if the winner was familiar, the circumstances were not, as the Vixens lost Moloney’s midcourt partner Liz Watson to a foot injury on the eve of Suncorp Super Netball’s opening round while trying to bed down a new attacking line, then faced multiple relocations and disruptions in a season like none before.
“It’s different in just the challenges that Kate faced as a player on court and off court as well, and still being able to perform, regardless of what was going on around the team,’’ McKinnis said.
“Right from the start she was really consistent in one of the hardest seasons, and being put through the wringer in so many ways, she was still working for the good of the team, helping those around her and making sure that everybody was getting through it OK, but still giving everything she’s got out there on court.
“You could just see her fighting every step of the way, game after game. She just gives everything she’s got to the contest. No matter what the score was or what was happening in the game, she was just throwing herself at everything.’’
Although Moloney’s statistical output at centre with occasional stints at wing attack included 154 goal assists, 19 deflections and eight intercepts, her contribution is best measured in other ways. Leadership can not easily be quantified, and the degree of difficulty rises when a team already dealing with so much change and uncertainty wins just two games.
Yet the 28-year-old’s tireless efforts extended to a key mentoring role for midcourt rookie Hannah Mundy, who has spoken glowingly of Moloney's on-court direction and off-court advice.
“It’s just genuine love for the club and she's just a genuine competitor who wants to win, and she just wants to drive that and she does, and she brings everyone along with her,’’ McKinnis said. “(Losing) really hurt her, every week. But after every game it was like ‘right-o, we’re getting ready to go again’.
“In that leadership role it was important as well to have that care for what was going on, and for everybody’s different circumstances and different challenges, and Kate certainly grows each year in that role as a leader - not just on the court and the way she plays the game but off court as well.’’
As MVP runner-up by just three votes, Kumwenda recorded her highest finish in the award since joining the Vixens in 2017.
Despite a late start to pre-season training due to Covid-19 travel complications and then a fortnight in hotel quarantine, Kumwenda led a new-look shooting circle with her usual commitment and passion.
The 31-year-old played almost every minute of the 14 Suncorp Super Netball games, scoring 460 goals at 87 per cent - including 40 of 78 Super Shot attempts, the third-highest number in the league - and pulled in 34 rebounds.
“MJ was our main target in there, she took the bulk of the shooting, she was under enormous pressure each game, she had defenders doubling up on her because she’s so dangerous and such a key element of our shooting circle,’’ McKinnis says of the 2020 Grand Final MVP.
“She can shoot two-pointers but that’s not necessarily her role, but she took that on for the team, too, and backed herself for the two points. Which was great.’’
Following the retirements of Tegan Philip and Caitlin Thwaites at the end of 2020, Kumwenda had limited time before the season began to build combinations with incoming pair Kaylia Stanton and Ruby Barkmeyer.
“A lot of it was happening out on court in the moment,’’ McKinnis said. “But MJ’s an experienced player, she’s a senior player, and it was really good for her leadership, as well, because she had to be the one supporting and helping and encouraging those around her and being the one that stands up amongst all the mess.’’
Other Melbourne Vixens award winners were Bek Webster (Team Spirit Award), Lisa Taylor and John Tascone (Outstanding Service Award), Kate Moloney (Coaches’ Award), Hannah Mundy (Rookie of the Year) and Allie Smith (Excellence in Sport and Life Award).
Written by Linda Pearce