The Melbourne Vixens goal keeper talks playing 50 games in the world’s best netball competition.
Written by Amelia Barnes
Melbourne Vixens goal keeper Olivia Lewis first ran onto the Suncorp Super Netball (SSN) court in Round 1 of the 2019 season playing with the West Coast Fever.
She made the big move east in 2022, and today played her 50th national league game against the GIANTS at Ken Rosewall Arena.
Lewis’ journey to 50 games has been different to many of her peers. She earned immediate court time in her rookie season and has been injected into games as an impact player for much of her early career.
This year at the Vixens, Lewis has come into her own, sharing the starting goal keeper role with senior player Emily Mannix. The two athletes offer a different style of play that coach Simone McKinnis has been able to utilise strategically against opposing teams.
One of the teams Lewis has proved most effective against is her previous club, West Coast Fever. Years of training against some of the world’s best players including Nat Butler (née Medhurst) and Jhaniele Fowler have proved advantageous, with Lewis learning how to win ball off shooters through constant pressure and her high vertical jump.
Lewis’ standout games this season have been against holding shooters, including Round 6 against the NSW Swifts (5 gains to Lewis), and Round 7 against the Queensland Firebirds (7 gains) – taking on in-form shooters Romelda Aiken-George and Donnell Wallam respectively.
Joining the Vixens was a big move for Lewis, who grew up playing in Western Australian pathway and felt comfortable in the Fever environment.
She signed her Vixens contract in 2021 – when the borders to her home state Western Australia were still closed – requiring Lewis to say goodbye to her friends, family, and partner indefinitely.
It’s been challenging at times, but Lewis says Melbourne now feels like home. “It's been such a positive experience at the Vixens. I couldn't speak more highly of the club and the girls and the way the whole organisation goes about things,” she said.
“It’s something that is a bit of an inside joke – you come to the Vixens and you don't want to leave – but that genuinely is the feeling. It’s my second year and I just want to stay for as long as I can.”
Lewis didn’t know many of the Vixens’ squad outside of netball before moving to Melbourne. One of few personal interactions she’d had with her now teammates Emily Mannix and Jo Weston was after Fever’s 2-point grand final loss to the Vixens in 2020.
Mannix recalls, “We were in a hub and there weren't many places in Brisbane open at whatever time that was … We'd gone and the Fever were there, but I think most of them had left when we arrived, which is fair enough.
“Liv was one of the ones that stayed around, and Jo and I went up to her and were saying what a good player she was and that she deserved to be out there more. She was looking up to us so much, telling us how good we were, and it was just really wholesome. It was really cute.”
Within two years, Lewis was at the Vixens playing alongside the two Diamonds-experienced defenders.
“We laugh about it now,” said Mannix. “To see her come into the club and just grow in confidence… Her ability and her skills out there on court have been huge. I always forget she's still such a young player.”
Now sharing the Vixens’ goal keeper role with Mannix, 24-year-old Lewis says she’s learned so much from the more experienced athlete.
“She’s been encouraging my development and wanting me to be the best player I can for the team,” said Lewis. “She's someone that's very team-first … Whenever either one of us are on court, we're both equally happy for each other.”
Mannix agrees. To have two specialist goal keepers is rare in SSN, and it’s allowed both defenders to play to their strengths. “We offer something so different, and I think that's something that is very unique, in that we can both come on and do a job for a particular game,” Mannix said.
“She's just incredible …If she keeps trending this way, I think Liv can be one of the best defenders. It's all in her hands.”
Lewis gained her first finals court time playing against Fever with the Vixens in both the 2022 semi and grand finals. It's a match-up that could be repeated in the coming weeks, with both teams having solidified their place in the top four.
“We’re really proud of the fact that we got ourselves in a position to play finals three weeks out from the end of the season,” said Lewis.
“From now, it's just about enjoying the netball we're playing, being proud of the netball we're playing, and getting really excited about the fact we are playing finals again and we'll be giving ourselves a chance at taking it all.”
Lewis is hoping the Vixens can go one better in 2023 in what’s hopefully a winning grand final in front of a Melbourne crowd.
“We want to take it the whole way,” Lewis said.
“50 games is awesome, but from a team perspective, I feel like winning a grand final would top that times 100.”
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