A season gone. An opportunity lost.
Such was the message from coach Simone McKinnis to the Melbourne Vixens’ playing group as they confronted the reality of missing the Suncorp Super Netball finals following a disrupted but ultimately disappointing season.
The Vixens had entered Round 12 in second place after accelerating out of the bye break with five consecutive wins. But three straight losses - to the Giants, Fever and Lightning - would close their season prematurely, star shooter Mwai Kumwenda having exited five quarters earlier with a ruptured ACL.
“We acknowledged those big games and those big moments, and not being there for them,’’ McKinnis said of the frank post-game discussion.
“That’s something they’ve all acknowledged and they’ve got to think about, and it’s part of our planning and our process and preparation for next season.
“One thing I do take away from it is I know they felt the disappointment in the right way, so it can be meaningful for us in preparing again.’’
While McKinnis stressed the need to improve the “mindset” of her players, there is no denying the impact of so many injured Vixens’ bodies on their 2018 fate.
It started during a pre-season in which Emily Mannix was restricted after suffering a serious concussion, before a knee injury to young goaler Emma Ryde forced the 11th hour recruitment of Magpies’ Training Partner Sammy Gooden.
More happily, Chloe Watson announced her pregnancy - as retired mother-of-two Renae Ingles was successfully parachuted back in to fill the Wing Defence vacancy. And while midcourter Khao Watts - who this week announced her retirement - continued to battle knee issues, and Jo Weston an ankle sprain, Tegan Philip's training was restricted by ankle and knee problems.
Misfortune then struck Mannix again in the form of a badly dislocated finger that required surgery, and Kumwenda’s devastating Round 13 mishap, which is expected to see the Malawian sidelined for up to 10 months, was the last disaster in a season in which the cards never fell the Vixens’ way.
“No, they didn’t, but from my point of view, good teams cope with things like that: adversity, and challenges, and keep going, and to a certain extent we did, but not well enough,’’ McKinnis said.
“Injuries are part of sport and apart from being disappointed for the athlete, you’ve got to be able to cope with that. You’ve got to make sure that, whether it’s your training partners or reserves, you’ve got the depth to cover any number of injuries. Mind you, we had to cover a few!
“But, to be honest, one of the positives is that we did have those challenges, and in lots of ways the team was very good at just getting on with it, not dwelling on it.’’
While defender Kadie-Ann Dehaney gained valuable experience, McKinnis was pleased with the level and development of a midcourt led by Liz Watson and Kate Moloney, but not with the inconsistent nature of so much else.
“The first half of the season was a bit up-and-down and leading into the bye we were struggling a bit, but we did some really good work in that bye break, and I thought we came out of it really well and were really starting to find our best selves,’’ she said.
“But then coming into that Giants’ match, that was the game to really show it and stand up, and we didn’t. And to follow it up with that one against the Fever was also disappointing. So, it’s another season gone, another opportunity gone.”