The Melbourne Vixens are through to their maiden Suncorp Super Netball (SSN) Grand Final – and their first national league Grand Final since they were crowned Premiers in 2014 – after a dominant 16-goal win over the Sunshine Coast Lightning on Saturday.
Despite earning the right to host a ‘home’ Major Semi-Final at the Lightning’s home court - USC Stadium - the Vixens soon silenced the vocal Lightning crowd with a clinical performance, highlighted by a crushing 16-7 showing in the second term.
Melbourne Vixens Head Coach, Simone McKinnis OAM, said she felt nothing but pride for her squad, who infamously bowed out in the inaugural SSN finals series in straight sets in 2017, despite finishing the regular season top of the ladder.
“I’m exceptionally proud,” McKinnis reiterated. “I’m proud of them, I’m proud of everyone that’s worked with the Vixens. It’s a group that’s had some heartache in terms of finals in Suncorp Super Netball, but they’re a group that have learnt and grown and matured and taken those learnings to where they are now with an opportunity to win a Grand Final, so I’m super proud of them.”
It has been far from smooth sailing for the Vixens throughout a unique 2020 season, but they were dealt another blow later this week when defender, Kate Eddy – who has starred during her inaugural season with the Vixens – was ruled out of today’s Major Semi-Final with foot soreness.
Despite the obvious disappointment for Eddy – who missed taking the court in the 2019 finals series with the NSW Swifts – the Vixens were buoyed by the performance of youngster Allie Smith. In just her fifth game in a Vixens dress, the 20-year-old was promoted to start at wing defence, a position where she played out the entire game.
Vixens Co-Captain, Kate Moloney, expressed the contrasting emotions she had for both of her teammates.
“[I’m] shattered for Kate that she couldn’t play today, but I thought Allie stepped in and did an amazing job and that’s been the thing for us all this season; that we’ve got a really deep squad at the moment, and even Elle McDonald who came on when I went off, did a really good job.
“So, we’re really lucky and well done to Allie - I love playing alongside her and she absolutely killed it out there - so hopefully we can have them both back [Eddy and Smith] for the Grand Final.”
In near identical fashion to when McDonald made her official debut for the Vixens against the GIANTS in Round 5, McDonald came on court in the coveted centre position midway through the third quarter, when Moloney hobbled to the sidelines with a rolled ankle.
Similar to that Round 5 incident, Moloney was re-strapped and returned to the court four minutes later, but McDonald slotted composed and seamlessly into the position, in a move which did not halt the Vixens assault on the game whatsoever.
“I don’t like people getting injured but they’re things you can’t do anything about,” explained McKinnis pragmatically post-game. “I’ve got faith in the squad, faith to put players on…Elle stepped on and did it. I was probably reluctant to put her [Moloney] back on, but I was guaranteed that it definitely was just a little stinger and she worked hard across the line.”
Today’s match also marked Liz Watson’s first full game since the Vixen’s Round 11 victory over the NSW Swifts. In that game Watson appeared to also roll her ankle, resulting in a ‘stinger’, but with the Minor Premiership all sewn up, the Vixens opted to take a cautious approach and rest the star midcourter ahead of finals.
“It wouldn’t be perfect, no,” McKinnis said of Watson’s ankle, “but in terms of right to play, yes she is. It’s her just getting that timing back being out on court and the pace of the game just having been out for that couple of weeks, so it’s just going to take her…you know I think today was good for her in terms of playing out a full game and just getting a real feel for that timing again out on court.”
The Vixens – depending on how you look at it – now have the luxury of having a week off to get their bodies right ahead of the big dance. With there still being three possible opponents in the Grand Final, McKinnis insists she doesn’t have a preference as to who they will face – this season has proven that they need to be able to face anyone, anywhere, at any time.
“I mean obviously we’ll watch tomorrow and the next week…but we have to focus on this next week, that’s a really tricky week. It can be a challenge, like when you have a bye during the year, but I think particularly when we’re up here, because all of a sudden you do have lots of time - it’s not like when you’re home you go home and your life goes on - so it’s just managing and planning this week really importantly, and making sure we get the intensity and match play we need, freshen up without the mental pressure, so we can go into Grand Final week feeling really good.”
With the difficult times that the Vixens home state of Victoria have faced this year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Vixens are using the #DoingItForVIC hashtag throughout the finals series, dedicating their on-court performances to those back home doing it tough.
“The whole time we’ve been here it’s been about doing it for Victoria,” Moloney reiterated. “It’s been really tough for so many of our girls to leave home and we’re always checking in [back home] and to see that so many people can’t be out there playing netball or playing local footy or whatever it might be and we’ve got the opportunity to do that and to showcase sport…it’s been really exciting to be able to step out there and not only represent the Vixens but to represent Victoria, and we hope to be able to do them really proud.”
The 2020 Suncorp Super Netball Grand Final will be held at Brisbane’s Nissan Arena on Sunday 18 October. The Vixens will play the winner of next weekend’s Preliminary Final between the Sunshine Coast Lightning and the winner of tomorrow’s Minor Semi-Final between the West Coast Fever and NSW Swifts. The match will be broadcast live on Channel 9 from 1pm AEDT.
Major Semi Final Statistics
Mwai Kumwenda: 31/32 (96.9%)
Caitlin Thwaites: 25/28 (89.3%)
Tegan Philip: 2/6 (33.3%)
Emily Mannix: 8 gained balls, 4 intercepts, 2 deflections, 1 pickup
Jo Weston: 5 pickups, 2 gained balls, 2 intercepts, 1 deflection
Allie Smith: 4 pickups, 1 gained ball, 1 intercept, 1 deflection, 1 goal assist
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