Minor premiers in 2017, the Melbourne Vixens performed better than most predicted.
Many in the team have now played alongside each other for several years and it’s part of the reason why they have forged ahead of the rest. The main concern for the Vixens this year may well be their predictability.
They would have been disappointed to have fallen out of finals series in straight sets – particularly with their last game to the Giants, where they appeared to just run out of steam again the eventual runners up.
The Vixens will be captained by Kate Moloney once again, who leads admirably both on and off the court. Their line-up is almost identical to last year’s, with the only change being the replacement of Emma Ryde who suffered a fracture to her right knee recently.
Sam Gooden, who was part of the Australian 2U1 squad last year, has agreed to terms as Ryde’s replacement after having initially signed on as a Magpies training partner.
The combination of Mwai Kumwenda and Tegan Philip will grow after a pretty solid first season together. Kumwenda’s brilliant elevation and innovation makes her so difficult to defend, while Philip creates a moving circle and her ability to feed her quickly from inside or outside the circle is impressive.
The challenge for the pairing is combatting different defensive set-ups. The Vixens game plan worked for most of the year, but they became so practised at feeding into their shooters in a certain way that they struggled when teams (particularly the Giants) saw a way to stop the flow into the circle.
The trio of Liz Watson, Kate Moloney and Chloe Watson are well-drilled. Khao Watts, an experienced netballer who spent much of last year dealing with injury, will fight for court time.
Watson is an exceptionally strong feeder and able to hit the circle edge and feed accurately from anywhere. Moloney is the primary communicator on court and the leadership she displays in tight moments is impressive. Her strength lies in her calming influence and playing the ball around when a clear path to goal is not available.
Defensively, Emily Mannix and Jo Weston have come into their own. Their pairing was strongest during the finals, with plenty of defensive ball being won, despite it not always being converted. They have a great understanding together, particularly when they switch roles in the circle.
Mannix has been given the all clear after a serious concussion in a practice game against the Queensland Firebirds. Entering her fourth year at this level, she will be looking to put out another good year to keep Australian Diamonds selectors eyes fixed firmly on her. Weston shone particularly in the latter games of the season and has a knack for getting under her opponents skin.
Kadie-Ann Dehaney has not seen much court time in her time and suffered with injury last season. At 192cm it wouldn’t be surprising to see her given a run, perhaps against a holding-type shooter as she has a slight height advantage over Mannix.
The Vixens are destined to make the finals again, but the rise of other teams will make their journey harder. The challenge will be adjusting some of their predictable structures and their ability to mentally stay in the game when it matters most.
Kate Moloney (c) WD/C
Tegan Philip (vc) GA/GS
Liz Watson (vc) C/WA
Kadie-Ann Dehaney GK/GD
Samantha Gooden GA/GS
Mwai Kumwenda GS/GA
Emily Mannix GK/GD
Chloe Watson WD/GD
Khao Watts WA/WD/C
Jo Weston GD/GK/WD
Head coach: Simone McKinnis
Assistant coach: Di Honey
Training partners: Rahni Samason, Tayla Honey, Lara Dunkley, Jacqui Newton