18/04/2024

Ruby Barkmeyer was part of a new looking shooting circle for the Vixens in 2021. (Photo: Melbourne Vixens)

2021 was a proverbial promised land of opportunity for young Melbourne Vixens shooter Ruby Barkmeyer. From dinners with her fellow young teammates to learning under the great Diamonds of lore, her first full season of Super Netball was unlike any other.

2021 was the promised land of elite level opportunity for the youngsters of the Melbourne Vixens.

It has been well-documented that the retirements of Caitlin Thwaites and Tegan Philip were set to leave the reigning premiers in a precarious position. While their title defence ended in a wooden spoon, the rise of the youth was the silver lining on the storm clouds.

Hannah Mundy, Rahni Samason and Ruby Barkmeyer were all given the chance to make their top level debuts, and none of them wasted a single opportunity. Allie Smith, similarly, added to her impressive 2020 training partner debut year.

Samason’s historic debut, which saw her out-score best and fairest runner up Mwai Kumwenda and put up a further 16 feeds, 10 goal assists and the game-winning Super Shot will go down in Vixens history as one of the greatest wins the club has ever seen.

Mundy meanwhile, was a staple of the side from start to finish alongside captain Kate Moloney in the mid-court. While Mundy started slowly with 14 feeds and four goal assists in the season opener, she worked her way into becoming one of the Vixens’ best.

But it was Barkmeyer who was offered the most unique opportunity of all. Alongside West Coast Fever recruit Kaylia Stanton, she was in prime position to cement herself as a starting shooter for the Melbourne Vixens.

Speaking to The Inner Sanctum, Barkmeyer explored the year that was for herself and her teammates.

Like close mate Mundy, Barkmeyer found herself thrown in the throng of Super Netball in the round one grand final rematch against the Fever. She would get her first minutes in the second quarter, where she would score her first ever goals at the level.

The bench, however, was a familiar start for the young shooter, playing just 238 minutes out of a possible 840.

“Being my first year into the Vixens team… I’m still kind of new to the whole environment, even last year I didn’t get much experience as the girls were away,” Barkmeyer said.

“Even though I would have loved to have been out on court, I was still learning so much from just watching everything that’s happening out there on court. Sitting on the bench, you’re still learning.

“When you do get the opportunity coming off the bench, you just want to make the most of it and put yourself out there and earn that starting position that everyone wants.”

It offered a unique perspective, however, Barkmeyer explains.

“The game, coming from [Vic] Fury and being at a lower level, the game is super physical and the girls are really big and strong. Those bigger bodies are something I’ve had to get used to coming from other competitions where it’s not that physical.

“You can see that physicality if you’re just watching on the telly, how strong and powerful the athletes are out there on court. I think over time that is something I want to improve on is getting bigger and stronger. It’ll take time to develop, but spending a few years in the gym will really help.

“I think I was very grateful to be able to get that opportunity a few times during the year, it was pretty cool to say I was able to start for the Vixens in goal attack.

“It has been something I’ve always wanted to do, so to be able to do that at 20 is something I’ll always be really grateful for.”

Barkmeyer is held up by Grand Final MVP Maddy Turner. (Photo: Melbourne Vixens)

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If there was one theme of the 2021 season for the Vixens, it was growing relationships.

Hardship and adversity, both on and off the court, seem to have only brought the squad closer together. Like most other teams, the Vixens had to hit the road, first up to Queensland, then to Adelaide, then back to Brisbane.

Barkmeyer is one of the first to say that extra time spent alongside her teammates helped to grow the bonds that they already shared.

Ranging from her young teammates that she came through junior pathways with to the coaching and support staff, everyone at the Vixens put in the effort to keep the positivity going across a gruelling year.

“I think myself, Allie and Hannah, we spend a lot of time together,” Barkmeyer said.

“We really enjoyed that. We were at training together, then we’d also come home to have dinners and stuff and talk about other things that weren’t netball.

“We [Barkmeyer and Mundy] have shared a lot of teams growing up together, and we’re also really good friends outside of netball. It was really special to be able to have her come into the team.

“[As well], it was pretty cool to be able to share the goal circle with MJ [Kumwenda].

“I think I’ve watched MJ for most of her career when she’s been here in Australia and I never thought I’d be able to get out there and play with her.

“Off the court we’re really good friends, and we get along really well. I think it helps us out there on the court. Our combination there really grew over the year, and I think at the end of the season we were playing some really good netball together.

“Working with [Mundy] as wing attack/goal attack, our connection as well – similar to with MJ – really grew over the year.”

Learning under the best

While Barkmeyer’s fellow young teammates and friends had a huge impact on her season, when working on training and skills leading to games, there were a few who stood up as leadership figures.

Championship co-captain and Diamonds star Liz Watson was ruled out for the season after having surgery on her foot in March.

Watson would stick with the team however, crucially playing a coaching role when assistants Sharelle McMahon and Di Honey had to stay behind in Melbourne when the season was suddenly moved to Adelaide.

Barkmeyer explained the impact Watson had on her game even without taking to the court.

“Especially in the attack end, Lizzy is just one of the best wing attacks,” she said.

“To be able to get advice from her, she was really great to me and Hannah; with centre pass, with feeds, with everything. Got a question, you’d just ask Lizzy and she’d have an answer for it.

“She was really helpful [both] because she can see what’s happening but also because she’s been in that position out there on court as well. We were really, really lucky to have her with us when we were away.”

Not many players can also say they have one of the greatest international shooters in the history of the game on their corner to help teach them their craft.

McMahon has always been an idol for Barkmeyer as she came through the netball pathways. It was a dream come true to then learn under her this season.

“Last year when I stepped into the Vixens for the first time, I couldn’t believe that I was going to be coached by Sharelle,” Barkmeyer said.

“She’s been one of my favourites since I was a little girl. Growing up watching on her TV, I’ve always wanted to play like her, so to have her as my coach was pretty cool.

“Also coming from the country as well, Sharelle in Bendigo is one of the biggest netballers talked about in the country. I’ve always been very grateful to learn from Sharelle and even just be around her.”

Sharelle McMahon to step away from Vixens - Suncorp Super Netball
McMahon (C) will take up a new role with Cricket Australia this year. (Photo: Suncorp Super Netball)

Contracted until..?

With the collective bargaining agreement still not finalised to determine player payments, squad sizes and other final details, Barkmeyer – like every Super Netball player – is essentially now a free agent.

The future of the Vixens squad is uncertain. With Watson’s return next season, it’s likely one of Barkmeyer or Kaylia Stanton will be making way from the main squad.

What Barkmeyer could control throughout the year, however, was how she conducted herself both on and off court. She believes she’s shown how much room she has to grow as a player in 2021.

“What I did out there on court, I think there’s still so much more development and so much learning to happen,” she said.

“Being in the Vixens environment, in any place whether it’s part of the squad or whatever it is, I think there’s still lots of room for growth.

“Everyone is wanting to know where they stand in terms of next year and what contracts look like.

“We’re still just recovering from the season and getting home. We’re still sorting everything out from this year, and I think once we’ve all had a physical and mental break we’ll more start to look at what things look like in terms of pre-season and next year.”

The excitement of the year, even after the Vixens season that was, still hasn’t subsided for the young shooter on the verge of making a name for herself.

“It was a really exciting year to be part of the Vixens, and they had been a team I’ve always dreamt of playing for.

“It was really special to earn my first contract and be a part of the club.”

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