The Melbourne Vixens had an uncharacteristic year in 2021, finishing three wins adrift of the wooden spoon. 2022 dawned with the Vixens bent upon making amends and they did with great aplomb – you can’t do much better than to rise from last to first.
Whilst they may have finished eight points clear in the minor premier’s position, the Vixens found a hill that they couldn’t climb in the finals series in the shape of the West Coast Fever. In the semi-final and the grand final, the Fever had Melbourne’s measure to be crowned 2022 premiers.
The Vixens were buoyed from the outset by the return of world-class talisman Liz Watson after the midcourter’s 2021 season was ruined by a foot injury. In a team whose worth was far greater than the sum of its individual parts, Watson provided the impetus that powered Melbourne’s rise up the SSN ladder.
The Vixens finished 2021 clearly in last place for goals scored. The increase in the quality of opportunities afforded to the goalers was in no small part down to the efforts of Watson, who amassed 340 goal assists for the season. Only Maddy Proud of the NSW Swifts registered more.
Watson’s work was finished expertly by Malawi international goaler Mwai Kumwenda. The 2020 grand final MVP contributed 540 goals to the Vixens’ cause at 90 per cent accuracy, the third most in the 2022 SSN.
If any department did stand up in the 2021 wooden spoon campaign, it was the defence. On to 2022, and only the Adelaide Thunderbirds were harder to score against than the hard-working Vixens unit.
Jo Weston and Emily Mannix were excellent in the back third all through the season, with Weston in particular starring with 43 deflections and 22 rebounds. Ably assisted by Kate Eddy and recruit Olivia Lewis, they were instrumental in not only blunting the opposition but beginning the transition from defence to attack for the jade, crimson, and navy.
Well, not a heck of a lot went wrong for the Vixens until the matches that mattered. A mid-season flat spot followed wins in the Vixens’ first four fixtures but this was followed by victories in the last seven home and away matches.
The minor premiership was secured with a comfortable margin of eight points over their nearest challenger, the eventual premiers in the Fever.
Melbourne thus came into the finals series with the wind in its sails and confidence in its hearts. That confidence was dented early by the Fever in the major semi-final as the Western Australians took a nine-goal lead to the quarter-time break.
West Coast led by as much as 21 goals in the third term, and only Rahni Samason’s super shooting kept the margin to any sort of respectable level.
After defeating the Giants in an epic preliminary final, the Vixens got another shot at the Fever in the decider. Whilst this match was closer than the semi-final, shooters Jhaniele Fowler and Sasha Glasgow, and star defender Courtney Bruce proved a force too great to counter as the Fever won every quarter to emerge victorious by 70-59.
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The preliminary final win over the GWS Giants will go down in history as one of the gutsiest and most improbable wins in the Vixens’ history. After a solid start, Jo Harten began to shoot the lights out for the Giants, and the girls in orange dominated the middle quarters to hold a nine-goal advantage turning for home.
Few of those watching would have backed the Vixens with monopoly money at that stage, but the Vixens were not to lie down, finally drawing level late in the final quarter. A Kumwenda turnover in the final minute could still have been terminal, but a clutch intercept from Mannix saved the day.
After the Vixens worked the ball down the court for a shot of their own, Kumwenda atoned by remaining ice-cool and converting the winning goal. This was the sort of win, which can make a club invincible, believing that a title win is a formality, however, this was not the case.
In a physical and desperate affair, the West Coast Fever dashed the Vixens’ dreams of a second SSN grand final win in three years. The Vixens were to bask in the glory of their season highlight for one week only before the castle came crashing to the ground.
It was a day in which little went right for the Vixens. The Fever took the early momentum and never lifted their foot from the accelerator pedal. The Vixens had an amazing season in progressing from the pavement to the penthouse but in the end, they were beaten by the better side on the day, and there is no shame in that.
Liz Watson was a popular winner of her third Sharelle McMahon Medal, finishing with 74 votes and 29 clear of her ever-consistent co-captain Kate Moloney. Star defenders Jo Weston and Emily Mannix rounded out the top four.
Watson’s 340 goal assists, 270 centre pass receives, and 64 all-court turnovers were unparalleled amongst her Vixens teammates and completely justified the margin of her win. She polled votes in all but one match throughout the season and was one of the main factors in the improvement from 2021.
Rahni Samason was offered a full-time contract at the end of the 2021 season, and thus far the talented goaler has only scratched the surface of what she could achieve with the Melbourne Vixens.
Knee injuries have prevented her from having an extended run in the Vixens’ team at this stage of her short career. Her ability from super shot range, and a solid 42 goals from limited opportunities, hint at the player that she could become in 2023.
The Vixens have retained all of their 2022 squad for the 2023 season, following the signing of their only uncontracted player, Olivia Lewis. Coach Simone McKinnis is confident that there are few if any holes in the squad that will hinder their aim to go one step further next year.
Nothing less than a championship will satisfy McKinnis and her crew. The fact that they beat the Fever in both home and away matches shows that they aren’t too far away.
Whether they can atone for their disappointing finals displays remains to be seen but the answer to that question will be known in 12 months’ time.
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