‘Fresh’ Vixens primed for Super Netball premiership tilt, want to ‘go all the way’

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Few netball experts predicted the Melbourne Vixens would be championship contenders in 2024, but captain Kate Moloney says their brilliant start to the Super Netball season did not surprise her.

The Vixens have a 7-1 win-loss record and are level with the West Coast Fever at the top of the table after eight rounds, trailing only on goal difference.

Many expected the Vixens to struggle following the departure of Australian Diamonds captain Liz Watson to the Sunshine Coast Lightning, but with some new additions, young and old hands, they have discovered a new team chemistry.

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Sophie Garbin is showing her goalscoring skills after moving from Collingwood, Hannah Mundy has followed in Watson’s footsteps in midfield, while Moloney and defender Emily Mannix are in the best form of their careers.

Based on their form in Super Netball, Cath Cox has named Garbin, Kiera Austin, Moloney and Mannix in her Diamonds team mid-season.

The Vixens won the Super Netball Championship in 2020 and appear to have the talent and team chemistry needed to make it to the top again.

“I don’t think we surprised me,” Moloney told news.com.au.

“We always set out with the goal of coming out on top in the 2024 season.

“I’m really excited about the style of netball we’re playing this year. We’ve brought in some new players. Our style of play has changed a little bit and it’s really exciting to see it improving every week. Hopefully we can carry this momentum into the second half of the season.

“The loss of a player of Lizzy’s calibre always leaves a small gap, without a doubt.

“But the great thing about netball in Victoria is how much depth we have. It’s been incredible to see Hannah Mundy step up and Zara Walters, who is even younger, playing in the attacking wing position.

“We have new players like Sophie Garbin and Rudi Ellis who bring a lot of experience. Emily Mannix and Jo Weston, players who have been here for 10 years, also play really good netball.”

“It just feels really fresh this year. The girls have worked really hard in the offseason and everything seems to be coming together. Hopefully we can continue to improve.”

Garbin won the championship with the Swifts in 2019, but was unable to fulfill her potential as a goalscorer at Collingwood.

Her role as a goalscorer in Australia’s World Cup winning team last year has spurred Garbin to new heights and she is thriving under the posts in the Vixens GS jersey.

“I think the combination of Sophie and Kiera on that front will continue to grow,” Moloney said.

“We saw it at Diamonds level and now we see that it fits together really well at Vixens.

“I was really excited when she signed with the Vixens. I had the chance to play with her a bit when we were younger, in Australia’s A teams and more recently with the Diamonds.

“She is such a strong player on the court. She gives so much to our group both on and off the court. What she and Kiera did at the World Championships, they have been able to translate to the Vixens environment and continue to get better.

“It’s really exciting not only for the Vixens but also for the Diamonds. If they can build that connection and continue to improve, I’m really excited about the combination they can build and the netball they can bring to the field.”

Coincidentally, the Vixens’ only loss to date was a seven-point loss to Watson’s Lightning in Round 6.

“I haven’t spoken to her about the loss yet,” Moloney laughed when asked if her former teammate had teased her about the result.

“We talk quite a lot, Lizzy and I, but we try not to talk too much about netball and I definitely didn’t want to talk to her about that loss.

“I would have loved to beat them. It was great to see them back at John Cain Arena. We’ll face them in a few weeks. We’ll watch the game closely and hopefully get a win the next time we play them.”

The Vixens are the only team to beat the Fever this season, while Watson’s Lightning are battling for a place in the finals as Diamonds captain Courtney Bruce, Steph Fretwell and Cara Koenen look to gel together.

West Coast and Vixens appear to be on a collision course for another championship battle after the Fever won the 2022 Grand Final and the Melburnians won two years earlier.

The Fever were a surprise again this season, exceeding expectations that were tempered by retirements and the departure of several players to other teams.

“Going to Perth and playing there is one of the toughest tasks in our competition,” Moloney said.

“They have an incredible stadium, so many fans and the atmosphere is fantastic. It’s always tough when you fly to Perth and play against them. We learned a lot from that experience.”

“In 2020 we beat them in the Premier League and in 2022 they beat us in the final. The more players who have final experience, the better it is for the finals.

“We really believe in our group. We know we have to get better if we want to make it to the top. We will continue to work on that. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we’re still there in the last game of the year.”

The rivalry between the Vixens and Fever’s green machine has become one of the fiercest in Super Netball.

“We’ve always had this rivalry with Fever,” Moloney said.

“I loved the rivalry with Collingwood. This rivalry between the cities is great and I hope it continues to grow with the Mavericks over the years.”

“I also love playing against NSW Swifts, old-fashioned Victoria-NSW is great. We have a lot of respect for them.”

The Vixens will face their new cross-town rivals, the Mavericks, in a King’s Birthday clash at John Cain Arena on Monday.

Moloney won gold at the 2022 Commonwealth Games and was part of the extended squad for last year’s World Championships.

The 31-year-old is one of several veterans – along with Watson, Jo Weston and Courtney Bruce – who would like to represent Australia at more top events in the next international cycle.

“It’s a boring answer, but I’m just taking one super netball year at a time,” Moloney said.

“I’ve been really lucky. My body has held up really well over the years. For me it’s about enjoying netball and continuing to improve.”

“If I can continue doing my job for the Vixens, the international netball business will develop itself. I just want to play netball for as long as I can and as long as I enjoy it, I will keep doing it.”

Moloney is an ambassador for the Woolworths Pick Fresh Play Fresh Netball Grants, encouraging local netball clubs and associations across Australia that have a Woolworths NetSetGO centre to apply to win a share of $100,000.

Now in its second year, the popular People’s Choice Award, which comes with a prize of $20,000, will spotlight the club or organization that receives the most votes and encourage local members and supporters to get involved.

The grants are designed to help local clubs and associations encourage young Australian netball players to eat healthier and exercise more. The funds can be used to improve facilities and equipment, subsidise registration fees and purchase healthy food for the canteen.

Since 2019, Woolworths has supported grassroots netball in partnership with Netball Australia and has donated over $1.3 million to over 311 clubs.

“Netball Australia and Woolworths have had such a great partnership over the years,” Moloney said.

“This grant program is so important. It’s about promoting healthy eating and a healthy, active lifestyle. These grants, of course, provide funding for facilities, training programs, equipment, etc.

“It’s about getting more young people excited about our game and Woolworths is doing a great job.”

Clubs and associations with a Woolworths NetSetGO centre nationwide are encouraged to apply via the website pickfreshplayfresh.com.au. Applications are open now and close on 7 July 2024.

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