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

Few netball pundits have tipped the Melbourne Vixens to be top contenders in 2024, but captain Kate Moloney says their torrid start to the Super Netball season has not surprised them.

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

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

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Sophie Garbin is showing what she can do as a goalscorer after moving from Collingwood, Hannah Mundy has stepped into Watson’s shoes in midfield, while Moloney and defender Emily Mannix are in career-best form.

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

The Vixens won the Super Netball Championship in 2020 and look to have the talent and team chemistry to take them all the way again.

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

“We have always set ourselves the goal of going all the way in the 2024 season.

“I am very excited about the type of netball we will be playing this year. We brought in some new players. The way we play has changed quite a bit and it’s really exciting to see it grow every week. I hope we can maintain this momentum in the second half of the season.

“Without a doubt, losing a player of Lizzy’s caliber will always leave a hole.

“But the great thing about netball in Victoria is how much depth we have. It has been amazing to see Hannah Mundy progress, Zara Walters who is even younger in this wing attack position.

“We have new players like Sophie Garbin and Rudi Ellis who provide a lot of experience. Emily Mannix and Jo Weston, players who have been around for the last 10 years, are also playing very good netball.

“It feels very fresh this year. The girls have worked really hard in the off season and everything seems to be coming together. I hope we can improve even more.”

Garbin won a championship with the Swifts in 2019, but has not reached her goal-attacking potential at Collingwood.

Playing goal scorer in Australia’s World Cup winning team last year has propelled Garbin to new heights and she is flourishing under the position in the Vixens GS jersey.

“I think the combination of Sophie and Kiera will continue to grow in this area,” said Moloney.

“We’ve seen it at the Diamonds level and we’re starting to see it really come together at the Vixens as well.

“I was really excited when she signed with Vixens. I had the opportunity to play a bit here when we were younger in the Australian A teams and more recently in the Diamonds.

“She is such a strong player out on the court. He provides so much to our group both on and off the field. What she and Kiera did at Worlds, they were able to carry over to the Vixens environment and keep getting better and better.

“It’s something really exciting not just for the Vixens but for the Diamonds as well. If they can grow that connection and get better, I’m really excited about the combination they can build and the ball they can put on the court.”

Coincidentally, the Vixens’ only loss so far 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 hounded her about the result.

“Lizzy and I do talk quite a bit but we try not to talk too much about netball and I certainly didn’t want to talk to her about this loss.

“I would love to beat her. It was good to see her back at the John Cain Arena. We will meet with them in a few weeks. We’ll be watching this game closely and hopefully we’ll get it back the next time we play it.”

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

West Coast and the Vixens appear on the collision course in another battle for top spot after the Fever won the grand final in 2022 and the Melburnians two years before that.

The Fever were another surprise this season, exceeding expectations that were lowered by retirements and several players leaving for other teams.

“Going to Perth is one of the toughest things in our competition,” Moloney said.

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

“Obviously we beat them in the premiership in 2020 and then they beat us in the grand final in 2022. The more players that have experience with the finals, the better they hold you during the finals.

“We really believe in our group. We know we have to get better if we want to go all the way. We will continue to work on it. Fingers crossed, I hope we’ll be there for the last game of the year.”

The rivalry between the Vixens and the green machine Fever has turned into one of the fiercest in Super Netball.

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

“I loved the rivalry with Collingwood. This cross-town rivalry is great and I hope it grows stronger with the Mavericks over the years.

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

The Vixens will take on new opponents the Mavericks on Monday at John Cain Arena on King’s Birthday.

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 a number of veterans – along with Watson, Jo Weston and Courtney Bruce – who are keen to represent Australia at some more top events in the next international cycle.

“It’s a boring answer but I’m taking it one year after Super Netball,” Moloney said.

“I was really lucky. My body has held up very well over the years. For me it’s about enjoying your soccer ball, keep moving forward.

“If I can continue to do my job for the Vixens, things will happen around international netball. I just want to keep playing netball as long as I can and as long as I’m enjoying it I’ll 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 center to apply for a share of $100,000.

The popular $20,000 People’s Choice award is back for a second year and highlights the club or association that receives the most votes and encourages their local members and supporters to get involved.

The donations were intended to help local clubs and associations encourage young Australian basketball players to eat healthier and be more active. The funds will make it possible to improve the premises and equipment, subsidize registration fees and purchase healthy food for their 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 is about promoting a healthy diet and a healthy, active lifestyle. These grants obviously provide retention funding with facilities, training programs, equipment, whatever.

“It’s about trying to inspire more young people to play our game and Woolworths is doing a great job.”

Clubs and associations with a Woolworths NetSetGO center nationwide are encouraged to apply via pickfreshplayfresh.com.au and applications are open until 7 July 2024.

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