Not even a global pandemic could stand in the way of the Melbourne Vixens claiming the Super Netball title after a nailbiting grand final victory over the West Coast Fever.
After almost a century of days spent locked out of their home state due to COVID-19, the Vixens’ 66-64 win at Brisbane’s Nissan Arena secured their first championship since 2014 and sent retiring stars Caitlin Thwaites and Tegan Philip out in celebratory style.
Nothing separated the combatants until a tense final quarter when the COVID-restricted crowd of 2061 witnessed the Vixens clinch the result on the back of pure grit.
Scores were locked with 90 seconds left before Mwai Kumwenda gave the Vixens a one-goal edge.
Then, up stepped outstanding defenders Jo Weston and Emily Mannix who got their fingertips to a rebound in the dying seconds that kept the Fever at bay.
Kumwenda then sent her teammates into raptures with her 47th goal for the match.
The heartbreaking loss ended a gutsy fight from the Fever who were in pursuit of a maiden championship win.
They were well served by shooter Jhaniele Fowler who shot 55 goals from 56 attempts and goal attack Alice Teague-Neeld, whose super shot attempt in the closing seconds almost snatched a memorable victory.
The sweat of Vixens defenders Mannix, Weston and Kate Eddy fuelled a second quarter surge that threatened to take the game away from the Fever.
The trio amassed three intercepts and five deflections between them as the minor premiers asserted themselves at the defensive end.
Despite a few moments of indecision, the Fever recomposed themselves and steamed into halftime with a one goal lead thanks to a super shot from Fowler.
Teague-Neeld and Thwaites traded super shots in the last quarter before the Vixens defenders again made all the difference.
With respect to the Melbourne Vixens, their win was the second-most dazzling magic act of the Super Netball season.
That Super Netball could finish its pandemic-afflicted campaign at all was the most astonishing achievement for a sport that faced and cleared countless hurdles throughout 2020.
The sport’s finances, vision, culture, pathways and human resources were under siege.
It seems a lifetime ago that Super Netball chief executive Chris Symington considered the possibility there might be no season at all – its major competitor AFLW scrapped its entire season – so the drinks on ice for the executive team and its sponsors were hard earned.
“There was a risk coming off the back of the Women’s T20 World Cup that coverage of women’s sport would drop off,” he said.
There were definitely some moments it felt like we were fighting a losing battle. The goalposts were moving daily if not hourly at some stages.
“We needed to be really agile and we kept persisting so I’m really proud that we were able to deliver.”
The league avoided a catastrophic season cancellation when it delayed the campaign from May to August, then as borders began closing, relocated more than 140 players, officials, team staff and their families to Queensland’s sporting biosecurity hub.
Sunday’s grand final was the 60th match crammed into 11 weeks.
“We realise we’re the lucky ones,” Vixens co-captain Liz Watson said.
“Everyone’s sacrificed a lot to be here. Our loved ones kept us on the road and we can’t wait to get back home and give you a big hug.”