Melbourne Vixens are likely to regain experienced shooter Karyn Bailey for their first New Zealand expedition of the ANZ Championship season – Monday night’s round-six meeting with the improved Tactix in Christchurch.
The Vixens boast a perfect 8-0 record against a team that had won just eight games in its previous six years, but is finally showing welcome signs of progress. Under second-year Australian coach Sue Hawkins and with twin targets Mwai Kumwenda and Bailey Mes flourishing, the five-time wooden spooners are chasing three successive victories for the first time in their rather miserable history.
The two-time premiers, meanwhile, have one less point from one fewer game, having lost to the 2015 grand finalists, the Firebirds and Swifts, but beaten the winless Thunderbirds and Magic to sit at 2-2. Bailey, who lost her regular shooting partner Tegan Philip to an ACL tear on the eve of the season, has missed the past two rounds with a foot injury.
“Karyn’s working towards a full week training this week, and hopefully all being right with that then she’ll be ready to travel with us,” said coach Simone McKinnis, whose team departs on Saturday for what will be captain Madi Robinson’s 100th game.
“She got through the load that she did last week, no problems, and she was on court for the full session last night and again she’ll do the full session on Friday and hopefully if it all pulls up well, with no pain, she’ll be right. We’re not going to really know until after Friday, but the signs are positive.”
In Bailey’s absence, McKinnis has used both of Philip’s replacements, Kim Commane, and towering rookie Emma Ryde, in partnership with emerging goal attack Alice Teague-Neeld. The Tactix, in contrast, have been able to rely on the productive Kumwenda-Mes double act during narrow defeats of the Mystics and Pulse, as well as a round-two draw with the conference-leading Steel.
“It’s just super-dynamic and it’s different to most teams,” McKinnis said. “They’re both very agile, athletic goalers and they’ve been mixing it up pretty well between themselves. They’ve been smart about the way they play and we’ve really got to be switched on.
“Obviously the mid-court play a huge role in the work out the front that puts the pressure on, because you don’t want fast balls coming down quickly and straight into the circle, so there’s a lot of work that has to go out the front to help the circle defenders.
“It’s tough, because particularly the last couple of weeks they’ve been playing really well, they’ve been a really good team, and it’s not just what’s happening with the shooters, but defensively they’ve been pretty tough as well. And over there it adds another dimension to it, so we’re going to have to work really hard for a win.”
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