South Warrnambool gun Ally O'Connor pinches herself at the prospect of training alongside and learning from renowned super netball league stars.
The reigning Hampden league best and fairest winner - who made a stunning return to the court last year after two years off due to the COVID-19 pandemic and reactive arthritis - has been selected in the 2022 Melbourne Vixens Academy, which is coached by Susan Meaney .
The 22-year-old midcourter joins 19 highly talented netballers from across the state in the academy, which focuses on developing and extending the pool of athletes across the high-performance pathway and exposing them to the highly credentialed Vixens program.
"I'm definitely elated, the Vixens have always been the ones that young netballers look up to so to be affiliated with that is quite extraordinary," O'Connor told The Standard.
"Learning from the best has been amazing, so it's been really cool to see how they go about it and learn."
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O'Connor said to train alongside the Vixens so far and be mentored by the likes of superstars Liz Watson, Kate Moloney and head coach Simone McKinnis was an experience like no other.
"We've already had two training sessions and will train up until June which I'm looking forward to," she said.
"I think the professionalism within the Vixens is just so high and they hold a really high expectation for everyone. It's great to be a part of."
As well as her commitments with the Roosters, the nursing student is entrenched within the Geelong Cougars program in the VNL.
She said despite the setbacks of the last few years her maturity both on and off the court had improved and contributed to her belief, which included a stunning 2021 season.
"I definitely feel I'm building with age and experience which has helped me, coming away from COVID everyone had time off and then I had further time off with my injury but I feel as though I went in blindfolded and it worked for me," she said.
"I got more and more confident the more I was around the girls and you played better the more you're around really good players and people. The team definitely helps.
"I was probably surprised with how I snapped into it (last year), I think the driver was the passion for the game, I missed netball so much and the fact I didn't have that for two years drove me even harder."
The Vixens Academy will closely align with the Victorian Fury program, who will select a team to participate in the Australian Netball Championships in August, with the academy to be delivered at the newly developed State Netball Centre.
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