LAKESIDE might have top spot secured in the Women’s SBL but coach Craig Mansfield wants the Lightning to get as much as possible out of its Round 19 double-header to ensure they are firing on all cylinders as the playoffs get underway.
The Lightning are guaranteed of finishing as minor premiers in the Women’s SBL for 2018 having now won 11 straight matches since their lone loss at home to the Perth Redbacks.
They hold a 19-1 record coming into their double-header in Round 19 on the road on Friday night to the Rockingham Flames and then at home to the East Perth Eagles on Saturday.
With the final round bye, the games will be the last time for Mansfield to see his team in action against a real opposition before the playoffs get underway and that’s what means that there will be no complacency from him or his players even with top spot secured.
Part of Mansfield’s thinking for that is that holding something back for a potential playoff battle with the Flames could be costly because it might not work. So it’s always better to find out now and he will definitely be going out to win against the Flames in Rockingham on Friday to open the round.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s a case of holding something back and it is something we’ve talked about a little bit as a coaching group,” Mansfield said.
“We got off to a good start for the season and we were trying to phase our season and not make some adjustments we might in the post-season. That really came back to bite us in the Redbacks game at home where they beat us and kept running the same actions with Standish.
“But we have our season kind of phased in blocks and we do that with our training loading, structures and what we want to put in. That’s irrespective if we’re playing Flames or Willetton or East Perth, we are still trying to get the same stuff done.
“Then when the game comes around, I would rather play competitively and make adjustment to actually have a good indication on how you go against that team.
“What I’ve always found is that if you hold too much back is that you have these ideas that you think will work, but then in the finals you try them and they don’t work and you are looking for answers.
“But with our bye coming up, we don’t have the luxury of not getting as much as we can out of the weekend. We’ll turn up and give it our best shot.”
Two things above all else can be pointed to as the driving factors behind Lakeside’s season this year and that would be the pain of going so close in 2017 and losing Game 3 of the semi finals to the Magic in Mandurah while also being able to keep its core group of players together.
Not only have Ali Schwagmeyer, Sydnee Fipps, Ash Grant, Jess van Schie, Paris Duffield, Tiahrn Flynn and Courtney Green all been together from that run last year, they were with the Lightning from the start of the season meaning their chemistry gives them a great edge.
Sam Roscoe has again come in from England mid-season and then Courtney Byrnes has returned in 2018 and Mel Moyle has now returned from injury late in the piece, but really it’s cohesiveness of the Lightning group that is crucial in their 19-1 record.
But so has been the motivation of not needing to a Game 3 on the road to stay alive again like they needed to do in Mandurah last year.
While Mansfield knows that home court advantage doesn’t guarantee anything, you would certainly rather have it than not.
“Prior to last year, I would have said I wasn’t fussed about finishing top or having home-court or not and I had never held home-court anywhere in my entire coaching career until the first-round last year,” he said.
“But now they’ve moved it to home-away-home instead away-home-home, I definitely think it makes a difference and I look at our Mandurah series last year and neither of us could touch each other on the other’s home court.
“I think if we had our full team last year we might have placed ahead of Mandurah and it could have been different, who knows. I think it makes some difference, but in saying that we have lost a home game this year and haven’t lost on the road.
“We also are in the third year in our system and I’ve figured out how to use the girls and have evolved it a bit, but they are also getting more comfortable as we diversify our offence.
“We get scoring from different players but also a lot of different spots on the floor which I think will help us on the road in the playoffs as we won’t be quite so predictable.
Mansfield is now in his third year in charge at the Lightning and having taken over a one-win team from 2015, he got them to the quarter finals in 2016 before losing to the eventual champion Willetton Tigers and then got them to a semi-final Game 3 last year against Mandurah.
With the large majority of players having been through that run, he does get the sense from the group that they are desperate to make the most of the opportunities that 2018 might present if they continue performing the way they are.
“There’s definitely an element of knowing you only get so many opportunities with good teams, short of being in a club environment where you recruit every year to give yourselves a championship chance,” Mansfield said.
“But at Lakeside there’s definitely a balance on the recruiting on spending compared to what we want to get done at the club. That plays out a bit with some of the senior girls and provides some tension because they know there’s an opportunity in front of them and you don’t know when you’ll get another one.
“When you are younger you don’t realise how difficult it can be to play in a team that has that sort of opportunity. Hopefully we play well enough and I coach well enough that there are repeat opportunities, but you can’t take things for granted.”
While a 19-1 record and having the minor premiership secured are nothing to sneeze at, at no stage during 2018 has Mansfield felt that his team has peaked and he has seen some flat spots along the way from the Lightning.
One of those was leading into that lone loss at home to the Redbacks but he feels they are on an upward trend again and that timing couldn’t be better heading into the playoffs.
“To be honest I was very surprised at how well we started over the first month. We played a different type of rotation because we didn’t have Sam in and we played really well but the success early was more of a surprise than some of the grinding through the middle of the season,” he said.
“The thing is that we have Ali and Syd from Round 1, Ash from Round 1 and before, and Courtney Byrnes and everyone bar Sam before Round 1. We probably benefit a little bit early on because of that and I think Mandurah and Hawks benefited from having everyone available last year.
“I haven’t actually felt like we have peaked at all yet and you listen to how people get excited about our team, but I sit and watch film and after every game I see areas we have to get better in.
“I thought leading into the Redbacks game we hadn’t trained or played well for three weeks and then we lost. I told the girls leading up to that I thought we were winning but not playing well and it didn’t really register, but it did after that game.
“We were then pretty good for a month after that and then we had a flat spot post All-Star break. That might have been a bit of complacency but also Syd hurt herself pretty badly in the All-Star game and she’s only just back to 100 per cent now. We also had Ash away for a patch and quite a bit of sickness, which isn’t an excuse, but we were a bit flat.
“In the last few weeks we’ve had almost everyone at training at 100 per cent for almost every session so we’ve been able to get a lot out of it and we’ve hit form. It’s important to hit form at the right time as well.
“It’s very much about getting momentum at the right time and I’ve been asking the girls to play clean in the head and don’t worry about who we’re playing or what the scoreboard says, or what their numbers or minutes say. That way you generally make good decisions or good plays.”
The only injury concern for the Lightning at the moment with two games to go prior to the post-season is a foot complaint to Lizel Buckley but Mansfield is pleased with the overall health of his squad at this point of the campaign.
“We were healthy but we’ve just found out that Lizel Buckley has a little stress fracture in her foot. So that’s two to six weeks depending on how it responds but outside of that we are probably as healthy as we’ve been,” Mansfield said.
“We haven’t got any sickness through the group either which hopefully is out of the way now. In terms of player availability, I can’t complain especially when you look at injuries like the Lakeside men suffered, you don’t take anything for granted. But at the moment we’re blessed that we are travelling pretty well health-wise.”