SHE is facing a significant challenge just be on the court on Friday night, but Kalamunda Eastern Suns star centre Jennie Rintala has delivered a standout 2018 season and couldn’t be prouder to be back in the semi finals with the club she now calls home.
When the Suns entered the opening game of the semi finals against Lakeside last Friday night without Alex Ciabattoni and Jewel Williams, the last thing they needed was for Rintala to go down injured.
Unfortunately that’s exactly what happened on what turned out to be a horror night at Lakeside Recreation Centre, but that shouldn’t take away from the impressive season the Eastern Suns have had and the fact their season is still well and truly alive.
The Suns still need two wins against the Lightning to reach a Grand Final so the possibility still exists but whether that happens or not, and whether Rintala is able to get herself up to play or not starting Friday at Ray Owen Sports Centre, it’s a season everyone at Kalamunda deserve to be proud of.
Rintala is in her fourth season at the Eastern Suns and after returning from Luxembourg, she put together another outstanding season in 2018 proving herself one of the best bigs in the league delivering 18.4 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.6 assists a game.
She was fighting hard last Friday night too against Lakeside before going down with an ankle injury when she collided legs with a Lightning opponent.
She didn’t return to the game as the Suns went down by 51 points with her absence compounded with the absence of Ciabattoni and Williams.
However, Williams and Ciabattoni should both be back on Friday and a big home crowd at Ray Owen Sports Centre will be on hand to cheer the Suns on as they continue to stay alive in the race to reach a second Grand Final in the Women’s SBL – Rintala was part of the first in 2013.
Rintala will be doing everything she can to get herself right to play on Friday night with the Suns’ season on the line, but no matter what she knows her team will continue to give their all like they have in all of 2018 including beating Willetton in two games in the quarter finals.
“It’s just good to have the girls fighting together. By now we should be playing our best basketball and I think we are to get to the semi finals,” Rintala said.
“We’ve had our ups and downs throughout the season but I think after beating Willetton we’re willing to continue to fight and grind it out to get that next win, and figure out how to win against Lakeside.
“Trying to beat a team on their home court during finals is a tough situation and we rose to the occasion in that Willetton series and were able to grind it out. To then be able to win in front of our home crowd was an awesome experience.
“The atmosphere was insane and to be able to finish it in two and not have to go to Game 3 was nice. That would have been a real grind back at their place so it was nice to do it in front of our home crowd and be able to finish it.”
The crowd for Game 2 in the quarter finals against Willetton was a record for Kalamunda and Rintala is looking forward to another packed house this Friday night as they look to keep their Grand Final dreams alive.
“It was one of the biggest crowds we’ve ever had the whole time the Suns have been around in the SBL so that was really exciting,” she said.
“Kalamunda is a pretty special community and everyone is pretty close-knit so if you invite one person they have five more they are going to bring. It’s great to have people in the community excited to be part of it and they definitely helped push us over the edge in that first series.
“We are just trying to figure out how to win that next game and we know what a challenge Lakeside presents. We are just going to do everything we can to keep competing and keep playing, and hopefully that we can cross over that line.
“We are really excited to be in this situation and I think our girls are ready to fight and give it our best shot. They are definitely a beatable team and I don’t see them as untouchable by any means. I think we match up fairly well against them and we just have to play to our best to try and get a win.”
Rintala has now been a long-term member of the Eastern Suns and a large proportion of the current team are local Kalamunda products including Rebecca Motroni, Jewel Williams, Marlee Bushe-Jones, Jorjah Smith and Jessie Edwards.
That’s something Rintala and everyone at the Suns take pride in being a largely local team that the Kalamunda community can rally behind.
Rintala, too, wants to show that rather than being the gutsy underdogs, the Eastern Suns now deserve to be taken seriously as championship contenders and she hopes that is sustainable.
“That way the family can support each other whether it’s their daughter or son, and the Suns family is something special,” Rintala said.
“Tom (Knowles) has done such a good job creating that atmosphere from WABL to developing girls for D-League and then SBL. We just love having that local talent around and when we’re playing well, it’s nice that it works the way we are doing things.
“That’s our plan to be there and we are booking our ticket for August 31. That’s just going to add more exposure to the club and potentially open doors to maybe getting the community behind us and helping us out even more.
“It could show people that we’re not just that underdog Suns team anymore, we can compete with the best of the best. This year I think we’ve shown that.”
Take out this current ankle injury Rintala is desperate to shake off in time for Friday night and Rintala has been in the best shape of her life coming off spending the 2017/18 WNBL season training with the Perth Lynx.
She then went on to play for Residence Walferdange in Luxembourg before returning to Kalamunda and producing a superb 2018 campaign.
Rintala and her husband Ryan aren’t quite sure where her long-term home will be, but right now Kalamunda, Perth and Australia are leading the race.
“I’m 28 and feeling pretty fit and able to run with girls that are 18 so I’m more than happy with the progress I’ve made in my career. I think I’m playing my best basketball and am feeling fit and ready to perform every time I go out on the court,” Rintala said.
“That’s a life question that I’m still figuring out, but honestly wherever home feels for me and I have a community that is supporting me and where my husband is, and where we can see ourselves thriving is where we want to be. At the moment that is Australia.
“Australia just feels like home. I’ve developed a community within the girls and younger WABL programs and everything, and the way that they treat me I couldn’t ask for anything better. I know that other places in the world are great but Australia is special to my heart and I want to stay here as long as I can.”