THE moment Lakeside lost Game 3 of the semi finals to the Mandurah Magic last year, Sydnee Fipps committed herself to returning a better and fitter player for the Lightning in 2018 as she threw everything into what appears the final year of her basketball career.
Fipps arrived at the Lightning for the 2017 Women’s SBL season after beginning her professional career in Europe after recovering from a second knee reconstruction on the back of an outstanding college career at UC Davis.
She wasn’t sure what to expect from her first adventure to Australia, but she loved living in Perth and playing at Lakeside so much that she was always going to return in 2018 no matter how the season ended for the Lightning.
The end came in a tense and dramatic semi-final series against the Mandurah Magic with the Lightning losing Game 3 on the road and from that moment, Fipps dedicated herself to returning in better shape.
Her standards were high because she did have a tremendous 2017 season, but she felt she could be better and with the knowledge that 2018 would always likely be the final year of her career as she prepares to get a Master’s degree in sports administration at Fresno State, she threw everything into it.
Fipps returned a fitter, slimmer and better all-round player for Lakeside in 2018 and the result has been her having an outstanding season averaging 22.1 points, 5.1 rebounds and 2.5 assists on shooting 50.1 per cent from the field, 38.4 from three-point range and 86.2 at the foul line.
She was a big factor in the Lightning winning all but once during the season and now having booked a place in the Grand Final this Friday night having cruised through the playoffs to book a spot against the same foe from 2017, the Mandurah Magic.
Now knowing she is preparing for the last game of her career, Fipps hopes to go out on the ultimate high.
“It would mean so much because I’m actually retiring after this year and I’m not going to play basketball anymore. This month has been weird emotionally for me because of all the work I’ve put in,” Fipps said.
“It would almost be like a mic drop on my career to be able to end on this because of how much I’ve enjoyed Perth and Lakeside, and being part of this club so much. To be able to win a championship with them and finish my career would be just amazing.”
Fipps feels at the peak of her career right now both in terms of how she is feeling physically and what she is producing on the court, and she is happy to be entering retirement knowing that.
But going out with the championship is now where her focus lies.
“I feel like I am better than before and that’s such an exciting thing that I’m retiring at this point at the top of my game, but I still feel I could improve more if I kept playing,” she said.
“I’m only 25 so I could come back but my motivation for this season was to be fitter and see how well I could playing knowing it would be it for me.
“It’s crazy knowing I could have one game of my career left. Obviously I tore my ACL to end college and rehabbed it to go play overseas and I always wanted to finish on my own terms and not because of injury.
“Now I’m getting the chance to be done on my terms and it’s a weird sensation knowing that time has come. I’m 25 and have been playing basketball for nearly 20 years and have put so much into my game so to have it come to an end is exciting in one way to go onto the next chapter of my life by going back to school.
“But to close this chapter on basketball is bittersweet for sure. That’s why a mic drop could be a good option.”
Even prior to last year’s semi-final loss in three games to the Magic, Fipps had committed to coach Craig Mansfield that she would be returning in 2018.
But the pain of falling one game short of the Grand Final and the fact that she was disappointed in her own Game 3 performance made it a no-brainer that she came back.
“Craig and I had already discussed even prior to the season ending that I was coming back so that still burns to this day that we lost how we did last year just because I’m a competitor,” Fipps said.
“It’s weird because you are going back home and you are excited about that, but at the same time it burns so bad knowing how close you were. That did hurt for a while and it was also motivation for me to get in better shape.
“It was a double-header that weekend with Games 2 and 3 and I couldn’t do the second game. My performance was very poor and I felt like I hurt the team just because physically I wasn’t fit enough to play two tough games like that back to back. That was big motivation for me to come back.”
Fipps wasn’t quite sure what to expect when she arrived at Lakeside to play in Australia for the first time last year, but the Californian instantly fell in love with everything about the experience making it an easy choice to want to return and extend her playing career at least one more season.
“I loved Perth and I loved the Lakeside club and the coaches, players and the whole team. It was such a good fit and this is the third or fourth country I’ve played in, but if you had asked me at the start of last year if I would have been playing another year I would have told you no,” she said.
“But I got to the end of the season and loved it so much that I wanted to come back. The basketball style suits me really well on and off the court, and I just fell in love with everything about being here.”
Before Fipps arrived at Lakeside, they were on an upward trend reaching the playoffs in 2016 before taking the next step to the semi finals in 2017.
With a similar group back in 2018 along with the return of Courtney Byrnes and addition of veterans Melissa Moyle and Lizel Buckley, the Lightning have lost once all season heading into the Grand Final against the Magic.
But for Fipps she has felt like they have kept having areas to improve on all season that it doesn’t necessarily feel like a one-win campaign.
“Both of these years have kind of meshed together and I feel like we are continuing through every single day,” Fipps said.
“The relationships everyone on the team has on and off the court makes a huge difference as well and it’s just really fun to be in that environment where you want to play for each, for the club and coaches and everything.
“It has been such a fun season but it’s honestly weird to look back and think that we’ve only lost one game. Personally it doesn’t really feel like that and I think we’re good, but we are always working on things we can improve.
“But then I look at it and we have only lost one game and obviously we are doing a lot of things well. The other thing that goes with that is that we know we’re always going to get everyone’s best because they lift to play the top team. That’s a great challenge so that has been different this year, but I’ve enjoyed it so much.”
Fipps enjoyed her first season with Lakeside and performed well, but she felt she could be better and that’s why she focused back home on getting in the best shape of her life for when she got back ahead of the season tipping off.
She feels that has helped in all areas of her game and that’s why she’ll be more than happy to call 2018 the final year of her playing career, at least for the next two years.
“I wanted to be more fit so I could be better defensively this year and besides Craig, I’ve never really had a coach who has told me I’m a good defensive player. That’s been really good to hear from him to have that motivation to get better defensively and then being better shape helps that too,” Fipps said.
“I’m actually in much better shape this year. I’ve lost some weight, got more fit and I’ve had two torn ACL’s so it took me a while to recover from that second one a couple of years ago.
“The older you get the harder it is so being in better shape always helps and I’m more fit to play this fast style of game here.
“Then obviously knowing the system and working with the girls around has helped us all get even better this year. It’s a really similar team to last year so we know each other’s ins and outs, but they make me look better. I don’t know if I’m much better besides being in better shape.”