IN a season where so much has gone against the Mandurah Magic, Emma Klasztorny has stepped up big time and is proud of the never give up attitude of her team that has got them into Friday night’s Grand Final against the Lakeside Lightning.
Klasztorny was part of the Mandurah team that had such a standout 2017 season to go on to play in the Grand Final before losing in the decider to the Perry Lakes Hawks to leave the Magic still chasing that elusive first SBL championship.
Things were encouraging coming into 2018 for the Magic to get back there again, and ultimately they have, but it has been anything but a smooth ride along the way.
Carly Boag went down early rupturing her ACL and ending her season before Emma’s older sister Bree, Casey Mihovilovich and Rachel Halleen were among those to miss significant time through injury as the Magic went through a run of losing 10 of 13 matches.
However, they were able to pull together winning three of their last four games heading into the finals before going on to beat both the Rockingham Flames and Perry Lakes Hawks in two games each to now qualify for Friday’s Grand Final against the Lightning.
Klasztorny has been a significant part of that too as she gears up to try and win a first championship for Mandurah in their sixth Women’s SBL Grand Final.
“Given where we were at the middle of the year thinking our season was basically done, and then for everything to click right at the right time and to be where we are now is special but also very rewarding,” Klasztorny said.
“A lot of hard work has gone into this as well and that desire of not giving up has been the biggest thing. Although it might have been in our mind that it just wasn’t meant to be this year, we just never gave up.
“We just don’t give up as a group. We’ll fight until we are physically told to stop and I think that’s why everyone just loves it. We’ve got a really good culture of hard work and team work but the biggest thing is we just don’t give up.”
With Boag’s season ending and then with sister Bree, Mihovilovich and Halleen struggling with injury too among others with the Magic, Klasztorny did take it upon herself to help lead the charge for the Magic to not give up on the season.
Over the first 14 games of the season, Klasztorny averaged 6.1 points and 6.6 rebounds a game so she was contributing solidly, but since then she’s gone up a gear with 10.3 points and 9.3 rebounds across the past 11 matches including the four playoff games.
She did try to take it upon herself to stand up more to help the Magic not let the season go to waste and make up for those absent or hurting.
“Going through that slump of having all the injuries somebody else had to pick up and I didn’t pick up straight away, but after three or four weeks it clicked that I had to do something about this,” Klasztorny said.
“I changed a few things in the gym and it kind of just started paying off on the court and away I went. I wasn’t second guessing myself as much as I had been and was just going for it out there. That’s the way I have to play and when I’m helping my teammates the most.
“It’s a massive mind game and you can get inside your own head easily, but once you come out of that you can play with so much more freedom.
“It’s so easy just to say not to think about anything, but not as easy to actually do it. But once you can do that it actually shows in your game and does make a bit of a difference. Also having teammates encourage you and tell you that they need you helps it as well.”
The only game Klasztorny has missed this season was Game 1 of the semi finals against the Perth Redbacks when she was in the United States attending a wedding of a close friend from her time at college.
She was nervous about how the team would go without her despite knowing sister Bree and Rachel Halleen would be attempting to contribute coming off their injuries.
The Magic pulled out the one-point win on the road and then Klasztorny was coming off the flight home ahead of last Friday’s Game 2 at home but the sleep on the plane negated too much jetlag.
“I was pretty nervous but at the same time I knew they could do it without me. Knowing that Bree was coming back as well, we kind of play very similar roles, and I just knew that someone would fill my spot. I was nervous but also positive about it too,” she said.
“It wasn’t actually too bad last week and because I was able to sleep for most of the 15-hour trip saved me. I looked at the clock at like 1430 and didn’t wake up until the five-hour and then the two-hour mark so I slept basically the whole way even though I lost a day with the time difference.
“I knew when I’d be getting home so I had mentally prepared for that as well and I was thinking about the game the whole week coming home and I was ready to go.”
Unlike last year when the Magic were neck and neck with the Hawks over top spot the whole season, this year it’s been a battle just to reach the playoffs and they got there from sixth position.
But Klasztorny felt a change leading into that Game 1 against Rockingham and ultimately their stifling pressure defence restricted them to 48 points for a 24-point win and that’s when the belief really grew for the Magic.
“It was in that first Rockingham game that it all did actually come together. I think we all surprised ourselves with the way we did play that night and it honestly was when it clicked. We played well the week before that too and once we got to Rockingham we just knew we were ready,” Klasztorny said.
“We felt like we were meant to be here. We really focus on our defence and we have a target to keep teams under 65 or 70 points and if you can do that, and get your points up, then you aren’t going to lose too many games. We try and lockdown on defence quite a lot and it’s something we take a lot of pride in.”
Looking back on last year’s Grand Final, Klasztorny felt the Magic might have been overawed by the occasion to a degree and doesn’t expect that to be the case this time around.
“We might have been inexperienced in Grand Finals last year with the younger side that we had and only having three girls who had played in Grand Finals previously,” she said.
“But now we’ve got pretty much the same core group with two more experienced players and that should benefit us a little bit.
“But that’s no disrespect to Lakeside, they are a very, very good side and finished top-of-the-table. That experience could play out towards the end of the game and it will just come down to hard work and not giving up.”
While Klasztorny doesn’t want to get ahead of herself and think about what winning on Friday night would feel like, she can’t help but think how special it will be for stalwarts like Mihovilovich who has been there in all five Grand Final losses.
“You try not to think too much about what it would be like if we won, but at the same time you can’t help thinking about it sometimes,” she said.
“It would be pretty special and I think more for people like my sister who was the one who kind of gave our family our name because she was the first one to play basketball.
“Going through what she’s been through and still doing what she’s doing with the body she’s got now, that would be the most special part for her to get a championship.
“Then not only her, but for Milo and Rachel with the careers they’ve had and how they have held their bodies up that’s what would make it the most special. It would mean a lot to our family as well obviously.”
The support from the community in Mandurah is something Klasztorny has been blown away by and she has no doubt how much a championship would mean to a lot of people.
“It’s almost like we’ve become famous to a point in Mandurah. The other day I was in the Forum and there was a kid who played basketball and recognised me from the paper. Realising we have fans out there is a pretty big deal and it shows that we are doing it for the community of Mandurah,” Klasztorny said.
“The actual basketball community in Mandurah is pretty small and everyone has your back no matter what, and the fans have been absolutely amazing. They get the crowd going and they are so loud and we definitely feel like the whole community is behind us which makes it really special.”