LAST year was such a smooth run all season into a Grand Final appearance for the Mandurah Magic but this season they have had everything thrown in their way but come through the other side and coach Randy Miegel hopes they have learned some tough lessons from 12 months ago.
The Magic were neck and neck with the Perry Lakes Hawks right throughout the 2017 Women’s SBL season and even though they had to overcome the Lakeside Lightning in a tremendous three-game semi-final battle, it did seem inevitable they would reach a Grand Final.
Upon reflection Miegel felt himself and his team were just exhausted by Grand Final night and couldn’t quite go with the Hawks when they went up another gear to end up coming up short on the club’s first ever SBL championship.
So when the Magic all got together to give it another crack in 2018 with minimal changes to the squad aside from Nici Gilday departing for Anita Brown and then Regina Palusna soon to arrive to join Carly Boag in the front court, they deserved to expect to get back to a Grand Final.
But then things started going wrong. Firstly Boag went down with a season-ending knee injury and then when Casey Mihovilovich, Bree Klasztorny and Rachell Halleen all spent time injured too it appeared it was one of those seasons Mandurah couldn’t pull out of the fire.
After starting the season winning the first five games, the Magic won just three of the next 13 and even reaching the playoffs seemed like it would be quite an achievement.
But things started to click with a 27-point road win over Willetton before finishing the regular season with wins against Cockburn and Joondalup to finish in sixth position at 11-11.
The Magic have saved their best for last and their playoff performances to sweep both the Rockingham Flames and Perth Redbacks to reach Friday’s Grand Final against Lakeside have been terrific.
For Miegel, the turnaround all began with that win over Willetton and it needed to.
“I think it’s a huge achievement. Once Carly went down, we needed to make some adjustments and I knew that Regina was coming,” Miegel said.
“I knew she had the size and skill set to make us competitive even without Carly but I just didn’t know whether she was going to suit our style of play or how it was going to pan out.
“Then when we went through an eight-game period where we only won one or two games, and Casey went down as well, it gave the opportunity to Morgan Ballantyne, Rachel Pettit and Jemma Gatti to step up which further strengthened our group.
“As it got further and further and closer to the playoffs we started running out of lives, but that Willetton game was a turning point because we couldn’t afford to drop another game and we’ve built from there.”
It was in that Game 1 in Rockingham where Mandurah won 72-48 and put the Flames under such pressure that they couldn’t cope with it that Miegel really started to think another Grand Final appearance could be within reach if they could keep it up.
“It was after that first game against Rockingham that we really started to believe. The girls just went to another level of play. It’s almost like they were waiting for the finals and the better the team we play, it feels like the better we can step up to play at their level,” he said.
“The girls got challenged by Rockingham and had to go to another level, and they did, and after that first game I thought we could be in with a chance but I obviously wasn’t looking ahead too far.”
While the Flames dominated that Game 1 against Rockingham in the quarter finals, their last three wins were nail biters. Firstly Game 2 went to overtime before they beat the Flames at Mandurah Aquatic and Recreation Centre to close the series.
It was then two one-point wins over the Perth Redbacks in the semi finals but to have a team that finds a win in close finishes is another reason for Miegel to be proud of his team.
“Some people can say it’s luck and there is a little bit of luck involved without question, but we just maintain that as long as we can stay in the game anything can happen at any time,” Miegel said.
“Regina has just stepped up to the plate, Anita has been doing what she has been all year and then we’ve got Casey who is starting to get healthier.
“I know there’s only one game to go but I feel like we are getting better and better with every game we play as we’ve got healthier. I think we’re in a good position now going into Friday night.”
The tremendous support of the Mandurah community in both home games where they closed the series’ against the Flames and Redbacks is something Miegel felt drove the team on as well.
“There was another massive crowd there and it was really well promoted by the club and being a tight game, everyone is into it and it was loud right from the word go,” he said.
“Then after the game the congratulations and stuff was really good for the girls, and warranted. But once we got into the changerooms or once we had finished with the formalities, we focused on what we’d need to do this week.”
It has been such a different journey for the Magic to get back to consecutive Grand Finals but the positive is that Miegel rightfully feels they are in their best form of 2018, and also the healthiest with Mihovilovich, Bree Klasztorny and Rachel Halleen at least all back able to play.
Being in a second straight Grand Final means that the Magic learned some lessons from 12 months ago as well and Miegel actually feels they all have a bit more energy heading into this decider.
“I feel like last year when we got there, I sort of felt excited but also quite tired. I don’t know why because in hindsight it seemed to be an easier journey to get there, but this year I feel like we’ve been building and building to get to this point,” Miegel said.
“I actually feel like the team and the club seems to be every bit as excited as last year or maybe even more so. We are trying to limit the distractions this week and Mandurah’s a little bit different than perhaps a suburban club in Perth because it is its own little city down there.
“There is the own media and following which is quite big so we are dealing with that, but in terms of preparation we might have learned from some things we felt didn’t work last year. We probably didn’t leave as much petrol in the tank as we wanted so we don’t want that to happen again.”