CRAIG Mansfield knew Lakeside would be good in the Women’s SBL again in 2018 but he didn’t expect to only lose one game as he now prepares for the second Grand Final of his career and feels like he learned plenty from that first experience.
Following an impressive stint coaching at the Kalamunda Eastern Suns which included a 2013 Grand Final appearance, Mansfield needed a break and had that in 2015 before returning to coach in the Women’s SBL at Lakeside in 2016.
It was a big job to take on too after the Lightning had only won one game in 2015 but they still had some good pieces of a team that reached a Grand Final in 2014 before the bottom fell out.
The build has been impressive, though, over three years at Lakeside with them returning to the playoffs in 2016 before losing to the eventual champion Willetton Tigers and then finishing third last year before losing to the Mandurah Magic in a tremendous three-game semi-finals series.
But the signs of further improvement were certainly there in 2018 with Ali Schwagmeyer, Sydnee Fipps, Ash Grant, Sam Roscoe and Jess van Schie all returning, the emerging young players with a year’s more experience and added to with Courtney Byrnes, Melissa Moyle and Lizel Buckley.
The result was a superb 21-1 season for Lakeside before winning into the Grand Final with playoff sweeps of both the Perry Lakes Hawks and Kalamunda Eastern Suns.
FIPPS HOPING TO ‘MIC DROP’ ON CAREER WITH LIGHTNING CHAMPIONSHIP http://sbl.asn.au/2018/08/28/fipps-hoping-to-mic-drop-on-career-with-lightning-championship/
MOYLE GRATEFUL TO MAKE IT BACK FOR LIGHTNING IN TITLE PUSH http://sbl.asn.au/2018/08/24/moyle-grateful-to-make-it-back-for-lightning-in-title-push/
The Lightning now prepare for play the Mandurah Magic in the 2018 Grand Final on Friday night at Bendat Basketball Centre, and Mansfield is proud to be there with his team to make it three years of improvement with him at the helm.
“Coming into this year I felt that playing in a Grand Final was definitely achievable, but I didn’t expect the record that we have,” Mansfield said.
“Obviously by adding a couple of players and having another year together as a group should make us better, but at the start of the season we present the team to the church at Lakeside and I said then this is the most talented group I’ve ever assembled.
“But your talent level is relative to everybody else and you never know how good other clubs will be. I felt anything was possible this year and so far they’ve exceeded expectations, and hopefully we do that for one more week.”
The Lightning are in their first Women’s SBL Grand Final since losing to the Rockingham Flames in 2014 and trying to win a first championship since 2006.
Mansfield is coaching in his first Grand Final since 2013 and while trying to keep as much similar as possible, he has learned to embrace everything that comes from being in a Grand Final and he asks his players to do the same.
“We try to keep the routine as similar to what we normally do and obviously getting some training time at Bendat is good. For me I probably do a little bit more in terms of film and scout and prep than normal,” he said.
“My experience with the girls is that in the past we’ve talked about it being like any other week, but it’s kind of not.
“It’s more about enjoying the experience and the feeling of being here is relief and excitement, and obviously you’d like one more win. But it’s a one-off game and anything can happen. We just want to enjoy this experience together.”
Looking back on that Grand Final in 2013 for the Eastern Suns where they came up short against the Joondalup Wolves, Mansfield felt the nerves during that experience and this time around he feels he’ll be better equipped to handle the occasion.
“I learned from that experience personally in the sense that I don’t get too nervous before most games now having coached for so many seasons, but I actually did a bit in that Grand Final week,” Mansfield said.
“I’ve learned to expect a bit of that this week and also in terms of learning about the routine and managing the girls. Last time we did the usual two trainings and turned up to play without doing anything different.
“I’ve been clear to the girls this time that I want their game day prep to be the same, but in terms of the week we made sure we got on the court at Bendat and embrace the fact that things are naturally different because you’re in a Grand Final.”
To be back in a Grand Final again as a coach and to have taken this Lightning team from winning one game in 2015 to being a championship possibility so quickly again in 2018 is something he’s proud of.
He thinks it’s a different feeling too because it was such a great achievement for that Kalamunda team to be in the Grand Final while for this Lakeside team of 2018 that’s lost just once all season, a Grand Final became expected.
“I’m excited and I’ve really felt it a little more this year in the sense that I felt we had a really good team and this is where we should be. I felt the pressure coming from that rather than at Suns when we had done such a good job to make it and were just hoping we could compete to win,” he said.
“Now there is that pressure of expectations on us this year so that’s a new experience for me but I also feel like some of that is off now. But really this week is about enjoying the experience because most of the work has really been done over the past three years. Hopefully now we just show what we can do.”
Lakeside’s last championship came in 2006 and Jess van Schie was there part of that while Courtney Byrnes and Ash Grant are other long-time servants chasing that elusive championships who were part of the 2014 Grand Final.
While Casey Mihovilovich chases that first championship in a sixth Grand Final for Mandurah, Mansfield’s Lightning team have their own great stories.
“Jess did win one way back early in her career but you look at her and Courtney and even Ash, and there’s 700 games at Lakeside between them and only one Grand Final win,” he said.
“Courtney and Ash did play in that last Grand Final and Jess has been in a couple now, and it’s actually funny that Jess’ birthday was last week.
“The last two years of all the years she’s played, it was only the third or fourth time she’s still been training in her birthday week. There are a lot of people who have put a lot of time in and deserve some good luck.”
It’s set to be a cracking Grand Final too between the Magic and Lightning, and if last year’s semi-final series is anything to go by, Mansfield knows that no backward step will be taken by anyone.
“That history is relevant in the sense of how we feel about playing each other and we know we can compete with each other. We know it will be hard fought, we know they won’t take a backward step and how they will compete,” Mansfield said.
“In that sense we reflect back on that series last year but obviously their line-up is different and one-off games are a little bit different. You take something from it and last year losing that hurt.
“We congratulated them and it probably impact my off-season more than anything in terms of torturing yourself by watching those games to make sure you are better prepared if you are in that situation again.”