Finals might be out of the picture for the Belinda Reynolds lead Sunshine Coast Lightning, but that isn’t going to stop the two-time Suncorp Super Netball champions from finishing the season strong.
In a shock result in Round 13, the Lightning defeated the Adelaide Thunderbirds – who sit third on the SSN ladder and have finals in their sights, by a score of 56-54.
It was a performance that gives hope to the Lightning heading into the off-season after missing the SSN finals for the second consecutive year.
“We were really proud of our performance in Adelaide,” said Lightning Head Coach Belinda Reynolds.
“I thought we were really disciplined in attack, and we were brave in defence and I thought it was the first time we put out a real consistent performance, except for those last four minutes obviously.”
It was a fast-finishing Thunderbirds who put up 20 fourth quarter points, as the Lightning battled to hold onto the lead in the final five minutes.
This season the Lightning have lost six games by five points or less, highlighting the importance of getting a result in such a tight contest.
“Obviously it did come to the back of my [mind],” continued Reynolds.
“Obviously with all the narrow loses we have had this season, but I did think we were so disciplined up until that point, that I knew that we were focused and really wanted the win.
“Like we said we were treating the last two games as our finals series, so it was really good that the girls held their nerve and took the win.”
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In a season in which the Lightning have been close and ultimately challenged the top SSN teams, which included pushing the league leading NSW Swifts to being within 20 seconds of a loss.
The closeness of games this season is a positive sign that things can turn quickly, the margins are small in being a finals team, with the Lightning looking to take these learnings into 2024.
“We will do a thorough review at the end of this season,” said Reynolds.
“I think they are small margins; so, we take great confidence that we can turn it around and put more wins on the board next season.”
Looking ahead to the final game of the season the stakes can’t be much higher, a Queensland derby on home court at USC Stadium, where they will look for 2-0 season series sweep against the Firebirds.
However, it’s a challenge that the Lightning are excited to have, in front of a home crowd that they love and want to sign off the 2023 campaign with a big win.
“We are really looking forward to this last game,” continued Reynolds.
“Obviously it’s on our home court here at UniSC, we love our fans here in the Sunshine Coast, and we can’t wait to put on a really good display for them.
“We are treating it as our grand final also, so we want the win, and we are looking for a really consistent performance.”
Facing challenges and pitted with adversity throughout the season, the Lightning have continued to build a positive culture and professionalism at the club. With injuries to mainstays in Tara Hinchliffe and Reilley Batcheldor, the club has had to try new combinations and young talent.
It’s here that the foundations for future Lightning teams will grow, despite missing out on finals there are still many positives to take from the season.
“I think most of all our culture the way we have acted as a group,” said Reynolds.
“We have been really professional, we have built on our performances, we have enjoyed the ride together even though it has had plenty of adversities.
“And also, the development of our youth in our roster, I think we have got some exciting talent coming through the system so can’t wait for next year.”
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