It’s a case of all or nothing for the Robinhood Stars when they host the MG Mystics in Wednesday night’s ANZ Premiership elimination final at Bruce Pulman Arena.
The Stars earned hosting rights after wins over the Splice Construction Magic and Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel to end their regular season on a high.
Stars coach Kiri Wills is Incredibly proud of the resilience the team has shown in amongst a hugely disrupted campaign where the team has still managed to win 11 of their 15 games and only missed out on top spot by goal difference.
“I said to the girls before the competition that we can’t sweat the small stuff and be complaining about the little things because massive shifts are going to happen and if we do make a big deal of these then we’re not going to survive.” Wills said.
“I’ve been really impressed; they’ve taken everything in their stride. I think this season has been great for the sport in terms of growth and everyone talks of planning, preparation and routine and so they’ve had to show flexibility in that and still perform. “
The Stars have been on an incredible run since the beginning of May and have won eight of their last nine games.
The defensive end has been the backbone for the Stars all season, but Wills has praised the emergence of the attacking end which has stood up in amongst many must-win games, especially when the defensive end has been depleted by illness or injury.
Wills cites the resilience shown during a tough double-header with the Magic and Pulse in round 10 as a key turning point for their season.
“I went into that team talk and said to the attacking end it’s time you showed how good you are and you step up and hold this team together because we’ve basically got ring-ins coming in who have never trained with us before and that can be unsettling. As long as we score off our own opportunities, we’re going to be okay.” Wills explained.
“They just stepped up for those games and haven’t looked back since then. It needed to happen when it did and I think that’s the great thing with our preparation for the elimination final is that we’ve had so many games that were must-wins. We’ve been under the pump for the back end of the season which I think will hold us in good stead for Wednesday night.”
Standing between the Stars and a grand final berth are cross-city rivals and defending champions the Mystics. The Mystics have endured a rough run of illness and injury over the past month which saw them slide from top spot to third on the ladder after 4 straight losses.
Wills knows how dangerous the Mystics can be and feels it would be a shame if they weren’t able to field a full-strength squad for the contest.”
“You don’t want to see a team that’s been so dominant throughout the season not be able to follow that through because of things that were out of their control. What’s happened up until now is out the window and it’s anybody’s game. Wills added.
“We’ve had the better run in which should give us confidence. We’re firing on all cylinders, whereas they’re trying to find their feet. We’re in a really good position and need to take advantage of that.”
The Stars are hosting the knockout match for the first time in franchise history. They made their maiden finals series appearance in 2019, where they upset the Steel in the elimination match in Invercargill and then fell short against the Pulse in the grand final.
Wills says playing in front of a sea of purple will give the team a huge boost when they need it most.
“Our stars whānau are very important and do make a difference. They are the eighth player on the court. We go into enemy territory all the time and the crowd heckle and jibe at the team which can be tough to play against, so to play in front of a positive crowd that is willing you to do well is quite a different atmosphere.” Wills said.
“Ourselves and the Mystics have had to do things differently to everyone else in the competition and yet we’re still here and a lot of our fans have had really tough covid times. It’s really nice to bring the community together and have something positive to celebrate out South. It’s been tough, but we’re tough and we want that tough crowd behind us too.”
Tickets for the elimination final are on sale from 12pm today and available at eventfinda.co.nz
ANZ Premiership Elimination Final: Robinhood Stars vs MG Mystics - Pulman Arena, Wednesday June 8th, 7pm