WNBL Fire v Southside: Fire fuelled by doubters before final
THEY are the club that shocked the competition.
Nobody expected the Townsville Fire to finish the WNBL season in second spot, to rise above the highly fancied Canberra Capitals and Melbourne Boomers.
Nobody believed they would have two bites of the cherry in the finals.
But coach Shannon Seebohm would not have it any other way.
The determined Fire are the self-appointed underdogs of the WNBL. They relish the doubters and the opportunity to prove them wrong.
And it is the same message Seebohm has delivered to his troops as they stare down their biggest challenge yet in the Southside Flyers.
"It is what it is; we've known everyone was doubting us - even (on Sunday) when we beat Melbourne no one could believe it except for us," Seebohm said.
"We love that, we pride ourselves on coming out and playing as hard as we can every game and if teams want to underestimate us then that's on them. We're just going to compete as hard as we can the rest of the season and get ourselves as far as we can go.
"We've got a lot of belief in what we're capable of and we haven't really paid any attention to what other people expect of us since day one. I think for us it's just being the best team we can be and focusing on what we can control; for us that's going out and playing hard, playing smart and executing our brand of basketball when we hit the floor."
What the Fire lack in finals experience, they make up with tenacity and teamwork on the floor.
Seebohm has built his squad from the ground up with a focus on work ethic and attitude. He scoured the best talent pools across Australia for players who would work hard but also keep a level head off the court.
They have all bought in to the coach's style overhaul and unique game plans, and no one in the team is bigger than the squad.
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"I think the youth is probably part of it, but we've got some really good veterans as well and we've got some great leadership in our playing group," Seebohm said.
"Our players, just their commitment to our culture has been outstanding and I think that's a big part of the reason why we've been able to hang tough in some of those games and pick up some wins people thought we wouldn't get and put us in the position we are now.
"We're not looking at the second chance to be honest with you, but I think it's something for our team to proud of we've been able to get us into second spot.
"We're going to go into this game on Wednesday with a lot of confidence, obviously understanding Southside are the juggernauts of the competition, and we're going to have to play really well to beat them."
Fire leader, and the squad's most experienced basketballer, Mia Murray said opposition sides needed to be wary of the young talent time at the North Queensland club.
But there was one teammate in particular Murray warned about: The Fire faithful in the stands.
"I have played in many finals here before and I know how much the home crowd helps us over the line," Murray said.
"I am very excited for (our young players) … the majority of the team are finals debutantes. I am really looking forward to it. Maintaining a level head will be important throughout the finals series, and (I will be) using my experience to help get them through that.
"(But) don't underestimate youth and fearlessness."
FLYERS MISSING KEY PLAYER
SOUTHSIDE will be without inspirational leader Jenna O'Hea as the WNBL heavyweights aim to book straight passage into the grand final.
O'Hea has succumbed to a knee injury which kept her out of the final round win over Canberra Capitals, and will miss the semi-final against Townsville Fire.
The Opals captain will now race the clock, working with Flyers strength and conditioning team, to be ready for finals games down the line.
"I am doing everything to try and get right. Obviously I am disappointed, but I am doing everything. I haven't ruled myself out and the medical staff haven't ruled me out," O'Hea said.
"There is no rush. I am taking it day by day, doing all the recovery and rehab I can."
While the small forward will miss the semi-final showdown with the Fire, she has backed her side to still perform under pressure at Townsville Stadium.
The Flyers have been the form team of the season, winning seven-straight games at the back end of the year to cement their spot atop the ladder.
The Flyers success has come off the back of superstar centre Liz Cambage (pictured) who was controversially overlooked for WNBL MVP honours earlier this week despite averaging 23.6 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game.
"I am (confident). We have got an experienced team and we have slowly been playing better and better across the season," O'Hea said.
"We had a really great game on Sunday (against Canberra) to solidify that top spot.
"It felt like a finals game, we both wanted to be top two and the girls came out ready. We were disappointed with our game against Sydney, the way we came out we were flat. We definitely came out with a lot better effort on Sunday and that is the way we want to play."
Originally published as Fire fuelled by doubters ahead of finals surge