The Mandurah Magic women are chasing a fairytale finish in the State Basketball League grand final, having turned what threatened to be a broken season into a chance at the crown.
This year has tested their determination and resilience like no other – injuries have struck on repeat, a mid-season slump endangered their finals dreams and it’s taken one of the most amazing post-season campaigns in club history to get back to the big dance.
Let’s take it back to round three for a second.
The Magic have just thumped a vastly improved Rockingham outfit from pillar to post to record a 24-point win, but the feeling in the Mandurah Aquatic and Recreation Centre is somewhat ominous with star centre Carly Boag suffering what would go on to be a season-ending leg injury.
Weeks later defensive star and key piece to the team Bree Klasztorny would spend time on the sidelines nursing a niggle, while club legend Casey Mihovilovich and captain Rachel Halleen were both hampered by stints with injury.
That’s four of the Magic’s starting five from last year’s grand final sitting out chunks of the season, with the fifth (Nici Gilday) playing overseas.
So just how did a team so battered and bruised keep it’s dream of returning to the playoffs – and making a grand final dash – alive?
There are many reasons both on and off the court, but two stand out: a pair of star imports and a young core following in the footsteps of some outstanding leaders.
Let’s start with the imports.
Hailing from Akron, Ohio – where she starred at the collegiate level – Anita Brown has been nothing short of phenomenal for the Magic.
Filling the void at guard left by the departing Gilday, Brown immediately made it known she would be one of the deadliest scorers in the league with points totals of 19, 22 and 25 in her opening three games.
She’s only gotten better since the playoffs arrived with arguably her best outing coming in the series-clinching win over Perth where she tallied 26 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists.
Meanwhile Regina Palusna, a former member of the Slovakian national team, has been superb since flying in mid-season to fill Boag’s absence.
The centre took time to find her feet in a new league, but she’s been unstoppable in the latter part of the season.
Now to the second reason, the youngsters who stepped up when they were called upon.
It speaks to the mentality of our teamCoach Randy Miegel on his playing group's ability to step up when needed.
Injuries to a handful of starters throughout the season left the Magic relying on their up-and-coming stars, and the likes of Morgan Ballantyne, Jemma Gatti and Rachel Pettit produced in spades.
It’s no easy task to step into the shoes of Mihovilovich, Halleen and Klasztorny, but the trio did exactly what was needed of them to keep the Magic’s season afloat.
“I’ve always been confident in our depth, but to see these girls step into starting roles and take them in their stride the way they did, it was huge,” coach Randy Miegel said.
“It speaks to the mentality of our team – our senior players have paved the way for our future starters to step into these roles and everyone benefits from it.
“Experienced heads Emma Klasztorny and Kelly Bailey have been invaluable in that regard as well.”
The Mandurah women head into their sixth grand final in club history still searching for their first win.
For players like Mihovilovich – who has taken to the court in all of them – a win is the only thing left to achieve.
At the very least, the Magic go into the game with the full support of the Mandurah community, which will be there when they come out no matter the result.