Confidence high for Bendigo Spirit ahead of 2017-18 WNBL season

COUNTDOWN IS ON: Bendigo Spirit players gather at the Bendigo Town Hall for their 2017-18 WNBL season launch. Pictures: GLENN DANIELS
COUNTDOWN IS ON: Bendigo Spirit players gather at the Bendigo Town Hall for their 2017-18 WNBL season launch. Pictures: GLENN DANIELS

BENDIGO Spirit coach Simon Pritchard believes anything is possible for his side as they prepare for the 2017-18 WNBL season.

Entering his third season at the helm, Pritchard is still searching for his first finals appearance following consecutive sixth place finishes.

The Spirit missed last season’s finals by a single win.

Speaking before Wednesday night’s season launch at Bendigo Town Hall, Pritchard said he’s liked what he’s seen during his side’s short pre-season, which included wins over Melbourne Boomers in Ballarat last Friday and against Basketball Australia’s Centre of Excellence in Echuca last Sunday.

“They are surprising me with how athletic and how fast we can play,” he said.

“We want to play fast, but the girls are doing a very good job of playing fast.

“I am very happy with where we are at.

“We have six (training) sessions to go before our first game, we need to cram as much in as we can to those sessions to make sure we have everything covered.”

It was revealed four-time club MVP Kelsey Griffin would again lead the Spirit as captain.

Her retention as captain comes two months after the gun forward represented the Australian Opals for the first time in India at the 2017 FIBA Women's Asia Cup.

A three-player leadership group will include star centre Gabe Richards and new import Rachel Banham as vice-captains.

Pritchard said he had been immediately impressed by Banham, who only arrived from the United States last week and will wear the number one singlet in her debut WNBL season.

The former college standout from the University of Minnesota scored 22 points in her Spirit debut against the Boomers last Friday.

“She was only here for one training and played 26 minutes and scored 22 points,” he said.

“We started with Nadeen (Payne) and Kelsey as the bigs and we had Rachel, Ollie (Heather Oliver) and Betnijah (Laney) as the perimeters and they were a really formidable force.

“Ollie and Betnijah play really well together, which points to good things ahead.”

Pritchard said the new season would be one of opportunity for the Spirit, who for the first time will come under the Bendigo Stadium Limited umbrella.

Richards, who is lining up for a remarkable 10th season with the Spirit and is a two-time championship player with the club, was optimistic about the team’s title hopes.

“Having added some great signings to the roster over the off season, I feel we have the talent and experience to go all the way.

Gabe Richards

Gabe Richards

“We’re really gelling as a group and our preseason has given us real confidence that we have a group that can achieve the ultimate success.”

The Spirit’s season tips-off on the road against Canberra Capitals on October 6. Their first game is October 14.