Road to 250 games in WNBL a Bendigo Spirit roller-coaster

Bendigo spirit veteran Gabe Richards.
Bendigo spirit veteran Gabe Richards.

250 WNBL games for the Bendigo Spirit – not bad going for a regional Victorian team in Australia’s national women’s basketball competition.

Now in their 11th season in the competition, the Spirit clocked game 250 on Saturday night in their 94-59 loss to Townsville.

Since joining the WNBL in 2007-08 the Bendigo Spirit has more than held its own in the national competition, particularly given the bulk of its opposition is capital city-based clubs with far superior budgets.

Yet the club has constantly put a competitive team on the floor and in 10 completed seasons has never won less than 10 games. That looks likely to end this season, though.

To put that record into some perspective, through the previous 10 seasons Bendigo has been in the WNBL no club had won more than the Spirit’s 153 games, which included a pair of back-to-back grand final wins in 2013 and 2014 against Townsville.

Townsville (152) is the only other club through the previous 10 years to have won more than 150 games, with the next best Melbourne/Bulleen and Dandenong (135).

Yet it hasn’t been all smooth sailing – far from it – no more so than in December, 2011, when the club revealed it was in financial disarray and in danger of folding.

And the bitter severing of the relationship with inaugural coach Bernie Harrower – who coached both championships – was a messy ending after his eight seasons.

The Spirit is Bendigo’s only national team and as it ticks over game 250 is doing it as tough as it ever has on the court with a 2-7-record and its best player, captain Kelsey Griffin, sidelined for the rest of the season following hip surgery last week.

With its back against the wall, now’s the time the club needs the city and its fans to show its support. The wins may not be as plentiful as they once were, but without the Spirit, Bendigo doesn’t have consistent national level sport played in its backyard.