BENDIGO Spirit coach Simon Pritchard has welcomed a pair of early season blockbuster clashes against WNBL rivals Melbourne Boomers.
It follows the overdue release on Tuesday of the 2018-19 WNBL draw.
The Spirit’s season will open on Saturday, October 13, against the Boomers at the State Basketball Centre in Melbourne.
They will be back there just 22 days later for a huge Melbourne Cup Day eve encounter against the same opponent on Monday, November 5.
Pritchard, who is returning for his fourth season as coach of the Spirit, said the draw contained its usual mix of positives and challenges.
He said the chance to play a pair of early games against the Boomers in front of expected sell-out crowds, a run of three-straight home games against Perth, Adelaide and Canberra to end the season, and only one road-trip to Townsville were among the definite pluses.
Last season’s Cup eve clash between Melbourne and Dandenong drew a massive crowd.
On the flip-side, Pritchard said a run of five straight road games between November 29, starting with Townsville, and ending on December 16, with Dandenong would be tough and potentially season defining.
“What I do like is playing Melbourne in the first round, it means our imports are going to come in and play in a front of a packed-house the first game,” he said.
“They will get a good, early feel of what the WNBL is about.
“It’s also a good opportunity for our girls to get focused and play an early blockbuster.
“We are going to know a fair bit about Melbourne as we are playing them four times in pre-season, but without their Opals players.
“They’ll have four players coming back from world championships, so those girls will be on a limited preparation.
“If we do get Melbourne at a weak point, it might be game one.
“The other thing I really like is the Cup eve, which is the biggest game in the WNBL calendar other than the grand final.
“I like the fact we’ll get to play on the big stage.”
The Spirit will open their home season in round two against Dandenong Rangers on Saturday, October 20.
A road trip to Perth on October 26 and back via Adelaide on October 28 will be followed by another home game against Adelaide on November 3.
The Spirit are not due to face reigning champion Townsville until round seven at Bendigo Stadium on November 24.
A December 9 clash in Canberra will be the Spirit’s first against former Spirit star Kelsey Griffin, who has joined the Capitals after six seasons in Bendigo.
The Spirit will enter the season with a host of new players, including imports Becca Tobin and Jamie Scott, multiple WNBL championship-winning guard Natalie Hurst and forward/centre Louella Tomlinson.
Pritchard said the Spirit’s contingent of Bendigo Braves SEABL championship players, led by 2017-18 season MVP Nadeen Payne, would have a short half and a week break before resuming training.
The three-game WNBL series has been scheduled for February 10 and 14 and if needed February 17.
For the full draw, click here.