BENDIGO Spirit coach Simon Pritchard admits he has ‘mixed emotions’, but is feeling relaxed ahead of his final game at the helm against Canberra Capital on Saturday.
The former Australian junior coach and Capitals assistant was advised by Bendigo Stadium Limited earlier this month that his contract would not be renewed for the 2019-20 WNBL season.
That decision brings an end to his four-year reign at the Spirit, underscored by a 36-53 win-loss record.
While he hopes to end his Spirit coaching career with a win, Pritchard concedes they will have their work cut out against the championship favourites.
The Spirit will head into the clash without their star import Becca Tobin, who has returned to the United States to deal with a family emergency, and with injury clouds over last season’s most valuable player award winner Nadeen Payne and Maddi Wild.
They will also have to contend with a red-hot Capitals, who head to Bendigo on an eight-game winning streak and with a multitude of players in outstanding form, none more so than former Spirit two-time championship star Kelsey Griffin.
Pritchard said the mood in the lead-up to the season finale had been ‘light’.
“We’re coming to the end and know we are not playing finals, (so) it’s been about preparing for Canberra and putting our best foot forward,” he said.
“There is a great sense of pride in the girls and in terms of their own personal performances.
“Training has been a bit difficult because we have some injuries few injuries; Nadeen has a bad knee and with Becca leaving that puts a bit of pressure down the line.
“Maddi and Caitlin (McLachlan) had a collision at training and too each other out, so we have four players at the moment who are a bit marginal.
“It’s been good in terms of we know where we are heading, it’s just a matter of getting over the finish line.”
Pritchard rated Payne a 30-70 chance of lining up against the Capitals and said he would take no risks with one of his team leaders.”
Pritchard said the Capitals clash would bring closure to a proud four years with the Spirit.
“I feel good about it (and) I look forward to working with the girls (on Saturday) – I’ve had all of them over for dinner at different stages over the last week and a bit and we’ve already said our farewells,” he said.
“A lot of them will (leave Bendigo) Monday or Sunday night; Becca is already gone.
“It will be with a hint of sadness, but by the same token there are a lot of girls who have really improved and shown a lots of growth this year, so there’s lots to celebrate eternally in terms of advances.
“I am very proud of the girls and proud of what we’ve done.”
Pritchard added it would be a ‘proud’ and ‘exciting’ afternoon for the Spirit as an organisation on Saturday, with life memberships to be presented to current Spirit player Nat Hurst and club legends Gabe Richards and Kelly Wilson, who will be playing for Canberra.
“I have said before on the record how important Gabe was to the rebuilding of the club – and Kelsey (Griffin) – they were integral in keeping the club going in that first year,” he said.
“I think it’s a great thing for (the Spirit) and the organisation.”
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