AFTER a four-year absence from the finals scene, Bendigo Spirit is well aware of the pressure to perform when the 2019-20 WNBL season tips-off on Saturday night.
But fourth-year Spirit guard Kara Tessari is backing her team-mates to embrace that pressure as they get set to face the Melbourne Boomers at Bendigo Stadium.
"I don't think the expectations are higher (this season), I think there's a little bit more pressure on us to make finals and be more competitive," she said.
"In saying that, I think we were competitive last year and just missed out on a few (wins) in overtime, which was pretty tough.
"I do feel we are feeling more pressure, but we do want to make finals and that is a goal for us.
"I feel we have the squad to do that and that's why the pressure has come. It's not from outside voices, we know we are good enough to compete in finals and are prepared to do what it takes."
The Spirit have not played since finals since finishing runners-up to the Townsville Fire in 2014-15, under then coach Bernie Harrower.
It was the third of three-straight grand final appearances, which brought championship wins in 2012-13 and 2013-14.
Much of the optimism surrounding the Spirit this season centres on the return of a trio of players integral to that success, four-time WNBL champion Kelly Wilson, fellow guard Tessa Lavey, who played in two of the seasons, and fan-favourite Gabe Richards.
Still only 20, Tessari is relishing the chance to learn from a pair of Opals representatives and believes their impact will be felt by all Spirit players, regardless of age and experience
"Their leadership is great. Kelly knows the game inside and out, which just filters through the roster," she said.
"To have someone like Kelly on the team is special.
"Just the way (Wilson and Lavey) play and involve everyone, and their fast-tempo with our new style of play, it's going to be an exciting brand of basketball."
Tessari, who played alongside Wilson in a SEABL championship in 2018 with the Bendigo Braves, before playing in a NBL1 championship with the Kilsyth Cobras this year, is one of only three players returning from last season's Spirit line-up.
She sees the vast turnover in personnel as no impediment to success, under first-year coach Tracy York.
"I think we (players) are pretty used to going from different teams and creating different friendships," se said.
"We have gelled really well so far, a lot faster than maybe some of us thought.
"We get along well really off the court and on, and that is starting to show more so on the court.
"People will be able to see that on Saturday night, which is exciting."
Tip-off on saturday night is 7pm.
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