It's been a big 12 months on the basketball court for Bendigo Spirit's Leilani Mitchell.
The international star heads into the fast-approaching 2021/22 WNBL season on the back of winning the championship last year with the Southside Flyers and most recently her Tokyo Olympics campaign.
The Opals were eliminated by the USA in the quarterfinals and as tough as it was for Mitchell, the experience has now made her a stronger player physically and mentally.
"With each season I am on the court, whether it's here in Australia, over in the USA or even the Olympics, I always learn something and build upon those experiences," Mitchell said.
She is easily one of the most decorated and highest-profile basketballers to suit up in the Spirit's blue and yellow in their 14-year history.
A four-time WNBL All-Star Five selection, Mitchell averaged 11.2 points and a league-high 6.7 assists in the Flyers' 2020 championship season in the WNBL hub in north Queensland.
With only two weeks until WNBL 2021/22 tips off and pre-season games looming this weekend, Mitchell is ready to apply her new knowledge on the court.
First up Spirit will have a practice match against reigning champions Southside Flyers on Saturday, followed by another with Melbourne Boomers on Thursday.
"Southside won last year as well as the Boomers being one of the favourites heading into the season," Mitchell said.
"We have two very good testing teams which will give us a clear picture of what we're doing well and where we need to improve."
Spirit head coach Tracy York also looked forward to the series of practice matches against Southside and Melbourne.
"The season is creeping up very quickly," York said.
"These two games give us a chance to see where we're at against two high-calibre teams."
In addition to intensive pre-season training at the Bendigo Stadium there's been plenty of work off the court in the way of team building exercises to ensure the relatively new-look team is set to soar come the season-opener against the Flyers on December 4.
"Every single session we all come to training with a hardworking attitude," Mitchell said.
"Last season for the Spirit wasn't great and there's a lot of improvements that we're ready to put into action.
"I will be bringing my experience and leadership in addition to my on-court strengths such as playing strong pick and rolls, controlling defence and getting the whole team involved."
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