Surrey Storm head to Coventry buoyed by two fantastic wins and excited at the prospect of a Big Easter Weekend on the road.
Storm face joint Vitality Netball Superleague leaders Wasps Netball on home turf at the Ricoh Arena on Saturday, followed by Sky Sports’ live game against Severn Stars on Sunday – and Mikki Austin is feeling the nervous anticipation as the season draws to a thrilling climax.
“It’s really stressful, I won’t lie,” she only half-jokes at the prospect of preparing for two games in 24 hours. “I’m sure it’s a bit of an unknown quantity for us all, but you have to get behind any event where we can showcase the ferocity and intensity of our sport, so I’m looking forward to it.”
Austin knows that both games will provide a stern test of Storm’s excellent recent form but, she recognises, the pairings have also provided valuable opportunities. “Luckily, we’re playing two opposition who play slightly similar styles, so our game plan will be more based around us and our ability to execute better in our core areas. When we’re facing two completely separate opposition, we can’t break them down this closely back-to-back.”
The old adage of letting the opposition worry about you surely also applies, after two hugely impressive wins earned in contrasting circumstances, against Loughborough Lightning and London Pulse.
“I was probably more proud of our victory versus Pulse, for completely different reasons,” admits Mikki, who saw her team come from behind to snatch a late win for the first time in 2019. “We went to Lightning with zero pressure, but then Pulse was one of the most topsy-turvy games we’ve been in this season. We’re really impressed that we managed to grind out a performance and for the last four minutes click our minds into gear!
“For that I’m really proud, and I told the girls that we will learn more about ourselves and each other from winning that game than we will any other game.”
The next two fixtures follow a similar pattern – one side, Wasps, chasing Vitality Netball Superleague glory; the other, Stars, finding form after a disappointing start to the season – and Mikki is well aware that the end of the season will perhaps come at the wrong time for Storm.
“After this weekend we’ve got two games left and that’s it. I can’t believe that! It’s that old wives’ tale of not wishing your life away,” she laughs. “But it’s ‘shoulda woulda coulda’… had we have found our form marginally earlier, what would we have done? I don’t think we’ve ever lacked form in the whole, I think it’s just been tying that together for 60 minutes.
“I’m looking forward to the challenge of the next four rounds. There’s a lot of stress in making sure we’re well prepared and we see improvement. We constantly want more, but what happens in two weeks’ time when I don’t have a game to prepare for? To be honest, I’m a little bit scared of that.”
At least this weekend offers up a rare first in Mikki’s 10 years in the Vitality Netball Superleague – the prospect of an overnight stay and a chance to enjoy the company of her team-mates away from the court.
“We’ve literally never had a Storm sleepover! At NPL level you tend to go away and stay over but you don’t really ever do it in the Vitality Netball Superleague, because you’re all working full time, so I’m really looking forward to that.”
Inevitably, though, Mikki’s attentions will soon turn back to Sunday afternoon rather than which Saturday night film to enjoy.
“I’ve tasked a couple of the girls with games night or movie night, whilst I’ll be really unsociable doing video analysis and stats. That’s why I get to call myself the Director, unfortunately… it’s a blessing and a curse all wrapped up into one!
“But I’ll be good it’ll be good for us to spend some time together away from netball, to give us that mental refresh going into the second game,” she highlights, knowing that fatigue can be in the brain as much as in the body.
“As seriously as we take it, it’s important that we give ourselves a mental break and have that downtime, because then ultimately they give me and the team their best when they step out onto court. This league is brutal and unforgiving, and being able to give that extra one percent might be the difference.”
Tickets for both days of the BIG Easter Weekend are still available – click here for full details.
Image credit: Surrey Storm