Mikki Austin takes her team to in-form Loughborough Lightning on Monday hoping to banish the frustration of last week’s defeat to Team Bath.
Lightning are on the crest of a seven-game winning streak, but Mikki saw enough at the Sports Park arena to know that Storm are capable of matching the best the Vitality Superleague has to offer.
“Loughborough are flying at the moment,” she recognizes, and concedes: “Monday’s defeat was a really tough one to take. So we go into this game with absolutely nothing to prove and everything to gain. And for us it’s more about ‘can we say that we’ve done better, or we’ve achieved more in our structures compared to the last time that we played Loughborough?’”
Once again, defeat to Team Bath was more about the small margins than a huge gulf in class. “The difference between us being a top four side and not is six errors – and that’s not individually, I mean as a team. All of our hard work (against Bath) was undone by a six-minute passage of errors. It’s painful being so close but just not quite there,” she admits, before qualifying: “We all have to put everything in perspective – we’ve all said that this year is very much a building experience. I think we are overachieving in what people thought we was capable of at the start of this season.
“We’ve given five players a Superleague debut this year – that’s more than any other franchise. We have one of the most inexperienced teams across any franchise in this league, and to still be competing or beating these top teams is absolutely unbelievable.”
Nonetheless, Austin’s passion and determination – plus the periodic heights her team have hit – inevitably drive her to maintain the most stringent possible standards.
“I fully accept and I expect us all to be very disappointed when we come off and lose. If you walk off court and you were happy with losing I would be questioning why. But because we are playing some passages of unbelievable netball, the winner in me just wants more. It is that consistency that wins you games, and nothing less than being consistent for 60 minutes does it. And that’s just the last piece of the puzzle that we have to tie together.”
Yet when Storm fans are taking to social media to praise the team’s exuberance as “a joy to watch”, and highlighting the team’s refreshing new approach, does that alone give Austin pride?
“Of course that makes me so happy to hear. It’s such an amazing feeling for me to know that even through a loss there are other people that see the brilliant passages that I see as well. We’re indebted to our fans, for how supportive and amazing they’ve been, to me personally and to us as a team over the ups and downs of the last four years.
“This is very much a two-to-three year process to get back into that top four and ultimately end up champions, so hopefully everyone is locked into that for the long haul.”
Any fresh approach, admits Austin, is largely through the natural development of her coaching style. “I’m very unashamedly me, for better or for worse. The girls know exactly what they’ll get from me, and a lot of that is me leading by example. I don’t ask these girls to commit to anything that I wouldn’t myself, but I’ve always done that as an athlete.”
Some coaches who make the transition from player to management struggle to strike the balance between remaining a team-mate and establishing the necessary authority to make tough decisions, but Austin has overcome most of those difficulties in her own inimitable manner.
“I won’t lie, it’s been tricky and it takes a lot of time, but everything which encapsulates me being Director of Netball, Head Coach and a player is a learn-on-the-job process. You do things as you go, and figure out whether it works or doesn’t work. But I also rely on a lot of other people who do amazing things and take on a lot of responsibility as well, and because of that I’ll always be very grateful.”
**Lightning v Storm is live on SkySports Mix as well as the SkySports YouTube channel