Surrey Storm start the second-half of the Vitality Netball Superleague season looking for both victory and signs of progress.
Storm host Strathclyde Sirens at Surrey Sports Park on Saturday evening in a reversal of January’s opening weekend fixture, and Mikki Austin appreciates the opportunity to see the bigger picture – as well as dispel a few harsh misconceptions.
“We’re in a really good place. We’re sitting sixth and we have to be happy with that. We’ve put in some brilliant performances,” says Mikki. “It’s really exciting to face Sirens second time around, and that’s what I’m most excited about, to see our growth over the past nine weeks.”
Having, by her own admission, seen her players come off second best to more physical teams in recent weeks, Austin’s challenge has been as much about mental strength as physical strength.
“Our theme all of last week was to not be a ‘wetballer’,” she smiles. “I’ve left the last few games and had various people say to me ‘oh, you guys are a bit soft’, and I will not be called a wetballer! We’re all incredibly strong athletes, we spend a lot of time in the gym – it’s not that physicality that we’re lacking, it’s the mental resilience to grit your teeth when the going gets tough. To refuse to let someone take the ball off you.”
Despite ultimately falling to defeat against a clinical Manchester Thunder side last weekend Austin saw signs that her words were having an effect. “We have to be really happy with our start, and considering over recent weeks that hasn’t been our strong point I’m really impressed with that from the girls,” she praised, after Storm had raced into an early five-goal lead. “But unfortunately we capitulated from that moment on. We started really strongly, and were really strong defensively throughout the game, but if we want to gift teams that much possession from our errors, we could get beaten by anybody, especially the top-class teams like Thunder.”
Highlighting what she calls ‘brain fades’ and ‘Billy Basic mistakes’, Mikki knows the team will need to be primed to face the unique challenges posed by Sirens, and particularly prolific shooter Cat Tuivaiti.
“They play a very physical style of netball, and a very ‘flairy’ style in their attack, and they have the most accurate shooter in our entire league. They will be formidable opposition, but hopefully we can put in a performance we can be proud of.”
There won’t, however, be specific plans to stop Tuivaiti’s flamboyant style. “You won’t stop her, you won’t stop a player of that calibre,” admits Mikki. “Cat does things with a netball that nobody else could, but you can’t just worry about one individual. Instead, you have to stop that supply to her. It’s more about what we can do as a unit to create those miscommunications.”
After rising to Thunder’s challenge last week, Mikki is looking for her team to take another step forward this weekend. “Every week is different, and Sirens will be a separate challenge, I’m sure. But my onus on the team will be exactly the same – be tough out there and don’t be a wetballer!”