Surrey Storm host Team Bath at Surrey Sports Park on Monday night knowing that consistency remains key between now and the end of the Superleague season – but is also one of the most elusive qualities in sport.
Storm put in a superb first-half against Saracens Mavericks last Saturday, to lead by five goals, and Mikki Austin asserts: “If we play the 30 minutes of netball that we did in the start against Mavericks we will beat anybody. But we need to understand that just because we’ve done it for 30 doesn’t mean that we’ve already won the game.”
Despite highlighting a third-quarter dip which proved crucial – “one quarter that was the demise of the whole 60 minutes” – Austin is nonetheless buoyed by the potential she sees in her team.
“We all came out of the game thinking ‘that was ours – that was there for the taking’. I’m disappointed to not win but cannot fault the performance or the effort. That disappointment comes from us definitely surprising Mavericks in the performance that we put out there and putting ourselves in a position to win that game.”
Those high standards augur well for Storm’s future, both short and long-term. “If we put the four quarters in that we did against Bath last time round, we will beat anybody,” she reiterates, remembering January’s 56-50 victory. “We have to take confidence that we earned that win, we didn’t steal it off them. We’re not here just to make up the numbers, but it’s really important that we grind every single minute and we stick to our processes.”
Yet understanding what it takes for that complete performance is a different matter entirely. “It’s hard to put your finger on one thing because there isn’t. Believe me, I’ve drawn out 15 different ways and there is no pattern – it’s not one specific court area, it’s not one specific person, it’s not even on one side of the court. It’s very sporadic, which tells me it’s just individual mental pressure and not being able to cope in those moments.
“But that was always going to be the way this year. It is a complete building process and we have to remind ourselves that, for example, this was Yasmin Hodge-England’s first 60 minutes of Superleague netball. This is more about the long game, but if we’re taking positives from it now it means that we’re a lot closer than I think anybody gave us a shout for.”
The ever-increasing competition and quality within the Vitality Superleague has thrown up some unpredictable results but, in World Cup year, Austin again sees a bigger picture which benefits the sport as a whole rather than any single team.
“We’re in the toughest league we’ve ever been in. Anyone on their given day will beat you. This is the first year that our league has been this competitive across-the-board. We’ve all wanted this for the past four or five years, we don’t want it to be split so we can’t be sad that it’s here. So you have to show up and compete every single time you suit up to play, because it’s only going to keep going from strength to strength.”
In the immediate future, that means that a top five finish – and challenging clubs like Team Bath – remains in Storm’s sights.
“Bath absolutely command respect, they are a top four kind of team and have got some absolute powerhouses on their roster,” recognizes Austin of a team now boasting five consecutive wins following Monday’s 53-43 victory against Severn Stars. “With the top five being as close as it is, every single point that any one of those teams gain is going to matter. So I have no question that they’re going to see every game from this point on as a Final, because they’ll need to make top four.
“But if we want to finish in the top six and keep competing for that fifth or fourth spot, the same rules apply for us. Every single point matters, and it’s really important that we keep looking up, because that is not outside of our reach. I refuse to believe that it is until that last whistle of the final game.”