Mikki Austin takes her Surrey Storm team to Belle Vue this Saturday, to face Manchester Thunder, relishing the freedom that underdog status brings.
On Wednesday, Thunder became the first team to beat Vitality Netball Superleague leaders Wasps this season, and after Storm’s own defeat, against Celtic Dragons last weekend, Austin sees an opportunity to turn a negative into a positive.
“We’re heading to Manchester with absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain,” asserted Mikki. “Nobody expects us to win, and we play our best netball when we play with freedom and without fear, and it’s really important that I see that from us this week.
“They’ll be absolutely riding high off the back of beating Wasps, but this time last season we went up to Thunder and got a win, so know that we’re capable of that.”
Defeat against the Dragons perhaps masked a strong display for the majority of the game – “the last 30 minutes was great, and we won the second-half” she says of a game in which Storm matched their opponents for shooting attempts – and Mikki is quick to both see the bigger picture and highlight areas for improvement. “We haven’t had a bad game yet and we’re almost halfway through the season. In every single game there’s been a quarter, a half or three-quarters of netball that we can be really happy with, and know that we’ve put in a really good performance.
“We were disappointed with the start (against Dragons). We just did not come out of the blocks quick enough. If we want to give opposing teams four opportunities from our own centre pass to score against us, then a team with shooting accuracy like Dragons will punish us. And that’s exactly what they did, and unfortunately we left ourselves with too much to do. We can’t afford to make silly errors, and we got punished for that.”
Austin will rightly remain a hard taskmaster but, she says, that’s largely due to the heights that her players have already hit this season. “Because we are playing such good netball at times, my expectation around us goes higher. I’m sort of a glutton for punishment really. For better or worse you cannot take that competitiveness out of any of us.
“Me particularly, I am incredibly competitive, and I see these girls every week, training session after training session. I know more than anybody what we are capable of, and that means that I set expectations that other people might call me crazy for. But I will always have the utmost trust and faith in our team.”
Key to earning a result on Saturday, she concludes, is “making smart decisions” and being able to “deal with the pressure of those couple of moments, where that momentum is going to be critical”.
“We said at the start of this year that it was very much a building year, and because of that there will be highs and lows, and that is exactly what is happening. But it’s definitely not for the want of trying.”