Pashen’s Thunder aim to ride momentum all the way

Pashen’s Thunder aim to ride momentum all the way

Finn Daniel

The USC Thunder head into this weekend’s HART Sapphire Series Preliminary Final against the Ipswich Jets with understandable confidence following five consecutive victories.

Garry Pashen finds his side just one more win away from the Grand Final after guiding them through a difficult start while ensuring that his players remained focused on the ultimate goal.

“Our mantra from the start was “we don’t have to be finals-ready now in Round 1, we only have to be Round 1 ready and then Round 2 ready,” he explained.

“We knew that if we kept that mentality up, then by finals we’d be ready.”

The measured approach paid off handsomely, as the Thunder recovered from four defeats in their first six games to go unbeaten for the remainder of the season.

That winning streak coincided with the end of the Suncorp Super Netball season and the full return of Sunshine Coast Lightning players Ashlee Unie and Binnian Hunt to the Thunder.

While the pair were valued members of the squad from the start of the season, they had to balance their commitment to the Thunder with their duties as part of the Lightning’s expanded 12-player roster, meaning they were often unable to train and play with the team.

“Having those players who have had that experience and worked with the Lightning… obviously you don’t discount them bringing that experience into the team,” Pashen said.

“We have quite a few players who have had a lot of experience at state league, so we want to draw on the enthusiasm of the younger players but also the experience of these other players to bring everything together.”

Unie is one of four Thunder players that will be leaving the club at the end of the season, alongside Lily-May Catling, Sarahpheinna Woulf and Ali Wishier.

The side’s Captain was recently awarded a contract to play with the Lightning in 2021, while Woulf and Wishier are set to join Southern Steel in New Zealand’s ANZ Championship and Catling is returning to England with the Vitality Netball Superleague’s Wasps Netball.

Whereas the upcoming departures could be seen as a distraction, Pashen decided early on to recognise his players’ achievements and use them as further motivation for making the most out of what will be the last dance for the current group of players.

“We’ve celebrated throughout the season when we’ve had the news, and that’s kind of the point of our competition in a way, creating pathways for players to head to bigger and better things,” he said.

“Every time we found out, we made a fairly big deal at a training session to present the girls with flowers or a gift and congratulate them and not worry about how that affects things moving forward.”

To gift the players the best possible finish to the season, the Thunder will need to overcome Tracey Jeanes-Fraser’s formidable Jets, the minor premiers of the 2020 HART Sapphire Series.

The Jets are the only side that the Thunder have not recorded a win against this season, having fallen to double-digit defeats in both of their earlier meetings. However, those experiences may assist Pashen’s team in a match where they are relishing their status as underdogs.

“We’ve tried to do our homework on them and feel the pressure is on them a little bit to prove themselves,” he asserted.

“We’ve got nothing to lose and that’s the attitude we’ve been going with, so we won’t change that. We don’t underestimate the challenge, that’s for sure, but we feel pretty good about taking them on.”

The Thunder Coach is anticipating intense battles at either end of the court as Woulf will aim to handle Jets Goal Shooter Charlie Bell and the fast-rising Annabelle Lawrie comes face to face with Goal Keeper Bridey Condren.

Despite the importance of those individual matchups, Pashen knows that it is the best team, not the best individuals, that wins games, and is hoping that his team’s spirit can carry them to the title.

“We’ve ticked a lot of our goals off from what we wanted from the year already, but in saying that, once you’re in finals anything can happen and we’re not going to sit back and just enjoy what we’ve already done when we’ve got the opportunity to go further,” he said.

“The players are striving really hard not just to win this game but looking forward to an opportunity in the Grand Final as well, and it would mean the world to us and certainly we won’t be taking it lightly if we get that shot against the Cougars.”

The USC Thunder face Ipswich Jets in the HART Sapphire Series Preliminary Final on Nissan Arena’s Show Court from 6pm on Saturday night, with tickets available at the door starting from $10.

The game will also be LIVE streamed via the HART Sapphire Series Facebook page and website.

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