Bendigo Bank Spirit Identify Key Player Needs

Akuna Photography

Landing another import and a quality homegrown player are high on the Bendigo Bank Spirit’s early wishlist for next season.

The Spirit bowed out of the WNBL finals race after weekend losses to the Sydney Uni Flames and Canberra Capitals confined them to sixth place on the league ladder.

It was the first time the club has missed finals since the 2011-12 season.

But disappointment is expected to soon give way to anticipation when an end of season debrief begins later this week.

A strategic meeting involving club officials, board members, coach Simon Pritchard and representatives from the playing group will follow in a fortnight’s time.

Pritchard, who will coach the Spirit for a second season in 2016-17, said adding an import and a homegrown player were priorities for the club.

“From my point of view I’m a bit disappointed with our inconsistency and we need to find a way to rectify that, which I think we can by recruiting one or two more players,” he said.

“That will put a lot more pressure on people in terms of rotations.

“We have a bit to do in terms in how we work out our budget and how we go about balancing contracts.”

It was a tough end to the season for the Spirit, who lost their last five games despite being inside the top four for the bulk of the season and still in finals contention in the final week.

They struggled down the stretch in the absence of star player and leading scorer Kelsey Griffin in games against Townsville and Adelaide.

The Spirit’s two-time WNBL grand final MVP returned for last Friday’s game against Sydney, but was sidelined against Canberra with the team’s finals hopes gone.

Griffin, who averaged more than 17 points per game during a season in which she became a naturalised Australian, was again battling a hamstring injury.

“She also sustained a cut on her eye which she has had to have reopened and stitched,” Pritchard said.

“We didn’t really deal with that while we were on the road.”

Pritchard conceded centre Gabe Richards would have been no certainty to play had the Spirit qualified for this weekend’s finals series opener.

The two-time WNBL All-Star was in Melbourne on Monday getting treatment on an injured leg.

Pritchard said the Spirit were left to rue missed opportunities in the front half of the season, which could easily have set them up for a tilt at finals.

They included a loss to then-winless Adelaide in week five of the season and a pair of pre-Christmas defeats at Bendigo Stadium to Melbourne and Sydney.

“The season probably comes back to those games – beating Perth in Perth and then rolling into Adelaide and dropping a game against Adelaide with their weakest line-up – before they had their new import,” he said.

“Then losing those games before Christmas, both of them we were leading and in the game and both we should never have lost.”

“Those games standout – had we won them – we would be on top.”

The Spirit’s season was highlighted by some quality individual performances.

Griffin finished fourth in the league in scoring, Richards was fourth for rebounds per game, Kelly Wilson led the league in assists per game, while seven three pointers against Canberra was enough to give Belinda Snell the all-time league record for three point shots made (579).

Just as impressive, according to Pritchard, was some huge gains made off-the-court.

“The big win was the way the Bendigo people have got behind us,” he said.

“We got a lot of support, the crowds were up by about 27 per cent – that’s great in terms of growth.

“Our presence in the schools and community has grown

“We’ve got a lot of things going right and once we continue to garner that support, we’ll find more sponsorship and that means we’ll be able to afford more players.”

Article: Kieran Iles, Bendigo Advertiser
Image: Steve Blake, Akuna Photography

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