Call it naivety, call it youthful exuberance, call it what you will, but it's clear from Sam Sinclair that the Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic's confidence hasn't been dented.
Their 55-59 loss to the Queensland Firebirds in Hamilton on Monday night completed the Magic's stumble into the trans-Tasman league playoffs. A fourth-placed finish means a trip to Sydney to face the NSW Swifts in the ‘3 v 4' minor semifinal just two weeks after leaving there with a 12-goal defeat.
Everything is now sudden death for the Magic, who took the competition by storm early before fading of late. Although they've kept up a proud record of a playoffs appearance in all seven years, to win this year's title will need a heroic effort of three successive wins on Aussie soil.
But they've already beaten top side Melbourne Vixens across the ditch, and Sinclair - who was a surprise inclusion in the team on Monday - was upbeat about their chances this weekend.
"We've got it this time, it's all good," she said.
"We've won in Australia. Absolutely, we've got the goods to do it, we've just to go out there and fight."
Sinclair, who turns 19 tomorrow, played a full match at wing defence on Monday, having trained with the team mostly at centre and wing attack and having just one quarter of play to her name for the year. She forwent an under-23 tournament in Wellington last weekend after Magic coach Julie Fitzgerald indicated she'd be in line to play, then lapped up the experience in front of her family and friends from the university halls.
"That first quarter I was like, ‘Woohoo, here we go'," Sinclair said.
"It was a shame we couldn't win for them."
The teenager's elevation was a horses for courses approach designed to utilise her speed, so despite an impressive outing there's no promises of court time in Sydney. But it would be a bold call to overlook her.
Sinclair said the Magic would take heart from the Northern Mystics' victory over the Swifts last weekend, and knew that Monday's game was a "massive improvement" on what they had dished up in Sydney the round before.
"We watched it again, just parts of it, but we didn't dwell on it for too long. We realised that that wasn't our best performance, and we can give a lot more than we did.
"At the start of the season we were on fire and there's no reason why we can't do that again."
The Magic's match is at 4.18pm (NZ time) on Sunday and will be played at the imposing Allphones Arena.
The major semifinal between the Vixens and Firebirds is at Melbourne's Hisense Arena next Monday at 7.48pm (NZ time).
- Waikato Times