De Bruin ready to embrace the finals pressure

KEY FIGURE: Leana de Bruin’s big-game experience will be crucial for the Magic in the playoffs.
KEY FIGURE: Leana de Bruin’s big-game experience will be crucial for the Magic in the playoffs.

The influential defender thrives on big games, like tomorrow's minor semifinal, reports Aaron Goile.

The Magic might have already exceeded expectations for this season, but they know the job isn't done yet.

With a vastly remodelled playing and coaching team from the consistently high-achieving one of previous years, the Waikato-Bay of Plenty side were staring down the barrel of a lowly finish in this year's trans-Tasman league.

But here we are again at playoffs time, and for the second year running the Magic are flying the New Zealand flag and have kept intact their record of making each finals series since the competition began in 2008.

Their fourth-place finish means it's sudden death from here on in, and all games will be across the ditch.

Tomorrow they look to clear the first hurdle when they take on the NSW Swifts in the minor semifinal in Sydney.

When the teams met just a fortnight ago the Swifts came away 55-43 winners at Sydney Olympic Park Sports Centre, and now there will be more noise for the hosts with this game at the 16,681-capacity Allphones Arena.

But despite the Magic's 3-7 win record against the Swifts, and it being 1-5 in Australia, they take confidence from previous wins across the Tasman, including against the top ranked Melbourne Vixens this season.

"We're the only team that's beaten teams over in Aussie consistently," vice captain Leana de Bruin said.

"We know we've got it and we know what it takes.

"At the end of the day the court's the same wherever you go."

De Bruin is one who knows what these big games are all about. She's been there on plenty of occasions at international and domestic level, and remember, she was the 2012 grand final player of the match. "That intensity just lifts up another notch," she said.

"But I like this pressure and I love these games. It kind of feels like they bring the best out in me, so I'm actually looking forward to the challenge and it won't restrict me in any way.

"You've got to play it as if it is your last game."

De Bruin has shared those experiences with the players who haven't been to the playoffs before, with her message being not to get too hyped up in preparation.

Magic coach Julie Fitzgerald's whole philosophy is about quarter by quarter, moment by moment, and that is what it will take if her side is going to produce an upset.

Lately errors have let opposition sides get on little runs and then, bang, it's game over.

"It's hard, because in the beginning people didn't know what we play like," de Bruin said.

"But now, with having played 14 rounds, there's a lot more analysis you can do video-wise. And people always want to beat the team that's winning, and unfortunately we were the ones that they always want to knock down.

"We wanted to be that team that chases loose balls and that everybody hates playing against. I think in some games we did it good and others not."

The Magic have lost four of their past five matches and despite their last outing being a loss at home to the Queensland Firebirds, they are taking confidence from the way they played. De Bruin is also looking forward to being able to disrupt more ball, with no really tall shooter in the opposition.

Caitlin Thwaites and Susan Pratley missed their fair share of goals last time, but the Magic themselves need to be more accurate through Jo Harten and Ellen Halpenny, as well as their feeding into them.

"They are a good team and obviously they've done really well and we've learnt a lot from that game that we played two weeks ago," de Bruin said.

"We've got a few structures that we could change to make things better for us and not get stuck where we got stuck last time against them."

Swifts wing attack Sarah Wall, who was instrumental in the last meeting, is in doubt with a calf injury, while Fitzgerald wasn't giving away whether she would give Sam Sinclair a second run at wing defence.

Waikato Times