Kiwi trailblazers keep believing in their Magic
The Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic have been the ultimate trailblazers in the trans-Tasman league.
The first New Zealand side to make the playoffs, the first outfit to win on Aussie soil, the first Kiwi team to win the competition and the only ones to have made the playoffs every year.
Now, having blown the hoodoo surrounding defending champions, where the winner has never been able to make the finals the following season, the Magic are striving to become the first team to win the championship twice.
Captain Laura Langman is "really proud" of breaking the winners' curse but tonight her team get to the serious part of the competition when they take on the Queensland Firebirds at Hamilton's Claudelands Arena in the sudden death minor semifinals.
All that went before the Magic this season now counts for nothing, including an extra-time victory over the Firebirds during the season.
That game on the Gold Coast gave the Magic the kick-start to their five-game winning run but Langman believes that result will help fire up the Queenslanders.
"I'd say they'd be pretty disappointed still for going down to us in overtime in round robin so I wouldn't be surprised if that's at the forefront of their motivation," she said.
"They'll be very clinical, I think, with ball in hand. So our job is to disrupt that.
"Their team's pretty sharp to be honest. They've got a really big target in Romelda [Aiken] then they've got determined Laura Geitz down the other end."
The ever-reliable Natalie Medhurst at goal attack should help ensure Magic defenders Casey Kopua and Leana de Bruin have their hands full.
While the Magic have a settled starting seven and haven't made a substitution during their winning run, the Firebirds have consistently rotated with their young midcourt giving coach Roselee Jencke some handy options.
She said her side's last meeting with the Magic coincided with a disrupted training week due to Australian under-21 commitments but this time they will come out fizzing.
"We've had a look at that game and had a look at the areas we did well in and [will] make sure that we tidy up the areas that we didn't do so well in.
"I think we'll have a better understanding of what we need to do as a team this time against the Magic, and the experience that we've been able to gather from last time will be good."
The Firebirds are coming off a two-goal loss to the Thunderbirds in Adelaide while the Magic had a big win over the bottom-placed Northern Mystics.
It's the Firebirds' second time in the playoffs, after their title win in 2011, while the Magic have plenty of experience in these crunch games.
They also have the best home record of any team in the competition, with a win ratio of 85 per cent.
"It is a nice lead-in and just having that extra day at home to rest and recover and to get in a good space," Langman said.
"It's a big game, so what better place to have it than Claudelands, where we can get a big crowd."
The 4329 sellout crowd will be a noisy help for the hosts though Jencke's side have a 4-3 advantage in head-to-head meetings.
"Magic are a strong team. They've got Silver Ferns in their lineup so they're very experienced campaigners, and I guess that's what they have over us," she said.
"When both teams step on the court they're both even. It'll be a really great game and hopefully a really close one."