THE words “embrace the challenge” still resonate with NSW Swifts midcourter Jade Clarke as she and her teammates prepare to embark on their Australian Conference Finals campaign.
The Swifts take on West Coast Fever in the inaugural Australian Conference Elimination Final in Sydney on Friday night with the winner advancing to the Conference Final in Brisbane two days later.
Clarke, in her first season at the Swifts, said it was assistant coach Megan Anderson who delivered that prophetic message to the playing group following their Round 7 loss to the Adelaide Thunderbirds that had their season precariously placed.
After two wins to open the season across the Tasman in New Zealand, the Swifts could only muster two draws from their next four matches and Clarke admitted concerns were raised about the finals prospects.
“We had six new players in the squad (to start the year) and it does take time for combinations to gel,” Clarke said.
“But we put a lot of pressure on ourselves and looked at each other as individuals and as team. After the Thunderbirds game we had a team meeting before we got on the bus and Megan said to us `embrace the challenge’ and that’s the message that’s stuck with me.
“Everyone can speak their mind in this team.
“We played the Mystics the next week and everyone came to training before that game on fire and there was a great feeling among the group and you could see the determination in everyone to turn it around.”
The Swifts have not lost since that moment with six wins and a draw seeing them soar into second spot on the Australian Conference table.
In the past fortnight they’ve travelled to Melbourne and Perth and claimed victories, last week’s win over Fever seeing the Swifts secure hosting rights for this week’s knockout encounter.
It will be the third finals campaign for the 31-year-old England international who’s a veteran of more than 100 Tests, but her first with the Swifts.
She was part of the Kia Magic squad that reached the 2010 Grand Final and the SKYCITY Mystics’ campaign in 2012. Clarke had spent the past two years at the Mainland Tactix before moving to Sydney.
“It’s really exciting (to be involved in finals again),” Clarke said. “I was only thinking the other day the last two years I would have been preparing to go back to England at this point (end of the regular season).
“It feels like we’ve got so much further to go. We’re coming into form at the right time and we’re looking forward to the challenge.
“I’m not ready to go home just yet.”
The Swifts host the Fever in the Australian Conference Elimination Final at Sydney Olympic Park Sports Centre on Friday, June 5 at 7.18pm, local time. Watch all the action live on FOX Sports 1 and SKY Sport NZ 3. The game will also be shown in Australia on ONE at a delayed time of 8.30am on Saturday morning