Every grand final has its storyline – the fairy tales, hard luck stories, drought breakers and history makers transcend codes and all levels of sport.
The WNBL (Australia’s Women’s National Basketball League) Grand Final series between the Canberra Capitals and Adelaide Lightning kicks off on Saturday night in a best-of-three battle. And the central plot is both remarkable and concerning.
To one of the most remarkable stories in Australian sport – the cash-strapped @AdelLightning is through to the @WNBL Grand Final. They will play the Canberra Capitals, but the club's future is still in extreme doubt. @andrew_hayes7 #WNBL19 #7News pic.twitter.com/yKjSoiEzwd
— 7 News Adelaide (@7NewsAdelaide) February 1, 2019
The harsh reality is that the Lightning could in the next eight days win their sixth title. And then the team could fold.
On November 27 last year, Adelaide sat in seventh place on the ladder and had fallen to the star-studded Melbourne Boomers by two points at the State Basketball Centre in suburban Melbourne.
The players returned to the change rooms, exhausted after completing a two-game road-trip weekend and disappointed by the narrow defeat. They were then told their club was in a dire financial crisis, its future in jeopardy.
Just months earlier, Adelaide Lightning was voted the most successful South Australian sporting team of the past 25 years, eclipsing even the Crows’ back-to-back AFL premierships in the Nineties.
The Lightning is the home of former Australian Opals coach Jan Stirling, triple Olympian and WNBL legend Rachael Sporn, after whom the league grand final MVP award was named, and in more recent times Olympian and WNBA star Erin Phillips, plus four-time Olympic representative Laura Hodges.
Staring in the face of extinction, the Lightning rallied under two-time WNBL championship coach Chris Lucas and fought their way into the top four. In January’s final home-and-away round, Adelaide knocked off the Lynx in overtime to snare third spot.
Adelaide, last crowned champions in 2008, had returned to the play-offs for the first time in five years and was Melbourne-bound to take on the Boomers, who last year, with Liz Cambage in their side, were runner-up.
With Cambage heading to China, the Boomers went on a pre-season recruiting spree, adding three Opals players fresh from the World Championships and a gun from the WNBA.
“More Opals than Coober Pedy,” remarked one opposition club after upsetting the Boomers in Round 1.
The Lightning were off to a shaky start in Game 1 of their semi-final series on January 27 but got back into the contest to tie things up at half time.
The visitors produced some of their best hoop after the break and romped home 76-60 to head home for game two with a 1-0 lead. Jaws were dropping.
The Boomers arrived in Adelaide last Thursday with their backs up but had no answers for the Lightning, who struck again in a high-scoring affair, 100-92, to win through to the Grand Final.
Now the Lightning are off to the nation’s capital for the series opener against the Caps.
Singing our victory song after claiming a spot in the grand final felt pretty damn good, but the moment we hit the ground back in Canberra – it's back to work. We're about to go bigger.
— UC Capitals (@UCCapitals) January 31, 2019
Canberra finished top-of-the-table and boast a certified WNBA star in Kia Nurse and Opals Kelsey Griffin, Leilani Mitchell and Marianna Tolo, plus league veteran guard Kelly Wilson who arrived this season after back-to-back championships with Townsville.
Adelaide Lightning beat Canberra twice during the regular season and their goal is to do it again, three times in fact.
The Lightning is bonded and their stat sheet reflects as much. Imports Nia Coffey and Kayla Alexander from the WNBA have been outstanding, their finals form red hot, Nicole Seekamp, who won a gold medal with the Opals at the Commonwealth Games last year, has led out of her skin in two finals, while Lauren Nicholson has won selection in the national squad for the first time on the back of her campaign. Steph Blicavs, Aimie Clydesdale, Coleen Planeta and Penina Davidson are all crucial pieces of the puzzle.
Adelaide has the players, tools, outstanding coach, ability and ticker to beat Canberra and win the most incredible of championships.
Win or lose, this season has reminded one and all that the Lightning’s presence in the WNBL and Australian basketball landscape is essential – it’s now over to the movers and shakers to ensure the future of this sporting institution.