Harrower hoping for the perfect ending

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Have you ever written a school assignment or work project and just not known how to finish it?

You were so happy with the quality of the work you refused to settle for any old ending, but a conclusion to befit the tale seemed to elude your grasp?

That’s what the start of this WNBL season was like for Bendigo legend Kristi Harrower.

“As an athlete, you want it to happen yesterday, not in a month’s time,” she said earlier in the year.

“And in some ways there is more pressure, because if this is my last year I don’t want to have a shocking last season. I want to have a decent season that I enjoy until the end.”

After taking five months off to rehabilitate her troublesome achilles tendon after last year’s grand final win, Harrower missed 30 of her first 38 shot attempts this season.

Every clang off the ring was like a crumpled piece of paper next to the desk, another frustrated attempt to get the ending right, Harrower ruefully acknowledging it was “just going to take a while to get back into it”.

“Shots when you’re wide open, that’s the most frustrating thing when they don’t go down,” she said.

Just before Christmas the the 39-year-old said “it is coming along slowly” and the tide was clearly starting to turn.

The Spirit were sitting on top of the table with just one loss and, while the shots still weren’t dropping as often as the Opals legend would have liked, the taste of back-to-back championships was starting to tease her taste buds.

“It’s all about winning for me. I want to play well, but if I can give out 10 assists and score 10 points I’ll be more than happy if we win,” she said.

The wins continued to tick over, with only this week’s combatant Townsville able to dent the Spirit’s armour.

Harrower won the WNBL assists title by a long stretch while also racking up more than four boards a game to rank third among point guards despite her diminutive stature.

The frustration was lifting like a morning fog and the memories of last year’s “surreal” championship win appeared to be growing stronger as the playoffs edged ever closer.

“It was pretty surreal, especially on your home court,” she said.

“And the thing that makes it even more special is the group we had. We did it for each other, we didn’t have anybody who was selfish, our chemistry was so good, I couldn’t speak highly enough of that team.”

Of course, the most remarkable thing about it was winning with father Bernie in charge, fulfilling a coach-player partnership that started in U14s.

“We played in some big tournaments when I was younger – at the time you think it’s one of the biggest,” Kristi said.

“He was my coach in U20 state, he coached me at Melbourne Tigers and we won the Classic, as it was known back then, so they were some pretty big moments back in those days.

“But to win the WNBL championship together, it was like Andrew (Gaze) and his dad Lindsay. It’s pretty special, we didn’t know if Bendigo would ever have a WNBL team.”

Harrower said she felt more pressure running onto the court last March than for the finals of the Olympics and world championships – “and it’s the same this year”.

“To win it with my home team, where I’m born and bred, was something really, really special for me,” she said.

“I want this so bad, this championship for our club, it means so much because that’s where I’m from.”

While Harrower said the fact this could be her last game was “something I think about and then try not to think about”, there is a sense the clock is about to tick one last time for her basketball career.

“I am loving playing and I think I always will. But I am finding training harder this year, the motivation is a little bit harder,” she said.

“I feel like it could be time to really start focusing on family and life after sport, but I have no idea what I’m going to do.”

While there are many tags that can rightfully be placed on her wonderful career – WNBL champion, world champion, Olympic medallist, All-Star – Harrower hopes she will be remembered for something more simple.

“Until the day I actually stop playing, that I’ve been competitive every time I’ve stepped across that white line,” she said.

There has been no question about that. And this weekend, we get to see if Harrower and her Spirit teammates can write the perfect final chapter.