VIKINGS' CALL: Grafton look to fans for semi-final support
BASKETBALL: When the going gets tough tonight at the Grafton Sports Centre, Grafton Vikings captain Sam Wicks knows he can turn to the people in the stands.
The crowds for the Vikings' home games have been that good this season it is almost like the side has an extra player on the court, an advantage other clubs don't have.
It has led the Vikings men's side to be undefeated at home in the 2018 Sunshine Conference, and they will need every bit of support when they face Lismore Storm in the major semi-final tonight.
The Vikings were undefeated until their final-round clash against Byron Bay Beez, which means the pressure is on the Conference front-runners.
"We have set a pretty high bar for ourselves throughout the season and now I guess the pressure is on us to keep that up in the finals,” Wicks said.
"We know the other teams will be stepping it up a notch, so we need to be able to find another level in ourselves.
"After a couple of strong seasons we sort of expected to be around the top of the competition at the end of this year, so we have always been working towards finals. I think coming into the business end of the year, we have been here before so we know how to treat this just like any other clash.”
The Vikings will welcome front-court star Hamish Denshire back for the semi-final as they look to their big men for a physical advantage.
Denshire was a notable out when the Vikings went down to the Beez by two points in the final round, but Wicks welcomed the timely loss.
"It was something we talked about that it might be something that could work in our favour. It gave us some real talking points to work on. It made us realise we can't take our foot off the throttle. This game is all about intensity and we lacked it in that game.”
Grafton's strong season has been built on a foundation of youth and experience and despite the big-game pressure, Wicks believes his younger players can step it up a notch.
The Vikings women will also be in semi-final action against the Storm after they finished second on the Conference ladder on points differential.
With several players, including stars Kyra Predo and Alex Dahl, stepping up from the under-18s Northern Junior League side, captain Nat Ballard is confident they will have the extra running in the legs to defeat Lismore.
"It has been an incredible season. To come from finishing at the bottom last season to finish second this year has been a major achievement,” she said.