THIS week is critical to setting up Ballarat Pride 19/unders finals campaign.
In a bumper week, UB Pride will play its final two home-and-away fixtures within four days in the Victorian Netball League.
Pride is already assured a top-four spot and final but can battle for a double chance and momentum leading into the play-offs.
Tonight Pride meets North East Blaze, which has only chalked up four wins this season.
Saturday night, Pride hits the road to tackle Boroondara Genesis in a massive showdown for top-two status.
Other factors come into play — Yarra Valley could break into the four with two seemingly easy matches to play and top-four hopeful Geelong meets Genesis tonight but has proven this season it can nullify Genesis’ towering shooter.
Ballarat coach Kerry Lightfoot said Pride was determined to finish in the top two.
Players know they must win and that a resounding win would help boost percentage but were primarily focused on tightening their game for when it really counts.
Sound player management would be important in the short turnaround.
“We’re working on determining our own fate — it’s up to us,” Lightfoot said.
“... There’s likely to be a lot of tired girls out there on Saturday night so we must be mindful not to be running our girls into the ground.
“We have to put our best team out there to win both games and try and build percentage.
“But you can’t take any teams lightly. Blaze can really push top teams.
“We need to be respecting all teams. There are no push-overs.”
Pride and Genesis 19/unders have each drawn the 9.40pm time slot for tonight’s fixtures, pitting them on more equal ground leading into Saturday night.
When Pride and Genesis last met, Pride had been seven goals up at half-time but ran out of legs and fell five goals short. The match followed a Pride home game.
Lightfoot said Pride’s experienced on-court leaders must help set the tone and pace to ensure Pride can back up quickly.
Dynamic centre-courter Sally Portbury will be monitored this week with a niggling knee injury and is likely to play limited time in a bid to ensure she is fit for finals.
Fellow mid-courters Jordyn and Skye Billings enter this week off the Netball Victoria state association championships. VNL finals start on July 18, after a break for the Australian 21/under nationals.