They've turned the National Convention Centre into a fortress, but a returning favourite daughter will feel more at home at the AIS Arena than some of the Canberra Capitals.
Bendigo Spirit guard Natalie Hurst is the only player to play in all seven of the Capitals' WNBL championships and she knows AIS Arena like the back of her hand.
Bendigo guard Nat Hurst has played at AIS Arena more than most of the Capitals players.Credit:Mick Connolly
Her current club and her old one will meet there on Friday night as the ladder-leading Capitals look for their sixth consecutive win.
The second-last Spirit need a victory to keep their "mathematical" play-off hopes alive, although they have a tough run home against Perth, Adelaide and then the Capitals again.
Canberra has already locked up a finals spot with four games to play.
Hurst still lives in Canberra, but has relocated to Bendigo for the season.
After 11 seasons with the Capitals, Hurst played against them for the first time when they met a month ago.
"It took me about 20 minutes to settle into that and not feel weird about it, but after that it was just another game," she told The Canberra Times.
"Hopefully I won't be as nervous this time since I've already had to play against Canberra before.
"But coming back to the AIS, it should be nice to get back in the old gym.
"I was involved in some great teams and won a championship there, and all that kind of stuff, great memories that I have there and always nice to reminisce when I come back to the old stadium."
She's an integral cog in the Spirit's chances of knocking off the high-flying Capitals.
Canberra co-captain Marianna Tolo backed her own guards to get the job done of the 35-year-old Bendigo veteran.
They'll have Kelly Wilson, Leilani Mitchell and Maddison Rocci rotating through to keep an eye on Hurst.
Tolo was one of the few Capitals who has played a lot at the AIS, having come through the now defunct AIS team before joining Canberra.
She said the distance from the court to the crowd was the main difference to their Convention Centre fortress, but she called for the fans to still provide the team with the same energy.
"She's a quality player and she does a really good job of controlling teams and controlling tempo," Tolo said.
"We're fortunate to have quite a few guards so we can tag team her and try and frustrate her a little bit.
"Maddi Rocci's been doing really well and coming off the bench she'll be able to really get into players' grills."
While that will be a battle amongst the smalls, Tolo was expecting a tough, physical encounter against the Bendigo bigs.
She said Rebecca Tobin provided a mobile, inside presence for the Spirit, while Nadeen Payne was an offensive threat.
Tolo said their bench depth was the reason the Capitals were so hard to beat, with players like Rocci and centre Lauren Scherf having benefited from starting roles covering for injury earlier in the season.
Scherf threw Louella Tomlinson into the mix as another Bendigo player they'd have to watch.
"They're very good outside shooters and very good at blocking shots. I know Louella Tomlinson is very good at shot blocking," she said.
"We just have to play to our strengths. They're coming to our home court so we have to give the first punch and hopefully we can keep striving on from there."
WNBL ROUND 13
Friday: Canberra Capitals v Bendigo Spirit at AIS Arena, 7pm. Tickets available from Ticketek.
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