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Protecting Fortress KeyArena: What Remaining Undefeated At Home Means To The Storm

Win after win, the company line heard in the Seattle Storm locker room this season has been that the only thing that matters is the championship.

The milestones, guard Tanisha Wright once explained to me, are for us fans.

And thank you, Storm, starving Seattle fans can certainly use something to cheer for.

However, at 26-6 with two games remaining in the regular season and home court advantage throughout the all-important playoffs already locked up, it's nice to hear when the Storm are interested in enjoying one non-championship milestone with us.

HeraldNet: Storm stay perfect
Many players expressed excitement to go after the undefeated home record.

"It's big. It's something that is prideful. It's fun playing in front of them," Little said.

"There is not a question, our players have a lot of pride in playing here," Agler said.

With last night's 68-64 win over the Minnesota Lynx, the WNBA's best team improved to 16-0 at KeyArena, a feat only achieved one other time in WNBA history.

Storm | Storm rallies to win 16th straight at home | Seattle Times Newspaper
"It was important for us to get the win just for our mentality and for our confidence," said MVP candidate Lauren Jackson, who finished with a game-high 24 points and seven rebounds. "We've relaxed a little bit, too, with having a little bit of time. It does change your head space as much as you don't want it to and it frustrates you."

The win ties the WNBA record for home wins at 16, originally set by Los Angeles in 2001. It also prevented the Storm from losing three consecutive games for the first time this season.

Earlier this season, SPM writer Dillon Gilbert referred to KeyArena as a fortress, a notion that not only means a team has a home court advantage in the present, but also a home court advantage that has withstood the test of time.

Key Arena Still a Fortress for the Storm :: SportsPageMagazine.com
So this all begs the question: is Key Arena turning into what European soccer fans call a fortress? That is, a tried and true impenetrable home arena? It would certainly seem so.

The Storm has been the best team at home since 2003. They have not lost a game at Key this season, and the Seattle fans seem to have a penchant for ferocity. Though the city has two other teams with strong home followings in the NFL’s Seahawks and MLS’ Sounders FC, neither has quite translated this popularity to home dominance the way the Storm has.

Even if a tension exists between resting starters and winning games, protecting a "fortress" has to be seen as a significant influence over how the Storm distribute minutes and perform in their final regular season game against the Los Angeles Sparks at KeyArena on Saturday. For a team clearly poised to make the WNBA Finals, protecting the biggest home court advantage in Seattle has to be seen as one of the most valuable milestones of their historic season.

Back In The Saddle
This game didn't matter in the standings, but it mattered in the demeanor of our players and their belief that nobody could beat them at home. I expect to see this level of play during our last two games vs. Phoenix on Friday and LA on Saturday. Coach Agler will need to use some more bench during this back to back season finisher, but I believe this team wants to be on a roll heading into the playoffs, and the 2001 Sparks record for homecourt wins is within our grasp if we can beat the 2010 rendition of that team on Saturday. Should be a fun final week!

As a fan, perhaps what makes the Storm's home record most significant is the feeling that every time you walk into the building you have years of precedent behind you in expecting your city's team to win, even if they're down 18 points at halftime, getting destroyed on the boards, or seemingly unable to throw a pebble into the Puget Sound. In comparison to all those other milestones, the fortress effect is probably the one that you feel most -- when a Storm fan leaves the building saying that they never accepted the possibility of loss, you know that it's probably an honest assessment and quite likely perfectly rational.

The best part of all is that it's one of a very few things in professional sports that fans can legitimately say they are even partially responsible for -- as the team wins more over the years, the fans' confidence grows allowing them allowing them to cheer the team on even in the most impossible circumstances, which gives the team that much more energy in overcoming adversity. Even if opponents claim that the crowd's intensity doesn't detract from their performance -- they are unflappable professionals, after all -- it undeniably gives the home team an edge.

And ultimately, the KeyArena experience is something that even an opponent can appreciate.

"It affects the home team more than the road team, because it's the energy that they feed off the energy,"  said Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve after her team's 68-64 loss to the Storm at KeyArena last night. "Just like when we’re at home and our fans get into it, you could be tired and suddenly forget you’re tired. And man you defend harder, deny harder, drive harder to the hole. Officials change the way they call their game -- they go with momentum. All those things. So this is a great place to play.  We actually love playing here. I don’t know how other teams feel. We love playing here."

The opportunity to watch the Storm protect a home court advantage this strong while yelling "Beat-L-A!" repeatedly should be a perfect end to this historic season in Seattle sports.