IT was less than three weeks ago when things appeared a little bleak for the Joondalup City Wolves in the Women’s SBL, but four straight wins later heading into a 15-day break has coach Craig Friday feeling good about how 2017 could pan out.
Coming off last year’s minor premiership and grand final appearance, things just hadn’t quite clicked for the Lady Wolfpack in 2017 despite having largely the same playing group and the coaching staff added to with Brad Robbins.
Things all came to a head following a 16-point loss at home to the Stirling Senators that left the Wolves vulnerable inside the top eight with a 5-8 record.
That gave them four games before this current break to try and steady the ship. Friday’s first focus was to get all his team on the same page off the court, and to training on a more regular basis.
That has worked over the past two weeks and both weekends have delivered two terrific double-header victories.
It began on the road to the South West Slammers before backing up with a big win over the Kalamunda Eastern Suns the next day.
Then last Friday night, the Wolves handed the Perry Lakes Hawks their first defeat of the 2017 season in an outstanding performance before backing up with a solid win over the East Perth Eagles at home.
That gives the Lady Wolfpack four consecutive wins with a 9-8 record and with a top four position suddenly not out of the equation leading into this two-week hiatus with the Men’s team heading to Geraldton before a Sunday clash the following week away to Lakeside.
“It’s not about sending a message, we know we still have a lot of work to do but we seem to have got things running better off the court in terms of communication, the buy in and all those special words that people use,” Friday said.
“I think that’s helped and it is making it a lot easier to execute what we want to get playing. I think we’re also back to playing the defence that we’re fairly renowned for which has helped turn some form around.”
Coming off the big home loss to Stirling that gave Joondalup three consecutive losses, Friday knew some things had to change on game day and during the week, but he was confident things could quickly turnaround.
That began to happen with a nine-point road win to the Slammers before backing up the next afternoon to down the Eastern Suns at Joondalup Basketball Stadium by 26.
“The Bunbury game gave us a lot of confidence. It was a tight one, which we won, and credit to them for playing a tough, hard game of basketball. But we hung tough ourselves and we actually had a really good week on the track. I felt quite confident with what we were doing,” he said.
“That gave us some confidence and the next best thing was to play again quickly which we did on Sunday against Kalamunda. They started well and we reined them in and then we seemed to shift into second and third gear quite comfortably which was good.”
While personnel is similar with the Wolves, Friday knew that replicating a season where just about everything went off without a glitch would be difficult.
They were the standout team all season finishing on top and it was only some Kate Malpass grand final heroics that denied them the championship.
The only major personnel change was the departure of Amy Kidner and return of veteran guard Kelli Hayward, but until the past two weeks the whole group just hasn’t clicked nor looked at their peak as a unit as they did in 2016.
The past two weeks have been better and Hayward’s form has been a major part of that with her having 42 points and 13 rebounds in those four games alone in support of Klara Wischer, Nikita Martin and Shani Amos.
“We’ve had a couple of people that haven’t played come into the system and we’ve always been tweaking with that, but we now have some people starting to find their conditioning and their feet on the floor. That’s helped but we know we still have a long way to go,” Friday said.
“We’ve altered and adjusted her (Hayward) role a little bit, and she seems to be a little bit happier with that. She is understanding now how everyone else plays a bit better too. She has been around a long time and is finding her niche inside the group which has been good to see.”
For whatever reason things off the court during the week have improved in recent weeks for the better too with full attendance at training with the results obvious.
“The last couple of weeks have very much been better, but having said that where we train on Tuesday nights have had exams the last two weeks so we haven’t been able to train. But we’ve actually gone back to the classroom a little bit,” he said.
“We’ve done some team culture stuff and we’ve been talking to each other to understand everyone at the club. We’ve been doing that in a room at the club so it’s been good and I can’t complain with the results. Everyone has been there as well which makes a massive difference.”
Friday is looking to make the most of the break before the Sunday clash with the Lightning which would see a victory over the third placed team put them right back in the top four race.
“We are looking forward to the break especially because we are doing so with some momentum,” Friday said.
“We will now freshen up and get ready to assault the last part of the season.”
Photo by Vikki Hile