CHAMPIONSHIP winning Willetton Tigers coach Simon Parker might not be overly happy with a lot about the way his team’s season has shaped up to the point he’d like to things differently moving forward, but that doesn’t mean he thinks the 2017 title is out of reach.
It has been rare during the 2017 season for the Tigers in their championship defence that Parker has had his full squad available and that has even continued throughout the playoffs to date.
Emma Lobb was unavailable for the three games in the quarter finals that saw the Tigers end up beating the Stirling Senators and then in Game 1 of the semi finals, there was no Zoe Harper either as Willetton lost to the Perry Lakes Hawks last Friday night at Bendat Basketball Centre.
Along the way throughout all of 2017 different members of the Willetton team have been missing for a variety of reasons including Kate Malpass and Desiree Kelley while Sam Norwood has been working back from a knee reconstruction and Lara Napier suffered her horrific accident.
Despite all that lack of continuity in his playing group, the Tigers still did well to finish the regular season in fifth position and now be in the semi finals against the minor premier Hawks.
Willetton hosts Game 2 on Saturday night and a win there will see Game 3 back at Bendat Basketball Centre on Sunday with the winner to advance to Friday night’s Grand Final.
Parker still has full faith in his team bouncing back from last Friday’s Game 1 loss and feels there will be positives to take from this year when his key players have been missing with the likes of Sophie Maines, Rebecca Thomson and Carla Drennan greatly benefited from the court time.
“We are still good enough to win this championship, it’s just about digging in and showing a bit of heart and wanting it that little bit more,” Parker said.
“The most encouraging thing about this year is that we’ve had key, experienced players out for a lot of the season and the young kids have stepped up, and we’ve actually stayed competitive.
“It’s a good sign looking to the future and if we can keep some good pieces around those kids I think we’ll still be able to be around the mark for the next few years.”
While Parker wouldn’t ever question the commitment of his players and he knows it is difficult to expect them to take so much time out of their lives to give their all at SBL level, he does feel sometimes sacrifices need to be made to be successful and that’s what the top teams do.
“You probably notice that the top two or three teams have that extra level of commitment and put a little bit more time into what they are doing, and that’s why they are where they are,” he said.
“We have started to spend more time watching more video of what the other teams have been doing to help us go to that next level and it’s actually worked for us.
“I am still enjoying it and there has been a lot of challenges this year with people being away for a number of weeks at a time so our dynamic has never quite been there, so that has been a challenge. We might need to change that for next year.
“We might need to say that we need all our players to commit to the team for the full season and they might have to try and take their holidays when we have byes and things like that so we can have our team together for longer.
“This year we’ve had to change so many things so often depending on who has been here so that has been something we will look to change a little bit next year and improve on.”
Looking back to last Friday night’s Game 1 loss to Perry Lakes, Parker simply knows that giving up a big lead early against a good team was never going to get the job and if they want to get two wins to make the Grand Final this weekend, they can’t let that happen again.
“In three of the quarters there was about three minutes where we didn’t play and we only lost by 12, but it felt like we were playing catch up the whole night. That’s never going to work especially when you get down by 18 points so getting off to a good start will be our focus to make sure we are in the game halfway through it rather than being 20 points down at half-time,” Parker said.
“One of the big things we talked about was doing the little things like getting open and not running in straight lines, but making V cuts to get open and basic stuff like that. When we started doing that it worked for us so we have to that for longer and we just need to be able to execute. They took us out of what we wanted to do and we just have to be a little bit better.
“The frustrating part is that I know how good we can play when we are going well, but that’s twice we haven’t performed in the first games of a series this year. It would be great if it didn’t have to go to the three games but we just have to sustain the things we did well and cut down on our silly things. It’s all doable still but they need to be switched on and focused from the start.”
One of the great strengths of this Willetton should be its inside presence as well with Jess Hootmann, Sam Norwood, Harper and Lobb.
That didn’t work to plan in Game 1 and Harper’s absence was a big part of that but Parker is looking forward to that turning around in Game 2 on Saturday night at Willetton Basketball Stadium.
“We have more of a post presence with Zoe out there so that will leave Sam, Lobby and Jess out on the perimeter a bit more so we can go to work inside. That is our strength and Zoe is our best post player, but we’ll see if we can take advantage,” he said.
“It helps our whole game because if she’s in the post and gets double-teamed she can kick it out to our shooters, or if they have single coverage then hopefully they can’t stop her. When you don’t have that post presence it makes it pretty hard.”
Parker is looking forward to get back to Willetton for Game 2 but the worrying part is it’s traditionally such a good shooting building. But having come from losing Game 1 to win in the quarter finals, Parker has faith in his group making life difficult for Perry Lakes.
“The problem with our home floor is that everyone shoots well there because it’s a good court, but our girls loving playing there and we always get a decent crowd supporting us. We are looking forward to getting back there one more time this year,” Parker said.
“We did the same thing against Stirling and we had to work twice as hard the next two games to get there.
“We have nothing to lose now really. We finished fifth during the year and there’s a lot of pressure on Perry Lakes, but credit to them they are handling it really well. We just have to fight twice as hard and make sure we give it everything.”
Photo by Sports Imagery Australia