THE reward for the Lakeside Lightning’s strong regular season in the Women’s SBL will likely be battling one of the grand finalists from last year in the quarter finals and coach Craig Mansfield just wants his team at their peak to open the finals.
The Lightning have won their last three games impressively over playoff contending teams since a loss to the second placed Mandurah Magic.
Mansfield learned a lot from that last loss and has been impressed with the work put in on the practice floor since and in the strong wins over the Joondalup City Wolves, Stirling Senators and South West Slammers.
Those wins have improved Lakeside to a 14-5 record on the season to be in third position and they will stay there if they keep winning to close the regular season with games remaining against the Kalamunda Eastern Suns, Perry Lakes Hawks and Willetton Tigers.
Right now, whether the Lightning end up finishing third or fourth will mean a quarter-final series up against either Willetton or Joondalup who did battle against one another in the 2016 grand final.
That sets up no usual first round battle for a Lightning team that will earn home court advantage, but based on their form since the 11-point loss to the Magic suggests they will be up for the challenge.
With the scoring firepower of Ali Schwagmeyer and Sydnee Fipps, inside presence of Sam Roscoe and Ash Grant, Tiahrn Flynn and Tia Ucich doing well as point guards, and Jess van Schie, Alecia Knowles and Alex Bell contributing strongly, the Lightning do appear to have all the weapons.
But Mansfield’s focus heading towards the playoffs is to make sure they are as good as can be and ready for whoever that quarter-final opponent turns out being.
“Both of them are really tough obviously and present challenges in their own right and different ones. Willetton has a couple of bigs and some really explosive scorers and they will be at full strength,” Mansfield said.
“They’ve obviously been there and done that too so they know what it’s all about. Wanneroo are quite versatile and move really well around Ellyce. I don’t really have a preference around who we play, but what I talk about with the girls is that I want to be as good as we can be when the finals start.
“If that means we don’t lose another game or don’t win another game, then so be it as long as we are at our best during the finals. The highlights of my week right now are the Tuesday and Thursday nights at training because that’s when we have to do the work required.
“We have to work hard to be ready to play at our best come that opening round. The games are now part of that process, but training is continuing to prove super important.”
The Lightning started the season decidedly lacking in size inside, but that’s far from the case now since Grant’s return from her break post the WNBL season for the Perth Lynx and the arrival of Roscoe from the University of North Dakota.
The pair are working tremendously as a frontcourt duo for Lakeside. Roscoe in particular is proving a real difference maker with her size, inside presence and even ability to stretch the floor by taking shots from the perimeter as she gets more settled at the Lightning.
While Fipps and Schwagmeyer might be getting a lot of the attention and credit for Lakeside’s credit, and rightfully so considering they are averaging a combined 44.8 points, 13.9 rebounds and 6.7 assists, it’s hard to ignore the impact Roscoe especially has had since arriving.
“The thing with Sam is that at college she played the four and little bit at three, she didn’t play the five. She can actually do some other stuff that at times we haven’t really figured out yet because we have only had half a season,” he said.
“We haven’t taken full advantage of everything she can do yet and fit her with Ash to full effect, but Sam is excellent defensively and she’s a really good decision maker in terms of facilitating our offence going side to side.
“We’ve been working on getting her after screening actions on the rim a little bit more to try and suck some defence in if they stay wide on our shooters. She’s been doing that well and Ash is improving all the time especially defensively which is obviously a big help for us.”
Again it is the whole of the parts that are making the Lightning an impressive unit right now even though Schwagmeyer is the reigning MVP and Fipps is on fire of late.
Those two might be starring, but everyone else on the Lightning team is playing their role too and Mansfield will continue to ensure that his whole squad is made part of what they are doing and is given the chance to contribute in their own way.
“There’s a flow or rhythm that your team has to have and you have to get the ball through hands. That’s always good for positive energy and for people all feeling involved, and I think it translates into their defence,” Mansfield said.
“Mandurah did a couple of things to key in on Syd and Ali and we didn’t move the ball particularly well giving us a good little insight into during the finals when teams are really keying in on you. That’s given us some things to work on and we’ve made progress, but there’s still more to go.”
Photo by Mick Cronin