THEIR season hasn’t been as seamless as 2016 to be seconds away from the Women’s SBL championship, but Joondalup City Wolves coach Craig Friday has his team in good form entering a quarter-final match up where he sees all the pressure on the Lakeside Lightning.
The season of the Lady Wolfpack could have hardly gone any better with them finishing on top after the regular season, beating the Cockburn Cougars and Perry Lakes Hawks to advance to the grand final and then getting in a winning position against the Willetton Tigers.
It was only some individual brilliance from Kate Malpass that denied the Wolves the championship giving them plenty of motivation heading into 2017.
Things certainly haven’t gone as smoothly as they did in 2016 and while the personnel is largely the same with the only major change being the departure of Amy Kidner while 250-game veteran guard Kelli Hayward has returned.
Players missing for different reasons and some injury concerns have hindered the Wolves progress at times this season, but things have come together leading into the playoffs with them winning seven of their past nine games.
The only losses have been a four-point road loss to Lakeside and then a 20-point defeat at the hands of their foes from last year’s grand final, Willetton.
But overall the Lady Wolfpack are now in their best form of the season coming into Game 1 of the quarter-final series with the third placed Lightning at Lakeside Recreation Centre on Friday night.
The Wolves finished the regular season in sixth position at 12-10 and given that, Joondalup coach Friday does feel like much of the expectations are on Lakeside to win the series even though those inside the Wolfpack have expectations of still going a long way in 2017.
“We clearly have some ambitions to get to the semis and the grand final again, but we have a clear understanding of who’s in our way and they have put a fair bit into their program this year. We’ll see what they do but we’ll throw our best foot forward, throw a punch and see if they can hold it,” Friday said.
“I’m not so sure it counts for a lot in the quarter finals but they have added a fair bit to their group this year so they might have identified that this is their year. That might mean the pressure is on them to perform because of what they’ve added.
“We have been in playoffs and got some experience, but we are also building and have some young kids and a pretty good core group. I would have said the pressure will be on Lakeside with the group that they’ve got to get through to the next round.”
While Friday has been pleased that the Wolves have been able to turn some challenges during the season to get things back on track heading into the playoffs, he does feel they have some further improvement to go heading into the series with the Lightning.
“We’re not completely there yet and we’ve still got a little bit to go which I don’t know if it’s on or off the court, but we’ll work on that and continue to like we have the last month or so. Hopefully we can find another gear and then take that to Lakeside,” she said.
“We’ve had some inconsistencies throughout the season but that means nothing now. We enter the playoffs with a clear picture of what we’ve got to do against our opponents.
“We’ll go to work during the week and identify what we think will work for us and try to take away some of their strengths and see what happens. I think it’s a great match up and there are some good match ups all the way through the playoffs.”
While the majority of the Wolves playing and coaching group were part of that heartbreaking grand final loss, it’s not something they will be bringing up or consciously using as motivation coming into this year’s playoffs.
Instead Friday’s focus will be on trying to shutdown Lightning imports Ali Schwagmeyer and Sydnee Fipps, and bigs Sam Roscoe and Ash Grant more than looking for any added motivating factors.
“We clearly know what happened last year and it might still be a motivation for some of us, but last year’s gone and we can’t afford to be thinking about that now,” Friday said.
“We understand that Lakeside have done a great job and are playing really well, and are on a roll so we know we have some work to do.
“But we had a great contest with them on their floor not too long ago when they got the W so that will also give us a bit of passion and desire to improve on that to come out on the winning side this time hopefully.”
Given the Lightning’s strength inside with Roscoe and Grant, it leaves a big job for Wolves centre Ellyce Ironmonger in the series but Friday won’t rule trying some different things as well.
“She has been pretty solid for us all year but with their size we might look at doing some different things,” he said.
“We might try and go a little bit smaller at different times but we’ll have a look at that and see what worked well against them last time we played. I’ve identified a few things that might work for us and what might not, but either way obviously Ellyce will be a big part of whatever it is we try and do.”
The Lady Wolfpack geared up for the playoffs with a strong win over the South West Slammers last Saturday night at a jam-packed Joondalup Basketball Stadium in the last ever regular season game at the venue.
A record crowd of over 800 people turned out and Friday can’t wait for at least one more playoff game at the stadium.
“I love this place, that’s why I come here and it means a lot to a lot of people. I’m not a big believer in home court advantage, it’s still a basketball court at the end of the day, but we got a great crowd in for this last game celebration in recognition that she is about to get closed down,” Friday said.
“Hopefully all those people will support us again in our home game against Lakeside to give us some energy to win through to the next round. It’s a great place to play basketball in with great people and it will be sad to see it go, but I’m excited about the new place across the road at the same time.”
Photo by Sports Imagery Australia