THE 2017 SBL Finals gets underway this weekend with the top four Women’s teams having the chance to win on their home floor to make winning starts to their respective quarter-final match ups.
Two of the Game 1 quarter-final matches take place on Friday night with the Lakeside Lightning playing the Joondalup City Wolves, and the Perry Lakes Hawks facing the Cockburn Cougars.
Then on Saturday night, the Mandurah Magic host the Perth Redbacks and the Stirling Senators lock horns with the defending champion Willetton Tigers.
Friday night gets underway at Bendat Basketball Centre with the top-seeded Perry Lakes hosting the No. 8 Cockburn.
The Lady Hawks might have lost their last game of the regular season to the Lakeside Lightning prior to the bye last week, but they did lose just twice on the way to a 20-2 record to claim the minor premiership.
They will be at full strength again too for Game 1 on Friday night with Toni Farnworth back from international duties with New Zealand and Janique Kautsky expected to return from injury.
With the international of experience of Nat Burton and Farnworth along with proven SBL performers Gabby O’Sullivan, Kate Anthony, Lauren Jeffers, Sarah Donovan and the emerging Mia Satie, and it is an imposing looking Perry Lakes line-up.
The Cougars’ 8-14 record to finish the regular season in eighth position might not look overly impressive, but with their team possessing the likes of Kersten Mitchell, BJ Moyes, Lindsey Doucette and Isabelle Miotti, and experience of Taryn Priestly and Chelsea Evans, they can take it up to the more fancied Hawks.
The first time the teams met at Wally Hagan Stadium during the season saw Perry Lakes win by just five points and then just by seven at Bendat Basketball Centre setting the scene for what could be a tight quarter-final battle.
The other Friday night contest sees the third placed Lightning host the Lady Wolfpack in Game 1 at Lakeside Recreation Centre.
Lakeside has improved tremendously in 2017 going from losing quarter finalists to Willetton last year to now finishing this season with a 17-5 record to end up in third position.
The addition of Sydnee Fipps to Ali Schwagmeyer as scorers and playmakers, and Sam Roscoe to Ash Grant to add size and presence inside has made a significant difference.
The Lightning come into the finals in impressive form as well having won their last six matches since losing to Mandurah. That run included a tight four-point win at home over the Wolves and also an impressive 22-point victory over the league-leading Hawks.
Meanwhile, the Wolves haven’t quite had the dream run of last year where they finished on top of the standings and made the grand final. But they have a largely similar playing group and have now pulled things together in the run into the playoffs to qualify from sixth position with a 12-10 record.
The Lady Wolfpack also join the Lightning as the only two teams to beat Perry Lakes during the regular season. But Lakeside did win both meetings taking out the first in Joondalup by 10 points and then only a couple of weeks ago at home by four.
Lakeside star import Sydnee Fipps can’t wait to get things underway on Friday night at home.
“Just building on the momentum we already have is important and just to keep that going. You want to take advantage of the work you’ve done early with the home court advantage as well so I think it’s really important to keep building our momentum and adrenaline moving forward,” Fipps said.
“I feel really good and I’m excited. We’ve been playing really well too so it’s exciting to try and keep this momentum going forward. The three-game series is a really nice playoff set up too that I’ve never played in before so I’m really excited to see how that’s going to work out. It’s what you play for all year so it’s really exciting.”
Lady Wolfpack coach Craig Friday knows the Lightning are going to be tough opposition, but he’s confident his team can rise to the occasion.
“We know our best is as good as the others so hopefully we can find the secret this week and come out on Friday to put it together for 40 minutes on their court, and then hopefully come out the following week and do it again,” Friday said.
“Craig’s got them playing really well where they can play up tempo but also execute in the half court pretty well. He has added some size so we match up pretty well I think and it’s just about whether we can shut down their imports. We’ll have a go at it and see what we can do.
“You respect everyone but. Their two imports are good players in their own right but they also bring other people into the game. We’ll look to engage and try to shut those two down but also don’t want to let anyone else get off the leash as result.”
Saturday night gets underway with the Magic hosting the Redbacks at Mandurah Aquatic and Recreation Centre.
Mandurah finished the regular season in second position with a 19-3 record. The first two of those losses came courtesy of Perry Lakes before a surprising 20-point defeat last Saturday night at the hands of the Stirling Senators.
But it has still been an impressive performance by the Magic to get to this point led by stars Carly Boag, Nici Gilday and Casey Mihovilovich, and strong role players including Bree Klasztorny, Rachel Halleen, Kelly Bailey, Emma Klasztorny, Rachel Pettit, Morgan Ballantyne and Kasey Miegel.
The Redbacks came into 2017 with high hopes of contending for a championship in coach Keith Horwood’s final season in charge with the additions Emilee Harmon and Gabbi Turner to a team still including Ajay Johnson, Rebecca Mercer, Lisa Wallbutton, Jess Jakens and Bianca Donovan.
Things never quite came together how they envisioned but the Redbacks did enough to qualify for the playoffs from seventh position with an 8-14 record. They have enough quality and experience now to expect to really challenge the Magic.
The two games during the regular season saw the Magic win at home by 29 points and by 23 at Belmont Oasis.
The final Game 1 match up takes place at Warwick Stadium on Saturday night with the Senators taking on the Tigers.
It shapes as a fascinating battle for a number of reasons and not the least because it pits two coaches in Glenn Clarke and Simon Parker up against one another in a clash of close friends.
On the court it looks set to be a tremendous contest too with Stirling confirming fourth position and home court advantage with a win over Mandurah last week to improve to a 15-7 record.
Willetton might have lost to Lakeside last Friday night narrowly, but the Tigers had won three straight prior to that to at least confirm fifth spot where they finished at 13-9.
Stirling will need its four stars Kisha Lee, Jasmine Martin, Amber Land and Taylor Roberts to fire if they are to topple the defending champions.
But Willetton has the confidence of winning the title last year and now being at full strength following the returns of Kate Malpass and Desiree Kelley, and with strong depth inside with Zoe Harper, Emma Lobb, Jess Hootmann and Sam Norwood.
Parker heads into the series confident in what the Tigers can produce.
“You want to get that first game for sure so we’ll pulling out all stops to try and make that happen. We did well against them last time and we didn’t even have Jess for that time, but we still have to keep the intensity up,” Parker said.
“That’s probably one of the biggest thing about playing a team like Stirling who are really mobile and have a lot of intensity. We just have to match them in that area and we are looking forward to playing them.”
WEEK 1 WOMEN’S QUARTER FINALS SBL FIXTURES
Perry Lakes Hawks v Cockburn Cougars – Bendat Basketball Centre 7pm
Lakeside Lightning v Joondalup City Wolves – Lakeside Recreation Centre 7pm
Stirling Senators v Willetton Tigers – Warwick Stadium 6pm
Mandurah Magic v Perth Redbacks – Mandurah Aquatic and Recreation Centre 7pm
Photo by Sports Imagery Australia