THE Women’s quarter-final match up between Stirling and Willetton might pit great mates against one another as coaches but the Tigers’ Simon Parker is more focused on getting the best out of his defending champion team that is now back to full strength.
Lifelong bragging rights might be on the line in the upcoming quarter-final series between the Parker-coached Tigers and Glenn Clarke-coached Senators.
The pair have had a close connection for a long time and while it’s good natured, the competitive instincts of both men will mean they will be desperate not to lose to the other in their first ever clash in the playoffs.
Game 1 between the Senators and Tigers will take place at Warwick Stadium on Saturday night in what shapes as a tremendous series between a Stirling team that Clarke is hoping to turn into a contender and a Willetton side that Parker is hoping to win back-to-back championships with.
While neither coach will be thinking of the other man coaching at the end of the court while the games are on, Parker is looking forward to the chance to earn the bragging rights for life.
“He wanted to put dim sum on the line but to be honest they’ve done a really good job to finish where they have this year. They are a tough team so we have to make sure we are switched on and he’s done a great job with them to end up finishing fourth,” Parker said.
“Clarkey is one of the hardest working coaches in the league so we have to make sure we are switched on and know what we’re doing. He’ll have a counter for everything that we have so we have to make sure we have something to match that.
“The worst part is that I see him a lot so it will just continue on for whoever loses so that will be the toughest thing about it. But really I’m not one to talk it up too much, I just hope we are the winners and I’m the one that ends up with those bragging rights.”
Given Parker can’t think of any other coaches in the league he especially gets a kick out of beating, taking on a team coached by Clarke isn’t too different in the big picture.
“There actually aren’t any coaches in the league I don’t like, I get along with all of them but there are teams you like beating a bit more than others and the girls would feel the same,” he said.
“For me it’s a little different coming up against Clarkey because we’ve been friends for a long time, but for the girls Stirling are just another opponent really.”
There was a time when the Tigers looked like they would struggle to have much impact in 2017 backing up from last year’s championship triumph.
Then with Kate Malpass and Desiree Kelley out for some time, things really looked bleak with a 44-point loss to Mandurah back on June 18.
But after that the Tigers did well to get back on track even without Malpass and Kelley by beating Rockingham, Kalamunda and Perth, and only losing to the Slammers on the road.
Then Malpass was back to play in the 20-point win over the Senators and Kelley was back as well in a 20-point triumph over the Lady Wolfpack before their season ended with a narrow road loss to the Lakeside Lightning last Friday night.
It was the young players that stepped up in the absence of Malpass and Kelley that Parker was most impressed with.
“There was a patch there when we knew Des and Kate were going to be away and we weren’t too sure how the young kids were going to go, but we actually got away with it pretty well and if had have won in Bunbury we would have only lost one game with them out of the loop,” Parker said.
“I’m really happy with how it all went down and I’m proud of the young kids. The future looks really good for us to be honest. One of the things we talked about with our young kids was that while Des and Kate were away, they did a very good job for us and they are still going to get in there for us and provide us with an X-factor.”
Suddenly because of the growth in young players like Rebecca Thomson, Sophie Maines, Carla Drennan and Samantha Norwood, it is a deep looking Willetton line-up heading into the playoffs with Malpass and Kelley returning to be the icing on the cake.
“Our biggest strength right now is our rotation because we probably go 10, 11, 12 deep to be honest and those kids can play in the SBL now and actually make a difference,” he said.
“We also don’t want to be playing Malpass for 35 minutes a game and Des is more effective when she’s running under 30 and the same with all our bigs so that’s our strength going forward.
“They’ve (Malpass and Kelley) both only actually trained a couple of times since they’ve been back but they have kept up some sort of fitness and touch themselves, and they’ve come back playing well which is good.”
Depth might be one of the strengths at the Tigers, but without question their biggest weapon heading into the quarter-final clash with the Senator is their size inside.
Emma Lobb, Jess Hootmann, Zoe Harper and Norwood are proving to be a strong foursome of bigs that could end up taking the Tigers a long way in 2017.
Parker is happy with how their combination has come together in the latter part of the season and particularly with the way Harper has not only accepted her role off the bench, but is thriving with it.
“It’s good to have four bigs in that rotation so that if someone is missing a beat somewhere we’ve got the luxury of putting the next one and the next one in. Sammy has actually been playing on restricted minutes of up to 14 but she’s been really good actually and she could be even better next year,” he said.
“It ended up working out that Zoe was sick so we put Lobby into the starting five and it has been working well, and Zoe has been playing well late in the season. It’s not important if you start or not either and Zoe understands that.
“But we ended up getting off to some really good starts and we spoke to Zoe about keeping on coming off the bench. Her minutes overall don’t diminish, it’s just a different mindset and she has been doing really well in that role. There just isn’t many people in the league that when she seals down low in the block and goes to work that can stop her.”
While championship winning guard Lara Napier won’t be returning to the court in 2017 after her life-threatening accident earlier in the season, her recovery is rapidly on the improve and she is providing a great boost for the Tigers on the bench.
“It’s awesome having her on the bench with us now. You know what she’s like as a player, she’s got that fight and determination that our young girls can mould themselves after,” Parker said.
“She talks to all the girls about that and while she’s still in recovery now, hopefully we’ll get her back next year. I think she’ll be right to go.”
Photo by Sports Imagery Australia