THIS time last year Sydney Fipps had never heard of Perth but she couldn’t have been happier about her decision to join Lakeside, is thriving alongside her best ever teammate Ali Schwagmeyer and hopes the Lightning’s momentum continues all the way to the championship.
Fipps has joined the Lightning this Women’s SBL season and has formed a remarkably potent combination alongside league MVP Schwagmeyer. The pair are averaging 44.1 points a game between them this season to go with 14.4 rebounds and 7.0 assists.
That is quite the combination and has proven a match-winning one for Lakeside a host of times this season but it’s far from a two-woman team with Sam Roscoe and Ash Grant providing a strong presence inside, and Tia Ucich, Jess Van Schie, Alex Bell, Tiahrn Flynn and Alecia Knowles playing important roles.
Fipps has no doubt that a big reason why she has been able to play a starring role with 22.4 points and 6.4 boards a game while shooting 48 per cent from the field and 38 per cent from deep, is because of the team she has around her.
“I think it looks like I’m getting better and better as the season goes on because we have our full team and everyone is looking better,” Fipps said.
“Having the height of Sam and Ash really helps, but I’m feeling great out there and it’s just a testament to my teammates how many open threes I get and the spread to open the driving lanes is great for me.”
As for her partnership with Schwagmeyer, Fipps has never enjoyed anything like it through her career including time at college at the University of California Davis where she starred with the Aggies, or her stint in Europe.
Fipps has no problem declaring Schwagmeyer the best player she’s played with, certainly the best scorer, and would be shocked if she didn’t claim another SBL MVP award.
“A lot of the reason I can play so freely here is because Ali gives you so much confidence on the court playing. I’ve never played with anyone like her before so that’s why I am really enjoying playing with her,” she said.
“She’s the MVP and all that so she gets so much focus that it creates so many open shots for me, and I can tell her what gets me going and she really sees that. I would be shocked if she didn’t win the MVP again.
“She is the best player I’ve ever played with and it’s so much fun. She loves basketball as much as me and she is so smart. We have the same view on things so it’s really fun to debrief after games with her and talk throughout the games.
“She sees the game similar to how I do and understands the same way, and she is just a phenomenal scorer. I’ve never played alongside a scorer like her so that’s been really fun.”
While Fipps and Schwagmeyer have been pivotal in the Lightning’s success that saw them finish the regular season in third position and now have a 1-0 lead in the quarter-final series with the Joondalup City Wolves ahead of Game 2 at Joondalup Basketball Stadium, she knows much more has gone into it.
The Lightning did well to hold up well in the opening part of the season while remarkably small but the arrival of Roscoe and return of Grant have given them a significant inside presence as well.
Fipps has no doubt that’s helped her game tremendously.
“They have made a huge difference defensively obviously with their rebounding and blocking shots which lets you play a different kind of defence realising that help is behind you. That’s been amazing,” Fipps said.
“Then offensively there’s always pressure on the rim so that has helped open up my threes because the opposition has to pick their poison. With Sam and Ash coming in, my threes have just become even more open.”
The thought of being part of Lakeside’s second Women’s SBL championship is something that Fipps is excited about. But she is fully aware plenty still needs to go right for that to happen.
“It would be amazing if we could do that and it would be the icing on the cake of the phenomenal season I’ve had in terms of how much fun I’ve had,” she said.
“I’m just having an amazing time and that would be the perfect finish if we were able to do that.”
After not really enjoying her time in Europe, the 2015 graduate from UC Davis wasn’t sure what her next step would be and even if playing professional basketball was part of it.
But then Lightning coach Craig Mansfield got in touch. The pair suddenly hit it off over the phone and Fipps loved the sound of his system and what he was creating at Lakeside, and knew she wanted to be part of it.
Fipps had always known she wanted to play overseas and had even though Australia might have been in her future when she left college, she was left unsure after not enjoying Europe.
However, she couldn’t be happier that Mansfield made that first contact and with how her first season has turned out even if this time last year she didn’t have any idea Perth, the SBL or Lakeside existed.
“I knew I was going to play overseas for a couple of years and funnily enough I did always want to play in Australia, but I heard it was hard to get that opportunity and I had no clue how I was going to get here,” Fipps said.
“So I started out in Europe and had no contact with Australia but then Craig got in touch and it’s been really amazing how it’s worked out. Before Craig had contacted me I had actually never heard of Perth.
“But he contacted me and I had just played half of a season in Europe and I wasn’t really sure basketball career-wise what I was doing. But he told me about this opportunity and we had a few conversations on the phone and I thought it sounded like exactly what I was looking for.
“Perth sounded awesome and I’m from California so it seemed really similar, and Craig seemed awesome and I liked his ideas and philosophies as a coach. I saw his offensive structure and thought it sounded great and it’s worked out really well for me. I definitely love playing in Australia way more than Europe.”
Once Fipps started to think about making the move to Perth, she looked into it and liked everything she learned about the city and the basketball.
However, she did expect the weather to be a little warmer than the winter has turned out to be.
But when that’s her only complaint, things are pretty good.
“It was actually pretty similar to what I expected coming here but I don’t think I ever fully grasped the concept of the opposite seasons though. So when I got here it was really warm and I was excited but now it’s so cold and I never thought it could get this cold here,” she said.
“Everyone back home tells me it must be warm because I’m in Australia but I have to tell them it’s freezing because it’s winter. But basketball-wise it is exactly what I thought and the structure works out perfectly for me.”
Fipps isn’t sure what her future holds beyond this season but one thing she does know is she can’t wait to get back to California for some Mexican food.
“I do not know what I’m doing once this season finishes but there is a chance of me coming back here next year,” Fipps said.
“I left home in January and got here in February so it’s been a while. I especially miss my family and friends, and also some of the types of food.
“A lot of the food is really similar but when I get home I just want Mexican food. Especially being from California we have the best Mexican food as well so I can’t wait to have some again.”
Photo by Vikki Hile