THE Women’s SBL semi finals begin this weekend with the Perry Lakes Hawks playing the Willetton Tigers on Friday night and then the Mandurah Magic hosting the Lakeside Lightning on Saturday.
It is shaping up as a fascinating semi-final fortnight starting the with the Game 1s this weekend with a grand final berth at stake.
The Lady Hawks and Tigers have made a combined 24 grand final appearances in the Women’s SBL so they are no strangers to the big dance while the Magic and Lightning have only been there a combined seven times.
The Game 1 contests are split over the weekend with the Perry Lakes Hawks facing the Willetton Tigers at Bendat Basketball Centre on Friday night. Then on Saturday night, the Mandurah Magic plays the Lakeside Lightning at Mandurah Aquatic and Recreation Centre.
The semi finals action begins on Friday night with the Lady Hawks hosting the Tigers.
Perry Lakes is coming off a semi-final exit last year to the Joondalup Wolves to have gone on to claim the minor premiership in 2017 with a 20-2 record with Deanna Smith transitioning from player to coach.
The Hawks then beat the Cockburn Cougars 2-0 in the quarter finals to move into the semi finals.
Willetton won last year’s championship but hasn’t had it all its own way throughout 2017. But the Tigers ended up finishing fifth and then after losing Game 1 in the quarter finals to the Stirling Senators, won twice last weekend to get back to another semi-final series.
Perry Lakes might have played in 12 Women’s SBL grand finals and won six championships, but the last title for the Hawks came in 2008 while their last appearance in the championship game was in 2010.
Willetton, meanwhile, is looking to play in a third straight grand final and for back-to-back championships. Overall the Tigers have won eight championships from 12 grand final appearances.
The two teams met twice during the regular season with Perry Lakes winning a thrilling by two points at Bendat Basketball Centre and then by 12 points at Willetton Basketball Stadium.
But now that the Tigers are at full strength with the force of Zoe Harper, Sam Norwood and Jess Hootmann inside, and Kate Malpass and Desiree Kelley leading the way, they are a vastly different unit.
However, the Hawks aren’t lacking for size with Nat Burton, Sarah Donovan and Emily Burton along with the all-round talents of Toni Edmonds, and then Kate Anthony, Lauren Jeffers and Gabby O’Sullivan in the back court.
All the signs are there for a fascinating series between the two dominant forces through the history of the Women’s SBL.
Then on Saturday night it’s Game 1 between the Magic and Lightning in Mandurah.
The Magic finished the regular season in second position on the standings after being eliminated in the quarter finals last year by Perry Lakes. They then cruised through the quarter finals in two games against the Perth Redbacks.
Mandurah is now attempting to win its way through to the club’s fifth Women’s SBL grand final and first since 2009. The Magic are still chasing that elusive first championship.
But with three stars in Nici Gilday, Carly Boag and Casey Mihovilovich, and then strong role players Bree Klasztorny, Rachel Halleen, Emma Klasztorny and company, it is a Magic team ready and able of doing great things in 2017.
The same can be said easily said for the Lightning though with Craig Mansfield in his second season in charge at Lakeside.
Coming off a one-win season in 2015, Mansfield guided Lakeside back into the playoffs last year where they lost to Willetton in the first. Now this year, they improved further ending the regular season in third spot before beating the Lady Wolfpack in two games in the quarter finals.
With Ali Schwagmeyer joined by Sydnee Fipps this season and then the presence of Ash Grant and Sam Roscoe inside, and the experience of Jess Van Schie, Tia Ucich and Tiahrn Flynn, it is an impressive looking Lightning team.
They are in impressive form too having now gone on an eight-game winning streak into the semi finals.
Magic coach Randy Miegel is expecting nothing but an exciting series between the two teams.
“It’s pretty exciting actually thinking about this series and it will be an exciting brand of basketball from both teams,” Miegel said.
“We’re both high-scoring teams so that will be exciting for the spectators and we are pretty much happy to run with them if they want a high-scoring contest, but we can also slow it down as well at times. They are a very good side obviously and I’m just looking forward to taking them on in a series.”
Miegel is also not afraid to throw the challenge of guarding Schwagmeyer to his captain, Halleen.
“I think Rachel’s looking forward to that challenge. She does a mountain of work in the off-season and she’s strong and fit, and can guard a variety of people,” Miegel said.
“But Ali is a good match up for her in terms of she has played on her a lot and they are the same sort of size. She will definitely go there straightaway.”
Lightning coach Craig Mansfield knows that his team will have to find another gear if they are to get past the Magic to make the grand final.
“Mandurah are pretty good. They are kind of like us in that they are well-balanced. Boag is one of the best posts in the league, Bree Klasztorny is happy at the five and you have a couple of guards in Milo and Gilday who can handle the ball and shoot the ball,” Mansfield said.
“Then Halleen is an excellent defender and you have Emma, Kasey Miegel and a couple of others off the bench. I just think they are really well balanced and aren’t scared of a contest, and like to play physical.
“They will play up and down like us too so it should be a pretty interesting series. We are going to have to do a better job on a couple of people than we did last time.”
SEMI FINALS GAME 1 WOMEN’S SBL FIXTURES
Perry Lakes Hawks v Willetton Tigers – Bendat Basketball Centre 7pm
Mandurah Magic v Lakeside Lightning – Mandurah Aquatic and Recreation Centre 7pm
Photo by Mick Cronin