HERITAGE Round is a good time to touch base with triple championship winning coach Glenn Clarke and after being charged with building a Stirling Senators team for sustained success upon taking over, he’s confident they will continue their progression come playoff time in 2018.
Coming off a remarkable run coaching the Willetton Tigers in the Women’s SBL where he took them to championships in 2009, 2010 and 2011, Clarke stepped away from a head coaching role until approached by the Senators.
He took over the helm at Stirling in the Women’s SBL ahead of the 2016 season and it was a big job for him to do taking over a team that won just four games in 2015 and finished in second last position.
Given the success he had been used to at Willetton, it was a different job he was taking on and the first task was to just steady the ship for the Senators and make them competitive. The next goal would be to reach the playoffs and then to start winning playoffs, and competing for the championship.
That’s the direction things have been trending with Clarke at the helm now over the past two and-a-half seasons.
He helped the Senators improve significantly in 2016 doubling their win tally to eight. Even though he was disappointed they missed out on the playoffs by just one game, the building blocks were in place with a core group of Amber Land, Emma Berryman, Rebekah Throns and Hannah Throns who remain there now.
Eryn and Bree Fisher along with Chelsea Armstrong, Kara van Dyke and Tegan Walker were among those to move on head into the 2017 with Clarke identifying which players he wanted to stick with moving forward.
He then added imports Kisha Lee and Jasmine Martin while bringing through the likes of Caitlyn Jones and the Throns girls to play big roles and Stirling finished the regular season in fourth position at 15-7.
While they ultimately did lose to Clarke’s great mate Simon Parker and his old Willetton team in three games in the quarter finals, it was a significant step forward in 2017 by the Senators.
The 2018 campaign did start slowly for the Senators losing their opening four games adjusting to having lost Lee and the arrival of Janee Johnson while also adding some experience in the form of Jodee Sontay and Nicole Jorre De St Jorre.
With Clarke continuing to blood young talent like Vondella Berringal-Cox, Georgina Harding and Carlie Massey too, the Senators have got things back on track winning seven of their last 11 games since that 0-4 start.
That has them on track for a second straight playoff appearance even though they still have to confirm that over the last five rounds starting this Friday night at home to the Cockburn Cougars.
But looking at the bigger picture, Clarke is confident the Senators learned plenty from that playoff experience against Willetton last year and will be better for having gone through that should they get back there in 2018.
“We played Simon in that series last year and it went to a Game 3 and it was a good slug out between both teams,” Clarke said.
“But what I hope our girls learned is that when the playoffs start, you actually have to go to another level with your intensity, confidence and making some shots. Free-throws are then the most important things you have to make, free-throws win games.
“They’ve all had a taste of playoffs now and prior to that they had no taste of it all. Now they have been there before and they know what it’s like, and we’ll be ready for it.”
If the Women’s SBL playoffs started right now, Stirling would play the league-leading Lakeside Lightning in the quarter finals and that’s a match up that Clarke would look forward to.
While being fully respectful of a Lightning team with a core of Ali Schwagmeyer, Sydnee Fipps, Ash Grant and Sam Roscoe, he liked the way his team took it up to them three weeks ago at Lakeside before narrowly losing by five points.
“Lakeside are a target to look at and that’s the benchmark, so if you can get yourselves close to them and be up it’s just a matter of going into a three-game series against them and trying to pick them off,” he said.
“I mean they’ve got a good team and Craig’s smart, he knows how it all works, and how to move the dice around. But at the end of the day you just need a bit of lady luck and you can get over anyone.”
Clarke’s not interested in honourable losses though. That’s what he felt 2017 was about in the finish where they proved they could be competitive but ultimately just came up short to Willetton when it really mattered.
So while he was happy with the competitive showing against Lakeside before a comfortable win over East Perth and then a narrow loss to Kalamunda prior to last week’s bye, he knows it’s now time for the Senators to string consistent performances together.
“We actually took a lot from that Lakeside game and it was more of a confidence boost for us. We went in the trenches with them, and went hard at them,” Clarke said.
“We have to now follow up and start making a run into the playoffs. We got a win against East Perth, which was good, and we just have to get some momentum going and get that confidence up.
“We are all starting to run now and starting to get layups, and it’s good to have Hannah and Rebekah back. I think we are in good sorts right now and one of our major things is that we are all fit, we don’t have any injuries and that’s a bit of a bonus.”
Following a slow start to the season losing those first four games while adjusting to having Johnson, De St Jorre and Sontay added to the group while some youngsters found their feet and then Hannah and Rebekah Throns have missed 10 games each, Clarke is happy with how the group is now clicking.
“I think all the girls now have a bit more of a buy in and they can see that what we are doing is working, and what we are capable of,” he said.
“Their confidence is boosting and they are all getting along with each other. There’s no animosity or jealousy or in-fighting there at all, they all get along with each other and they are a happy group. I think that goes a long way to ultimately being successful.”
The most pleasing thing right now for Clarke about his Senators group is that everyone is healthy and they have developed a strong team chemistry.
Provided they stay healthy and he retains a group he feels is legitimately 10 deep, then he’ll back them to be successful come playoff time.
“You have to get healthy and then if you stay healthy all the way through it’s a massive bonus. That bench is the most important thing for you when you get into the playoffs and have a three-game series,” he said.
“If you win Game 1 and lose Game 2, Game 3 is always that same weekend and usually the next day so you need your bench to be all fit and healthy, and your starting five too obviously so you still have your depth where you want it.”
Now that the smell of the playoffs is beginning to get in the air as July approaches, Clarke is starting to get excited about what the Senators might be capable of provided they stick to their strengths.
“We’ve got five games to go now and this is a good time for me,” Clarke said.
“You get excited and you start doing a lot more scouting of the small things, but it’s more about finding out more about the type of basketball we are best at and the style of play we want to focus on.
“It’s a matter of then focusing on what we are good at and trying to get that as close to perfect as we can.”