WITHOUT two of his brightest talents, South West coach Peter Harper didn’t get a performance he was hoping last Saturday night but he is confident of the Slammers responding over the next month and a playoff appearance would be a significant achievement given where they’ve come from.
When Harper was appointed coach of the Slammers women ahead of the 2017 SBL season, they had won just two games in 2016 and he had his work cut out to build a competitive unit virtually from scratch.
Harper was able to do a good job in 2017 improving the Slammers to a six-win season and just missing the playoffs by two games.
Now the further improvement in 2018 has been obvious with the Slammers in seventh position with a 7-10 record even taking into account last Saturday night’s 33-point loss at the hands of the Perry Lakes Hawks at Bendat Basketball Centre.
Eight wins was enough to get into the playoffs in 2017 so there’s a chance the Slammers need just one win from their remaining games this season against Lakeside, Perth, Cockburn, Stirling and Kalamunda, but he’ll be hoping for more than one of the five.
While the loss to Perry Lakes was disappointing for Harper on the back of a solid home win against the Joondalup Wolves, he remains confident they can reach the playoffs and he knows what a significant achievement that would be given where they were 12 months ago.
“Had we beaten Perry Lakes we would have almost been assured of a playoff spot, but now we have a tough double-header and it would be nice if we could split it which will be hard,” Harper said.
“Then we are playing two sides that are vying with us for that seventh and eighth spot. It’s in our hands and if we prepare well, and play well hopefully we’ll make it.
“I’m confident we can make the playoffs. We just need to keep competing and we need more effort than what we brought against Perry Lakes.
“We can’t keep making excuses about having a young group, whoever we put out there has to do the job for us. I’m confident they can bounce back and perform well over the next month.
“It would be massive if we can reach the playoffs. We did get two imports this year but the rest of them are still locals and we have four girls in the team who are 16. You need some experience to help those girls along and the group has come a long way over the last 18 months.
“We have a couple of more 16-year-olds who could play in Dana and Adele East, but it’s just too hard from Manjimup with nationals and everything being on. But hopefully they can come on in the next year or so and there’s a lot to like about what’s happening at our club.”
Harper wasn’t hiding his disappointment following last Saturday night’s loss to Perry Lakes even though Georgia Denehey and Raya Thompson were sitting on the sidelines, and Tori Fisher was in her first game back from injury.
He will be looking at co-captains Courtney Bayliss and Kate Fielding, and imports Charlotte van Kleef and Fisher along with the returning Denehey to ensure improved performances this weekend in a tough double-header against the Lakeside Lightning and Perth Redbacks.
“That performance wasn’t good enough. We had a game plan which we thought would at least give us a chance against them, but we failed to implement the game plan,” he said.
“We let them push us around a little bit physically which hurt us and there weren’t a lot of positives out of this game. But we’ll put it behind us and we have had some really good results lately and we just need to stay positive and move on to the next game.
“We need our leaders, Kate, Courtney and the older girls to step up a bit, and we need on-court leadership. It doesn’t matter what we say on the sidelines, we need to be able to enact it out on the court. We’ve got the tools and we have proved that so I’m confident we can bounce back.
“Tori basically came in off two weeks of no training or playing so should be better. We actually had a really bad week of training because we didn’t have full numbers because of Country Week and then some injuries so it made it hard to scrimmage. But we need to put this behind us and stay positive, and look ahead.”
Missing both Thompson and Denehey at the same time made things difficult for the Slammers, but Harper is confident Denehey at least will be back to face the Lightning and Redbacks following the heavy hit she took the previous Friday night against the Rockingham Flames.
“It’s really tough with our guards and Georgia is probably the premier on-ball defender in the league. That’s why Andy recruited her to the Lynx because of the pressure she puts on the guards,” Harper said.
“It’s a big loss and she was just starting to get into some scoring form as well. It’s obviously a big hole for us to cover and we are very young off the bench but it gives chances to some of our even younger players and some are standing up.
“I’m reasonably confident she’ll be right. She only just failed a concussion test last Thursday so she should be right going forward to return.”
While Harper is looking forward to having Denehey back, the news isn’t as good for 20-year-old Thompson who has suffered a devastating knee injury that will see her sidelined for not only the rest of 2018, but all of 2019.
It came as a cruel blow for Harper too considering how closely he’s worked with Thompson right through her teen years, but he is backing her to make a strong return in 2020.
“She is determined to get back from it and she’s still supporting the team by being at all our trainings and games. She’ll have the op hopefully around her uni exams so hopefully once she does that, and goes through the rehab she’ll be back with us within around 18 months,” he said.
“It was devastating for me because Raya and I go back to when she was kids and she’s been like a daughter to me she’s spent that much time at our house.
“Personally for me it was devastating and even more devastating for her, and it’s a big hole for the team. Each week she generally gets the big defensive job so she would have got Farnworth and then this week she’d get Schwagmeyer. She gets the tough jobs and generally does them reasonably well. It’s a huge loss.”
The loss of Thompson and absence of Denehey the past two games has put extra pressure onto Tayah Burrows who has stood up well. But for Harper, he is looking for others and a big shooting performances from van Kleef soon wouldn’t go astray.
“Tayah Burrows is doing a great job running the point but again she’s a 16-year-old kid. We look at her a lot because she’s been around a while but she is only 16 in reality and she needs more support out there from the older girls,” Harper said.
“Charlie has been pretty good and she is our highest scorer. She has been OK for the most part and keeps working on her game. Darren Austin is doing a lot of one-on-one work with her and she wants to go on and play internationally for the Netherlands so she needs to keep developing.
“She does work hard on her game and she’s a good shooter, and she’ll have nights where they all drop for her and she’ll show what she is fully capable of.”
Harper is now nearing the end of his second season in charge of the Slammers and he’ll weigh up his future once the campaign is over, but he is proud of the obvious progression the team has made under his guidance.
“I’ll sit down at the end of the year with my wife and we’ll talk about it, but having Darren this year has been a huge help along with Nathan (Grover). We’ll assess the future at the end of the season and it has been pretty full on for three or four seasons now. We might need to see if the girls want me or not as well,” Harper said.
“It’s not harder than what I expected, I knew it was going to be hard, but my priority job last year was to get the girls playing for each other and having a bit of fun again.
“I think they did enjoy last year and they’re a tight group who just missed playoffs. This year we’ve added the imports and we need that natural progression, and over the next few weeks everyone can step up a bit so we make playoffs and then we can build from there.”