IT is going to be a decidedly youthful Willetton Tigers team at coach Simon Parker’s disposal in 2019 but he’s excited to welcome Taryn Priestly as point guard and to soon add a pair of imports to provide some frontcourt strength.
Parker has been at the helm during a tremendously successful period with the Willetton women that included the championship in 2016, a Grand Final appearance in 2015 and then still being around the mark the past two years despite his quality experienced players beginning to drop off.
There is no longer a Kate Malpass, Zoe Harper, Ebony Antonio, Sam Norwood and even last year’s recruit Ajay Johnson for Parker to bank on in 2019, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have hopes of the Tigers remaining a competitive force.
It’s very much a transition year for Willetton as the stadium redevelopment goes on around them ahead of being ready to go for 2020, but for Parker there’s no reason they still can’t aim to shoot for another playoff appearance.
“It has been a good break actually but then it comes around really quickly once you get to this time of the year,” Parker said.
“We actually did a little bit of training before Christmas which the girls wanted to do on a Thursday night so we carried that through. Then they’ve picked up pre-season at the start of January and have been going hard at it.
“Now we are ready to go for the start of the season even though we are looking a little light on at this stage. We are going to use it more as a development season while the stadium expansion so going on and it will be a very interesting year ahead.”
Parker isn’t shying the way from the fact that Willetton has a big job ahead to replace the amount of talent and experience they have not only lost this off-season, but ever since their 2016 championship.
You’d always rather have players of that calibre for as long as possible, but he knew this time would come and he’s happy to have added the experience of Priestly while looking for the likes of Desiree Kelley to step up further and then for the imports to arrive in the first third of the season.
“Of course you’d like to have those players if you could, but we’ve picked up Taryn Priestly who is a great senior player and leader for us,” Parker said.
“She’ll take over some of those roles with the guards but we do miss a Zoe and those types of players for sure. But they had to move on at some time and it just creates more opportunities for girls like Des to step into those leadership roles and make this their team now.
“We do plan on bringing in imports. We have one who is going to arrive on April 8, she’s just finishing up playing where she is now and she’ll fly into Australia on the 8th of April.
“We are still trying to source another one that’s going to suit the group at the moment. Hopefully that’s going to fall into place pretty quickly as well.”
Priestly has made the move from Cockburn to Willetton for the 2019 season to run the point guard and Parker couldn’t be happier.
He also knows she’s going to be raring to for the season-opener against the Cougars with the Tigers.
“She’s fairly aggressive too on defence and matches girls like Des and Hayley Winter who we have who are fairly aggressive on defence and that’s how I like us to play. She’s going to fit into the group really well,” he said.
“It’s good for her to play her old team first up too, I’ll just have to try and settle her down before it. She is fired up and ready to go. She has actually been training West Coast Eagles footy team at the moment too so she’s in great shape and is naturally a fit person. She is going to fit in well for us.”
Parker’s Willetton teams have always had a distinctive style of play that has worked a treat as well banking on having strong presences inside. But he’s realistic to know that with the playing squad he has to work with this year that’s going to have to change.
But he’s looking forward to backing in the young players to create the style that works for them and he’ll give them every chance to shine while also looking to the likes of Kelley and Emma Gandini to take their leadership up a gear.
“It’s a different identity as well and we have to create a new style of play now to suit this new group that we have,” Parker said.
“The girls have to create that and see what works for them moving forward. It’s going to be a very interesting year and looking into the future with this group. I’m looking forward to seeing how we develop.
“We’ve contracted a lot of young Willetton kids and I want to throw them in and give them a bit of an opportunity to see how they go. We’ve got Imogen Ayliffe who has been contracted along with Emily Counsel and Sophie Doran. They are our three youngest ones and they’ll see some minutes for sure.
“Emma Gandini is another one who I think it’s time for her to go to the next level and to be more of a leader. It’s a good opportunity for her to see how she goes with some increased responsibility. Our core group is still competitive once we get the couple of imports in who we’ll be more four or five type players, they won’t be guard types.”
Backing in a largely local group has always been something Willetton has prided itself on and given the Tigers are where Parker has always called home, it’s something he takes pride in.
“The one thing the club’s vision is for us to have 70 or 80 per cent of Willetton kids among our signed contract players,” he said.
“So I’ve been trying to integrate two or three of the young girls every year so we aren’t having to go back and totally rebuild, but they gradually can build up their court time and be ready for bigger roles moving forward.
“The club is very supportive with the way our vision is looking forward and they are supportive of us developing our juniors which is a big thing.”
As for dealing with the stadium rebuild going on around them during this season, Parker doesn’t see any reason for it to have an impact on his group and in fact they should be excited for what’s to come in 2020.
“I think they are actually working it so we will have the full stadium for the most part of the season, it’s just in the back end that they are going to change it out,” Parker said.
“I don’t see it as making too much difference for us. We want to play on our home court as well, we didn’t really want to go out to Curtin University. I don’t think it will affect the players, they are very young and like Ross Lyon says, they’ll play anywhere, anytime.”