DESPITE losing her two leading guards over summer, Cockburn Cougars coach Megan Thompson is excited by what her team is capable of in 2019 as she feels like it’s her team to build something with while living in Western Australia is working out just nicely too.
Thompson arrived at the Cougars back in 2017 to be assistant coach to John Triscari in a team that ended up reaching the playoffs but lost in the first round to the eventual champion Perry Lakes Hawks before she took over the main job in 2018.
She did so with a wealth of experience behind her both as a player which even included a WNBL stint at the Perth Lynx and now as a coach where she was both assistant and head coach of the South East Queensland Stars up until they folded in 2016.
That’s what led to the move west and now entering her second season as head coach with the Cougars and her third season at the club, she’s feeling right at home and couldn’t be more positive about their prospects for 2019.
“I’m very excited by what we can do this season especially having seen all the work they’ve put in over the pre-season. Another one to watch is Tilly Muir,” Thompson said.
“She has bounced back from her injury at the end of last season and she has put the work in, is getting those shots up and is looking excellent. We’ve also picked up Akim Lual from East Perth and wow, she is an amazing talent.
“I’m really happy with her effort and determination even though she’s quite young, but she’s picked up on our processes quickly and is a great fit for us too.
“I’m excited where this season will take us and at the end of the day they are loving each other’s company, they are putting the work in and we are all about collaboration, cooperation and that chemistry. I’m excited to coach this group and see where it leads us.”
While the Cougars do lose plenty in their backcourt from last season with Taryn Priestly joining Willetton and BJ Moyes rupturing her ACL and requiring a knee reconstruction while with Fremantle’s AFLW team, Thompson is confident of making up for their absences internally.
“BJ is irreplaceable, we’ve had that discussion but the challenge to our guards now is what can we bring to the team that she usually would,” she said.
“We’ve identified the strengths in each of our players and we’ll go with those strengths and there are other little things that she would contribute to us that the girls have to pick up that slack.
“At the end of the day, she was a guard who won best defensive point guard, so defence is all about effort and the girls are putting the effort in. We’ll do everything we can to get the best out of everyone and she’ll still be on the sideline cheering us on. She’s still part of our family and part of our future.”
Perhaps the biggest thing in the off-season for the Cougars was to retain the services of Kisha Lee.
She joined Cockburn in 2018 having spent 2017 at the Stirling Senators and was superb putting up 23.0 points and 9.8 rebounds a game to be a genuine MVP candidate.
Thompson couldn’t be happier to have brought Lee back but also added Jodee Sontay and Akim Lual to a group that has in-built a good blend of youth and experience.
“Retention is key and any coach wants to achieve sustained success. She was incredibly crucial to us last season and with our injuries and everything, it wasn’t the season we hoped it would be but we did get a lot out of her,” Thompson said.
“The girls appreciate having her as a teammate and she’s one of us. I just think there’s more to see from her and I’m really excited about what she can do this season.
“It’s a really nice balance and that chemistry comes from the intelligence of our leaders and the aspirations of the young girls. It’s balancing out really nicely and Jodee Sontay was a fantastic pickup for us.
“She’s had an instant impact where it’s like she’s always been with us. She is like that family member who finally returned from wherever she’s been and we’ve welcomed her with open arms.
“Vanessa Michael is our captain this year and she has just really stepped up into that role to take ownership of that. Nicole Roberts is our vice-captain and those two working together with everyone else has given us a really nice blend.”
Thompson is also enjoying being part of the Cougars organisation and is looking forward to continuing to build something at the club that can deliver over a long period of time.
“Personnel is everything and for me to have that freedom to coach the way that I know I can and bring out the best in the girls that we’ve got is what the club has entrusted in me, and so far everything has been incredibly positive,” she said.
“Our little motto is to ‘be the best me I can be for the team’ so that’s what we are all striving to do. Our hashtag is #CougarFamily and I’m the Mumma bear so I definitely feel like this is my team.”
Given the Cougars missed the playoffs in 2018, they started their 2019 pre-season well before Christmas and now everyone from Thompson to all of the players just can’t wait for Saturday night against the Tigers at Wally Hagan Stadium.
“Absolutely we’re ready to go. We started quite early last year just to get the girls together and to set ourselves up for what we hope to be a really successful season,” she said.
“We did a fair bit of pre-season leading up to Christmas and came back in the first week of January and headed off for a weekend pre-season camp.
“That was all about team building and pulling together, and already at training we’ve got that chemistry flowing. The girls are ready and exciting, and literally counting down the training sessions.”
Not only is Thompson feeling at home with Cockburn in a basketball sense, but living in Perth is something that’s agree with her and her family as well.
“I’ve even relocated physically to be closer to Cockburn so we live closer now and I know I am a Gold Coast girl and I am from Queensland, but I was a junior with the Gold Coast Cougars who were blue and gold as well. I just think I’ve gone full circle but just in a different state,” Thompson said.
“We’ve been here more than two years now and obviously I lived here years ago when I was playing for Lynx. It always just resonated with me and I think I’m in a position now where Cougars is my home and they are my second family.
“It’s a culture I’m loving and I’m really enjoying the people I’m surrounded by. It’s just working out perfectly for our entire family, the kids included.”