THE Kalamunda Eastern Suns women took giant leaps forward in 2018 reaching the semi finals and that’s why coach Tom Knowles was happy to back in much of his group while bringing in some fresh faces to allow them to play at a faster pace.
The Eastern Suns did start the new season with a couple of one-point losses to Grand Finalists the Mandurah Magic on the back of their semi-final appearance in 2018.
The Suns did end up losing their first three games ahead of breaking through for a win against the South West Slammers. They followed that up also beating the Cockburn Cougars last Friday night before falling at home to the powerful Joondalup Wolves on Sunday to be 2-4 after five rounds.
That’s not altogether a bad start for the Eastern Suns given they have played three of the six games against strong teams in the Magic and Wolves while the Slammers and Tigers are both looking to be teams capable of contending in 2019.
Add that into the fact that Suns have yet to welcome new import Katie Yohn and there is plenty of growth left in them this season as new faces Georgia Adams, Lauren Jeffers and Carla Drennan continue to settle in.
While last year was a success in a lot of ways for Kalamunda with them finishing the regular season in fifth position before beating the Willetton Tigers in the quarter finals to reach the second round.
That’s why Knowles was happy to try and build on that in a lot of ways with the retention of Jennie Rintala, Rebecca Motroni, Jewel Williams, Chanah Crugnale and Hannah King.
One thing he did identify as an area to improve was for the Eastern Suns to be able to play at a higher speed this season and there was no point guard better equipped to deliver that than Jeffers.
Drennan and Adams also allow for that too and while it’s a work in progress, Knowles is looking forward to seeing how that develops over the course of the season.
“Coming off last year, one of the things we focused on was to try and get a little bit better defensively and to try and play an even higher tempo game,” Knowles said.
“We’ve obviously got a couple of people in there now who are suited to that game style and have really bought into that game style. People like Lauren, Carla and Georgia have bought into that and I think over the course of the season they will help us offensively and defensively.
“But we do have a chunk of new people in there so it can be hard offensively to get into the routine straight away, but we are getting better with that and hopefully we’ll keep looking better with the more time they play together.”
While awaiting the arrival of Yohn from Germany and then continuing to blend in Jeffers, Adams and Drennan, Knowles wants to back in his group of local players and continue to put plenty of minutes into developing Williams, Crugnale and company further.
“I’m pretty keen to continue to put the time and effort into the girls that we have here so I don’t think we’ll look to bring anyone else in,” he said.
“They are showing that they are pretty hungry to be out there and play hard, and put a huge amount of effort in. We are seeing some good signs with our young players so we’ll continue to work on them and hopefully progress them through towards the end of the season.”
Jeffers was a significant addition over the off-season for the Eastern Suns considering just 18 months ago she was the starting point guard for a Perry Lakes team that won the championship and she wasn’t far off claiming the Grand Final MVP.
Knowles was excited to bring her in because of the pace he wanted his team to play at.
She always plays at a breakneck speed whether it’s pushing the ball or defending ferociously and while that might lead to too many turnovers at times and some fouls at inopportune times, the positives with Jeffers far outweighs that.
By pushing the pace, she throws the opposition defence off and can create shots well for her teammates and herself. Knowles is happy already with what she’s providing and what she can continue to give throughout 2019.
“I love her and her work ethic is outstanding. She’s always going as hard as she can and maybe sometimes she’s going too hard, but I don’t mind that. If I could have everyone on the court consistently going as hard as that, then we’d be mighty hard to beat,” Knowles said.
“She’s not the only one, Bec is another one who goes super hard out there and we’ve added another very important piece with Lauren to hopefully help us build pressure. I’m really happy she’s here and the girls are really happy she’s with us too, and hopefully she’s enjoying being here.”
Yohn is going to be another significant addition for the Eastern Suns when her finals campaign in Germany ends with her team Marburg having reached the semi finals.
The 28-year-old has been a professional for several years now having finished at Bradley University and she will arrive at Kalamunda with a strong reputation as a quality combo guard.
Knowles is looking forward to her arrival and with what his backcourt will then look like.
“It just depends on how her team goes in Germany so we’ll wait and see how she goes. I think she’s another one who will suit our game style,” he said.
“She is a very good perimeter shooter but she can also penetrate and defend pretty well too. The team she’s playing with in Germany plays a pretty aggressive style of defence, similar to what we’re working on, so I think she’ll fit in well and add another element for sure.”
Coming off last season, Knowles was impressed with the drive of the Eastern Suns players to get back to work quickly to build on that and improve further in 2019.
As a result he felt they were better prepared coming into the season and that things will soon start to click as a result.
“They were very keen to get straight back into it after last year, which we did, and we only had a two or three-week break and we were already starting to do small group sessions to try and integrate some of the younger girls to try and build that culture,” he said.
“It was a little bit different to the year before when come the Blitz, we were well and truly not prepared but this year we were in a lot better shape.”
Knowles also continues to develop impressively as a coach. He’s now in his third season coaching at the Eastern Suns but has down a power of work at WABL and underage levels while continuing to work with the Perth Lynx in the WNBL under Andy Stewart.
Coaching is a year-round role now for Knowles and as a result he feels he continues to improve each and every day by being at the forefront of all the developments in the game.
“Obviously I’m more experienced now too and I’ve learned a lot over my first couple of seasons, but I’ve also learned a lot through the WNBL exposure I’ve had too. I’m always trying to learn as much as I possibly can and am trying to learn what to adjust along the way to make things work a little bit better,” Knowles said.
“I feel like I’m getting better all the time because you’re always exposed to something new. When there’s a bit of a change in the trend of the game and you pick up on that straightaway whether it’s different screening actions or whatever it is. There’s always a trend change and it’s good to be exposed to that and aware of it, and have the ability to adjust my coaching accordingly.”