THE Lakeside Lightning’s Women’s SBL championship defence couldn’t have started too much better but coach Craig Mansfield knows they need to continue to improve and that they have challenges to come including his own wedding and Ali Schwagmeyer’s departure.
Coming off a dominant 2018 season where the Lightning went through losing just the one game and winning the championship, Lakeside has backed up well to start 2019 as the reigning champions winning five of their opening six matches.
That has been with triple MVP winner Ali Schwagmeyer in the line-up but she now will depart after the Lightning’s two Round 7 matches against the Rockingham Flames this Friday night and the South West Slammers on Saturday night.
That will leave Lakeside with Geanna Luaulu-Summers as their only import for a couple of weeks for games against Kalamunda and East Perth while awaiting the arrival of Schwagmeyer’s replacement.
Around that time, Mansfield will also be marrying Lakeside captain Courtney Byrnes before they head off on a honeymoon meaning they will miss the May 24 clash away to the Warwick Senators.
Mansfield knows it’s going to be a challenging next month for the Lightning despite the fact they are currently looking strong at 5-1.
Then he also knows they won’t have a great deal of time to get things clicking on all cylinders in the back half of the season in preparation for a tilt at defending their championship.
“We’ve got Ali again this weekend and then our import gets in about May 17. We have a bye that weekend so she’ll play whoever that is after that. There’s all sorts of things there that we’ve got going on,” Mansfield said.
“We’ve got Ali for one more weekend and then she’s gone, then we have a double-header and then Courtney and I are away for a weekend for our wedding-honeymoon.
“I’ve split the season up into three phases for the girls with the Blitz, the first 10 weeks and then that last phase will be massive for us because our team balance will change. The import coming in is a big and a really good player I feel, but not a one-on-one player like Ali.
“Our execution, team balance and rotation will also lose a couple of girls who are going to summer school at college.
“That Round 12 to Round 19 is going to be massive for us so getting these early wins gives us a good leg up that we are going to be playing finals most likely, but we have to really work hard late in the season because we’ll have a short period of time to get ready for the finals.”
As for the start to the season over the opening six rounds, Mansfield can’t fault Lakeside’s 5-1 record with the only loss coming at the hands of a Willetton Tigers team that is looking the goods.
He might not have been as happy with the performances but with Ellyce Ironmonger, Tiahrn Flynn, Amy Jacobs and Ash Grant all having missed at least one game, he is happy with where they are placed but knows they need to be a lot better in a couple of months’ time.
“Results-wise I’ve been really happy with the season. In that Joondalup game I was really happy with the level of play, then I was happy with half the game against Mandurah and the other games have been patchy,” Mansfield said.
“So record-wise we are sitting nicely but we have a lot of things to work through like any team does. We’ve also had Tiahrn out, Ash out, Ellyce out and a couple of injuries and sickness.
“I’m really happy with our record but I’m also very aware that it’s going to be pretty hot and competitive at the end of the year. We are going to have to be 50 or 60 per cent than what we’ve been to start the season.”
Coming off their first loss of the season two weeks ago at the hands of Willetton, Lakeside hit back on Easter Thursday to beat the Cockburn Cougars 83-64 despite the absence of Ironmonger and with Luaulu-Summers struggling with early foul trouble.
The Cougars tried to stretch the Lightning for size and got some results for that, but Mansfield will be especially glad to have Ironmonger back inside this week for the games against the Flames and Slammers.
“They played three bigs at times too and the interesting thing with that was that we were smaller, but we still couldn’t contain dribble penetration at times,” he said.
“GeAnna struggled with foul trouble but I give her a bit of credit because she was frustrated and managed to put it aside to play a good fourth quarter.
“Ellyce makes a massive difference and we missed her protection in the paint and being a presence in there because she knows when to help and when to stay with her player and box out.
“And she’s been rim-running and finishing really well so she’s been a big loss the last two weeks, but it was way more exposed against Willetton.”
Mansfield doesn’t necessarily feel like the loss to Willetton was a defeat the Lightning needed to have, but he does feel they learned some good lessons from things that didn’t work in that game even if it’s never fun to see a significant winning streak come to an end.
“I’m not sure whether I believe in that you need to lose to get better, but certainly any time you learn some lessons that makes you better. It had been a big streak and the league is really good, and we’d had a few close wins in that,” Mansfield said.
“I go into every single game worrying about what the other team can do and what we might struggle with so we never take anything for granted. But that loss certainly gave us some film to watch and I think maybe for the girls it’s harder to brush it off when clearly there wasn’t the outcome we wanted.
“It had been a long time since we walked into a quiet changeroom and didn’t sing the song. I also hadn’t dropped a Division 1 game in quite a long time as well but then turned up on Sunday and Tigers gave us another touch up, so Parker got me twice in 36 hours.”
Mansfield and his bride-to-be Byrnes are now less than a month away from their wedding nuptials, but the coach is looking forward to it and the nerves haven’t kicked in quite yet.
“I’m excited and I think there’s still a few little jobs to be taken care of in these last few weeks and there’s a lot more on Courtney’s side than mine,” Mansfield said.
“Her family’s been really good helping out and we are just excited. I’m excited and in a sense it will be nice to get away to have the honeymoon to clear our heads from basketball, work and the wedding stuff. It’s been really hectic but I’m excited more than anything. I’m not nervous at all yet.”