KALAMUNDA Eastern Suns Women’s SBL coach Tom Knowles always knew his team would be slow starters in 2019, but he’s happy with the way they are now playing and whether or not that ends up with them reaching playoffs or not, he is proud of the way his group has come together.
Coming off a tremendous run in 2019 that took the Eastern Suns all the way to the semi finals before losing to the eventual champion Lakeside Lightning, there was a fair degree of player turnover and Knowles knew he wouldn’t have his full squad until around the midway point.
Replacing Alex Ciabattoni, Jessie Edwards and Jorjah Smith was always going to be a challenge, but the arrival of Carla Drennan, Georgia Adams and Lauren Jeffers from the start of the season at least helped the Eastern Suns stay afloat.
They did lose the first three games of 2019 and then eight of the first 11, but the arrival of import Katie Yohn and return from a knee reconstruction of Alecia Knowles coincided with the Suns now striking some winning form.
Heading into last week’s bye and now a crucial double-header in Round 17, the Eastern Suns went on a run of winning four of five matches to improve to a 7-9 record to remain a chance of reaching the playoffs despite a tough run home against the Redbacks, Senators, Cougars, Flames, Lightning and Wolves.
Wherever Kalamunda ends up finishing this season, Knowles can’t fault the way his team is playing now that they have their full squad available.
“I love the way the girls are playing at the moment. When we play that style of game, it’s fantastic. It’s fantastic to coach and fantastic to watch, and the girls love playing like that as well,” Knowles said.
“We’ve done that in our last five games now, we made some adjustments and we did have a few issues early on in the season that we’ve sorted out. Everyone has knuckled down now and some of the girls had to make some really big adjustments and that’s really helped us as a team.”
With four weeks of the regular season remaining and six games to go that will decide whether or not the Suns take part in the post-season again, Knowles finds himself looking forward to continuing to find out more about how this Suns group handles some adversity.
Knowles was already happy with their response to a 28-point loss to the Senators with a 33-point win over the Eagles prior to the bye, and is looking forward to more of that.
“I’m looking forward to these next few weeks and to find out if we can keep playing this same style of game against some good opposition,” he said.
“Obviously there was a lot of adversity in that last Senators game and that was a big challenge for us because after we made the changes, we had been winning and everything’s easier when you are winning.
“Then we didn’t have a great second half and that turned out encouraging that we stuck through it after that adversity, no one dropped their head and we moved on. So now I’m looking forward to them fighting through the adversity with the tough games we have coming up.
“I’m sure we’re not going to win them all so it’s all about how we deal with that. But I’m definitely looking forward to it.”
Speaking of that loss to the Senators, Knowles always knew it was going to be a tough night at Warwick Stadium with Yohn injured and several other players under the weather.
He still thought they fought reasonably well, but what he was looking forward to seeing was the response and he was happy with the resilience shown by the group to hit back strongly prior to last week’s bye.
“We had three really good games and then against Warwick we struggled with Katie injured and she really couldn’t perform at all,” Knowles said.
“I think we only had six girls at training on the Thursday before that game because of the flu, exams and all sorts of things so we had a very poor week in preparation for that game.
“I was still impressed with the first half where we did really well and we showed that we can actually run with them, which was good but Stacey Barr had a blinder and not having Katie on the floor didn’t help us in the game.
“Katie didn’t play that much either against Eagles in our last game, she’s OK but we’re just being very cautious because sometimes these games when it’s a bit of a blowout they can get rough and if things aren’t getting called I don’t want to risk anyone getting hurt.
“But we still got some of our young girls in to play them a bit more so we took a lot out of that game heading into the break.”
Kalamunda had the bye in Round 16 while its men’s team made the trip to Kalgoorlie and came back victorious, but for Knowles and his group it was a chance to rest up some more bodies and to fine tune some other areas to get ready for this final month of the campaign.
“It’s a chance to rest a couple of people for a couple of sessions who have been carrying some niggles, which is good because Carla didn’t play in our last game and she’s become a pretty important player for us,” he said.
“She is going to college so we will end up losing her but we definitely have her for a few more games yet. We can get her better over this break, we can get Katie better and we can do a lot of work on some of the defensive things that we are trying to get better at.
“Hopefully it will help us get ready for this next big stretch of games.”
One player who is in the middle of the best season of her career with the Eastern Suns is shooting guard Jewel Williams.
Now with 61 games under her belt at SBL level, Williams is delivering some tremendous performances for the Suns averaging 15.1 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.2 assists.
That has included some big outbursts too including 26 points against the Slammers, 22 points against the Lightning and prior to the bye, 23 points and three assists against the Eagles.
Knowles couldn’t be happier with the way she’s stepping up into an elite player in the league.
“In this last game, I just loved Jewel’s effort. Her seconds effort to get after stuff was great and then she was shooting and scoring well, and generally she made pretty good decisions,” Knowles said.
“And that’s a big thing for our team where in the last few games it’s been a big focus for us to make better decisions when we have the ball in our hands rather than just trying to score. Jewel is definitely getting better and better all the time.”
It was a patient wait for the Suns too for the arrival of Yohn once her season concluded in Europe, but already she has shown what she can provide and now Knowles can’t wait to see what she can deliver over the last month.
“Katie is a really good asset for us. She is a very smart player with a very high basketball IQ, and she’s very good for us off the court,” he said.
“She’s definitely a huge asset for us and she’ll help us a lot in the next few games. This is a really good time for us to prep her coming out of the East Perth game. She’ll continue to recover which will good.”
While Knowles knows that the Suns will need some help over the past month of the season to reach the playoffs, he likes the chances of his team at least winning the majority of those six games starting this weekend away to the Redbacks and home to the Senators.
“Unfortunately a lot of it from here is going to depend on what other teams do from here for us so we’re not really in control of our destiny in that sense,” Knowles said.
“We might not get there no matter what we do and we do need to rely on other teams beating other teams, but there are definitely some must-win games there for us.
“This was obviously one of them against Eagles and then we probably need to steal a couple of other ones if we are going to make it. That’s definitely our plan and I think we can do it at the moment.”