IF there was any coach with reason to make excuses in 2019 it would be Megan Thompson but that’s not her way and she continues to be proud of the spirit the Cockburn Cougars have shown even if the wins haven’t come their way.
Considering that BJ Moyes and Stephanie Jones haven’t been able to step onto the floor at all, superstar import Kisha Lee lasted just 11 games and then second import Alina Hartmann only arrived in time to play the second half of the season, that goes part of the way as to why Thompson could make plenty of excuses.
Add in the fact that emerging star Ruby Benn has now missed the second half of the season through injury as well as have Akim Lual and Nicole Pitcher with Thompson having to continue to scramble to pull her team together to keep on competing.
To their credit, despite all the obstacles thrown in their way, the Cougars have been a significantly more competitive team than their 3-17 record suggests.
They have made themselves tough to beat and have fought hard so despite the wins not racking up, they haven’t lost any respect across the league and it’s not unreasonable to suggest losses to the Slammers, Magic and Senators especially could have gone the other way throughout 2019.
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While sitting at 3-17 suggests it has been hard going for Cockburn with two games remaining in the final round away to the Perth Redbacks and at home to the East Perth Eagles, that’s not the feeling Thompson has about her team.
She couldn’t be prouder about the commitment and fighting spirit of her team against the odds throughout the season and has no doubt it should build them well for the future when their playing stocks are topped up.
“There are so many positives and you know what, we’ve only had two games full strength all season. From week to week once again there’s a different style we have to play, a different starting five and a different dynamic with different players playing different roles,” Thompson said.
“We have three guards having to run the point, but they have kept on embracing the challenge even if the wins haven’t been coming. I believe we are and I hope we are respected as a competitive team because we call ourselves the queens of honourable losses.
“We have got so close so many times this season and have had games where we’ve led for 35 minutes but those last five minutes cost us. That does come down to depth but what we have is girls doing all they can and we have some great chemistry there.”
What Thompson always wanted in her group was for them to remain a tight and committed unit who gave their all for each other. The fact that they have done so well to stick together and remain such a positive unit is something she’s tremendously proud of.
“The girls are together 100 per cent. They socialise together and even when we come into training, everyone is sitting together and that togetherness is just amazing,” she said.
“We do have that little hashtag #cougarfamily and that’s 100 per cent exactly what we are. It’s the extended families too and the mums with the kids, their aunties and we embrace everybody. It’s just a really beautiful thing to be part of to be honest.”
When Thompson first got the Cougars group together for a pre-season camp, the focus was on building their chemistry and togetherness.
The fact that they have remained such a close group through the losses mounting and the horror injury run topped off with the departure of Kisha Lee mid-season is something that Thompson couldn’t be happier with.
She now looks to 2020 with positivity when Moyes and Benn return as two virtual new recruits to start things off.
“We started this year off with a pre-season camp and that’s where the chemistry and togetherness was really formed. From that point on, this is a bunch of people who enjoy each other’s company, we love working hard together and hanging out together,” Thompson said.
“At the end of the day, if you actually like who you are training with and playing with, then it actually helps on the court when it comes to dealing with the losses that we’ve had. We don’t drop heads, we just get emotional and the losses do actually hurt but nobody is pointing fingers at anyone.
“We are accountable for our own actions and I love that we hold each other accountable. At the end of the day, it’s a very together group and that moving forward is something that’s really important so that when we are in a position to add some big dogs into the group, they can add to what we’ve already got.
“Nic Roberts is amazing and she’s had a great season, but a lot of her opportunity has been on the back of two injured point guards and she has just stepped it up for us even if it’s not her preferred role.
“Then you have Kahlia Morgan, Kiera Dunhill and other young players who will keep on rising. Then looking to next year and we have BJ and Ruby coming back in and hopefully together we can rise after that.”
Without question, the great positive from the first part of the season for the Cougars was the continued emergence of Ruby Benn.
The recently turned 20-year-old has missed the second half of the season through injury but what she showed early in 2019 where she had improved to average 8.5 points, 4.3 assists and 3.5 rebounds a game shows that she’s someone Cockburn can build around moving forward.
“I was so happy to see how well Ruby was playing and that was a personal goal of mine also as a coach. I love mentoring young people and bringing out the best in them, and getting them up with the veterans and better players,” she said.
“Last year Ruby got to play alongside BJ and she really looked up to her, and they worked hard together and she was going from strength to strength.
“Then starting this season, it was about building her mental toughness even though she was young and getting those point guard smarts happening. She was improving from game to game which was her focus. I was proud of how far she came and the future she has ahead of her.”
While Thompson isn’t yet sure what the future holds in terms of coaching on at Cockburn or not in 2020, she is confident the Cougars can rise quickly based on the work done in adversity this year.
But either way she will be staying in Perth.
“I have had my review but while we still have games to play, my focus is on finishing the season the best we can and it’s really hard when you are still in the middle of something to be thinking that far ahead,” Thompson said.
“But in terms this actual group, I don’t see them going anywhere and I see these girls being absolutely committed to staying together. Then we’ll just wait and see in terms of my future coaching but I love living here.
“I’m even trying to convince my mum to move over and we have been back a couple of times, but the family is visiting us even more often now. We love WA and aren’t going anywhere.”