THEY are the defending Women’s SBL champions and once again regular season champions in 2019, but there’s plenty different at Lakeside Lightning to 12 months ago with coach Craig Mansfield hoping it clicks when it matters most.
Lakeside was the dominant team in the Women’s SBL losing only once on the way to the Grand Final and that included dominating their match ups in the playoffs firstly up against the Perry Lakes Hawks and then the Kalamunda Eastern Suns.
They were pushed to the brink in the Grand Final before scoring the game’s last 21 points to win the championship in stunning fashion.
Attempting to go back-to-back is never easy and that’s why Mansfield wanted to keep as much of his core group together as possible, which he’s done with Courtney Mansfield, Jess Van Schie, Jae Flynn, Tiahrn Flynn, Courtney Green and Ash Grant all back.
But the three changes are the three most significant with Sam Roscoe, Ali Schwagmeyer and Sydnee Fipps all moving on creating quite the different make up of the Lightning team with them replaced by two bigs Ellyce Ironmonger and Hannah Stewart, and import point guard GeAnna Lualu-Summers.
That has changed the make up of the Lightning roster with them significantly bigger particularly when Stewart, Ironmonger and Grant are on the court at the one time as opposed to one who was based on the guard strength led by Schwagmeyer and Fipps.
Given Stewart has only been available for 10 games in the back end of the season, it is still somewhat of a work in progress for the Lightning as they now enter the finals from first place ahead of a quarter-final match up with the Kalamunda Eastern Suns starting Friday night at Lakeside Recreation Centre.
Coach Craig Mansfield has liked a lot of what he’s seen in terms of how things are coming together even if losing the last two weeks to Perry Lakes and Rockingham wasn’t quite ideal entering the finals.
“We are still kind of finding our feet and there’s some huge benefits to having the additional size, and we’ve seen that in some games, and in other games we haven’t been able to make it work as well on both ends of the court,” Mansfield said.
“I think the coaches are getting a good feel for when to play certain rotations and it should set us in really good stead for the finals. It looks promising at the moment and it has just been enjoyable to mix it up and change the dynamic and everything like that.
“We have to make sure we play big at the right time and play small at the right time, and whoever’s on the floor we have to be able to shift our feet, guard dribble penetration and make sure we are back on defence. We have to take care of those things and then just get the rotations and balance right at the correct times.”
The potential that the three-pronged threat of bigs can provide the Lakeside could very well be what wins them the championship if all goes right, which is certainly the hope and aim that Mansfield had when he brought them together.
When Roscoe decided to not return after last year’s championship, Ellyce Ironmonger became a target for Mansfield and she’s produced a tremendous season putting up 9.6 points, 9.0 rebounds and 2.7 assists while also showing her shooting range.
Ash Grant has produced another strong season too putting up 15.1 points and 9.7 rebounds but how Hannah Stewart fitted in was always going to likely determine how Lakeside performance overall in 2019.
That wasn’t so much the pressure on her to put up big numbers, but just in terms of how the chemistry worked with three bigs at the centre of a lot of what the Lightning were doing.
As it’s turned out, Stewart has fitted in well putting up 16.6 points and 7.0 rebounds but the Lightning have only gone 5-5 in the 10 games she has played.
Despite that, Mansfield is confident that she will click with the team when it matters most now hopefully for his sake over the next five weeks even if there was a couple of games she missed due to unforeseen circumstances.
“Hannah’s mother-in-law passed away so she went home for nine days after our Wolves games. I told her I would be completely changing the playbook while she was away which scared her a little bit, but I was only joking,” Mansfield said.
“It’s unfortunate obviously for her to have to deal with it and we just sent her off with our best wishes knowing that when she got back we’d have up to seven weeks for us to put our best feet forward.
“She has done a fantastic job to settle in here, though, and she can play at the level I expected, and in some ways she’s better than I expected. I give her a lot of credit because she played a very specific role in college for four years and there wasn’t a lot of deviating from her role and what her spots were.
“Everything that I’ve asked her to do is different whether it’s the lanes to run, the spots to get to on the floor, the shot selection or the defensive coverage. But she has adapted and shown every week progression and improvement.
“In the Wolves games, that was a pretty good indication when that night she was far and away our best player on both ends of the floor. The combination of her, Ellyce and Ash gives us three girls with size but also mobility, shooting and some flexibility with what we do.”