FOLLOWING 20 rounds of the regular, 14 teams in the Women’s SBL is down to eight with the quarter finals beginning this weekend starting on Friday night highlighted by a tantalising Mandurah Magic and Rockingham Flames match up.
Three of the four quarter-final series in the Women’s SBL genuinely feature both teams who at one point of the 2019 season deserved to be called championship favourites while the No. 8 seed Kalamunda Eastern Suns certainly can’t be discounted when fully up and firing.
That sets the stage for four fascinating series’ featuring eight teams all more than capable of beating anyone else among the group.
The first two Game 1 match ups take place on Friday night with the higher seed enjoying home court advantage as the Mandurah Magic host the Rockingham Flames and then the Lakeside Lightning take on the Kalamunda Eastern Suns.
The other two Game 1 matches take place on Saturday evening with the Warwick Senators facing the Willetton Tigers and the Joondalup Wolves playing host to the Perry Lakes Hawks.
Starting on Friday night, it should be quite the fascinating quarter-final series that gets underway in Mandurah between the Magic and Flames.
Both teams deserve to enter the playoffs thinking they could end up going all the way to win the championship, but at the same time one of them is going to be eliminated in the first round.
Mandurah enters the finals the hottest team in the competition having won nine straight matches to finish the regular season in second position at 15-7. While they were second and the Flames finished seventh, Rockingham was only two games back at 13-9.
The two meeting during the season were fascinating too with Rockingham dominating Mandurah back in Round 13 on their home floor while the Magic then won in Mandurah by 16 points.
Ironically it was that loss in Rockingham that sparked Mandurah’s turnaround in form and since then, the Magic have won nine straight matches while welcoming import point guard Taylor Brown into the line-up along the way.
The Magic are also coming off losing the past two Grand Finals so motivation isn’t lacking for them to earn another opportunity.
The Flames, though, have built a team made for finals with a frontcourt featuring Darcee Garbin, Maddie Allen and Christina Boag then with Alex Ciabbatoni, Chelsea Petrik, Tayah Burrows and Janelle Adams in the backcourt.
The two teams also met in the quarter finals 12 months ago and on that occasion it was Mandurah who as the lower-ranked team dominated the series to win in two games on the way to the Grand Final.
The other Game 1 to take place on Friday night sees the Lightning play the Eastern Suns at Lakeside Recreation Centre.
Lakeside is the defending champions in the Women’s SBL and did end up as minor premiers again in 2019 finishing the regular season with a 16-6 despite losing their last two matches to Perry Lakes and Rockingham.
Kalamunda only were guaranteed of reaching the finals last Friday night when the Perth Redbacks fell from calculations but the Eastern Suns still beat the Joondalup Wolves on Saturday night and enter the finals having won five of their past seven matches.
While the Lightning did dominate the Suns in two games in the semi finals last year, Kalamunda is a much healthier unit this time around and Lakeside obviously doesn’t have Ali Schwagmeyer.
The Lightning are significantly bigger with the additions of Ellyce Ironmonger and Hannah Stewart while the Suns will be looking for big things from import Katie Yohn and Perry Lakes championship winning point guard from 2017, Lauren Jeffers.
Eastern Suns coach Tom Knowles is looking forward to the challenge of taking on the Lightning.
“I think we are definitely ready for the challenge even though it’s obviously a very different Lakeside team,” Knowles said.
“They now have the three bigs and that will mean we have to play differently than we do than against teams with only one or two bigs. There are challenges for sure but I think we are pretty confident we can compete against them, there’s no doubt about that.”
The other two Game 1 quarter-final matches take place on Saturday evening starting with the Lady Wolfpack hosting the Hawks.
Joondalup finished the regular season in third position with a 14-8 record having lost Kayla Steindl and Amy Kidner along the way while adding in Andee Ritter and Jasmine Martin.
They did fall into a five-game losing run but pulled out of that nicely to win three straight and lock away a top four finish to earn home court advantage over the Lady Hawks meaning they host Game 1 at HBF Arena.
Perry Lakes, meanwhile, started the season losing five of seven games and were still only 7-9 after a loss in Mandurah just over a month ago. But since then and coinciding with the arrival of Megan McKay and the Hawks have been on fire entering the finals with six consecutive wins.
With McKay, Nat Burton and Sarah Donovan on the side with the experience of Rebecca Benson and Nikita Martin, and then with Jamie Cherry running the point, it’s an impressive looking Perry Lakes line-up who are firing at the right time.
But the Wolfpack aren’t devoid of talent in their own right setting the tone for what should be a fascinating series starting at HBF Arena on Saturday night.
Then also on Saturday, the Senators host the Tigers in Game 1 at Warwick Stadium.
At different points of the season, Warwick and Willetton have shown some dominant form but neither is coming into the form in their best form of 2019.
The Senators finished fourth with a 14-8 record but they did lose their last two matches to the Magic and Flames, and three of their last four.
But at full strength with Bianca Villegas, Tayla Hepburn and Sam Roscoe up front, and Stacey Barr and Samaria Howard leading the backcourt it’s a strong Warwick outfit but only time will tell if coach Dion Dagostino has his full group available to face the Tigers.
Willetton had quite the rollercoaster ride throughout the regular season finishing with 13-9 record in sixth position having lost four of their past six matches, including going down to Perry Lakes by 29 points last Saturday night.
But with Laina Snyder a definite MVP calibre player capable of delivering 20-20 games and then a good core of Emma Gandini, Desiree Kelley and Zoe Harper, and Wendi Bibbins an X-factor, coach Simon Parker will hope they fire again now the finals are here.
WOMEN’S SBL FIXTURES – QUARTER FINALS WEEK 1
Cachet Homes Mandurah Magic v Class 1 Orthodontics Rockingham Flames – Mandurah Aquatic and Recreation Centre 7.00pm
Lakeside Lightning v Kalamunda Eastern Suns – Lakeside Recreation Centre 7.30pm
Bethanie Warwick Senators v Willetton Tigers – Warwick Stadium 5.00pm
Chambers Franklyn Joondalup City Wolves v Scarboro Toyota Perry Lakes Hawks – HBF Arena 5.00pm