THE arrival of Megan McKay has proven just the tonic to kick the Perry Lakes Hawks into overdrive entering the 2019 SBL finals with coach Deanna Black happy with how things have come together but cautious knowing the work really starts now.
For the second straight season coming off the 2017 championship, the Lady Hawks made a slow start to 2019 losing five of their opening seven matches but then they appeared to get things back on track with a four-game winning run.
However, the rollercoaster ride continued as the lost their next three games and suddenly they were in for quite the battle just to reach the playoffs once again.
But McKay returned from her standout college career to be back with Perry Lakes and ever since, the Hawks have finished the season on a six-game winning streak having won seven of eight matches with her in the line-up.
That has them deservedly feeling good about themselves entering the playoffs from fifth position and gearing up for quite the mouth-watering quarter-final series with the Joondalup Wolves with Game 1 at HBF Arena on Saturday evening.
After that rollercoaster ride through much of the season, Black has been pleased things start to click more in recent times and while there’s plenty of work ahead of them starting against the Lady Wolfpack, she doesn’t feel they could be much better placed heading into the finals.
“It has been a journey this season and it has been a rollercoaster managing different injuries and some ins and outs, and things like that, but it’s really good to get some consistency now coming into the finals,” Black said.
“There was a patch there where I was losing sleep because I wasn’t sure if we were going to make but it’s a credit to the girls because they really believe in each other and what we are about. You can see that complete buy in and that’s only going to help us to glue together going into the finals.
“I definitely am really exciting and I love coaching, and they are a great bunch of girls who work hard. They do like to have fun and enjoy playing basketball too which is pretty much what it’s all about for us – making sure people are relaxed and enjoying what they’re doing out there because that’s when we play our best basketball.”
What the arrival of McKay has done is given the Hawks quite the deep and well-balanced outfit starting with that frontcourt where she forms quite the potent partnership alongside Nat Burton and Sarah Donovan.
Then there are experienced wings Rebecca Benson and Nikita Martin while Jamie Cherry is growing nicely into her role as point guard while the backcourt is ably supported by Morgan Ballantyne and Gabby O’Sullivan.
Coming into the finals, Black has no complaints in terms of her personnel and with the way the Hawks are playing.
“We are in a pretty good place and I think a lot does come down to our defence and making sure we do get stops to make sure we can get out and run,” Black said.
“I think that’s when we play our most exciting basketball, when we are out in transition. I think we’ve got the balance and mix right with our group and we are starting to put those things in place during games so it’s an exciting time for us.
“But you also don’t want to get too far ahead and we haven’t achieved anything yet. But the girls are starting to grow in confidence with each game and I’m glad that we’ve started to build that coming into finals at the right time of the year.”
While Black was also confident McKay would be able to have a significant impact upon return for Perry Lakes, even she couldn’t have quite envisioned just how good and dominant a force she would instantly become.
On her first night back, McKay produced 22 points and nine rebounds against the Warwick Senators and has only continued that form from there. She’s had 20 or more points in five of her eight games and had a double-double in the last five, including 20 points and 21 rebounds against Cockburn.
She was just the final piece of the puzzle Perry Lakes needed and Black couldn’t be happier with the impact she’s having.
“I didn’t know she would have quite this big of an impact but she just adds another dynamic to our bigs because obviously now we have three long and athletic bigs. So to have a real solid, strong player like Megan is great and we call it going into ‘Beastmode’ when she gets going,” she said.
“It just adds another dimension to the inside game of our team and obviously with Bec Benson, Nikita and Jamie, I think we have a really good balance between inside and outside which helps us when you come against teams that do throw zone at you and other options as well.
“I think we definitely have the balance and mix right, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what we can do now in the finals.”
Going with an import point guard with Jamie Cherry was always going to be a work in progress for Perry Lakes in 2019 as well.
While that was a bit of a rollercoaster early on too, Cherry has now settled into good form late in the season and Black feels she could even be a bit more aggressive and look to score even more moving into the finals.
“She has really found what we need from her as a team as well and I think that took a little bit of time as well. She’s showing that she can have just as big an impact on a game for us whether she’s scoring or passing and she is playing unselfish, but is also starting to take the game on a lot more,” Black said.
“She’s an exciting player and it’s a whole different ball game when she gets going. So if she can play well alongside our wings and outside game then that balance we have is good. She is one of those players who really does bring that spark and it’s really important that she continues to rise to the occasion which I know she’s really capable of doing.”