THE plans during the regular season might have not gone exactly to script, but Warwick Senators coach Dion Dagostino is confident his team can now be firing when it matters most if they can finish the job against the Willetton Tigers.
Coming into his first season in charge at the Senators, not only did Dagostino commit to continuing to blood young talent at the club like Caitlyn Jones, Chloe Forster, Georgina Harding and Emma Burke, but recruiting depth became a priority.
The Senators ended up bringing in a whole new frontcourt made up of Sam Roscoe, Tayla Hepburn and Bianca Villegas along with point guard Samaria Howard and shooting guard Stacey Barr.
The idea was to have the depth to cover the challenges that are thrown up during any season and in the end, Dagostino feels grateful they decided to go that path.
They were on fire for more than the opening half of the season winning 11 of their opening 14 matches, but then injuries and player unavailability began to creep in.
With Hepburn away for six weeks and then Villegas going down injured, the frontcourt was light on heading into the playoffs and they ended up finishing fourth with a 14-8 record.
That saw them host the Willetton Tigers in Game 1 of the quarter finals last Saturday night and with Villegas and Hepburn both back, they made a flying start and then withstood Willetton’s second half fight back to end up winning 84-74.
Game 2 of their quarter-final series will now take place at Cockburn’s Wally Hagan Stadium this Friday night with the Senators having a chance to move straight into the semi finals where they will play either the Lakeside Lightning or Kalamunda Eastern Suns.
Upon reflection, Dagostino is grateful in the depth the Senators have had to get through those tougher times.
“I also look back on our recruiting and we were glad that we signed three bigs so that we had the depth to cover in that area,” Dagostino said.
“If we didn’t have the depth with those three bigs, we would have been really struggling late in the season. Everything went really well for us early and then things went pear shaped pretty quickly, but hopefully things are coming back together now. “
While in an ideal world Dagostino would have liked his full group back and available a little earlier than now, they fact they are on the court now is a bonus and he has no doubt the longer they survive into the finals, they’ll continue to improve week after week.
“I think we are probably two weeks away from where I’d like us to be,” he said.
“I would have liked us to be at this point two weeks ago with an ideal schedule, but providing we win and advance, by the semi finals we should be in pretty good shape with Bianca and Hepburn fitter, and hopefully Maddi Hooper back.
“The longer we get through this the better we should be and if we are at our best for those last couple of weeks that’s when it matters most.”
Dagostino always knew he would lose Hepburn for six weeks late in the season due to a planned trip, but when her absence was compounded with the injury to Villegas it had the potential to derail the Senators’ season.
But Villegas made a quicker than expected return and now with Hepburn back too, Dagostino is delighted to have his trio of bigs all up and going when it counts most.
“Sam isn’t really a traditional post player either, she’s more of a perimeter player as big as she is. She had to change her role there for a while for us and did an amazing job of it,” Dagostino said.
“It’s all about the confidence the girls have when they look around now and see that they’ve got Tayla and Bianca back out there alongside them. Defensively it makes us far better, we’re a better rebounding team with them out there and it’s a whole different team so it’s great to have them back.
“I was actually away the night she did it and everyone kept telling me it was broken. But when I got back, the physio told me it wasn’t as bad as what everyone thought on the night and that she might only have to miss a few weeks.
“We always thought that she’d be out five weeks at the most which would be the second week of the first round so we expected her to be available for that if we had to win two. But we got her back a week earlier than expected.”
Now following the Game 1 win over the Tigers where Warwick were up 24 points early before conceding the lead during the fourth period and then responding to win by 10 points, Dagostino does expect some changes on both sides but not significant ones.
“I would think that they’ll be similar to us and most coaches, they’ll stick with what they can do and only make minor changes within the structure,” he said.
“You’ve only got them for three or four hours a week so you can’t reinvent the wheel. They’ll come out tough, we know that, and they killed us in the post so we assume they’ll keep going to that.”
Having Game 2 played on neutral ground at Wally Hagan Stadium isn’t something Dagostino is spending too much time worrying about, but he does know that he wants his Senators to end the series in two games and avoid a Game 3 back at Warwick Stadium on Saturday night.
“It’s an unusual set up and it’s probably more annoying them not getting to play on their home court, but it won’t change anything for us,” Dagostino said.
“We don’t want to have to come back for a Game 3. Ideally we get it done in two so we can rest the legs and get everyone close to 100 per cent. Winning in two games would be ideal and with the draw we’ve got, it’s probably not as daunting as if we were on the other side. We just have to hope things fall our way.”