IT is easy to correlate the rise of the Perry Lakes Hawks this Women’s SBL season to the arrival of Megan McKay but coach Deanna Black believes the growth of Jamie Cherry is just as important while her key message remains making sure her players are enjoying themselves.
The Hawks might have only finished the regular season in the Women’s SBL in sixth position, but they were in ominous form entering the playoffs having won six straight matches and going 7-1 with the addition of Megan McKay to the frontcourt.
Her addition of 18.0 points and 12.4 rebounds over those last eight games was significant but every big is only as good as their point guard and Perry Lakes’ rise this season has also coincided with the season-best form of Jamie Cherry.
She finished the regular season in that six-game winning streak averaging 17.0 points, 5.7 assists and 4.7 rebounds, all well up on her season numbers and her increased aggressiveness and confidence has been huge.
Then on the back of that momentum and despite being the lower-ranked team, Perry dominated the No. 3 seed Joondalup Wolves in the quarter finals winning Game 1 at HBF Arena 102-66 and then Game 2 at Bendat Basketball Centre 103-59.
McKay (34 points, 23 rebounds) and Cherry (46 points, f10 assists) were instrumental across those games, but it was the Hawks’ depth that shone too with Nikita Martin, Rebecca Benson, Morgan Ballantyne, Sarah Donovan, Nat Burton, Bella Green, Kristan Teasdale and Annika Renkema contributing strongly.
Sam Ashby even played well as she now departs to begin her college career at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California, but this is a firing Perry Lakes team as they prepare for Game 1 of their tantalising semi-final match up with the Rockingham Flames at Bendat Basketball Centre this Friday night.
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As happy with how the whole team is playing as Black is and certainly as impressed with the arrival of McKay as she has been, there’s no question the growth in first-year import Cherry at point guard is pleasing her the most in the Hawks right now.
“One of the key standouts has been Jamie Cherry and the change in her contributions in what she’s doing for our team. She’s a huge part of that and obviously Joondalup thought so going to the box-and-one there for a little while,” Black said.
“That’s kind of the ultimate sign of respect to a player when you get a box and-a-one. Everyone else has rallied behind that and we are seeing Nat return to her awesome self and everyone is just playing their roles. I think that has been really good for us and one of the keys to our success.”
And while the Lady Hawks are playing so well with an eight-game winning streak now heading into the semi-final series with the Flames, what Black feels is most important now is to realise that they just need to remain focused on what has been working.
But there’s always room for growth as well so Black’s focus will be looking at ways her team can still play better heading into the semi finals while doing all they can to keep their momentum going at the same time.
“My message doesn’t change. I think you’ve learned things during every game and that was the same from last week to this week, and that will continue to carry through to each game,” she said.
“It’s not that I’m not satisfied with what we’re doing, but I’m always looking at opportunities to grow and get better. You’ll come up against different things and it’s how you handle those different things, and pull together as a group that you are looking for.
“Our biggest focus remains just on us and making sure we are doing we are saying what we want to achieve, and are being who we say we want to be. That’s all about our identity and what we stand for, and those values that we’ve pushed through the club with pride, passion and perseverance. That’s what we are really pushing through our group right now.”
As much as Black wants the Hawks to be playing the way she wants them to and she wants them to go out and execute well and perform at a high level, if they aren’t enjoying themselves at the same time then for her it’s just not worth it.
That’s why you will always see a happy Lady Hawks bench because that is the way their coach wants it to be and that’s not going to change any time soon.
“I enjoy seeing people having fun playing basketball and to me that’s the biggest reward as a coach for the girls to love and enjoy what they do,” Black said.
“It does take a lot of hours for little reward in terms of monetary value so the fact they like each other and get around each other that makes it bigger than just the game. To me that’s the most pleasing and rewarding aspect of coaching.
“It’s exciting to be part of and it’s fun for me to see the players enjoy it. It’s an interesting one comparing coaching and playing in finals, and I definitely find coaching more nerve-racking because you can only give directions, you can’t actually go out there and do things yourself or take over the game by making plays.
“That means it is a different balance to regroup and gather, and make sure those messages coming across are about you guys having fun and enjoying what they’re doing. I think that’s really evident in the way we’re playing.”
Black is now in her third season coaching Perry Lakes having retired following Game 3 of the semi finals against the Wolves back in 2016.
She had a stunning first season in charge losing just the one game along the way to winning the championship in 2017 before 2018 was challenging and they did well just to reach the playoffs before pushing the eventual champion Lakeside Lightning to three games in the first round.
Comparing her team of 2017 to the one of 2019 is a challenge with the only real similarity being that they are both in the semi finals.
The player personnel is significantly different but so has been the journey to get the money, and the mindset as a result.
“Obviously it’s two different teams as well so my coaching has had to change and adjust, and what we do is a little bit different to what we did back then as well,” she said.
“When you are that team who has only lost one game all season and everyone things you are the team to beat, you’re always looking over your shoulder.
“But this season for us we’ve been in a position where we have nothing to lose but everything to gain. That’s the line that really stands for us right now. We are in control of our own destiny.”
Whether it was Rockingham or Mandurah that Perry Lakes would face in the semi finals, she always knew it was going to be quite the battle and that’s what she expects from a Flames team that includes Darcee Garbin, Maddie Allen, Christina Boag, Alex Ciabattoni and company.
“We probably had three of the most in-form teams left in the competition on our side of the draw before Rockingham ended up beating Mandurah, but you have to beat every team to win the Grand Final so we weren’t worried about who we’d face next,” Black said.
“We knew whoever we’d play out of those two teams are unique and pose different challenges within that and we knew we’d be playing a quality. We enjoyed our win while we could and got back on the training track to now refocus and get ready for Rockingham.”