DION Dagostino is hoping its third time lucky for him coaching in Grand Finals this Friday night but really there are no similarities from his first two attempts as he continues to learn about coaching Women and backing in his Warwick Senators group as much as he can.
Dagostino is in his first season coaching in the Women’s SBL and in his first year in charge at the Warwick Senators, but his return to the league in 2019 is only building on a long and storied history with WA basketball he already has.
Dagostino played 268 games in the SBL, all but 53 of which were with the Perry Lakes Hawks, and then he took over as coach of the Hawks in the Men’s SBL in 2009 taking them to the Grand Final that very same season.
He took them to another Grand Final in 2011 but couldn’t quite get that elusive championship as coach although he has tasted championship glory as a player with Perry Lakes in 1994 and 2001 while also reaching the Grand Final as a player in 1995 with the Goldfields Giants.
So Dagostino is no stranger to the Grand Final stage and is no stranger to taking his team to the Grand Final in his first season in charge as well. But it’s fair to say coaching this Senators team in 2019 is a lot different to that Hawks team back in 2009 that he was so familiar with.
It has been a learning curve all along the way this season for Dagostino coaching in the Women’s SBL for the first time, and it was quite the rollercoaster season.
On paper, the Senators always looked to be one of the teams to beat this season with the front court of Tayla Hepburn, Bianca Villegas and Sam Roscoe, and back court of Samaria Howard, Stacey Barr and Nicole Jorre De St Jorre.
Then with the depth provided by Emma Berryman, Emma Burke, Georgina Harding, Rebekah Throns, Hannah Throns, Maddison Hooper and the recently departed for college Caitlyn Jones, Dagostino certainly had plenty to work with.
They would win 11 of the first 14 games too but then the personnel availability began to take over for the rest of the regular season. At no stage were the Senators at full strength and they ended up winning just three of the last eight games to end up in fourth position at 14-8.
However, with the squad all back together, they have delivered outstanding performances in the first two rounds of the playoffs to defeat both the Willetton Tigers and Lakeside Lightning to book a spot in this Friday night’s Grand Final at Bendat Basketball Centre against the Rockingham Flames.
While Dagostino has coached in the league before and has led his teams to Grand Finals, really the differences between coaching men and women is so significant is that everything about this season has made it a steep learning curve for him.
However, now that he has the Senators into a Grand Final he doesn’t want to taste that losing feeling again while also bringing a first championship to Warwick since 1994.
“The biggest difference obviously is going from coaching men to women but it’s been interesting to say the least. The girls have been telling me what to do all along the way and that’s helped along the way,” Dagostino said.
“I’ve been impressed with what I’ve seen in the growth of the league too and in terms of coaching the women, the biggest different is that they do seem to take direction better and want to be told what to do.
“I think what has worked for us is that they’ve enjoyed some of the freedom I’ve given them but also with that structure I give them when they need it. When they do run free-flowing basketball and trust their instincts, they play super well. But then the more structured plays work well for us at times too.”
Now that the Grand Final is almost upon him and all of the work in terms of preparation is just about done, Dagostino can’t help but be feeling the nervous energy builds as he racks his brain over things he could have done more in preparation.
“Talk to my wife and she’ll tell you I’m a mess during the week. You are just constantly watching video and annoying the assistant coaches to make sure you are doing everything right,” he said.
“You are constantly thinking about it and you are excited to be there, but you also don’t want to lose the third Grand Final you’ve coached which would be annoying. You want to win for the girls but to also get that win on the board for myself as a coach.
“It’s an exciting time but you do get nervous about if you’ve done all the right preparation and everything. Then the reality is this is the last week and all of a sudden once the game is done, it’s all over no matter the result so it’s a bit of an abrupt end.”
While Dagostino deserves credit for his job coaching this Senators team to the Grand Final, he knows that if the club hadn’t provided strong support and if the players hadn’t bonded together that there’s no way they would be where they are now.
“I don’t think it’s all me, the girls have done an amazing job and the club has been really awesome in terms of giving us the freedom to do things our way,” Dagostino said.
“My assistant coaches have been fantastic and our Division 1 team constantly put pressure on these girls at training, and they made the Grand Final as well.
“It’s all about that whole group made up of our SBL team, the Division 1 team, the club support and the coaching staff that have all brought it together. But the key part is the girls enjoying each other’s company.
“You talk about culture a lot but to actually have it is nice to see and the girls have been behind creating all of that.”
While the Senators form hadn’t been too crash hot heading into the finals, much of that was purely down to the personnel that had been unavailable.
Dagostino was always confident when he had his full team just about back together that they would regain their best basketball, and now not only are they playing as well as they were early in the season, but he feels their current form is surpassing that.
“I think we are playing better because the girls all know where to look after each other now, and look for each other. I think they’ve all grown as a group so they now know where people want the ball and what they like to do which is making them better, which is good,” he said.
“We knew that Hepburn was going to get fitter and fitter, and the same with Bianca and the rest of them have been itching for those bigs to come back.
“It’s all gelled together nicely and the girls are pumped to have this opportunity because of the work they’ve done to get to this point. For us it’s just about steadying the ship and hopefully they will get it done.”
The Senators booked their place in the Grand Final last Friday night beating the defending champion Lakeside Lightning at Warwick Stadium.
Dagostino was delighted with that and couldn’t fault the preparation for the Grand Final having played so well to beat two tough teams in the Tigers and Lightning.
“It’s awesome to get that win at home against Lakeside but as soon as that win happened then all you do is think about the preparation for the week after,” Dagostino said.
“Once you are done, you are onto the next job and that’s the Grand Final. But even now during the week the girls are still pinching themselves thinking about being in the Grand Final so it’s pretty cool.
“It has been pretty good preparation and they were tough games, we definitely didn’t have any easy ones. We were only four points up still against Lakeside with two minutes to go on Friday night so we had to earn it. We had four tough games in the playoffs to get here so it was good preparation for us.”
Now Dagostino and the Senators turn their attention to the Flames in the Grand Final who enter the contest on their own eight-game winning streak having beaten Mandurah and Perry Lakes to qualify.
Dagostino knows they will be tough but hopes in a one-off game that his Senators can get the job done.
“They are a super tough team and now it’s all coming down to this one game. We’ve all got a couple of bigs, we’ve got good scorers and in a one-game series it’s going to be tough. You just have to hope you shoot well and hit the boards the best you can on the night,” Dagostino said.
“Generally in Grand Finals the team that comes out harder and with more hustle wins the game so this one will be no different. But hopefully it’s a close game for everyone involved and fingers crossed we can get it done.”