THE Perth Redbacks continued their charge towards the West Coast Classic top four on Saturday night setting up a tantalising Sunday against the Warwick Senators, but the growth continues for a remarkably young South West Slammers.
The Slammers always appeared to be the team hardest hit in terms of the personnel they would have had for the 2020 SBL season back starting in March and now for the West Coast Classic beginning in July.
The results might suggest that the case too including Saturday night’s 111-34 victory over them for the Perth Redbacks at Belmont Oasis, but this is about building for the future at the Slammers. And if that’s the case, the future looks remarkably bright.
Take out 2012 championship winner Bianca Donovan and this is a Slammers team virtually full of teenagers with seasoned, quality veterans Kate Fielding and Courtney Bayliss able to help out from time to time.
But the fact that young ladies now aged 15, 16, 17 and 18 are getting the chance to play on one weekend against the likes of Courtney Mansfield, Ellyce Ironmonger and Ash Isenbarger from the Lakeside Lightning, and Maddie Allen and Jess Jakens from the Perth Redbacks is remarkable.
That would have never happened, at least in meaningful minutes for most of the young Slammers including Zaya Black, Catherine Waycott, Skye Palmer, Shannon Verhagen, Chloe Scott, Anita Reca and Alyssa Liddelow from Saturday night.
Nobody enjoys losing and there was plenty to be impressed about with the Redbacks in their win with Maddie Allen producing a triple-double, but for Slammers coach Nathan Grover it’s all about the bigger picture.
“We’ve got 15 and 16-year-old girls out there that are playing 20, 30 minutes a game that in a realistic SBL season this year might have been five to 10 at best. Whilst it seems like a very daunting experience for them, to their credit they are just taking to it like a duck to water,” Grover said.
“They are fighting, they are working hard and giving it everything that they can. That’s all I can ask for as a coach, we may not be executing or hitting shots, and open shots that experienced players would but the fact that they are going out there and giving it their absolute all is all that I can ask for.
“The mental aspect and also the physical aspect of playing against these bigger and more experienced girls that they can take back to playing WABL is huge. The smallest player on my team for example goes and gets absolutely cleaned up by JJ, but gets straight back and goes to the foul line.
“She’s still an under 16s player and they are taking a battering from some WNBL-quality players, ex-WNBL players, girls from interstate and All-Stars in this league. But they are just going about their game in the right way and it’s better for them to cop it now than in five or so years’ time get beaten down like this when they are experienced.”
The evening’s action began with the women’s contest and after scores were tied at 2-2, the Redbacks took over beginning with a triple from Bri Bailey. She added another soon after to make it 12-2 after four minutes.
Former Redback Bianca Donovan did hit a triple of her own to try and steady the Slammers, but Maddie Allen then scored inside out of a timeout and then heading towards quarter-time Ella Thornton-Elliott drained a triple to put the home team up 17.
Chanah Crugnale made it 19 and the Redbacks went on to lead 35-10 by the end of the first.
Brooke Malone opened the second period knocking down a three and then after Ebony Bilcich scored for the Slammers, the Redbacks went on a 19-0 run to see them lead 57-12 before a steadying bucket for the visitors from Zaya Black.
However, the Redbacks responded with the last six points of the quarter to up 29 to four for the period to lead 64-14 by half-time.
From there, the Redbacks cruised to the victory with another 24 points to 11 in the third quarter, and 23 to nine in the fourth to end up winning 111-34 and to improve to 5-2 on the season.
That now sets up a tantalising match up on Sunday for the Redbacks women at Warwick Stadium against a Warwick Senators team holding a 3-1 record after beating the Cockburn Cougars on Friday night.
There was plenty to like from the performance of the Redbacks with the coaching job done by Michelle Fletcher for the game.
Shenae Hartree ended up top-scoring with 16 points, eight rebounds, four blocks, three assists and two steals while Jess Jakens had another 15 points, four boards and three assists while only playing 19 minutes.
Bri Bailey put up 14 points as well with Ella Thornton-Elliott contributing 14 points, five rebounds and three steals, Brooke Malone 14 points and nine boards, and Maddie Allen 11 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists in a stunning triple-double racked up in under 21 minutes.
Chanah Crugnale also scored nine points, three rebounds and two steals for the Redbacks, Denielle Lipscombe seven points, eight rebounds and four assists, Brooke Rebel six points and five boards, Nakia Bowen two points, two rebounds and two assists, Mckayhla Pomare two points and two assists, and Sarah Allen one point, two rebounds and a steal.
But for the Slammers, Ebony Bilcich produced 11 points and four rebounds. All the more impressive considering she played a WAFL Women’s game earlier in the day for Peel Thunder.
Bianca Donovan added seven points, Zaya Black six points and four rebounds, and Catherine Waycott five points, four boards and two steals.
For Grover with the Slammers though, this West Coast Classic was never going to be judged by wins and losses – it’s all about the great benefits coming from giving these young players the chance to fast track their development.
“We are looking at this tournament as nothing more than development for us. We may go 0-11, I hope not, but that doesn’t really matter to me,” Grover said.
“What does matter is that we have the kids in the program gaining the experience and knowledge from playing at this level to take into the years to come. It’s never been about the results for me in the West Coast Classic and we’ve been beaten twice by near on 70 points, but I simply don’t care.
“I care that these kids are getting out there and playing their hardest, getting their skills up and taking the knocks and hard hits from experienced, quality players.
“They are then so much better when they go into their WABL games with the knowledge and experience that they’ve gained, and we are starting to see some results as well at WABL level as a result.
“We are seeing some progression in our 18s and 16s teams, and we have a good bunch of girls down in the under-14s too that Darren is coaching too so that’s the next wave that is coming through. It won’t be long before we starting seeing the benefits of what we are doing now at SBL level.”
The big Saturday night loss to the Redbacks wasn’t totally unexpected for the Slammers given they had thrown everything into the game the previous night against the Lightning and the fact that they don’t have the same strength in numbers for road games as they do at home.
That even includes the coaching staff with Grover not having an assistant coach for the night, but still he can’t be unhappy with what he’s seeing after the competitive efforts they had just put in previously against Lakeside and Perry Lakes.
“We even had a good week previously against Perry Lakes and I said to the girls that a good indication to how well you are playing is how the opposition coach reacts, and there were a few times there when Blair wasn’t overly happy with what’s going,” he said.
“I told our girls that it was an indication of how well we’re doing so take some positives out of that.
“Then last night, I was super happy walking out after getting the margin under 20 against a team that has a player who should be in the WNBL, a couple of girls who have been in a WNBL program and a bunch of youngsters who have been there in the under 12s and have grown up living the Lakeside mantra.
“To get that under 20 for us was huge and we’ll take the help from Bailo and Fieldo when we can get it, but that’s more of a numbers thing to ensure we have enough players. I can’t be happier than I am right now because these kids are working hard, they’re not dropping their heads and they are fighting hard every week.”
Grover without question has seen everything that has happened over the last six months help his development and growth as a coach as well, but really his focus is on being the person to help speed up the development of his largely teenage group to set the Slammers up for a successful future.
“When we looked at this West Coast Classic, we saw it as a chance for us inexperienced coaches to use it as a development year and I’m sure for other new coaches like Tyrone and Keegan that they will be using it as something similar,” Grover said.
“It really is a free hit and I learned a lot from last year when we had a pretty decent season, but I felt like there was a lot of aspects of my coaching to improve on and I made a big focus in the off-season to do that.
“I thought I did a pretty good job of it in pre-season up until a week out from our first game when everything went down the drain.
“Now this is a development opportunity for me to grow the younger kids and I haven’t had that experience before. Whilst I’m developing my own skills further and further, it’s a good chance to develop the younger kids as well and take on a different aspect of coaching.”
WEST COAST CLASSIC 2020 – WOMEN
South West Slammers 58 lost to Lakeside Lightning 77
Cockburn Cougars 83 lost to Warwick Senators 90
East Perth Eagles 72 lost to Willetton Tigers 78
Perry Lakes Hawks 84 defeated Rockingham Flames 73
Perth Redbacks 111 defeated South West Slammers 34
Rockingham Flames 86 defeated Willetton Tigers 79
Kalamunda Eastern Suns 90 defeated Cockburn Cougars 53
Warwick Senators v Perth Redbacks – Warwick Stadium 12.00pm