THE Warwick Senators are the hottest team in the West Coast Classic ahead of another double-header weekend in Round 8 with coach Mike Ellis not hiding from the fact he wants his team to win the competition.
The Senators have been a mainstay of the SBL competition but so far the cupboard is empty in terms of championship trophies so you can understand why Ellis wants to start changing that even if it isn’t an official SBL season but the West Coast Classic in 2020.
Warwick opened the season with a loss to the Perry Lakes Hawks, but have since beaten the Giants, Slammers, Wolves, Buccs, Cougars, Redbacks, Magic, Tigers and Eastern Suns to be on a nine-game winning streak and sitting atop the standings with two rounds to go.
There is a lot to like about what Ellis is doing with his squad as well with them well led by his son Cody, Caleb Davis, Justin King, Ash Litterick, Wani Swaka Lo Buluk and the now healthy Corban Wroe.
But Jay Thwaites has been given more time than ever in his career and then youngsters George Pearl, Jarrod Hodge, Ethan Elliott, Isaac Campion and Alier Riak have been exciting.
The end result has so far been a 9-1 record but nothing is guaranteed yet for the Senators coming into a double-header this weekend on the road to both the East Perth Eagles on Friday and then the Lakeside Lightning on Saturday.
That’s a dangerous East Perth team led by Shaquille Maharaj and Kieran Berry who are impressing while Lakeside could very well be playing to keep their season alive on their home court on Friday night as well.
While the Senators have a definite eye on developing young players during the West Coast Classic, Ellis sees nothing wrong with aiming to win the whole thing either.
“I think if you are playing the game, you want to win it there’s no doubt about so yes we want to win this West Coast Classic,” Ellis said.
“I’ve actually taken this a lot more low key than what I normally do but in that game against Willetton I couldn’t sit down because I have bene trying to sit down and be more relaxed.
“But I had no choice to stand up in that game if I wanted to see but also the way we were playing I needed to stand up, and also it’s getting to the business end of the season.
“We definitely want to win it, there’s no doubt about that but it’s still with an eye on using our juniors and giving them that experience. What better experience than getting into playoffs and them getting to take part in finals.”
What has Ellis most excited about this Warwick Senators group he is working with in 2020 is just how competitive they are, and how much they are pushing themselves at training week after week.
There’s every chance that their practice sessions right now are as every bit as intense as some of the games they are playing on the weekends as the players in the squad fight to be part of the 12 players suiting up.
“It’s getting tough to work out who our final 12 is every week to be in honest, but it’s got easier in one respect because Alier has gone back to college so we’ve lost him and that’s a shame. He was a great, big, long body for us,” Ellis said.
“But our training sessions are tough. The second five pushes the hell out of the starting five and I’m not sure all teams can say that so it makes a big difference.
“It makes for some good training sessions and sometimes I just let them go, and they carry on like pork chops to each other and there’s some serious crap being spoken out there.
“The good thing about it for me as well is that the young kids that I’ve got coming off the bench that I’ve been playing have been doing a great job for us.”
As well as the Eagles and Senators doing battle on Friday night, the Mandurah Magic are at home to the Rockingham Flames.
Rockingham might be just about of the finals hunt, but they are playing some good basketball led by Jackson Hussey, Ryan Godfrey and Travis Durnin.
Then also on Friday evening, the Perry Lakes Hawks will be hosting the Kalamunda Eastern Suns.
The Suns will throw everything at causing the upset but the Hawks can all but lock away a top two finish in the West Coast Classic with a win on their home floor to open Round 8.
Then lastly on Friday night could very well be almost an elimination final early between the Joondalup Wolves and Lakeside Lightning at HBF Arena.
The Wolfpack started the West Coast Classic on fire winning the opening four matches but they have now lost three of their past six to only be clinging to fourth position at 7-3 heading into this weekend.
They have also lost Lee Roberts for the rest of the competition too while the Lightning have had some mixed form as well to go in with never having a settled line-up.
They appear to be without Corey Shervill and Rowan Mackenzie the rest of the way, but have regained Ben Lee, Jay Bowie and Jack Isenbarger but they need to keep winning after losses to the Giants and Eagles the past two weeks.
The Lightning enter this weekend just outside the top four at 7-3 so they can stay in the top two hunt with two wins or can fall out of finals contention with two losses.
The other matches on Saturday begins with an afternoon fixture in Geraldton with the Buccaneers hosting the Willetton Tigers at Active West Stadium from 2pm.
The Tigers could still rue their loss at home to the Warwick Senators last Friday after being up 12 midway through the third quarter, but they can still keep their slim finals hopes alive with a win on the road on Saturday.
It won’t be easy against Mat Wundenberg, Aaron Ralph, Carter Cook, Brayden Inger and company from the Buccs though.
The Goldfields Giants also return home to Kalgoorlie to host the Perth Redbacks at Niels Hansen Basketball Stadium in another enthralling contest.
The Giants have now won four games in-a-row after beating the Slammers and Magic on the road last weekend while they are still undefeated on their home floor during the West Coast Classic.
Another win on Saturday night and the Giants would keep their small finals hopes alive while it will be a tough challenge against a Redbacks team now sitting on an 8-3 record having now won six of their past seven matches.
A win for the Redbacks and they go a long way to securing a finals berth too so there’s plenty on the line for both teams in this contest.
The South West Slammers make their only appearance of the weekend at Eaton Recreation Centre on Saturday night but they are in for a good test playing host to a Joondalup Wolves team who will be coming off a crucial clash with Lakeside the previous evening.
Then as well as the Lightning playing the Senators on Saturday night at Lakeside, the Cockburn Cougars are at home to the Mandurah Magic at Wally Hagan Stadium.
While a finals spot isn’t available, seeing the likes of potentially Luke Travers and Gavin Field from Cockburn go up against Tom Atkinson and Josh Hunt from the Magic will be a good show.
WEST COAST CLASSIC 2020 – MEN
Mandurah Magic v Rockingham Flames – Mandurah Aquatic and Recreation Centre 8.30pm
Perry Lakes Hawks v Kalamunda Eastern Suns – Bendat Basketball Centre 8.30pm
East Perth Eagles v Warwick Senators – Herb Graham Recreation Centre 8.30pm
Joondalup Wolves v Lakeside Lightning – HBF Arena 8.30pm
Geraldton Buccaneers v Willetton Tigers – Active West Stadium 2.00pm
Goldfields Giants v Perth Redbacks – Niels Hansen Basketball Stadium 7.00pm
South West Slammers v Joondalup Wolves – Eaton Recreation Centre 7.00pm
Lakeside Lightning v Warwick Senators – Lakeside Recreation Centre 7.00pm
Cockburn Cougars v Mandurah Magic – Wally Hagan Stadium 7.00pm