AS the West Coast Classic has unfolded it has become a bigger mystery why Ash Isenbarger and Stacey Barr haven’t found WNBL homes for the upcoming season, and while one of them now has, they couldn’t be separated in SBL Shootaround’s Player of the Year voting.
With Nes’eya Williams, Jessie Edwards, Nat Burton, Maddie Allen, Christina Boag and Tayah Burrows among those to have signed to play in the upcoming 2020/21 WNBL season who have played in the West Coast Classic, it remained a great mystery why Barr and Isenbarger continued to be on the outside.
Even the Perth Lynx coaching staff of Ryan Petrik, Deanna Black and Keegan Crawford were all part of the West Coast Classic while former SBL stars like Carly Boag, Ali Schwagmeyer-Belger, Jennie Rintala, Lauren Mansfield and Sami Whitcomb were getting snapped up too.
But all that Barr and Isenbarger could worry about is continuing to deliver for the Warwick Senators and Lakeside Lightning respectively in the West Coast Classic which has popped up in place of the SBL in 2020, and they sure have done that in spades.
For the nine rounds of the West Coast Classic, SBL Shootaround cast their votes for their Bassett-Scarfe Realty Player of the Year Award which ended up with Barr and Isenbarger locked on six votes apiece.
The players below them highlight the quality of the competition with the likes of Jessie Edwards, Kayla Steindl, Tayah Burrows, Nat Burton, Maddie Allen, Jess Jakens, Christina Boag, Jewel Williams and Mackenzie Clinch-Hoycard receiving votes.
That means that the SBL Shootaround has left it to their listeners to decide who will be their Player of the Year for the West Coast Classic by checking them out on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, and casting your vote.
CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO LATEST SBL SHOOTAROUND WITH FULL WRAP OF WEST COAST CLASSIC WITH FINALS PREVIEW, ROUND 9 WANDERING DISTILLERY PLAYER OF THE WEEK, UPDATE ON BASSETT-SCARFE REALTY PLAYER OF THE YEAR, AND SPECIAL GUEST ALI SCHWAGMEYER-BELGER
Coming off winning the MVP award in the SBL in 2019 as part of a Senators team that reached the Grand Final, Barr has been outstanding again including putting up games of scoring 49 and 38 points along the way.
Over the course of the 11-game season for the Senators ahead of them hosting the Perry Lakes Hawks on Friday night in the semi finals at Warwick Stadium, Barr ended up averaging 23.9 points, 8.0 rebounds and 4.2 assists a game.
She did that while shooting an impressive 42 per cent from the field, 37 per cent from three-point land and 84 per cent from the free-throw line with the focus of the opposition defence firmly on her.
Barr, though, has accepted the fact that her chances at WNBL level might be beyond her and she has focused on the next phase of her life studying and working full-time which would make leaving Perth difficult right now.
“I guess it was something that I aspired to after my college career and fortunately I did get a contract with the Lynx, but it didn’t go as planned and obviously I was sitting behind some high quality players including Sami Whitcomb,” Barr told SBL Shootaround said.
“I didn’t really get to fully experience that with much court time and I went away to Melbourne after that to try and play NBL1 over there to see where it could take me, and that’s when I ended up in Europe instead of a WNBL team.
“Now I’m just kind of ready for the next phase of my life and I’m enjoying playing in the SBL and I think that will be essentially it for me while I’m focusing on my new career.”
Speaking of that new career, Barr is ready to fully embrace being a teacher but obviously should a WNBL club come calling it would give her something to think about.
“Just with the study I have committed for two years and I’ve got to be in Perth for that, and I’m a year into that now so I will definitely still be in Perth next year to study,” Barr said.
“I could look at other options after that, but I’ll be pushing almost 30 by then so it will just depend on the rest of my life at that point to see if basketball is something I want to aspire to at a higher level or if I want to focus on my teaching career.
“I’m a high school teacher and am doing a program called Teach for Australia where they place you in a low socio-economical school while studying a master’s full-time at the same time.”
Meanwhile, Isenbarger’s season might not continue into the finals with Lakeside narrowly missing out on qualifying, but she was remarkably consistent for the Lightning ending up averaging 20.2 points and 11.4 rebounds while shooting 53 per cent from the floor and 77 per cent at the stripe.
Isenbarger had already well and truly proven in her time at the Lynx and Boomers she could do well in the WNBL, and she wasn’t sure why she found herself on the outside of the league before signing at the Lynx this week.
While she had started up her weddings and events photography business, she certainly remained hopeful of getting back to the WNBL too.
“Obviously I’m not really sure what was going to happen with the WNBL. I think it’s been a combination where I wanted to really actively choose whether I did or didn’t play, but at the same time maybe I didn’t make it clear enough that it was something I wanted to do,” Isenbarger said.
“But I do also have weddings booked at the end of the year so what it will look like working in with that I’m not too sure. Initially at the end of last SBL season I signed again with Lakeside and Jack and I were hoping to play somewhere in Europe potentially.
“But by the time it sunk in that those plans were changing I might have missed the boat on the WNBL. It is something I’d love to do again but at the same time I feel content potentially if I don’t play this season if it worked out that way. But there might still be an opportunity there so hopefully there’s still time.”
Barr has now produced a remarkable 18 months of basketball playing with the Warwick Senators even when taking into consideration the delayed start to action in 2020 thanks to COVID-19.
She was the standout MVP winner in 2019 in her first season with the Senators and now would be right in the mix for such an award in the West Coast Classic, and she is definitely feeling comfortable with where her game is at.
“The break definitely put a bit of a spanner in the works and it was kind of hard to come back from that, but I guess the break was nice and it was a forced break so it was the longest I’ve probably gone without basketball,” Barr said.
“So that almost reset things and I think the last 18 months has been good for me performance-wise. My college career as well was pretty successful and I was consistent there but it’s a bit of a different game and role, but I feel like I’ve been playing pretty well.
“And being my third season now here, this last 18 months has definitely been better than my first season or two over here in Perth.”
As for the bigger picture, Barr both sees Perth as being her long-time home now and she would love nothing more than to play the rest of her state league career with the Senators.
“I do love Perth and I did try to go back to Melbourne for that year, but I found myself wanting to be back here in Perth,” Barr said.
“I just love the beach and being kind of close to everything in terms of the city and everything. It’s not as busy as Melbourne and I love it here in Perth, I’ve made some really good friends here and I think Perth is going to be home for me going forward.
“It has been fantastic at Warwick with all the support from the club. Obviously the times have been tough this year in losing people and having to send imports home, but hopefully by sticking by them in this type of climate they stick by me and I’m sure they will.
“I’ve really enjoyed the club, it has a real family vibe and it’s great seeing the young kids down at the games and we get some really good crowds. It’s awesome to see how involved everyone is and it has a real community feel. I hope that Warwick is home for me for the rest of my SBL journey.”
While it was a long wait between the Senators losing last year’s SBL Grand Final to the Rockingham Flames and the start of the West Coast Classic, they now have the chance to win the championship with two wins inside 24 hours this weekend.
“It was such a long wait between that Grand Final and then playing Round 1 this year, it was almost a whole year, so everyone is now excited about the finals,” Barr said.
“Having it jampacked into one weekend will make it pretty hectic, but we have a pretty new team and a lot of these girls either weren’t with our team or weren’t playing a role as big.
“It’s a little bit different but if we keep playing the way we have been playing then I think we’ll be a big shot at winning this championship.”
As for Isenbarger, after the way her 2018/19 WNBL season at the Melbourne Boomers didn’t quite go as she hoped and then Lakeside finished up in the semi finals of the last SBL season, she wasn’t sure where to head in her basketball career.
She didn’t plan on not playing either in the WNBL or in Europe, but that’s the way it panned out and add in the COVID-19 break, and she feels that the break might have actually been the best thing in the long run for her basketball.
“It’s been a really fun season and my previous WNBL seasons were really rewarding and there was a lot of growth, but they were also really challenging,” Isenbarger said.
“I kind of lost my motivation after that and almost lost some of my enjoyment in playing the game, and then didn’t play in the last WNBL season and then there was Coronavirus so it has been quite a big break.
“I actually found having that time off has ignited my love of the game as well and maybe that’s translating to on the court because I was really enjoying my coaches and team this year.
“There was just something different about this season, maybe it was less pressure on myself I’m not sure, but things off the court are going well and that’s just creating a real enjoyment on the court too.”
Having gone through everything with husband and fellow Lakeside player Jack is something that Isenbarger is happy about as well.
They were going to explore Europe together, but that didn’t quite happen and instead they got to spend plenty more time together than they ever imagined thanks to COVID-19.
“It was very unexpected with everything that happened to delay the season, but something I have been learning about is that the best players or people in their business aren’t necessarily the best naturally talented people but it’s the ones who are best at adapting,” Isenbarger said.
“Obviously Jack and I are newly married and are figuring that out in our first year, and we are still adapting to a new way of living. Then this season wasn’t going to plan so far but we were trying to work through that and it was challenging at times, and there were days you’d be a bit of a couch potato.
“But I just tried to be consistent in being active in whatever way that was and staying mentally sharp so that whenever the call came for the SBL or WCC or whatever it was, we’d be ready to get back into it.
“We were pretty ready to play as well both of us by then and it was cool that we got to experience that together I guess, and help each other through it and keep each other accountable.
“The actual adjusting to being home together all the time was the easy part, the hardest part now because we got used to that has been adjusting to things picking up again and realising we need to actively carve out time in our schedules to hang out with one another.”
As for Lakeside, Isenbarger couldn’t be happier for that to be her home in terms of church, community and basketball for both her and Jack.
“I actually started playing at Lakeside when I was seven so I grew up playing domestic there and had my dad coaching when things were a little less serious. I then started playing WABL and went into SBL,” Isenbarger said.
“Lakeside for me is more than just about the basketball. I attend church there and I have lots of community around, and I love that all those different aspects of life with the SBL, junior clubs and the church side is all one big community. For me that is priceless and I don’t think anywhere else is like that.”