THEY appeared the team to beat when the West Coast Classic started in place of the SBL in 2020 and they lived up to those expectations with a dominant finals weekend as the Joondalup Wolves won Saturday night’s Grand Final over the Perry Lakes Hawks 72-54.
The cancellation of the SBL season for 2020 thanks to COVID-19 and then ultimately the creation of the West Coast Classic in its place had different levels of impact on each club, but overall the level of competition across the nine rounds was outstanding.
That set the stage for a terrific finals weekend for which the top four teams qualified and it was the Joondalup Wolves and Perry Lakes Hawks who booked their spots in the Grand Final with semi-finals on Friday night against the Rockingham Flames and Warwick Senators respectively.
That set up a Grand Final on Saturday night at Bendat Basketball Centre between two teams in hot form coming off those semi-final victories 24 hours earlier, but the Wolves had been favourites the entire West Coast Classic and they lived up to that tag in the Grand Final.
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The Lady Wolfpack opened up an impressive lead early in the game and were able to maintain that throughout the evening despite the best efforts of Sydney Uni Flames WNBL signing and Olympian Nat Burton for the Hawks.
It was again the quality of the depth of the Wolves that stood out as they legitimately had two outstanding groups of five that coach Charles Nix could call upon.
They would go on to lead by as much as 22 points during the game ended up prevailing 72-54 to claim the West Coast Classic championship for 2020.
It was a fascinating battle of the WNBL quality bigs all night and Kayla Steindl ended up being named Grand Final MVP for her performance for the Wolves made up of 13 points, 12 rebounds and two assists.
Joondalup had so many strong contributors as has become their trademark this season and Nes’eya Williams is another of their Perth Lynx players who had a big impact with 11 points, four steals, three rebounds and two blocks.
Mikayla Pirini also finished with 11 points, Isabelle Miotti 11 points, four rebounds and four assists, Alix Hayward 10 points and Amber Land seven points, eight rebounds and two steals.
Nat Burton battled hard against the tide all night for Perry Lakes ending up with 14 points and seven rebounds as she now heads off to Sydney to join the Flames.
Morgan Ballantyne finished with eight points as well for the Hawks while Madi Dennis contributed six points and five rebounds, Talietha Valentine six points, Millie McCarthy five points and two assists, and Sarah Donovan five points and six rebounds.
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It’s hard to not be happy for Wolves coach Charles Nix. After coach Men’s teams at Perry Lakes and the South West Slammers to playoff runs, and now the last two years in the Women’s SBL at the Perth Redbacks and the Wolves, he was rightfully delighted after the win.
“Honestly it feels surreal right now. You go through your whole career and there’s ups and downs, and I’ve been fortunate enough to be on the verge a few times and then have some unlucky breaks or things to just happen,” Nix said.
“For us to be able to come out and execute the way we did, and for me to be in the fourth quarter and realise you are in the position to possibly win it, you can actually enjoy the experience. It’s unreal, it’s surreal and for me I’m a little lost for words which is rare for me.”
Nix was especially happy to share in the championship with the likes of Steindl, Pirini, Williams and Hayward who he previously coached at the Redbacks, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t mean equally as much to also celebrate with the likes of Land, Denehey and Miotti either.
“I think for ladies like Alix, Amber and even Kayla, they provided themselves with this opportunity by the work that they put in,” Nix said.
“But they have been waiting a while for success like this and we hadn’t really addressed that and focus on the process.
“But when you reflect on it and be able to bring them success, and for girls I’ve spent a lot of time with like Nes’eya Williams, Mikayla Pirini, Alix Hayward and Kayla Steindl who came with me to the Wolves it’s special.
“No more special than anyone else obviously, but to go through what we did previously and then last year with some of the things that happened, it’s special to now achieve this.”
The Lady Wolfpack made a flying start to the Grand Final with Mikayla Pirini scoring first with Georgia Denehey and Kayla Steindl also hitting before Nes’eya Williams connected from deep to make it 9-0.
It took 17-year-old Millie McCarthy to open the scoring for Perry Lakes but the Wolves remained in control and led 15-8 by quarter-time thanks to five quick points to veteran Alix Hayward.
A couple of triples for Joondalup from Pirini and Williams during the second quarter kept their lead around the double-digit mark. The Hawks did get within nine just before half-time with a Morgan Ballantyne three-point ball, but the Wolves went in leading 31-20 at the break with a bucket from Amber Land.
The lead was then out to 15 to start the second half but two three-pointers from Madi Dennis at least kept Perry Lakes within striking distance.
Williams drained another three just before three quarter-time to stretch the lead to 17 but the Hawks stayed close enough thanks to a three-pointer from Kate Williams and an and-one to Sarah Donovan heading into the fourth.
Any chance of a fightback was snuffed out to start the last quarter as the Wolves hit the opening five points. Nat Burton kept fighting valiantly for Perry Lakes but when Pirini nailed another three ball, they were up 20 and it was celebration time.
Hayward capped off her night with an and-one play, Isabelle Miotti came back on and drained a triple and the Wolves celebrated the 18-point triumph.
The Men’s Grand Final in the West Coast Classic will now take place on Sunday night from 7pm between the Warwick Senators and Perry Lakes Hawks.
WOMEN’S WEST COAST CLASSIC GRAND FINAL 2020
JOONDALUP WOLVES 72 (Kayla Steindl 13, Isabelle Miotti 11, Mikayla Pirini 11, Nes’eya Williams 11)
PERRY LAKES HAWKS 54 (Nat Burton 14, Morgan Ballantyne 8)
GRAND FINAL MVP: Kayla Steindl (Joondalup Wolves)