At the conclusion of the 2015 season, we look back on how the teams from Bendigo fared.
BENDIGO LADY BRAVES
Wins – 15
Losses – 7
Standing – 2nd South Conference
Post-Season Results – lost to Kilsyth (CF)
2013 result – 17 wins 7 losses, 1st South Conference
Strong recruiting in the off-season saw Bendigo load up with the deadliest point guard combination in the league in Tessa Lavey and Kelly Wilson while import Stacia Robertson was superb with 14 points and 10 rebounds per game before she cruelly missed the playoffs with a Round 18 injury. Arriving late, Elyse Penaluna (20.5 points, 12.5 boards) completed a strong starting five that helped carry the Lady Braves into a tenth straight playoff appearance. Their 9-2 road record was the equal-best in the league and they finished the regular season with eight straight wins.
Taking a high-calibre team into the Conference Final that included three members of the Opals squad, Bendigo will be disappointed in their loss to Kilsyth. Their 6-5 home record dashed any chance of finishing atop the East Conference and included disappointing losses to Sandringham and Launceston.
Not since the 2009 season in which she won the league MVP has Wilson averaged 20 points but her 20.4 per game placed her fourth in the competition for scoring while adding 5.3 rebounds and a league-high 6.2 assists. Improving her point production to 25.5 per game in the playoffs while shooting at 49%, her play in the back-court almost carried Bendigo into the Grand Final.
Loading up on Opals players was a dangerous tactic for Bendigo as Lavey played just seven games and Penaluna was present for just 11. They should look to keep their veterans in Jane Chalmers and Andrea Wilson to help along the next generation of Lady Braves while a similar forward import to LaSondra Barrett (2014) and Robertson (2015) will keep them in playoff contention once again.
One of those young point guards that will benefit greatly from the Bendigo veterans is Shelby Britten. She shot 50% from the field and showed an ability to hit from long range on 6-12 three-point shooting but having played just nine games in the past three seasons, a full year at SEABL level will be needed to see if Britten can take the next step.
GRADE – 8/10
Wins – 16
Losses – 8
Standing – 2nd South Conference
Post-Season Results – lost to Mt. Gambier (CF)
2013 result – 12 wins 14 losses, 6th South Conference
Bouncing back from a disappointing 2014, the recruitment of Tony Lewis and Grant Johnson were masterstrokes as they combined for 38 points and 18 rebounds per game. A six-game winning streak to finish the regular season saw them blow past N-W Tasmania for second spot while their 8-4 road record was the equal-second best in the competition.
Bendigo’s reliance on Lewis was found out in the playoffs as he tallied just 20 points in their Semi-Final and Conference Final losses. Although they finished second, their 1-6 record against Mt. Gambier and the Thunder with an average losing margin of 16 points was disappointing.
Aside from the stat-stuffers in Lewis and Johnson, Kevin Probert once again proved himself as one of the top point guards in the league with 9.7 points and 4.7 assists (fifth in the league). While scoring was not a requirement for him, his ability to take care of the ball was integral to Bendigo’s fluent offence as they recorded the fourth lowest amount of turnovers as a team.
Coach Ben Harvey was considering retirement before this year but the desire for a Championship as leader of the Braves saw him return. Will that fire still burn as bright after a second Conference Final loss in three years? If he does return, he will be looking to retain the services of Lewis and Johnson or fill their roles will similar offensive powerhouses while an aging list that sees six players with 100+ games experience and three over the 200 game threshold could be a concern.
Recruiting Jordan Vandenberg reaped certain benefits for Bendigo but it was Michael Vigor who took control under the rim with 12.7 points and 5.4 boards while averaging less than 25 minutes a game. He also showcased a developing three-point shot, a deadly weapon for the 206cm centre who should continue to improve as he enters his third season.