Suffering through four straight seasons without reaching the playoffs, a front court trio are putting the Launceston Tornadoes back into contention.
By Grant Richardson
In his first year as head coach of the Launceston Tornadoes, Reece Potter has come in with a clean slate.
“I tried to look at the situation with fresh eyes for a different perspective on how things could be done,” he said.
“I’ve been clear with the expectations from day one but I let the girls develop what goals they wanted and what they wanted the culture to be like. It’s a very player driven team and I just hold them accountable to that.”
The Tornadoes have not reached the playoffs since 2010 and have a 15-61 record from 2012-14. Almost halfway through the season, they look to have a side capable of turning the tide, especially in a dominant front court.
After a stellar debut season in which she recorded 16 double-doubles, Launceston grabbed Emilee Harmon from Albury-Wodonga while signing import Mikaela Ruef to join Ally Wilson in a three-prong forward attack.
Potter got his first look at Ruef as assistant coach for the Sydney Flames in the WNBL and cited her performance there as the reason he wanted to bring her into the Tornadoes system.
“Ruef is a winner everywhere she’s played; in high school and college and even in the pros she brings that winning mentality. On court, she provides really good leadership and experience, helping everyone get better at training every week and helping me get better as a coach.
Leading the league with 12.5 rebounds per game, Ruef also sits fourth for assists (four) while adding 15.5 points. Harmon has increased her scoring from last season to pace Launceston with 20 points per game and Wilson is averaging 18.6 points and 7.8 rebounds with 14 steals, fourth most in the competition.
Speaking about his front court trio, Potter could not be happier.
“They’ve been phenomenal, you can’t doubt any of them. They’re extremely hard workers and are willing to get better as well as make others betters. It’s definitely our strength, looking at the numbers, we win the points in the paint battle most weeks.”
Scoring 100 in a 20-point defeat of Sandringham in Round 1 was the perfect start to the year but the Tornadoes crashed back to Earth quickly with four straight losses.
“In getting a new team together, we struggled to finish games and have the trust and belief in each other. Our structures, especially defensively, were just not good enough at that time.”
That trust has grown in the past three weeks though, with four straight victories spanning Round 5-7. Last round’s defeat of Kilsyth showed the league just how dangerous the Tornadoes can be.
Combining for 50 points and 20 rebounds in the 88-76 win, Ruef and Wilson dominated at the offensive end while it was Harmon and Ruef’s defence that kept Kilsyth centre, Cassie Sant, to her lowest total of the season.
“Ruef was matched up with [Sant] for a large portion of the game but we ended up changing that in the second half and Harmon helped. The intensity we had on the ball and pressure on the pass made it tough to get it inside,” said Potter.
“That win over Kilsyth surprised a lot of people but it did not surprise anyone in our group. I spoke to the girls the night before; you can tell when people are ready to go, and they were ready to go.”
When asked whether it was a victory that could trigger the rest of Launceston’s season, Potter was optimistic but realistic.
““It will continue to build that confidence in our group. We think we are a good enough team to beat anyone but we also know if we don’t turn up we could lose to any team.”