Roy Ward talks to Bendigo Lady Braves’ Kelly Wilson and covers this week’s big plays as well as the media wrap-up.
Bendigo Lady Braves have had enough interruptions to their 2015 campaign to cover a couple of seasons.
Injuries and national selection have seen players and coach Jonathan Goodman taken away from the side for various games.
But the group’s pride remains no matter who is wearing their uniforms and that pride was in full shot as the team travelled to Tasmania for road games against championship contenders Hobart Lady Chargers and Launceston Tornadoes on Friday and Saturday night.
With Bernie Harrower coaching due to Goodman assistant-coaching the Gems at the world championships and forward Steph Bairstow out with a foot injury – the Braves put faith into senior players with Kelly Wilson, Elyse Penaluna, Kerryn Harrington and Stacia Robertson all playing the full 40 minutes in their 66-64 win over Hobart.
Then the Braves faced Launceston Tornadoes, the side who had beat them at home the previous weekend.
On that occasion the Tornadoes turned on a 29-4 first quarter, a lead which doomed the Braves and forced them into an uncomfortable week leading into the trip.
The Tornadoes have a two-win lead over the Braves on the SEABL South Conference ladder, further making their return clash in Launceston a vital game.
Kelly Wilson said her side knew they had to come back at the Tornadoes.
“They had done a number on us the week before and that made us reflect on how we are going,” Wilson said.
“They had outscored us by 25 points in the first quarter so it was pleasantly surprising we could turn it around so quickly.”
The Braves have been fortunate they could add Penaluna to their team after she had spent much of the season playing with Basketball Australia’s Centre of Excellence side which prepared her for the Opals upcoming Olympic qualifiers.
She has joined the Braves in recent weeks and made a big difference.
“We have still been adjusting to having her back,” Wilson said.
“But it’s amazing when you can get a 6’5 player who is as talented as Elyse – she is a huge target and makes a difference offensively and defensively.
“We were very small at the start of the season and played a lot of guards so it’s a huge change as we were used to having a typical “five” like Elyse or Gabe Richards.”
Penaluna was dominant over the road trip with double-doubles in both games while Wilson’s 25 points against the Tornadoes set the pace for the Braves in their 80-53 thumping.
They still need more wins to pass Launceston but the confidence gained from the weekend cannot be denied.
The Braves will have more interruptions in the next few weeks with Wilson, Penaluna and Tessa Lavey all named in Opals’ coach Brendan Joyce’s 16-player squad for a three-game series against Japan next week.
Joyce will then need to pick a 12-player squad for the Rio Olympic qualifiers against New Zealand on August 15 and 17.
All three Braves will make strong claims for the Opals’ side but Wilson said her team was used to change now and would adapt and stay competitive.
“I think we all kind of get used to it because we have had so many interruptions or players out hurt,” Wilson said.
“I think we are still to play a game with our full squad because Tessa has been away at the World Uni Games.”
Having the chance to continue to play with the Opals is something Wilson is excited about and she looks forward to the Japan series then whatever comes after.
The three are expected to miss the Braves’ clash against Canberra Capitals Academy at Bendigo Stadium on Saturday night but Wilson believes they should be right for the next round.
“We will miss this weekend but it’s only one game – when it comes to getting called up by the Opals, there isn’t a better reason to miss a game,” Wilson said.
“We only came back from the Opals European tour a few weeks ago and I’m pretty excited about the campaign coming up and playing Japan.”
With the Braves’ side coming together for the run to the playoffs, they suddenly look like the team no one wants to face in the semi-finals.
Wilson said the team was grateful they could call on a coach of Harrower’s experience to handle the side while Goodman was away.
“We are lucky to have someone of Bernie’s calibre around to help out – he coached me with the Spirit for the last six years and I have great respect for him so he has slotted in extremely well,” Wilson said.
Harrower has admittedly struggled adjusting to coaching in winter again after so many summers in the WNBL, a recent Bendigo Advertiser picture showed Harrower wearing several layers of clothing under his Braves’ jacket.
“We all had so many layers on in Hobart on the weekend, I know it can get cold in Bendigo but it was so bad in Hobart I felt like I didn’t get warm until late last quarter and I had played every minute of the game,” Wilson said.
“It’s been strange to see Bernie wearing so many layers but it can get pretty cold out on the old Bendigo court six at night.”
*Frankston Blues star Kelly Bowen again filled the stat-sheet with 24 points, 14 rebounds, nine assists and five steals against Albury-Wodonga then backed up with 24 points, 10 rebounds against Sandringham on Saturday night.
*Blues point guard Kate Gaze showed her shooting was on-song against the Sabres with 28 points and six assists against Sandringham.
*Sabres import Brittany Smart was outstanding for her side with 33 points against Frankston.
*Lady Bandits import Kristina Baltic had a solid game against Frankston with 22 points and 14 rebounds. She also had 22 points, 12 rebounds and four steals against Kilsyth.
*Dandenong’s Clare Papavs was again making shots with 21 points and 10 boards against Nunawading.
*Cobras trio Steph Cumming (32 points), Sarah Parsons (23) and Cassandra Sant (21) all found the basket against the Lady Bandits.
*Bendigo’s Kelly Wilson had 25 points against Launceston while Stacia Robertson added 21 points and 13 rebounds.
SEABL media links
*Leader’s Megan Hustwaite (@MeganHustwaite) reports on Nunawading’s weekend. Report: http://www.heraldsun.com.au/leader/sport/nunawading-spectres-outworked-by-dandenong-rangers-in-seabl-defeat/story-fnglemo4-1227447847844
*Border Mail’s Steve Smith (@Stevesmithffx) reports on Teyla Evans struggling with frost bite after over-icing her ankle. Report: http://www.bordermail.com.au/story/3215050/lady-bandits-absences-will-bite/?cs=10
*The Examiner’s James Brady reports on the Tornadoes’ loss to Bendigo. Report, pictures: http://www.examiner.com.au/story/3220198/loss-to-braves-takes-wind-out-of-torns-sails/?cs=96
*Bendigo Advertiser’s Nathan Dole reports on the Lady Braves win over Launceston. Report: http://www.bendigoadvertiser.com.au/story/3220461/penaluna-leads-way-in-back-to-back-wins/?cs=81
*Bendigo Advertiser also captured some action pictures of a very well-known SEABL and WNBL star playing local netball this past weekend. Picture gallery: http://www.bendigoadvertiser.com.au/story/3220115/golden-square-v-gisborne-netball-photos/?cs=81#slide=1
*Ballarat Courtier’s Melanie Whelan (@Melanie_Whelan) reports the Rush haven’t had the best season but their Youth League side has made the finals. Report: http://www.thecourier.com.au/story/3220573/rush-youth-league-secures-spot-in-big-v-finals-series/?cs=63
*Basketball Australia reports coaching legend Jan Stirling will enter the FIBA hall of fame alongside Michael Jordan. Report: http://www.basketball.net.au/jan-stirling-set-fiba-hall-fame/
*BA also reports on the Opals’ squad headlined by Liz Cambage and Rachel Jarry. Story: http://www.basketball.net.au/big-names-return-opals-japan/
*The Age reported on BA COE player Alex Sharp’s decision to play for Wake Forest in US college basketball next year. Report: http://www.theage.com.au/sport/basketball/australian-gems-guard-alex-sharp-to-head-to-wake-forest-university-20150719-giehgj
*Sharp and the Gems have made an excellent start to their FIBA under-19 world championships in Russia. Follow the Gems via live stats or the live streams on You Tube. Stats, video: http://www.fiba.com/world/u19women/2015/fullschedule
Roy Ward (@rpjward) is a freelance sports writer who has covered the NBA, NBL, WNBL, SEABL and Big V during his career. He will be filing weekly columns on the SEABL men’s and women’s competitions during this season. For feedback or suggestions send Roy a tweet or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org