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Chibba joins Cougars out to forget Lynx heartbreak

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It’s been quite the ride for Alex Ciabattoni over the past 15 months, but playing basketball as a new mother seems to agree with her after a standout Perth Lynx WNBL season and now a blistering NBL1 West start with the Cockburn Cougars.

When Ciabattoni first fell pregnant and then gave birth to Elijah in January of last year, she had no idea if she would even play basketball at a high level again, let alone now be playing at the stunning level that she is.

Ciabattoni took on the head coach role at the South West Slammers last season in the NBL1 West, but the itch to get back playing got stronger as she was physically feeling better.

She hit the court at times while coaching during the 2023 season and reconnected with Lynx coach Ryan Petrik after they also worked together as player-coach for a championship back at the Rockingham Flames.

Ciabattoni ended up being a crucial part of the Lynx’s run all the way to the WNBL Grand Final as part of the back court alongside MVP candidate Aari McDonald along with Miela Goodchild and her new Cougars NBL1 teammate Steph Gorman.

It was some of the best basketball that Ciabattoni had played in the WNBL and she brought that right into her first appearance with the Cougars last Friday night in the win against the Slammers on Friday.

Ciabattoni finished with 26 points, four rebounds and two assists to have an immediate impact in her first game in Cockburn colours.

She couldn’t be happier with how her time with the Cougars started and forming a potent back court with Jewel Williams who also had 23 points, seven rebounds and three assists is another thing Ciabattoni is already enjoying.

“It was great to be back on court with the girls! It was such a great environment and all the girls are such hard workers which is great,” Ciabattoni said.

“I love Jewel and getting to play with her again was a huge part of me going to Cockburn. She is such a great point guard and leader so it’s so much fun getting to share the court with her again.”

It’s funny how things work and Ciabattoni’s first game with the Cougars just happened to be against the team she not only played with last season, but also coached.

It was also at the old home floor at Eaton Recreation Centre and Ciabattoni actually found it hard playing against a group she had such a connection to.

“It was actually really nice getting to play in Bunbury, I love those girls and it was such an honour to coach them last season,” she said.

“It did make it hard to play against them and to focus on my game.”

Coming up against the Cougars last season and seeing them go on to make history by winning the championship, Ciabattoni looked on in admiration of what they were doing.

Then when the opportunity came up for her to join the Cougars in their championship defence in 2024, she thought it was too good of an opportunity to turn down.

“The club feels like a giant family so it was a no brainer for me to sign with them,” Ciabattoni said.

“Watching them last year their style of play was exciting and the girls played so hard so it seemed like such an exciting opportunity to join them.

“I love the program they are building there so to get to be a part of it is exciting.”

Ciabattoni also can’t help but be excited by what this Cougars team is going to be capable of and will only keep getting better as they get closer to full strength.

Cockburn has already won the first two games of the season even with Steph Gorman and import pair Maria Blazejewski and Daniel Raber yet to play and Ciabattoni herself only playing the one game to date.

Considering that and how well they are playing already without three key players and with young stars Amelia Corasaniti and Kinley Paterson also currently away while representing Western Australia, Ciabattoni can’t help but be excited.

“Absolutely! Seeing the amount of talent we have is exciting,” she said.

“But even getting to see how hard everyone works and challenges each other while we wait for the imports is great and is creating such a competitive training environment.”

While the last WNBL season was mighty impressive with the high level Ciabattoni was able to get back to playing at and the big role she ended up playing from the team, the wounds of how it ended are still raw.

The Lynx did a remarkable job just to qualify for the finals in the first place but then beat the defending champion Townsville Fire in two games of the semi finals to set up a Grand Final match up with the Southside Flyers.

Perth then delivered a blistering Game 1 performance in Melbourne setting up the chance to secure a championship at home in Game 2, and the Lynx went ever so close to doing that.

It ended up in a heartbreaking loss with a shot on the buzzer from Mercedes Russell and then the Flyers secured the championship and Ciabattoni will need some more time to get over it.

“Honestly, I still haven’t recovered,” Ciabattoni said.

“It is always great to make a grand final series and such an incredible effort and achievement but to lose the way we did was heartbreaking and is definitely motivation for this season.”

While it was a heartbreaking way to lose a second Grand Final series in three years in such a fashion, for Ciabattoni to be able to play such a key role on the team with the season only starting 10 months after she became a mother is something she deserves to be proud of.

“Reflecting on last season I was pretty happy with my personal progress,” she said.

“The start of the season was rough and I struggled to find my feet so I really wasn’t sure what to expect from the season.

“But about halfway through I started to find my feet again and felt like I continued to improve each week.

“Without the support of the Lynx staff and Ryan there’s no way I would have been able to get back in shape and impact the game as much as I was able to.”

Aside from basketball, Ciabattoni is now 15 months into life as a mother to her son Elijah and it has been every bit the lifechanging experience you imagine it would be.

“It’s honestly been great,” Ciabattoni said.

“I am getting used to being a new level of tired but I am loving it. Elijah is such a fun and loving kid and being his mum is by far the best and most rewarding thing I have done.”

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