Kirsty Whitfield is proud to be leading the Cockburn Cougars in the final season of a career she’s tremendously proud of approaching 200 games, and feels that 2023 might be the best chance too for that elusive championship.
Whitfield, then long before marrying into that surname with now husband Tom and being a Pitcher, began her SBL career at the Cougars as a 16-year-old back in 2008 and it’s been quite the ride to get to where she is now as the captain of the 2023 NBL1 West Cockburn team.
She has now made the decision that 2023 will be the last season of her career as well to cap off the journey to make it back from having two children to resume playing with the Cougars, but she hopes it could end with the ultimate success too.
WHAT THIS COUGARS TEAM CAN DO
Whitfield has been part of some impressive Cougars teams over her now 196-game playing career, but reaching a Grand Final or obviously winning a championship has so far eluded her.
However, the Cougars have been on the improve for several seasons now and were knocking on the door of a top four spot last season before a heartbreaking semi-final loss to the Willetton Tigers.
They have now started the 2023 winning by a combined 62 points at home to the Willetton Tigers and Rockingham Flames, and Whitfield is excited by what the Cougars team this season is going to be capable of.
“I think there’s still so much more that we can show as well,” Whitfield said.
“We’re only two games in and we’re already proving to be a big threat in the league, and I think the more time we get to practice together as a team and to go deeper into the season, it’s pretty exciting what I think this team can do.
“We have so many different versatile players with the starters but also coming off the bench with the young group. I think if any of the years, this is the one for us and I hope it is the one obviously.”
USING MOTIVATION FROM LAST YEAR
Looking back on that loss to Willetton and the pain Whitfield and her Cougars teammates felt has been used as extra spur to try to build on what they did achieve last year now in 2023.
“That loss was incredibly hurtful and it wasn’t until this season when we looked at scout for the Willetton game to start the season and we looked back on that film when you realised the hurt again,” she said.
“It did leave a big dent in the way we reflected on last season so it does mean a bit more to try to get back there again this year. We know we can definitely make top four and then from there my goal would be the Grand Final.”
LAST SEASON OF CAREER
Now that Whitfield has decided that her career will end at the end of the 2023 season no matter how it pans out for the Cougars, she has some mixed feelings about it but is comfortable with the decision.
“I guess there’s a bit of mixed emotions because it’s been a long career, and a great career where I’ve really enjoyed myself,” Whitfield said.
“I’ve felt so grateful that I’ve been able to return to basketball after having kids and knowing it’s my last year is quite emotional really just thinking about it.
“It’s emotional because this will be my last one but it’s also exciting because it allows me to just focus in on playing, and enjoying playing with the girls that I’m playing with right now.”
BEING THE CAPTAIN
When Whitfield started her career she had leaders like Fleur McIntyre to learn from and even in recent seasons still had veterans like Nicole Roberts, Haylee De Sousa and Jodee Sontay around to help in the leadership stakes.
However, this Cougars team of 2023 is significantly more youthful and Whitfield is proud to be the captain and provide what she can with her veteran leadership.
“I’m super proud but I’m also super grateful as well that I’ve been able to earn the respect the coaching staff but also the girls that I play with,” she said.
“There’s lots of other leaders within the group that I can lean on still, but I guess I’m really proud that I’ve been given the opportunity to do that. The season is actually super exciting and I think we’ve got some real amazing players so it’s awesome that I can be a leader for them, and also watch some of the young girls come through too.”
IMPORTANT ROLE ON COURT TOO
When you have the scoring punch with the likes of Steph Gorman, Sarah Mortensen and Jewel Williams out on the court with the presence of Jessie Edwards inside and with Patty Brossmann still to come, Whitfield knows that putting up big numbers isn’t her role on this Cougars team.
That doesn’t mean she can’t still potentially be as important as any other player on the court with being the cool and steady head, leading the way defensively and by being a playmaker to ensure those stars are getting the ball in the right spots.
It also doesn’t mean Whitfield can’t put up impressive numbers herself and flirting with a triple-double in last Thursday’s win against Rockingham with six points, seven rebounds and six assists is nothing to be sneezed at.
“I know that I’m not the star player out there and that I’m there to be a leader and to communicate with the girls on the floor,” Whitfield said.
“How great is it that I can dish the ball out and be surrounded by all these amazing shooters like Jewel, Steph, Sarah and then then there’s obviously Jessie inside.
“It’s great and I think this year Tyrone has done a great job recruiting some tough defensive players by bringing both Sarah and Steph in. That maybe filled a bit of a hole from last season so I think we are just building that chemistry, and it’s starting to show.”