A sold out crowd at Wally Hagan Stadium will greet the Cockburn Cougars in Saturday night’s qualifying final and while coach Tyrone Thwaites is proud of that support, he knows it guarantees nothing against a strong Rockingham Flames outfit.
The Cougars women of 2023 have already made history this NBL1 West season by claiming a first ever regular season championship and producing the best ever winning percentage for any Cockburn team dating back to 1989, ending up at 18-2.
That means the Cougars have earned home court advantage right through the playoffs beginning this Saturday night in a qualifying final against the Rockingham Flames at Wally Hagan Stadium.
It quickly sold out with the support for the Cougars enormous for the game which begins at 6.30pm with the winner to advance straight to a home preliminary final with the loser to be at home for a semi-final with another chance to get to a preliminary final.
Cougars coach Tyrone Thwaites couldn’t be more proud with the support his team is receiving as they continue to chase more history in 2023.
“It’s a really nice feeling and I think for me now that the prep is done for the week and the game’s here tomorrow, it sinks in a bit more how proud of our community I am,” Thwaites said.
“I know we’ve got a sold out game tomorrow night and it’s exciting our community gets behind our women’s program and have done for a number of years now.
“In a standalone game like tomorrow night, it’s hard to put into words right now how to sum up the support we get from our community, it’s going to be a whole lot of fun.”
Thwaites can’t fault his team’s preparation coming into Saturday’s qualifying final but he also knows they face a significant test from a Rockingham team who finished the regular season in fourth position with a 14-6 record.
The Flames come into the finals having won 14 of 17 games since losing the opening three matches of the season which included a 20-point loss at Wally Hagan Stadium to the Cougars.
However, that was right back on April 6 so plenty has changed since then and Thwaites is fully aware of the job ahead of his Cougars team up against a Flames outfit led by Casey Samuels, Mehryn Kraker and Tayah Burrows.
“Preparations have gone as well as they could have. We’re as prepared as we can be, we’ve done everything we can and now it’s about working our tails off on the night to reward ourselves for the position we’ve put ourselves in,” Thwaites said.
“Look, they’re a good team and they wouldn’t have finished in the top four if they weren’t. They are led by two really talented athletes in Mehryn Kraker and Casey Samuels, and obviously Tayah Burrows has had a very, very good year.
“I think she was a little bit stiff actually, to not make the All-NBL1 First Team. We know it’s going to be a challenge and we’ve rewarded ourselves by earning the home final but we’re not going to roll over on our home court because we know they’re too good of a team if we do that.”
There are going to be plenty of fascinating match ups in the game including the front court battles between Jessie Edwards and Patty Brossmann against Casey Samuels, Lisa Koop and Christina Boag.
You also have the supremely talented Sarah Mortensen and Mehryn Kraker who both were named to the All-First Team but it might very well be the battle of point guards Jewel Williams and Tayah Burrows that steals the show.
“It is going to be a lot of fun to watch that match up. Both are playing pretty good basketball at the moment and both have slightly different styles of play,” Thwaites said.
“Tayah’s been really good for Rocko at just getting her feet in the paint and generating advantages, but I know Jewel’s totally focused, probably more focussed than I have seen her in two years.
“We have said all along that a Jewel Williams playing the defence we want her to play helps us win a championship. We expect a totally focused Jewel tomorrow night, she’s up for the fight.”