The potential of the greatest month in the Cockburn Cougars women’s program begins on Sunday with the opportunity to win the Championship Women’s grand final against the Perry Lakes Hawks.
The Cougars Championship Women’s team went through the regular season winning 12 of their 13 matches before then beating the Willetton Tigers in the quarter finals and the Rockingham Flames in the semi finals.
That books Cockburn into this Sunday’s grand final which will be played against Perry Lakes at Bendat Basketball Centre with tip-off at 12pm.
On the back of the Cougars’ NBL1 West team also having the chance to secure top spot this weekend to close the regular season, it has the potential to be the beginning of a massive month this weekend.
One of the key players on the Cougars team in the Championship Women’s line-up is Mackenzie Stewart and she can’t wait for Sunday for the chance to play off for the championship.
“It’s super exciting. I’m pretty stoked about the opportunity and I think the rest of the team are as well,” Stewart said.
“It is going to be a tough game and we know that, and last time we played Hawks it went into overtime and it was a nail-biter.
“It will be good but we still have another training session to go first which will be good just to sort of set the tone for it. It’s exciting to think about but it’s a grand final so you’re always a bit nervous as well.”
While the Cougars have been the standout team throughout the Championship Women season losing just the one game along the way, it is going to be a significant test in Sunday’s grand final against Perry Lakes.
In last week’s semi-final win over the Joondalup Wolves, the Hawks featured a team that included their NBL1 captain Annika Renkema along with seasoned players Millie McCarthy, Charlotte Graziano, Ellie Newman, Jenna Teasdale, Danika Pisconeri, Beige Harris and Zoe Shanahan.
That means that Stewart is fully aware that should the Cougars win to claim the championship they are going to have to play well. She’s also looking forward especially to the battle of guards between Cockburn teenager Kinley Paterson and McCarthy from the Hawks.
“I don’t think they had everyone when we first played them either so there’s certainly some mature players they will have, but I feel like we do have those sparks on our team too,” she said.
“Especially with Kinley, she’s our young point guard and we’re even talking about playing against Millie this week, and just the scout on her in general conversation.
“So it’s obvious that Kinley’s thinking about that and looking forward to the challenge so that’s a good thing. We do have some exciting players even if we might be a bit younger than Hawks, but I think we’ll still give them a run for sure.”
With NBL1 coach Tyrone Thwaites also in charge of the Championship Women’s team and the two playing squads being so closely connected, Stewart has no doubt that is a big reason why both teams have been so successful so far in 2023 in their respective seasons.
“I think there’s a lot of value in investing in the Champ League or the D-League in terms of the return you get back with your NBL1 team going forward,” Stewart said.
“So to have there being lots of effort and drive behind the Champs team as well as the NBL1 is awesome so it’s good to be part of that.
“I think it’s awesome to see that and it’s a real reflection of where our women’s program is, but it’s a better reflection of what we’re trying to pioneer as well.
“We’ve got lots of young girls coming through the WABL program so to be doing this well is just the beginning of a program that really strives for excellence on our women’s side. I think we all feel really excited to be part of creating that.”
To have a Championship Women team now in the grand final after a 12-1 season and with the NBL1 team currently on top of the table at 17-2 with a chance to secure a regular season crown on Friday night, Stewart has no doubt both groups feed off each other’s success.
“The energy really does flow does into D-League and a lot of the NBL1 girls get behind us and support us, and have been lots of our games as well,” she said.
“So when you’ve got that sort of culture in your women’s program and it doesn’t matter where you are in the team, and you could be starting on the NBL1 team or coming off the bench in D-League, you’re part of the group and the culture. That’s awesome to have so we really do feel like one big group.”
The chance of being part of history over the next month for Stewart and her teammates both as part of the Championship Women and NBL1 West teams is something they are not shying away from either.
“There’s definitely been moments throughout the season where that has been a motivating point and we’ve talked about how real it is that we can actually do this, and what an awesome thing it would be to be part of as well,” she said.
“It does dictate your choices a lot too in terms of how desperate you are for it because you know it’s about how so much more than just you because it would mean so much to so many people.”
As for her own season, even if Stewart in an ideal world would like to be getting more opportunities at NBL1 level, she’s also realistic enough to know that she’s still an important part of the whole set up and is just embracing being part of it in every way she can.
“I think always as a player you have those little self-centred parts of you that would like to play a little bit more, but we’ve talked a lot as a group about your role within it,” Stewart said.
“I know that my role is more from helping the WABL group and knowing that’s part of setting the culture for the future. That doesn’t change how invested I am or how much I try to get as much minutes as I can, and no matter what you still feel part of it and have an important role. Even though it might not seem like a prominent role, it’s still significant.”