The Cockburn Cougars women are now two wins in three days away from creating history this NBL1 West season but the first task at hand is taking on the reigning champion Willetton Tigers on Thursday night in the semi-final.
Week 2 of the NBL1 West finals for 2022 gets underway on Thursday night and that sees the Cougars and Tigers do battle putting their seasons on the line in a semi-final at Willetton Basketball Stadium.
The winner of the semi-final battle will advance to Saturday night’s preliminary final against the Joondalup Wolves with a spot in next Friday night’s Grand Final on the line while a loss will mean season over so everything will be on the line.
Cockburn comes into the game fresh off a hard earned 75-65 elimination final win against the Perry Lakes Hawks at Wally Hagan Stadium last Saturday night to advance to the semi-final.
Meanwhile, Willetton lost to the Warwick Senators in their qualifying final 96-84 and that means the Tigers enter Thursday night’s semi-final on a three-game losing run, but the fact remains they are the reigning champions and won’t be out to hand the Cougars anything.
It was less than two weeks ago when the two teams last played to close the regular season at Wally Hagan Stadium. On that night, the Cougars produced a tremendous finish to end up beating the Tigers 91-81.
On that night, Jessie Edwards delivered 23 points and seven rebounds for Cockburn with Jewel Williams contributing 17 points and six boards, Alina Hartmann 17 points and nine rebounds, and Haylee De Sousa 15 points and two assists.
The Cougars were able to build on that last Saturday too to beat Perry Lakes in the elimination final with Edwards producing 23 points and 24 rebounds while Hartmann contributing 19 points and nine boards, Kat Tudor 14 points and seven rebounds, and Williams 12 points, four boards and four assists.
Willetton, meanwhile, lost their qualifying final to Warwick last Saturday night on the road despite getting 26 points, five rebounds and four assists from last year’s MVP Alex Sharp with Desiree Kelley contributing 14 points, Tayla Hepburn 12, Hayley Winter 12 and Kiara Waite 10.
Now both teams have the short turnaround to Thursday night’s semi-final with their seasons on the line and Cougars coach Tyrone Thwaites is looking forward to the challenge.
“Logistically it does change your week obviously and we trained Monday, Tuesday this week to make sure we gave the girls the Sunday and Wednesday off, but funnily enough we did the exact same thing between Round 1 and 2,” Thwaites said.
“On the Easter Thursday we actually travelled to Willetton Basketball Stadium to play Willetton and last time we went there we were leading for 38 and-a-half minutes and lost it in the last minute and-a-half, and we also only played them 10 days ago.
“We hold no fears when it comes to Willetton and we’re looking forward to a rivalry game in the semi finals.”
It was a confidence boosting game that the Cougars had against the Tigers in the final round of the regular season when they scored the eventual 10-point victory against the defending champions.
That was on the back of a big finish to the game and now coming into Thursday night’s semi-final, Cockburn is on a four-match winning streak while Willetton has lost three in-a-row even though they only lost three matches the entire season.
While Thwaites and the Cougars can take confidence from that win over Willetton two weeks ago, he is fully aware it’s going to take an even bigger effort on Thursday night to back it up.
“You can take a lot out of that last game and what it did do was give the girls that belief. We have beaten Mandurah this year but Joondalup and Warwick have given us a bit of trouble,” Thwaites said.
“So to beat another top four team in the last round of the season to build that winning streak going into the finals just builds that belief that you can do it.
“For us whether we won against them or not two weeks ago, we knew we were going to finish fifth so for the girls it was about creating the understanding about what it takes to win.
“I think that really built that belief within the group but we do know it’s difficult to beat the same team twice within a couple of weeks’ time frame. We know they won’t let us beat them the same way we did last time and we are ready for that.
“It’s a little bit of cat and mouse to find out what changes Simon will make on Thursday night and what they might do about matching up on Jessie. We’re not taking anything for granted against them, but we certainly believe we can do it again.”
What this week presents for the Cougars women is a chance at history. While the Cockburn men have won three SBL/NBL1 West championships, the women at the Cougars haven’t quite yet been able to reach a Grand Final.
That could all change with wins over Willetton on Thursday night and then the Joondalup Wolves on Saturday. While that’s quite a dream to have to think about what is possible over the next three days, Thwaites knows his players just have to focus on what’s directly in front of them.
“You have to still be ready for Saturday. Obviously the players can’t look at anything but Thursday right now, but from a coaching perspective you need to have your scout ready for Saturday should you win because it’s a short turnaround,” Thwaites said.
“We’ve done our work as a team to now get ready for Thursday so part of my job this week now is to be ready for Joondalup as well, but we know we have to take care of the job on Thursday first at the same time.
“This group knows that making a Grand Final would be history-making for our club because our women’s program has never done that before and we’re the only team that hasn’t made a Grand Final.
“That’s part of our thinking this week, but at the same time we’ve got some very grounded leaders with Nicole Roberts and Kirsty Whitfield who will not let the group look past Thursday.
“We have to beat Willetton or that’s all irrelevant. It is nice to have that on the horizon and we would quietly celebrate that achievement on Saturday night, but before even thinking about that obviously we have to win on Thursday first.”