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Cougars triumph made up of heroic performances

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Jewel Williams produced a brilliant all-round point guard game, Steph Gorman shone at both ends, Jessie Edwards stood tall, Sarah Mortensen and Patty Brossmann had their moments, the youth of Amelia Corasaniti and leadership of Kirsty Whitfield also was important.

All of that added up to the Cockburn Cougars creating history on Friday night by winning the club’s first ever women’s championship as they stormed home over the last 12 minutes to beat the Willetton Tigers in what was also a first ever women’s Grand Final appearance.

The Cougars had already put together the club’s best ever women’s season in the SBL or NBL1 West by finishing the regular season on top of the standings with an 18-2 record before finals victories against the Rockingham Flames and Mandurah Magic to reach the Grand Final.

However, a powerful Willetton team playing in a third straight Grand Final and with nine championships already hanging in their rafters meant that the Tigers were going to be a different proposition on Friday night at Bendat Basketball Centre.

It proved to be the case with Willetton leading 37-28 by half-time with two-time MVP Alex Sharp having 16 points and four rebounds up to that point.

The Tigers were still leading by 10 late in the third quarter after a 5-0 run with Cougars coach Tyrone Thwaites calling for a timeout. He subbed Amelia Corasaniti into the game with immediate impact and Cockburn scored the last eight points of the third period.

They would then score 14 of the first 17 points of the fourth quarter including huge three-pointers from Steph Gorman to make it a 22-3 run from that timeout on the way to the eventual seven-point win and historic championship triumph.

While coach Thwaites won’t take credit for any amazing words he said in that timeout, he did feel like it was a chance for his team to regroup a little and reset for the Grand Final’s last 12 minutes.

“I don’t think it was necessarily the timeout alone, we just needed a breather and Steph was tired, Jewel was tired and we just needed some fresh legs again,” Thwaites said.

“I don’t think anyone can underestimate the importance of Amelia Corasaniti’s five minutes. There was the last three minutes of that third quarter and the start of the last, and the stress she put on (Sophie) Doran, the big three she hit and just some of those big possessions where she held her own as a 16-year-old kid was pretty important.”

Even late in the game it proved a championship clinching substitution when Thwaites brought in Corasaniti to hound Willetton’s Amy Jacobs into a turnover bringing the ball up the floor, and in those last 12 minutes, it just felt everything went right for Cockburn.

“It was a bit of a gamble to make that sub because we lose a little bit of size and rebounding, but they took Jakens off the floor and put on another shooter which they needed to do,” Thwaites added.

“We just didn’t have a true match up for Jessie so we had to gamble and Amelia had been good so I didn’t hesitate to throw her out there to get the match ups right. The rest of the group then did a really good job on the glass as well without Jessie to control it down the stretch.”

Whether it was the timeout late in the third or if it was just his players not being willing to let the chance to win a championship slip away, what Thwaites saw from his players across those last 12 minutes is something he’ll cherish forever.

“Our rotation was pretty tight throughout the game and a bit tighter than theirs, so some of our girls just needed a breather before that last quarter run so that was a bit of it from that timeout,” he said.

“It proved to work wonders in the end and Jewel was incredibly composed, which was huge for us.

“I think she was composed quarter one to quarter four, and then obviously Steph was super consistent, Denny (Mortensen) picked it up in the second half and Jessie was a rebounding monster after she started with two early fouls.”

The Grand Final MVP award went the way of Gorman, but it wouldn’t have been out of place had Williams received it as well for her outstanding all-round performance as the point guard for the Cougars.

While always being more than capable of putting up plenty of points over her 131-game career both at Kalamunda and now Cockburn, her all-round game was in full display in the Grand Final.

She finished the game with 12 points, eight assists, seven rebounds, a steal and massive and crucial block late in the game, and her coach couldn’t have been more proud.

“I think it was a flip of the coin really between Jewel and Steph, and maybe Steph maybe was a little more consistent over four quarters but the way Jewel ran the show for us and just kept them locked in, I think that was absolutely critical,” Thwaites said.

“The fact that we’ve really focused in on her defence, she nailed the scout in this game and we had her helping off Sophie Doran for a chunk of the night, and gambling on the fact that Dora hadn’t shot the ball particularly well the last five games. It came off for us and I don’t think she made a three so that was big.”

The Grand Final MVP award did go the way of Gorman and you can’t deny the Perth Lynx WNBL signing was deserving for the defensive job she did on Sharp in the second half along with finishing with 19 points, three assists, two rebounds and two steals with five three-pointers.

“She deserves an enormous amount of that credit and Steph was tired out there, that was evident and it doesn’t normally happen,” Thwaites said.

“But it’s been a big month for her so it’s understandable, but for her to do the job she did in the second half was huge. She impacted both ends of the floor as well and that was probably the most pleasing part for her. I’m really proud of her and she’s had a terrific 12 months.”

Not only was it the likely fairytale farewell for Cougars captain Kirsty Whitfield to go out a championship winning skipper, but for Kahlia Morgan too she got the dream farewell to her 106-game career with Cockburn.

“It’s a fairytale, right, and they don’t happen too often, and I’m so happy for her (Whitfield) to get that,” Thwaites said.

“And Kahlia Morgan as well, she is moving to Geraldton for work at the end of this season, I think she packs up on Monday. For Kahlia to finish up like that too is really exciting for our club, they are two stalwarts who have been here since under-12s.”

The Cougars will certainly enjoy the historic NBL1 West championship triumph, but they will also be taking seriously their tilt at winning the National Championship at HBF Arena Joondalup starting on Friday evening.

“We said from the start that it’s not just about this championship, it’s about next week too and that means a lot to us. So on Sunday we’ll hit reset, we’ll recover and get ready to go again,” Thwaites added.

“There’s nothing better than a national title and we saw how big the west can be with Jonelle doing a great job with Warwick last year and obviously Ryan Petrik with Rockingham. We love the idea of doing that in our home state now so that’s really exciting.”

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