Continuing to bring through the young players, topping up with some quality recruits and building on the progress of recent seasons all have Cockburn Cougars coach Tyrone Thwaites confident his team can be in the championship mix this NBL1 West Women’s season.
The Cougars continued their upward trajectory in the women’s competition last season with a 13-7 record at the end of the regular season to finish in fifth position before beating the Perry Lakes Hawks to open the playoffs and then losing a dramatic semi-final to the Willetton Tigers.
There have been some changes now coming into the 2023 season including a decided loss of experience following the retirements of Haylee De Sousa and Nicole Roberts with the pair taking 509 games at the Cougars with them.
Last season’s imports Alina Hartmann and Kat Tudor are also not returning, but there’s every reason to suggest Thwaites will have a stronger all round roster at his disposal once Patty Brossmann arrives mid-season.
Dane Sarah Mortensen will be Cockburn’s other import for the 2023 season with Steph Gorman also among the new faces along with Jaya Scafidi crossing after a breakout season at the Goldfields Giants before rupturing her ACL.
Then there is the returning players, headlined by Jessie Edwards, Jewel Williams and captain Kirsty Whitfield who is on the bring of reaching her 200-game milestone.
Summing things up now a week out from the season-opener on Saturday April 1 at home to the Willetton Tigers, and Thwaites likes the roster he has been able to put together for the 2023 campaign.
“I think at full strength on paper our starting line-up is as good as anybody across the league so we’re pretty content,” Thwaites said.
“Obviously we lost a lot of experience between Haylee De Sousa and Nic Roberts retiring after last year but I think people will be really pleased with how far along our juniors have come, both our girls under-17 and 19 teams won state titles last year.
“Kinley Patterson and Amelia Corasaniti are the two best point guards for their age in the state so I will expect a lot of excitement around them both. They are fun to watch.
“From a kids point of view, we’re getting better and we’ll have a young bench but we’re not going to take a backward step. In terms of our starting line-up, we’ve obviously had a bit of a turnover with Kat and Alina leaving who were great athletes for us last year.
“We just felt we needed something a fraction different without changing too much. Steph Gorman brings us someone who is level-headed and knows exactly what’s required of her, she will put her head down and do the work,” Thwaites added.
“Sarah Mortensen is a only a small shift on what Alina brought us, she’s going to be great for us. Then we’ve just announced Patty Brossmann for the second half of the season which gives us flexibility in our starting line-up.
“Zaya Black is back too (following injury) so she’s a big depth addition. I think on paper we’re as good as anybody, but we’re still very young and we’ll navigate it week to week.”
Now the off-season is behind his team and the preparation for Round 1 against Willetton is in full swing, Thwaites can say he’s been happy with the pre-season work even if the absence of Jessie Edwards who has been with the Perth Lynx in the WNBL has made it a little different.
However, a significant focus has been about the bigger picture of establishing the culture within the Cougar Family every bit as much as their development together on the court.
Thwaites feels that is going to have longer term benefits than just wins and losses.
“It’s been different because it’s the first off-season we haven’t had Jessie Edwards and she’s obviously such a focal point for us,” Thwaites said.
“From a basketball sense, it’s been challenging however this is the second year we’ve had a large contingent of the kids and they’ve had experience at NBL1 level now so they know what to expect. I guess the expectations can be higher as a result.
“One of the things we’ve really focused in on is who we are, what’s our identity, what do we stand for and what does our culture look like. That’s really started to come to life which is really exciting for our program, with the girls starting to live and breathe who we are.”
The last addition to the Cockburn team for 2023 is German forward Patty Brossman. She had an outstanding season in 2022 at the Rockingham Flames averaging 18.7 points and 10.6 rebounds a game.
She is currently playing in Italy at Costa Masnaga which will delay her arrival at the Cougars, but as a result of that Thwaites will be strict on the role she’ll play to limit the disruption and maximise the benefits once she does join.
“We’ve been pretty strict on how we want her to operate when she does come in because it is so late,” he said.
“Obviously we saw how positive it can be if you get it right and Warwick were a great example with Leonie last year. We’ve made it very clear to Patty t we have very specific expectations and she’s agreed to those.
“It gives us flexibility and we know across the last two seasons the workload across the back end is pretty high on Jessie, and if we lose any of that it really does put a big dent into us.
“But the key thing for us is we want our kids to have a competitive environment day in, day out and we want them to know if they work for everything, as they develop they’ll be rewarded.
“Patty is just another addition so our girls have to compete not just when they are on the floor playing NBL1 games, but every single minute they are at training. That’s really important to us to create that lively atmosphere that’s going to push our kids to be better.”
Now that the opening to the 2023 season is just a week away, Thwaites is feel cautiously optimistic about the prospects of the Cougars but the goal remains the same – to be a championship contender.
“It’s the same feeling as any other, there’s a lot of unknowns at htis point, but your confidence is higher than last year,” Thwaites said.
“Those unknowns lead you to naturally being nervous going into the start of the season, and whether the intent of the group is going to match what is displayed on the floor. But we really like the group we have and we’re really excited to see how it translates on the floor next week.
“As a club, and I speak for the men’s program as much as the women’s here, we want to be consistently in the hunt for a championship every single year, and that’s what we have guided ourselves towards.
“You can do that by putting yourself in the top four and that’s what we want to do. We believe we have groups with both teams this year to make the top four, and with great culture breeds success, that’s certainly what we’re aiming for.”