Jessie Edwards was the anchor of the Cockburn Cougars winning an historic NBL1 West championship in 2023 but the star centre is looking forward to taking her all-round game up another level in 2024.
Edwards joined the Cougars back in the 2021 NBL1 West season and has cemented herself as one of the very best centres in the league since, which included her earning a full roster spot at the Perth Lynx for the 2022/23 WNBL season.
That led into this past 2023 NBL1 West season at the Cougars where Edwards again played a pivotal role for the Cougars averaging 14.4 points and 9.3 rebounds a game.
She then had a huge influence on the Grand Final with 10 points and 17 rebounds in the win against the Willetton Tigers to secure the club’s first ever women’s championship.
The 27-year-old is now committed to returning to the Cougars in 2024 to attempt to win back-to-back championships.
Cougars coach Tyrone Thwaites knew that when he was building his team going back a few years that he wanted Edwards as the building block for his group.
He is excited for what 2024 could hold for her both in terms of an increased leadership role and because she’ll have a full pre-season to get ready for the NBL1 season.
“A great way to describe Jessie is as an anchor of our team, and she came off a bit of a disrupted year this season just gone because she didn’t do a pre-season with us because of WNBL,” Thwaites said.
“That impacts your preparation a little bit, but that’s part and parcel of being a pro and what you get. But potentially having Jessie for a full pre-season could make a huge difference for us and her leadership capabilities are already good, but we need them to step up more with KP retiring.
“It will be her fourth year at the club and we have no doubt in her mind she wants to be a Cougar for the rest of her career so we’re really excited to have her back and for her to have an even bigger impact in the second year of this offence we’re running.”
Being able to do a pre-season with the Cougars
While obviously Edwards would be more than happy if she was back for another WNBL season during this NBL1 off-season, the positive is what it could mean in terms of her preparations for the Cougars title defence in 2024.
Edwards is also about to start a new job as she begins the next phase of her life, but she’s excited to work hard on her game and body this off-season because she saw what that could do for her back in 2022 in a similar situation.
“Last year I played WNBL but the year before I didn’t and I think a big part of the reason why I had such a good NBL1 season was because I did spend that time in the pre-season and doing all that extra training with the Cougars,” Edwards said.
“So in this off-season I’ll be focusing on not only my skills and that, but getting fitter and stronger so that’s going to be a big thing for me to be really physically ready for the season compared to this year. The plan is for me to get even better next year, so hopefully that’s what happens.”
What was the feeling like to win a championship
Edwards and her Cougars teammates have now had some time to let the historic championship sink in that they won to conclude this NBL1 West season last month.
To have a captain like Kirsty Whitfield get the fairytale end to her career with a terrific centre and point guard with Edwards and Jewel Williams, and then superb new additions Steph Gorman, Patty Brossmann and Sarah Mortensen, and it all just clicked for the Cougars.
Now that she can reflect, Edwards couldn’t be prouder to have been a part of the first ever Cockburn women’s championship for so many reasons.
“It’s really special because Tyrone kept saying to us that there’s only one first championship team and there’s only one chance for anyone to do that first. Being part of the club history is so special and it just feels amazing to have been part of that historic achievement,” she said.
“It was so exciting just because of all the hard work that we’d all put in over the season. It all finally came to a head that evening and it obviously meant so much because it was KP’s last year as well.
“So there was a lot of emotions not just for ourselves but for our teammates and all the community at Cockburn as well who have been with us on this journey.”
Move paying off to join Cockburn
Edwards had played a lot of her basketball locally at the Kalamunda Eastern Suns, but now with the benefit of hindsight, the best decision she ever made in so many ways was to join the Cougars going back to 2021.
Edwards has now played three outstanding seasons with Cockburn, she’s a championship winner and for that vision that coach Thwaites had when recruiting her initially coming to fruition, she couldn’t be happier with that big decision she initially made.
“I think when I first came over it was still in a state of building the team towards that unified vision and trying to compete for a championship,” Edwards said.
“We were still building the values and culture, and that’s something Tyrone is really big on so that was always going to take some time to build.
“But we all were able to play a part in building those team values so I think that makes it a bit more special to achieve what we did. To be able to be part of that shift and that change in the women’s team and the program is really cool to be part of.”
The bond on and off the court
Winning a championship is never about just what any team is able to do on the court. Having that genuine chemistry and bond together is always a significant part and that was clearly visible on this Cougars outfit of 2023.
They genuinely loved spending time together both at basketball and away from it, and that helped them have the connection they did on the court especially when the going got tough.
Whether it was captain Whitfield, imports Mortensen and Brossmann, Gorman who was about to sign to play WNBL, emerging leaders Edwards and Williams or teenage excitement machines Amelia Corasaniti and Kinley Paterson, everyone clicked and Edwards has no doubt that was huge in their success.
“I think that’s part of why we were so successful as well because having that off-court relationship as well and knowing each other in that way obviously helped us when we were on the court,” she said.
“It just helped us to be able to communicate so well and for me personally, the really successful teams generally are ones that have a great bond with each other and know each other so well.
“That’s when you can push each other to get the best out of everyone and that’s what we really did have this year.”
Going into next year as defending champions
Given the Cougars women had never played in a Grand Final before this year, they did always somewhat feel like they were underdogs even right throughout this season despite losing just two games and claiming the regular season championship.
However, next year will be different as the defending champions and Edwards can’t wait to find out what that new experience is going to be like.
“I think there will definitely be a bigger target on our back because we did win that championship and we’re already right now looking forward to next year, and preparing in the off-season for that,” Edwards said.
“We’re already planning on how we are going to get better over the summer both individually and as a team, and I think come next year because we did win that championship there’s going to be a bigger target on our back, which is a good thing because I’ve found historically we’ve been underestimated. It will be a nice change.”