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Edwards proud of league’s growth as 200-game player

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Jessie Edwards remains one of the premier centres in the NBL1 West and she has now done it for 200 games, but she has plenty left in the tank as she reflects on how far the league and the women’s competition has come during her career.

Edwards started as a bright young star at the Kalamunda Eastern Suns back in 2010 when she was still only 15 years of age, and while her career has come along way in the 14 years since, so has the league she’s part of and especially on the women’s side.

Edwards celebrated her 200th game in the league last Saturday night with the Cougars beating the Warwick Senators at Warwick Stadium and it provides her with the chance to reflect on what has been a fascinating journey.

She was one of the more exciting young players in the state as a teenager and that led to her being a development player at the Perth Lynx before then embarking on her college career at the University of Minnesota.

Following four years there, Edwards has had a couple of WNBL opportunities firstly at the Adelaide Lightning and then back home with the Lynx while also having a stint in Germany.

However, it’s the then SBL and now NBL1 West competition where she’s made her mark firstly with 132 games with the Eastern Suns but it’s been her move to Cockburn that’s seen her go to the next level with her game.

Edwards is in her fourth season with the Cougars, was instrumental in last year’s championship triumph and now is a proud 200-game player in the league.

The meaning of 200-game milestone

What reaching a milestone like 200 games means for Edwards is not so much a chance to reflect on what she’s done personally, but to see how far the league, the women’s game and the Cougars have come that she has seen firsthand.

“It means a lot to me to have been part of the development of this league,” Edwards said.

“I started playing when I was 15 I think at the Suns and to see how much it’s grown, and the quality of the league and everything. Also to see Cockburn to grow as a team too.

“I’ve played a decent amount of games here now and it’s really cool to be a part of the league in that sense that has grown and for me to have been around long enough to see the changes, and to now play 200 games.”

How far the women’s game has come

If Edwards thinks back to when she started playing in the league and compares it to what she is part of now and several things stick out.

The attendance is the big thing and especially for women’s games, the majority of those attending games in the NBL1 West now are well and truly settled in for the start of the women’s game, and in a lot of cases that is their main focus.

The quality and professionalism of the league overall too is something that Edwards has noticed dramatically improve, and she’s proud to have been part of it long enough to see how far it’s come.

“It was actually quite funny because I think about ages ago when I started playing in the league and the difference just in the crowd attendance especially for our games from then to now is just crazy,” Edwards said.

“The WABL community is so much more involved in coming to the NBL1 games and being a part of them, and to give credit where it’s due, the staff at least at Cockburn have put in so much work to try and connect those two communities.

“But just in terms of professionalism of the league, I think it’s gone from a pretty amateurish league with a couple of foreign imports on each team to one that definitely is solidly semi-professional. The quality is now really good as a result.”

Personal season so far

While Edwards has been limited to appearing in six of the nine games with the Cougars this season, she continues to play at a high level averaging 14.2 points and 8.7 rebounds a game.

That included another 13 points and nine boards in her 200th game last Saturday against the Senators at Warwick Stadium, and she’s happy with how she’s able to juggle still playing with her other commitments.

“I don’t think it’s too difficult for me to juggle because what’s really cool is that I’ve played with a lot of the girls on this team before so we have that natural chemistry,” she said.

“That hasn’t gone away and all the new girls as well that have come in are really smart players so I think it makes it easy for me to come back into the team and play even after being away at times from it.”

Sharing front court with Dani Raber

While there is still Maria Blazejewski to arrive this season to join them in the front court, Edwards couldn’t be happier with the partnership on court she’s already developing with Israeli import forward Daniel Raber.

They might have only been able to play three games together so far, but Edwards can feel that chemistry already and that extends off the court too.

“I love playing with Dani and aside from how great of a rebounder she is and her other strengths, I just really love playing with her because of how smart a player she is,” Edwards said.

“She gives me some great passes and is very aware of where everyone is and where opportunities are, and she’s a really nice person too. So that kind of adds to it.”

Dealing with life as defending champions

Last year was a season of firsts for the Cougars finishing the regular season in top spot for the first time and then going on to reach a first ever women’s Grand Final, and winning the maiden championship.

That now means the Cougars are experiencing something new this season having the target on their backs as defending champions, but Edwards sees that as a positive to keep them fully focused.

“I think it has been a good challenge and you never want to get complacent, and we have been beaten a couple of times this year so far,” she said.

“It’s good to keep you in check and to make sure you’re doing all your essential things that your team needs to be good. It’s important to keep you humble so it’s good to keep being tested and to make sure you keep doing what you need as a team to be playing well.”

Grand Final dream at RAC Arena

Considering Edwards first played in the league back in 2010 and she’s now a 200-game championship winner who has played at college, in the WNBL and in Europe, it’s not easy to come up with potential new experiences.

However, that chance will present should the Cougars reach this year’s Grand Final with it being held at RAC Arena for 2024 but whether she’s part of it or not, Edwards just sees it as another sign of the growth in the league.

“When I saw they were playing the Grand Finals there this year I was so excited and impressed that it was possible,” Edwards said.

“I think it’s just so huge to be able to move our state league to such a huge venue, and it’s deserving of it because of the sell outs from both Grand Finals last year.

“I think it just further increases the profile of the sport and our league. It’s kinda funny to say that a venue can do that, but it’s a bit of a representation of the size and growth of this league so it’s pretty exciting.”

Setting up life after basketball

You don’t need to spend long around Edwards to know what a kind and big heart she has, and how helping others means the world to her.

She wants to turn that into a career as well so working in the mental health support area or any sort of support field she is hoping to transition to full-time once she is finished with her studies.

“I’m doing my masters of counselling at the moment and that kind of mental health and helping people field is something that I’ve always been interested, and involved in,” Edwards said.

“Obviously looking forward to after basketball finishes, that’s probably the kind of area that I’m going to be involved in and it’s something that is really important to me to be able to try and help as many people as I can.”

Support of former football star father

Edwards will always be thankful to the support of her father, Craig, who played 236 games in the WAFL at East Perth and South Fremantle along with winning the 1989 Sandover Medal as the league’s best player.

With Jessie having lost her mother to cancer, the bond with her dad has been something remarkably special and his proud support means the world to her.

“I’m honestly really lucky to have a dad that has been a sports person himself and I think that’s why he’s been such a great support for my career,” she said.

“He’s never pressured me to do anything, he’s never pushed me too hard or not enough, but his support is really huge. If he’s here and healthy, I can always rely on him to be there in the crowd, and it really does mean a lot to me.”

He has just had a second knee replacement too so that will have him out of attending his daughter’s games for a little while and rob the fans of seeing his now famous shirt featuring Jessie.

“He’s doing alright. He is still pretty sore because he only got his surgery done about a week ago now and his recovery is coming along alright,” Edwards said.

“He misses coming to a few games, but he’s always still watching and he would never miss out on that. He’s done it before too and this is his second knee replacement so he knows what to expect, and he’ll get through it.”

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