New Cockburn Cougars import Sarah Mortensen is already loving life down under on her first visit to Australia and couldn’t be more excited with how her team is coming together this NBL1 West season, and she expects them to only keep getting better.
Basketball has already provided Mortensen with quite the journey even though she’s only just about to celebrate her 26th birthday. Never had she come to Australia until Cougars coach Ty Thwaites came calling wanting to add her to his 2023 NBL1 West team though.
Moving around the world is nothing new for Mortensen who left home in Denmark for a year in New York at Long Island Lutheran High School which led into her college career that began with three years at the University of Miami, and then her senior year at Villanova University.
That senior season saw her impress with 11.0 points and 5.5 rebounds a game while shooting at 55.3 per cent from the floor before she began life as a pro last season in Germany.
Playing with Wasserburg, Mortensen shot the three ball at 40 per cent while putting up 11 points and five rebounds a game, which made her an obvious candidate for coach Thwaites to want to add to his Cougars team of 2023.
Mortensen might not have known too much about Australia, but had only heard good things both in terms of basketball and lifestyle, and already couldn’t be happier with the move six weeks after arriving.
She has had a terrific start averaging 19.7 points, 12.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists a game including 34 points and 12 boards last up against the Lakeside Lightning with the Cougars undefeated after three games with an average winning margin of 32.7 points.
How well this team has come together
Already Mortensen has been impressed with how well balanced this Cougars team is with Jewel Williams running the point, Jessie Edwards down low, herself and Steph Gorman on the wings, and then with the leadership, defence and steady hand of captain Kirsty Whitfield.
“That’s how it feels for sure and credit to Ty for putting together a really nice team,” Mortensen said.
“We have a lot of fun together and I feel like skill-wise we complement each other very well but also personality-wise. We go have some individual workouts and we just have a lot of fun together.
“I think that shows with the way that we are playing with each other and we feel like we’re a tight group already. It’s like we have each other’s back and then out on the court you know everyone complements you, and we all have confidence in each other, and that’s awesome and fun.”
Having never experienced the basketball style in Australia before, it hasn’t taken Mortensen long to like the way the game is played especially with the fast paced, outside shooting encouraged at the Cougars by coach Thwaites.
“I wouldn’t really say it’s different, but I do really enjoy the style of play that we’re playing right now,” she said.
“It’s very fast, lots of threes and it’s a fun thing to be a part of. As players, we get to have some freedom which is fun and allows us to just read the game. Even when I’m missing my shots, Ty keeps tell me to just keep on shooting so that’s a good thing to hear as a player.”
The goal of the first women’s Cougars championship
While the Cougars men already have three SBL (now NBL1 West) championships to their credit from 1992, 2012 and 2016, the women are still chasing that elusive first title and you can’t ignore that this could be their best opportunity.
With the quality and experienced players they have combined with the building done in coach Thwaites time in charge including getting to a semi-final last year before a heartbreaking loss to the Willetton Tigers, they are poised to strike.
Certainly Mortensen isn’t afraid to dream of what it might feel like to be part of history with this Cougars team.
“That would be awesome if we could win that championship, I’m getting goosebumps just thinking about it,” Mortensen said.
“That’s what we are here for. You always want to try do the best you can as a team and hopefully we can win a championship this year, that’s definitely one of our goals.”
“It’s a lot of fun to be part of this team. I would say we have a lot of weapons out there on the court and right now, it’s awesome.
“We have a really good mix and are playing for each other, and we’re all playing really unselfish I would say and are buying into the program so it’s been fun to be a part of. Hopefully we can keep that up.”
Bonus of a superstar still to come
While the Cougars have been clicking on all cylinders in their opening three games of the season, there’s still the addition of Patty Brossmann to come once her season in Italy finishes.
Considering she produced 18.7 points, 10.6 rebounds and 2.3 assists at the Rockingham Flames last season, she’s going to potentially be quite the imposing addition.
Mortensen can’t wait to blend her in with the Cougars as well.
“It’s awesome knowing Patty is still coming too. Even at practice now we just keep building on what we have and we have high expectations with the way we’re playing, and the group that we have,” she said.
“We’re just trying to keep on getting better every practice and every game, and then hopefully Patty can come in and help us with that even more.”
Settling into life down under
Once her season finished in Germany, Mortensen headed to Australia for the first time and already she couldn’t be happier with the way her life down under is going both in terms of embracing the lifestyle, and the basketball.
“It’s all going pretty good so far. This is my first time ever being in Australia but I would say my first impression is that it’s a good mix of the States and Europe. It’s got the best of both worlds a little bit and I’m enjoying it,” Mortensen said.
“Everyone has taken pretty good care of me with the people at Cockburn Cougars, Ty and my teammates as well as the host family I’m staying with. They’ve been helping me out to adjust pretty quickly I would say and then the weather is nice too so that helps.”
While having practice just two nights a week means that Mortensen has more free time than she was used to in college or this past season in Germany, she is actually enjoying that and the chance it gives to embrace everything Perth has to offer.
“Honestly I’m pretty good at keeping busy and I always find some new hobbies and other things to do. Right now a couple of my teammates have some free time as well so we can hang out and that’s nice,” she said.
“I have just enjoyed spending time here in Australia and exploring it as much as I can. I’ve been to Rottnest and have been going to the beaches as much as I can. I’ve been going to the gym a lot obviously and have been eating a lot of good food.
“I’ve just been trying to find all the good spots here and I’ve been into the city a couple of times which is nice. I’ve done some shopping and just a little bit of everything I would say.”
How the reality stacks up to expectations
Mortensen tried not to build up her expectations too much of what Australia would be like before arriving, but based on everything she heard she did expect to like living here, and to enjoy the way basketball was placed.
The reality has more than lived up to any of those expectations so far on both fronts.
“On one side I would say that I had a lot of expectation about what Australia would be like and on the other side, I would say that I had none,” Mortensen said.
“I just jumped into it and I had a couple of friends who had played here, and they all loved it so I definitely did have high expectations about living here and what it would be like.
“I thought I would enjoy the basketball aspect of it too and I heard that NBL1 was a good league and the only thing is there’s a little bit less practice than I’m used to.
“I’ve had to adjust to that having been used to practicing every day instead of just two days a week and you have to put a lot of coaching into those two practices. But so far I like it, there’s more time to go to the gym and get shots in, and to do individual work outs which is nice.”