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Off-season work already paying off for Jewel

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Jewel Williams came up huge in the Cockburn Cougars’ NBL1 West championship triumph in 2023, but is entering 2024 with a fresh mindset, is embracing more leadership and she couldn’t have started better.

There’s no doubting the impact Steph Gorman had in last year’s Grand Final triumph for the Cougars, but Williams could have considered herself desperately unlucky to not claim the game’s MVP award as Cockburn made history by winning a first women’s championship.

Rather than rest on her laurels having proven how good she could be as a starting point guard on a championship winning team, Williams dedicated herself to getting better this off-season, and the signs after one game are that it’s all about to pay off.

Despite the Cougars missing a host of key players for last Thursday night’s season-opener at home to the Mandurah Magic, Williams was outstanding playing every second of the contest and finishing with 31 points, three rebounds, two assists and two blocks with six made three-pointers.

Off-season work

From the moment the Cougars won last season’s championship and then played in the NBL1 National Finals, while most players just off winning title might have wanted to let their hair down, Williams felt she could still get a lot better.

She turned her attention to improving in all areas in the off-season and following the retirement of championship winning captain Kristy Whitfield, there’s also an added leadership role in 2024 and she is happy with how she’s feeling coming into the season.

“The off season has been really good for me, I’ve cleaned myself up not only physically being in good shape but a mentally too, and it’s made a huge difference in my mindset and progression using that process over outcome mantra,” Williams said.

“Naturally I’ve always wanted to lead but struggled with feeling comfortable to do that, but the girls and the coaching staff have been so supportive of me and it’s been an absolute pleasure so far to be able to lead the group.”

Back court for 2024

The back court at the Cougars was one of their strengths in the championship triumph of 2023, but now in 2024 Williams will not only have reigning Best Defensive Player Gorman back alongside her, but also WNBL veteran Alex Ciabattoni.

Ciabattoni and Gorman are both fresh off playing key roles on the Perth Lynx going ever so close to winning the WNBL championship just a couple of weeks ago. Williams can’t hide her excitement to be about to call them both teams in 2024.

“Obviously having Steph return is great for us, and grabbing Chibba along with that is even better,” Williams said.

“I think we will have great chemistry together and be a tough matchup for other teams, so I’m really excited to have them both back on board.”

Feeling as defending champions

Given the Cockburn women made history last year by winning the championship, it means the firsts continue now this season as they attempt to defend a title for the first time.

There’s now a definite target on the back of the Cougars from all rival clubs in 2024 because of the success they experienced last year, but Williams is looking forward to that challenge of taking the best shot from the opposition week after week.

“I think we try to stay focused on the process but of course it’s a bit different going from hunter to hunted, a lot of teams are replicating our style of play and intensity so we know all we can do is keep chipping away and getting incrementally better each session,” Williams said.

“At the end of the day, of course we want to be back in the grand final at the end of the season, but we don’t have tunnel vision and will keep staying with the process.”

Season-opener and championship banner

Going back to last Thursday night and it was a memorable occasion for every member of the Cougar Family in the season-opener at Wally Hagan Stadium.

Once the job was done by the Cougars and the victory against the Magic secured despite the absence of Gorman, Ciabattoni, Daniel Raber and Maria Blazejewski, the championship banner was unfurled too.

“Unveiling the championship banner felt like reliving the moment all over again, definitely lots of smiles and pure joy in that moment,” she said.

“I thought our game was a really good first hit out for us, missing a lot of experience out on the floor in comparison to a veteran Mandurah team I was really proud of the girls and the perseverance to get the win.”

Another battle with Milo

What last Thursday provided for Williams was another chance to share the court and have a battle with the league’s games record holder Casey Mihovilovich from Mandurah.

While as competitive as anyone during the 40 minutes of the game, Williams can’t help but admire what Mihovilovich is still able to do 28 years after making her SBL debut as a 14-year-old.

“Milo is amazing and such an inspiration I think to not only young basketball players but young girls as well, she is a superwoman and is so community centred which I think is so important,” Williams said.

“I love the opportunity to play against someone as smart and influential in WA basketball as Milo, and I’ve still got a way to go yet.”

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