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Preliminary Final Women’s Recap – Cougars make history

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The Cockburn Cougars women have made history by reaching the NBL1 West Grand Final for the first time on the back of another standout home preliminary final win to set up a crack at the Willetton Tigers in the decider.

Cockburn had already made history ending the regular season in top spot for the first time and setting a new club record at 18-2 with a 90 per cent winning record before beating the Rockingham Flames in the qualifying final to remain home for Saturday night.

The Cougars didn’t waste time putting their stamp on the contest going on an 11-0 run during the first quarter to lead by as much as 15, and to still be on top 24-15 by the end of one.

And really, Cockburn was able to maintain that advantage virtually the rest of the way with Mandurah unable to get locked in on the Cougars like they did back on June 23 when they scored the 32-point win at home over the same opposition.

The Cougars would go on to lead by as much as 22 points in the second and 24 in the third. The Magic did get back as close as 10 with 1:45 to play in the game, but no closer and Cockburn prevailed 88-75 to advance to the first ever women’s Grand Final on Friday night against the Willetton Tigers.

Sarah Mortensen continued her stunning form for the Cougars with another 30 points, six rebounds, three assists and two steals on 10/19 shooting from the field and 9/9 at the charity stripe.

Steph Gorman added 19 points and three rebounds with the Perth Lynx WNBL signing shooting 6/11 from the field, 4/8 from downtown and 3/4 at the foul line.

Jewel Williams produced 19 points, six assists, five rebounds and two steals, Jessie Edwards 10 points and 12 boards, and Patty Brossmann six points, eight rebounds and three assists.

The significance of what this Cougars women’s team of 2023 has achieved is certainly not lost on coach Tyrone Thwaites, and he did his best to soak up the moment on Saturday night when he saw how much reaching a Grand Final meant to so many people.

“It was a really surreal feeling,” Thwaites said.

“With two minutes to go, in my own mind, it was close to over at that point and it’s a bit of a blur for me personally what happened for the rest of the game.

“Soaking in the atmosphere and the moment for the girls, and for our former athletes and coaches, and our community. It was an incredible feeling and something we’re very proud of.

“It’s incredibly significant and I could see it in the eyes of our former players  just how much this moment means to our community.

“We acknowledge in the 80s our district women’s team had four straight grand finals before that moulded into the official SBL and NBL1 era. But since 1989, we’ve never made one so in the eyes of our community and our playing group, it’s hard to put into words. It means an incredible amount.”

It was always going to be a tricky game for the Cougars to take on the Magic in the preliminary final especially when Mandurah did so well with a 32-point win in the previous meeting between the two teams.

The Magic then beat the Perry Lakes Hawks and Joondalup Wolves on the way to reaching the preliminary final led by the remarkable games record holder Casey Mihovilovich, but Thwaites was delighted with how his team stood up.

“We came in with a plan and I really do credit the girls for the trust they put into te plan  the coaches put into place every week. But equally it’s the trust they put in each other,” he said.

“Our starts the past two weeks have been really solid and we knew that Mandurah would try to throw the first punch and we were pretty determined to not let that happen. They’re a team that want to turn the game into a half-court grind and at different stages they did, but we weathered the storm which was pleasing.”

While Gorman and Mortensen were once again especially outstanding in the victory for the Cougars, Thwaites paid special tribute to the efforts of Edwards to be a significant factor and to limit the presence of Hannah Hank for Mandurah.

“Sarah and Steph were absolutely incredible and probably our two best on the floor for the game, but you can’t underestimate the performance in the last two games by Jessie Edwards,” Thwaites said.

“Just to patrol the paint, take care of bigger rebounds, and just be a presence on offence, her focus and commitment to nailing this for the group in the past two weeks has been first class. Jessie Edwards was one of the stars on the court there’s no doubt.”

Now that the Cougars have made history by reaching a Grand Final, all the focus is on the preparations for Friday night against the Willetton Tigers with Thwaites wanting his players to embrace the week.

“I’m pretty excited to be honest. You go into a season, and the way I look at it, if you make the final four then you’re a chance,” Thwaites said.

“We ticked that box last week and then it becomes about effort and execution, which we took care of against Mandurah. Now it’s about preparing the same way.

“I think our prep is what separates us from some other teams in the league and we’ll manage this week the same way we have in previous weeks.

“I know people say treat it like a normal week. but it’s not, and you want ther group to enjoy it.

“You want to remember these moments and you want to take it for what it is, but come ready and be absolutely focused on Friday to do a job.”

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