Fresh off leading the Cockburn Cougars to a first ever NBL1 West women’s championship in 2023, coach Tyrone Thwaites is focused on making sure his team is even better to defend that title in 2024.
The Cockburn Basketball Association (CBA) board has re-signed Thwaites for another three years (in addition to the one year remaining), and next season, will become the longest serving coach in Cougar women’s SBL/NBL1 history.
CBA President Travis French explained it was an easy-decision for the board to make, given the clear cultural and development focus of the program.
“We are very excited to have Ty (Thwaites) extend his tenure as our NBL1 program leader until 2027,” he said.
“He lives and breathes blue and gold, with a strong focus on continuous improvement.
“His energy and commitment to the program and his care for the players, coaches, support staff and team will ensure our women’s program continues to develop and be the best it can be.
“We know he is well-respected by our women’s program, and we look forward to the process over the next few years.”
He has now been at the helm of the Cougars women’s team since taking over in 2020 and there has been consistent improvement each season up until the ultimate success in 2023 when they were able to break through for the NBL1 West championship.
Along the way, Thwaites was named the Coach of the Year but the work is far from done and he’s anything but content with that success, and is already focused on how to make his Cougars team better as reigning champions heading into 2024.
Player retention is key to that and it appears the majority of the players will be returning for the 2024 NBL1 West season with the only obvious departure being retired Championship captain Kirsty Whitfield.
That has Thwaites excited for what 2024 will hold, but ultimately there wasn’t much thinking he needed to do about returning for the next few seasons.
“I’ve always said as long as the prospect of thinking about game day, and walking into game day with this group remains as exciting as it was the first time I did it, then I want to keep doing it as long as the club is supportive of that,” Thwaites said.
“It’s a no-brainer to want to continue in the role, its a club I love, with a group that’s a joy to work with.”
Just like players, it’s only natural for a coach to dream about what the experience would be like to lead their team to a championship. Since taking over the role in 2020, the ultimate goal for Thwaites with the Cougars was to build the women’s program up to the point to compete for a championship, and then to win one.
Now that it’s happened, it certainly lived up to any expectations that Thwaites might have had, but more so because of seeing and hearing how much it meant to so many people while the fact he’s a championship coach is still sinking in.
“I still feel as though it hasn’t fully sunk in. The other day I went back and actually watched the highlights from the night because it’s still such a blur, and seeing those moments immediately following the game makes you realise it exceeds all expectations,” Thwaites said.
“It’s more the little moments in all of it – for people like KP (Whitfield), the moments for Vanessa Cahill or Chels Evans, and even Fleur (McIntyre) watching from Sydney and knowing what it meant.
“Then things like the chance for two life members to present the rings after the game, and the turnaround experience it’s been for Steph (Gorman) the last 12 months. And to have our juniors come through and experience it in their first or second year.
“There’s so many different little moments that stand out, you visualise it going in but don’t truly know whe to expect, it’s just a pretty surreal feeling and it’s the moments that standout for me.”
Just like winning a chamiopnship was a new experience for everyone at the Cougars in 2023, now dealing with being the reigning champions and having a target on their back will something new for them to go through in 2024.
While Thwaites is looking forward to that challenge, he also knows they will have to improve and can’t expect just to do the same things and get the same results again in 2024.
“We’ve never been in this position before as a women’s team at this club,” Thwaites said.
“We’ve been pretty clear that if we deal with things the same way we did this year then it’s human to expect similar results, but we have emphasised that’s not reality.
“We’ve been on the other side of the equation where you’re sitting in fifth or sixth and watching other teams develop and trying to chase them down, when you’re in that mindset of continuous improvement.
“If I apply the same logic to the other teams, they’re going to want to be better next year so we can’t be content or assume the same thing will get it done. We need to make sure we’re better and you don’t just do that through natural progression, that’s not a thing, you do it through putting the work in.
“We’ve been proud of the group for already getting stuck in and doing the work this off-season, and there’s not a single person who has signed and isn’t doing the work in some shape or form.
“I think we were the fittest team in the competition this year, our last quarters were exceptional, and teams couldn’t stay with us.
“We’ll be the fittest team for day one of pre-season, when we roll the basketballs out and get moving, and work to get better. There’s no one who is content in this program and the girls are excited about having a target on their back.”
The most pleasing thing about the preparations already for the 2024 season for Thwaites is the fact that the majority of the group appears to be committing to return to have a crack at being back-to-back champions.
“In terms of our core rotation, we really only think we’ll lose KP and to be honest we gain Jaya Scafidi who would have fallen off the radar a little,” Thwaites said.
“She’s coming off an ACL so it will be a bit of a grind for her, but she’s back playing fully now and will have a full off-season to build her fitness and touch. She’s already played a couple of games in our off-season competition and is getting better.
“We’re still exploring what we do in the restricted space but Regan has come in to fill an important role for us. Regan will be here for the whole off-season and full pre-season, which is a huge bonus at this level.
“That’s another adult we’ll have floating around with our young bench. Continuity for us is relatively important and to have (already) most of our starters back who know the way we want to play and what our identity and culture looks like, we couldn’t ask for more.
“Then for the young kids on the bench, we won’t have any core pieces of our rotation experiencing their first seasons next year so we might be the most experienced young team in the competition.”