At The Turn: Norths Bears

As each Waratah Championship team reaches the halfway mark of their season, Sky Blue Hoops will take a look at their campaign to this point and their chances going forward. In this piece, we focus on the Norths Bears, who have set themselves up well for a shot at the championship with an outstanding first half of the season.

After crumbling in the back end of 2016 to miss out on what seemed like a certain finals berth, Norths certainly retooled well in their preparation for a tilt at the 2017 title. Although Norths were rocked by the loss of Kathryn Rendell to injury, the Bears managed to lure former Hornsby coach Shannon Seebohm to the Bear Cave, and the Under 17 Women’s World Championship winning coach brought a number of players with him to his new club. Tristan Black, Jaimee Kennedy, Kate Seebohm, and young star Alessandra Burke followed Seebohm to Norths, whilst Razzearne Muir joined the side after winning the 2016 title with Newcastle. Bree Delaney also made the switch from Comets as Norths were able to put together a lineup with plenty of depth.

Things have gone almost to plan to this point for Norths. Eight games in, their solitary loss was a 65-62 defeat to the still undefeated Hornsby in a nail-biter in mid-May. Outside of that loss, the Bears have compiled an impressive CV to this point. With wins over potential finals teams Manly, Bankstown, and Sutherland and a victory over Suzy Batkovic and Newcastle, Norths have shown that they will be one of the biggest obstacles to any team looking to take home the silverware this season.

However, there are still some areas in which the Bears can afford to improve. Their shooting percentage has not hit 40% in their past six games, with a number of their wins being heavily assisted by their ability to force opponents into turnovers and sheer dominance on the glass. Conversely, Hornsby have shot over 40% three times in recent weeks, and outshot Norths 39% to 29% in last month’s game between the two sides. Certainly, a hot-shooting Norths side is almost unstoppable, but first they actually need to shoot well consistently. It may become more crucial in the coming weeks too, with the unfortunate loss of forward Kate Cranney for the season through injury. Tristan Black, Jaimee Kennedy, and Razzearne Muir will still provide a solid inside presence for the Bears, but Cranney has been the team’s most accurate shooter to this point, and is also second in the league and blocks and second on the team in rebounding.

Going forward, Norths have little to worry about regarding whether or not they make finals. With four games remaining against teams that are now out of the finals race, 11 wins should be the absolute minimum that the Bears expect. They have also beaten every opponent they face from here on out with the exception of Hornsby, so they will know exactly what is required to secure the victories they need to finish in the top two and earn a preferred matchup in the semi-finals. However, the key game comes in the round following the June long weekend. The Bears travel up the Pacific Highway to face Hornsby in the return matchup. A four point win will earn Norths the season series, but a loss would put the side two games behind the Spiders and all but dash any hopes of the minor premiership.

With the Bears getting significant contributions from a number of players and outstanding depth despite recent injury troubles, things are looking very positive for the team from Crows Nest. Kallie Hovatter and Kate Seebohm are performing admirably in the backcourt, whilst Tristan Black and Jaimee Kennedy at times seem unstoppable on the glass. Meanwhile, a number of other players have stepped up when required, including Taylor Jones, Bree Delaney, Muffi Loader, Eleni Valos, and Razzearne Muir. After falling in the semi-finals in 2014 and 2015, and missing the finals in 2016, could this be the season that Norths finally break through for a title?

Waratah Championship Week 10 Roundup

Three blowouts and a thriller would be the best way to describe this week’s action. However, that thriller saw Illawarra pick up their first win of the season, and the blowouts only served to make the race for the finals more interesting.

Hornsby 77 defeated Bankstown 57

Kristina Moore was a class above for Hornsby as the young starlet led the Spiders to a comprehensive 20 point win over Bankstown.

Moore and Darneka Rowe led the offensive assault from the home side in the early stages, but Bankstown came to the Brickpit more than ready to put up a fight. The Bruins took a 4 point lead midway through the opening term courtesy of a pair of threes from former WNBL player Casey Samuels, but Serena Waters finished the quarter with four points in four seconds to put Hornsby up 17-14 after the opening term despite some early foul trouble for star forward Rachel Maenpaa.

Moore scored the first five points for Hornsby in the second quarter as a trend began to emerge. The Spiders moved five points clear at 24-19 before Waters drew a foul on Samuels. The foul was Samuels’ third, and with the Bruins’ star off the court, the game swung even further in Hornsby’s favour. The same Hornsby trio that led the scoring in the opening term continued the assault throughout the second quarter and delivered a double-figure lead for the home side by halftime. A 19-10 quarter in Hornsby’s favour saw the Spiders take a 36-25 lead into the locker room, with the home side in position to really break the game wide open in the second half.

As it happens, that is exactly what occurred in the third quarter. Moore and Rowe continued their outstanding days on the offensive end, and with the Hornsby defence stifling a Bankstown side already hindered by foul trouble, the Spiders continued their march to a 10th straight win. Extending their lead to 18 points by the midway point of the quarter, Hornsby were able to hammer nail after nail into the Bruins’ coffin as the margin blew out to 61-39 with a quarter to play.

As the Spiders gave some of their lesser used players a run in the fourth quarter, the game maintained some sense of equilibrium as the margin hovered around the 20 point mark for the final ten minutes. Samuels was able to add some late points to her tally before committing her fifth and final foul late in the contest, but that had little impact on the contest as Hornsby completed a 77-57 victory to move within one win of mathematically securing a finals berth.

Kristina Moore finished an outstanding game with 24 points and 8 rebounds. Darneka Rowe was also excellent to tally 19 points and 8 rebounds. Serena Waters added 10 points, whilst Alicia Poto came close to yet another double-double, finishing with 11 rebounds and 9 assists to go alongside 6 points. Casey Samuels was Bankstown’s only player to finish in double figures, with 22 points, whilst Marjy Grealish was outstanding on the boards to finish with a game-high 12 rebounds.

Box Score

Newcastle 80 defeated Hills 51

Suzy Batkovic ended her stint at her hometown club with a barnstorming performance as Newcastle ran out comprehensive victors over a valiant Hills side.

The Hunters opened the game on a 13-2 run and never really looked back from there. All five of the home team’s starters tallied points in the first five minutes of the contest as Newcastle set about asserting their dominance in the early stages. Madison Hare was solid for Hills in the early stages, tallying five early points whilst Emma Claus added four as the first quarter ended 22-11 in Newcastle’s favour.

Newcastle stars Batkovic and Cassidy McLean kept things ticking over nicely for Newcastle as the home side continued to extend their margin. Claus, Hare, and Sherrie Calleia helped Hills add 17 points in the second quarter, which in a lot of Waratah League games is a fairly healthy number. However, Newcastle piled on 29 for the term as a number of players provided scoring help to see the Hunters lead 51-28 at halftime.

Things slowed down markedly on the offensive end after halftime, particularly for the home side, although Batkovic continued to dominate in the paint for the Hunters. The five-time WNBL MVP added six of Newcastle’s 19 points for the quarter, with McLean, Cherub Lum, and Kelsey Moss chipping in to extend Newcastle’s margin. Hills were able to hang with the Hunters for the majority of the term, tallying 15 points for the term. However, the Hunters’ margin swelled to 70-43 with a quarter to play.

As the rain lashed down outside, play continued into the fourth quarter. Hare and Calleia each knocked down an early three for Hills, whilst four players combined for ten early points for Newcastle. With five minutes to go, there was a slight delay in proceedings and although the game was able to proceed again shortly after, with the score at 80-51, it was decided by both teams to call the game at this point with the result clearly already decided.

Batkovic led all scorers with 30 points, and also collected 13 rebounds to finish with yet another double-double. Cassidy McLean finished with 16 points, 5 assists, and an incredible 7 steals in an exemplary performance at point guard. Alison Ebzery almost notched a double-double, finishing with 8 points and 9 assists. Madison Hare top scored for Hills with 19 points, with Sherrie Calleia tallying 13 points as the pair finished as Hills’ only double-figure scorers. Emma Claus had an excellent night on the boards to finish with 11 rebounds for the Hornets.

Box Score

Note (5/6/17): It was originally stated in this piece, after talking to players, that this game ended early due to a roof leak. Newcastle Basketball have since released an official statement that this was not the case. Sincere apologies for casting aspersions on the watertightness of Broadmeadow Basketball Stadium’s roof.

Norths 76 defeated Sutherland 52

A tight first quarter gave way to a sterling defensive effort from Norths in the second quarter as the Bears rolled to a 24 point victory which keeps them right on Hornsby’s tail in the chase for top spot.

A slow start for both sides saw the scoreline read 2-2 after three minutes, and a low-scoring game appeared to be on the cards. Mercifully, the scoring improved throughout the rest of the quarter. Bree Delaney’s trio of three-pointers was the highlight for Norths and accounted for almost half of the team’s 19 first quarter points. Sutherland found their points from a number of options, but trailed 19-15 after ten minutes of play.

The Sharks could have used that some offensive output in the second quarter, but instead the visitors were stifled at every turn for most of the second quarter. Things were looking good for Sutherland when they scored the first seven points of the term, but from there, Norths owned the play. Jaimee Kennedy returned with a vengeance after missing last week’s game against Hills, before the backcourt pairing of Kallie Hovatter and Kate Seebohm finished off a comprehensive 14-0 run to end the quarter which put Norths up 33-22 at halftime.

Hovatter extended that run to 16-0 with the opening basket of the third quarter, but things became quite more even in the minutes that followed. Razzearne Muir scored the next six points from Norths to counter Sutherland’s frontcourt scoring from Peta Kneen, Jane Scrivens, and Rachel Herrick, before Eleni Valos knocked down a three for the Bears to push the margin out to 44-31. Young gun Maddy Norris did her best to trim the lead with five quick points, but Hovatter and Muir ensured that Norths would hold on to a significant 54-38 lead going into the final term.

With depth in spades, Norths’ progress to victory could not be slowed in the final quarter. Muffi Loader scored a remarkable 12 points in the final term to all but cover Sutherland’s 14 points for the term, with the former Portland State guard showcasing an exemplary performance in the final period. Despite the best efforts of Rachel Herrick, the Bears were too much for the Sharks on the night, and the home side finished 76-52 victors to move to 7-1.

Loader’s outstanding last quarter effort saw her end the game as equal top-scorer for Norths with Razzearne Muir, with both players finishing with 12 points. Muir also collected 6 rebounds in a solid two-way effort. Kallie Hovatter, Bree Delaney, and Jaimee Kennedy all scored 11 points, with Hovatter’s five steals for the game also a highlight. Tristan Black was a menace on the glass as per usual, collecting an impressive 13 rebounds, whilst Kate Seebohm was solid in all facets to finish with 8 points, 8 assists, and 6 rebounds.

Rachel Herrick led all scorers with 15 points for Sutherland, and finished with 6 rebounds. Peta Kneen added 11 points, whilst Jane Scrivens was excellent at both ends to finish with 10 points and 13 rebounds.

Box Score

Illawarra 61 defeated Comets 59

In what has been a trying season, Illawarra once again faced adversity with the newly arrived Georgia Ohrdorf out for Saturday’s game against Comets. However, the Kittyhawks rallied around each other and secured a thrilling win in a game that wasn’t decided until the final seconds.

Playing with a short bench, the visitors needed to open the game well to stand a chance of victory, and did exactly that. Despite conceding the first four points of the game, Illawarra quickly established a lead of their own through Paige Phillips and Eleri Morris before Olivia White put the home side to the sword in the back end of the opening term. The Kittyhawks forward scored 7 points in the quarter as Illawarra opened up a 24-15 lead which would have been even larger if not for the play of young Comets star Serika Shillingsworth.

Comets were able to flip the script in the second quarter. The home side trimmed the margin to six on the back of scoring from Samantha Hewitt, Jaimee Cohen, and Stephanie Perch. White quickly hit back with four quick points to move Illawarra out to a ten point lead, but a late run fuelled by a number of trips to the free throw line brought Comets right back into the contest. Shillingsworth found her way to the basket late in the quarter, and the half ended with the game on a knife-edge at 35-33 in Illawarra’s favour.

Having dressed just seven players for the game, it would have been understandable if Illawarra faded in the second half. However, coach John Hargreaves rotated his players intelligently and ensured that the minutes were spread across the team with little impact on the team’s performance. With that said, early in the quarter it looked as if Comets may generate some momentum as three pointers to Perch and Hewitt handed the home side a 39-35 lead after three minutes of play in a low-scoring start to the quarter. Illawarra clawed back their lead with a pair of free throws to White followed by a Sparks three, but Shillingsworth returned fire with a three of her own as the teams traded the lead. Morris and Shillingsworth traded baskets before a late Paige Blanton basket gave Illawarra a crucial 50-47 lead with a quarter of basketball to play.

A low-scoring start to the final quarter saw Eleri Morris hit the first basket of the term nearly three minutes in. It would be another two minutes before Lauren Sparks hit a jumper to put Illawarra up 54-47 and within touching distance of their first win of the season. However, it was never going to be that easy. Tatyanna Pogonza-Dumas hit a couple of baskets and with 2 minutes to go the scoreboard read 56-53 in the visitors’ favour.

Sparks and Shillingsworth hit threes within the space of 13 seconds as the final minute commenced. Sparks had another three point opportunity, but missed and Comets grabbed the rebound and called a timeout. Out of the timeout, Shillingsworth drove to the basket to put the home side within a point at 59-58 with 11 seconds remaining. Illawarra took a timeout and Lauren Sparks was immediately fouled on the inbounds pass following the timeout. The Sydney Uni Flames guard was clutch at the line to move Illawarra ahead 61-58.

Shillingsworth attempted a three in the dying seconds, but Tiarna Porter caught just enough of the ball to prevent the shot having any chance of being successful. Rachel Harris committed a foul in the rebounding contest, sending Hewitt to the line. Hewitt hit the first before intentionally missing the second, but a Comets player committed a lane violation attempting to grab the rebound. But with just 0.2 seconds on the clock, it made little difference as Illawarra survived to grab their first win of the season, 61-59.

Two Illawarra players finished with double-doubles in the win. Olivia White top scored with 20 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, whilst Eleri Morris registered 11 points and 12 boards in an outstanding performance. Lauren Sparks played a solid captain’s knock with 15 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists. Serika Shillingsworth led Comets with 20 points and 5 rebounds, whilst Samantha Hewitt added 14 points and 9 rebounds.

Box Score

Weekly Scoring Leaders

Suzy Batkovic (Newcastle) – 30 points v Hills
Kristina Moore (Hornsby) – 24 points v Bankstown
Casey Samuels (Bankstown) – 22 points v Hornsby
Serika Shillingsworth (Comets) – 20 points v Illawarra
Olivia White (Illawarra) – 20 points v Comets

Waratah Championship Week 8 Roundup

Just the three games in the Waratah Championship this week, but there was plenty of action. Illawarra showed vast improvement upon the return of key pieces, and the battle of the undefeated teams between Norths and Hornsby went right down to the wire.

Illawarra 64 lost to Sutherland 73

Lauren Sparks and Rachel Harris returned to the team, and Georgia Ohrdorf came into the Hawks side on her return from college, but the continued absence of Olivia White stung Illawarra in a loss to Sutherland.

As expected, Sutherland opened up an early lead. Illawarra had kept things tight in the opening moments, but the Sharks exhibited their class in the back half of the opening quarter. A 17-4 run, led by six points from Lisa Watkins, delivered the visitors a 24-12 lead after the first period of play.

Sutherland extended their lead in the second quarter, but not before Illawarra had trimmed the margin to 26-23 courtesy of six consecutive points from young starlet Eleri Morris. But once again, Sutherland delivered an extended run of scoring in the second half of the quarter. Peta Kneen was chief destroyer for the Sharks as they ended the half on an 18-4 run which mirrored the first quarter. By the end of the term, the Sharks’ lead was 44-27 and the game had seemed to have gotten away from the Hawks.

Despite the margin, Georgia Ohrdorf was outstanding throughout the third quarter. Despite landing in the country mere hours earlier, Ohrdorf added 10 points in the third term to exhibit the skill set that she has developed in her years at Metro State University in Denver. Despite Ohrdorf’s heroics, Sutherland held a 59-43 lead with a quarter to play.

Ohrdorf continued to shine as the Hawks chipped into the Sharks’ lead throughout the fourth quarter. With Tiarna Porter also chipping in at times, Illawarra narrowed the margin, but not quite fast enough. Whilst the home side were able to trim the lead to 68-62, this came with just 36 seconds to play. Peta Kneen added a pair from the line to push Sutherland ahead 70-62, which iced the game for Sutherland before some late scoring at either end saw the final score read 73-64 in Sutherland’s favour.

Despite the loss and the jetlag, Georgia Ohrdorf was outstanding with a 28 point, 6 rebound effort in her return to Illawarra. Tiarna Porter was outstanding in support with 16 points and 11 rebounds to complete a double-double. Lauren Sparks also delivered 11 assists for the Hawks. Peta Kneen was again excellent for Sutherland, registering 27 points and 9 rebounds to lead her team. Lisa Watkins was outstanding in the backcourt, finishing with 19 points on 70% field goal shooting, whilst Clare Thomson almost completed a double-double with 9 points and 9 rebounds.

Box Score

Norths 62 lost to Hornsby 65

The battle of the undefeated teams may not have been overflowing with quality scoring, but it was certainly a tussle until the final buzzer as Hornsby escaped the Bear Cave with a win.

A scrappy start to the game saw neither team able to get on the board until Kate Seebohm’s three after 2:36 of play opened Norths’ account. Kristina Moore and Razzearne Muir added a basket for either side, but when Darneka Rowe converted a pair of free throws with 4:12 to play in the opening term, the score was still just 5-4 in Norths’ favour. Fortunately, the end of the quarter brought a little more scoring, with Nicole Hutchins’ basket with 35 seconds to play handing Hornsby a 12-11 lead to end the term.

Hornsby’s young stars led the scoring in the early stages of the second quarter. Four points each for Nicole Hutchins and Serena Waters, plus a basket from Kristina Moore, saw Youth League players responsible for the first 10 points of the quarter for the Spiders. On Norths’ side, it was Kate Cranney and Kate Seebohm hitting shots with aplomb. Rebecca Black finished the quarter strongly for Hornsby to allow the Spiders to maintain their lead until halftime, with the visitors holding a 30-26 advantage as the teams headed to the locker rooms.

Youth made way for experience in the third quarter for Hornsby as Rachel Maenpaa and Alicia Poto did the bulk of the scoring as the Spiders opened the half on a 14-0 run. A three point barrage from Kallie Hovatter and Bree Delaney helped trim the margin back to 49-44, but the Bears would need the shots to keep falling after a generally poor night shooting before Hovatter and Delaney got the team back on track. As it was, neither team had much luck scoring in the final couple of minutes of the quarter. Moore and Cranney added two points for each side, and the five point margin remained intact at 51-46 with ten minutes to play.

Cranney opened the final term with a pair of baskets, and when Muffi Loader found her way to the basket, Norths had not only reduced Hornsby’s lead, they had taken one of their own at 52-51 with 8:06 to play. Rachel Maenpaa quickly restored Hornsby’s advantage, before Darneka Rowe pushed the margin back out to 56-52 with a three pointer. However, as the game progressed, it became clear that neither team was going to win this by a large margin. Cranney hit a jumper and Jaimee Kennedy knocked down a pair of free throws to tie things up at 56-56, but Moore gave Hornsby a 58-56 lead with 5:26 to play. Maenpaa hit two consecutive baskets which appeared to give Hornsby a bit of breathing room at 62-56, but Hovatter hit back on Norths’ next possession to trim the margin to four with 2:48 to play.

Cranney hit a jumper with 1:53 to play, but Maenpaa found her way to the free throw line and converted a pair from the stripe. Norths had their chances to narrow the margin late on. Cranney twice split a pair at the line, but those two free throws were enough to have Norths within a basket with 30 seconds to play. Despite this, the Bears had to foul to stop the clock. Alicia Poto went to the line and split a pair of her own free throws to give Hornsby a 65-62 lead with 10 seconds to play.

Bree Delaney missed a three with six seconds to play, but Kennedy snared the offensive rebound and was fouled. Kennedy missed the first, but had to intentionally miss the second regardless to give Norths a chance at winning. She did so, and Norths grabbed the rebound, but Delaney’s final second three pointer was off target and Hornsby held on for the win.

A rounded scoring performance saw four Hornsby players finish in double figures. Kristina Moore and Rachel Maenpaa each tallied 14 points for the Spiders. Alicia Poto tallied an 11 point, 13 rebound double-double and also registered 7 assists, whilst Nicole Hutchins added 11 points of her own.

Kate Cranney was Norths’ top scorer with 18 points, and also picked up 8 rebounds. Kallie Hovatter added 13 points, whilst Kate Seebohm registered 11 points. However, despite managing 85 field goal attempts to Hornsby’s 63, Norths’ 29% shooting clip did their chances no favours.

Box Score

Comets 50 lost to Manly 62

Comets gave a solid account of themselves throughout the middle portion of the game, but a first quarter blitzkrieg from Manly set the Sea Eagles up for victory to further solidify their position in the top four.

Led by Rebecca Duke and Candice Trevenna, Manly scored the first 11 points of the game in just 129 seconds of game time to set themselves up for success from the outset. Maja Jurlina broke Manly’s run with a three, and although Comets were able to trim the margin to six through Serika Shillingsworth, late baskets to Jess Cullen and Fiona Sparks pushed Manly back out to a 22-11 lead after ten minutes of play.

Duke, Trevenna, and Kristen Forbes kept Manly’s score ticking over, but Tatyanna Pogonza-Dumas provided a real spark off the bench for Comets. Some quick points from the young star helped trim the margin to 32-28 but Kristen Forbes countered with two baskets of her own to push Manly back out to a 36-28 lead at halftime. However, Comets had trimmed the lead by three and the game was still in the balance after the first half.

The home side continued to show their fight in the third quarter, but unfortunately it only shone through after Duke had helped Manly establish a 16 point lead midway through the term. Somehow, at 49-33 down, something switched on in the Comets’ brains and the home side rattled off the last 10 points of the third quarter. A pair of baskets to Georgia Flanigan bookended the run and a game that had looked over just minutes earlier was now back in the balance.

However, Comets started the fourth quarter slowly and there are only so many times a team can charge back. Manly moved 13 points ahead early in the final term and an extended period of no scoring from either team worked in the Sea Eagles’ favour. Manly pushed ahead 62-49, and with a solitary Samantha Hewitt free throw the only point of the final two minutes, the visitors secured a 62-50 win.

Serika Shillingsworth led Comets with 13 points. Samantha Hewitt fell just shy of a double-double with 9 points and 10 rebounds, whilst Tatyanna Pogonza-Dumas collected 9 boards of her own. Kristen Forbes was outstanding for Manly with 22 points and 15 rebounds. Rebecca Duke added 16 points and 9 rebounds of her own, whilst Candice Trevenna added 11 points.

Box Score

Weekly Scoring Leaders

Georgia Ohrdorf (Illawarra) – 28 points v Sutherland
Peta Kneen (Sutherland) – 27 points v Illawarra
Kristen Forbes (Manly) – 22 points v Comets
Lisa Watkins (Sutherland) – 19 points v Illawarra
Kate Cranney (Norths) – 18 points v Hornsby