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?