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 9 Roundup

Hornsby won their ninth game on the trot and left Newcastle’s finals hopes in tatters in the process, whilst a vastly improved performance from Illawarra wasn’t quite enough to slow down a solid Manly side.

Hornsby 88 defeated Newcastle 78

Hornsby established an early lead and consolidated their dominance throughout the majority of the contest to remain undefeated, whilst Newcastle’s finals hope hang by a thread after dropping to 3-6 with this loss.

The Spiders started the better of the two teams and quickly jumped out to a 14-4 lead, with Rachel Maenpaa and Kristina Moore leading the way for the home side. Newcastle were able to hold the margin at 10 for much of the opening term, but never made any real inroads until Cassidy McLean’s three, which was the last score of the quarter, trimmed Hornsby’s lead to 24-17.

Hornsby started the second quarter well, but Suzy Batkovic began to make her mark on the game with six quick points as Newcastle came within five points before a pair of Alicia Poto three pointers gave Hornsby a bit more breathing room. A late run to end the quarter which saw the Spiders find scoring from a variety of players saw the Spiders put the game firmly in their control by halftime with the scoreboard reading 50-34 in the home side’s favour.

Batkovic continued to lead the scoring for Newcastle in the third quarter, but stopping Hornsby from finding the bottom of the basket proved difficult for the visitors. Darneka Rowe shone throughout the third quarter with nine points in the period for the Spiders, who continued to find points in a variety of ways. Despite losing Liv Sheehan to a knock early in the quarter, the home side pushed their lead out to 20 at one point, but a late charge from the Hunters cut the margin to 14 with a quarter to play.

Newcastle used the momentum generated from that late third quarter run to force their way back into the contest. A Sophie Parente jumper trimmed the margin to seven with just under 6 minutes to play, and the Hornsby lead hovered around that figure, with the teams still separated by seven after Batkovic converted a pair at the line with 2:35 to play.

Kristina Moore stepped up late for the home side, drawing a foul and converting both free throws before hitting a jumper on Hornsby’s next possession to score four consecutive points and put the Spiders up 84-73 with just a minute to play. Alison Ebzery and Batkovic added late points for Newcastle, but Moore and Rowe were composed at the charity stripe to ice the game for the Spiders.

Kristina Moore continued her outstanding season, leading Hornsby’s scoring with 22 points. Darneka Rowe was also excellent with 18 points, and Rachel Maenpaa added 14. Alicia Poto collected a triple-double with 17 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists, whilst Tylah Mundine secured 10 rebounds of her own. Suzy Batkovic again led Newcastle with 31 points and 14 rebounds, and was supported by backcourt pair Cassidy McLean and Cherub Lum. McLean finished with 11 points, whilst Lum added 15 on 58% shooting. Alison Ebzery was also solid in several facets, finishing with 7 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists.

Sutherland 42 lost to Bankstown 65

Sutherland had a chance to further strengthen their finals credentials, but were dealt a savage blow by Bankstown, who put themselves right in the playoff hunt with a 22 point victory.

Casey Samuels took on the world and won in the first quarter, registering 11 of the Bruins’ 17 first quarter points in a dominant performance. Conversely, Sutherland’s points came in a far more balanced fashion as the Sharks remained within a basket after the first quarter as Bankstown took a 17-15 lead into the second quarter.

The teams traded baskets early in the second quarter before scoring began to elude the home side. Threes to Madison Bennett and Kellie Parker opened up a lead for Bankstown before Ellie Gleeson and Aleesha Coulter drove a wedge between the teams as the Bruins took a 29-20 lead into the last five minutes of the half. The Bankstown defence continued to stifle Sutherland, with the Sharks able to only find one more basket in the back end of the term as an 18-7 quarter for Bankstown established a 35-22 halftime lead for the visitors.

Neither team was able to find much offence in the third quarter, but that mattered little to Bankstown as Sutherland were unable to make any indent into the Bruins’ lead. Early points to Bankstown pushed the lead to 16 before Lisa Watkins trimmed the margin back to 13 again, but that was as close as Sutherland would get in the third quarter. Whilst Bankstown were only able to tally 12 points in the quarter, the Sharks could only muster 9 and the third quarter ended with the score 47-31 in the Bruins’ favour.

Bankstown continued their dominance in the fourth quarter, using a mid-quarter 9-0 run to push the lead out to 58-36 and put an end to the contest. Casey Samuels returned to her scoring form of the first quarter, and the game meandered to its predictable finish with little scoring in the final couple of minutes, with the final score reading 65-42 to the visitors.

Casey Samuels was the only player on either team to reach double figures, dominating with 24 points and 12 rebounds to be the difference-maker. Marjy Grealish also came up with 12 rebounds to go alongside 6 points for the Bruins. Jane Scrivens tallied 11 boards and Peta Kneen registered 10 rebounds for Sutherland, but Lisa Watkins’ 8 points was the best scoring performance any Sutherland player could muster on a tough day for the Sharks.

Hills 43 lost to Norths 77

Bouncing back from last week’s narrow loss to Hornsby, Norths remain in second place after a solid win away to Hills despite missing Kate Cranney and Jaimee Kennedy.

Led by some early scoring from young star Sherrie Calleia, Hills kept right in touch with Norths in the opening stages, but a late run to end the first quarter opened up a lead for the visitors. Three-pointers from Bree Delaney and Kate Seebohm helped the visitors score 10 of the last 14 points of the quarter to move to a 21-13 lead after one quarter of play.

Despite not scoring a point for the first four minutes of the second quarter, Norths were somehow able to extend their lead. Taylor Jones finally got the Bears started with a three, which was followed by two more from Seebohm as the point guard scored 10 consecutive points for Norths. Seebohm would finish with 12 of Norths’ 20 points for the quarter, which also represented five more than the young Hills side could muster throughout the quarter. Although their shooting percentage was a touch on the low side, the Bears managed to push the lead to 41-20 by halftime and set themselves up for a less stressful second half.

With all credit to Hills, the young side did not waver in their tenacity in the second half. Following a cagey start to the half from both sides, it was the home side that rattled off a 11-0 lead midway through the third quarter. Brittany Ridlen added five of those 11 points before Ali Burke snapped the run by drawing a foul and converting a pair of free throws. Hills would go on to win the third quarter 17-15 in an admirable performance.

Normal service resumed in the final term as Norths cruised to victory. Six fourth quarter points from Kallie Hovatter paced the Norths offence, whilst Burke, Seebohm, and Jones all chipped in as the Bears dominated the final term to run out 77-43 winners.

Kate Seebohm delivered an exceptional performance to lead Norths to victory. Shooting 66% from the field, Seebohm registered 23 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, and a remarkable 7 steals. Kallie Hovatter added 16 points, whilst Tristan Black and Eleni Valos were outstanding on the boards with 14 and 11 rebounds respectively. Brittany Ridlen compiled a double-double for Hills with 10 points and 11 rebounds, whilst Madison Hare tallied a respectable stat line of 6 points and 8 rebounds.

Illawarra 71 lost to Manly 88

With something resembling a nearly full squad, Illawarra produced possibly their best performance of the season, but Manly were able to pull away in the fourth quarter to move to 7-4 through 11 games.

With Olivia White back in the lineup, the Illawarra team looked on paper to be a vast improvement on the understrength squad the Kittyhawks had been forced to field in recent weeks, and it showed in the early stages. The home side hung with Manly in the early stages, and even managed to take an 11-8 lead midway through the opening term on the back of scoring from Olivia White and Georgia Ohrdorf. A lightning first quarter saw the points flow at both ends, with every Illawarra basket matched by one from the Sea Eagles. When Rachel Harris hit a jumper for the Kittyhawks with 11 seconds remaining in the opening term, the score read 28-26 in the Sea Eagles’ favour.

With that kind of scoring pace untenable for long periods, things did begin to slow slightly in the second quarter. Rebecca Duke was able to command the paint for Manly, but the home side were able to stay in touch with scoring from a number of players. With Lauren Sparks running the offence at the point and dishing out assists, Illawarra were able to hang in there despite Manly taking a 49-41 lead into the halftime break.

Despite letting the margin grow to double figures early in the third quarter, Illawarra trimmed the Manly lead back to seven on several occasions throughout the term. However, Manly hit back each time to maintain a solid enough lead to ensure that the visitors would head into the final term up 65-55 after a 15-14 third quarter that was almost the antithesis of the opening term.

Any thoughts of an upset win for Illawarra were extinguished early in the fourth quarter as Manly started the term on an 8-0 run that pushed the lead to 18 with 7 minutes to play as Candice Trevenna torched the Kittyhawks with six points to start the term. Despite the best efforts of Illawarra, that early run from the Sea Eagles ended the game as a contest as the Kittyhawks were unable to trim the margin in the latter stages of the contest. A late Olivia White jumper moved Illawarra within 17, with the game finishing 88-71 in the visitors’ favour.

Despite suffering a knock during play, Georgia Ohrdorf top scored for Illawarra with 22 points and also tallied 7 rebounds. Olivia White added 15 points and 13 rebounds for a double-double, whilst Lauren Sparks nearly completed a triple-double, finishing with 11 points, 10 assists, and 8 rebounds. Rebecca Duke was outstanding in the paint to finish with 23 points and 10 rebounds for Manly, whilst Candice Trevenna added 14 points and 18 rebounds for a double-double of her own.

Weekly Scoring Leaders

Suzy Batkovic (Newcastle) – 31 points v Hornsby
Casey Samuels (Bankstown) – 24 points v Sutherland
Rebecca Duke (Manly) – 23 points v Illawarra
Kate Seebohm (Norths) – 23 points v Hills
Kristina Moore (Hornsby) – 22 points v Newcastle
Georgia Ohrdorf (Illawarra) – 22 points v Manly

Waratah Championship Week 5 Roundup

Norths and Hornsby continued their undefeated starts to the season, whilst Manly took advantage of Suzy Batkovic’s absence to register a comprehensive victory over Newcastle.

Norths 70 defeated Bankstown 65

Norths ran out five point winners over Bankstown, but should never really have let the game become as close as it was. The Bears never trailed, and led by as much as 13 at one point, but some lackadaisical defence at various points allowed Bankstown to force their way back into the contest.

The home side jumped out to an early lead, with seven players scoring in the first quarter as the Bears established a 19-12 advantage after 10 minutes. With the officials reluctant to let much go, it soon became difficult for either team to gain momentum as the flow of the game was regularly interrupted by fouls. The second quarter featured 14 free throw attempts, and with neither team able to get on much of a run, the second quarter was a remarkably even contest given the events of the first term. Norths went into halftime up 35-27, but Bankstown remained within touching distance early in the 3rd quarter. A Casey Samuels three opened up proceedings to cut the Norths lead to five, but Jaimee Kennedy and Kallie Hovatter quickly pushed the home side’s advantage out to double digits. Bankstown would occasionally trim the lead slightly, but Norths had a response every time as Taylor Jones stepped up for 5 quick points off the bench at a time when Bankstown were looking dangerous.

The Bruins came out firing in the fourth quarter, capitalising on some wasteful possessions by the home side to put themselves within three midway through the final quarter as Jasmine Barlow and Madison Bennett knocked down a couple of vital shots. Bree Delaney quickly righted things for Norths with two threes bookending a pair of free throws from Jasmine Barlow to push the margin back out to eight. However, Bankstown would not be denied their chance at a sterling comeback, with the experience of Briana Maimone, Adrianne Bywater, and Casey Samuels coming to the fore. However, Samuels fouled out on a technical foul with two minutes to play which put Bankstown in a spot of trouble. Maimone split a pair at the line to bring Bankstown within three points, but young Ali Burke stepped up from the corner and knocked down a three pointer with 16 seconds to play to push the margin to six.

Madison Bennett responded with a three of her own just six seconds later to move the score to 68-65 in Norths’ favour, but an egregious error from Briana Maimone allowed Norths the chance to wrap up proceedings. Attempting to foul Kallie Hovatter to stop the clock, the Bankstown player-coached grabbed the American a fraction of a second before she received the inbounds pass, gifting Norths two free throws and possession. Hovatter made both, and whilst Norths’ inbounds pass was knocked out of bounds at the first attempt, the second attempt found a player in red and black and Jaimee Kennedy was able to maintain possession to run out the clock for an unnecessarily tight win for the Bears.

Kallie Hovatter and Bree Delaney each had 15 points to lead Norths. Hovatter also tallied 4 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 steals, whilst Delaney hauled in 8 rebounds. However, the undoubted star was Jaimee Kennedy with 12 points, 13 rebounds, 9 assists, and 4 steals. Kate Cranney also finished in double figures with 10 points, and also collected 7 rebounds.

Casey Samuels and Adrianne Bywater both tallied 12 points to lead Bankstown. Briana Maimone rounded out a solid all-round performance with 9 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists, whilst Madison Bennett tallied 9 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 assists.

Box Score

Newcastle 52 lost to Manly 90

Newcastle were without Suzy Batkovic, and it showed as Manly rolled to a 38 point victory. A low scoring first quarter went the Sea Eagles’ way, with the visitors opening up a 17-6 lead. Manly continued to apply the pressure in the second quarter, with Belinda Snell leading the way. The Sydney Uni Flames stalwart hit four three-pointers on her way to 14 second quarter points, helping the visitors establish a 42-19 halftime lead and putting the game beyond doubt before the teams even made their way to the locker rooms.

Newcastle exhibited a better performance in the second half, but were unable to slow Manly’s scoring. Candice Trevenna and Kristen Forbes ensured there would be no let-up from the Sea Eagles, who tallied another 24 points in the third quarter. The rout was completed with another 24 points in the final term, with the young Hunters unable to match it with the more experienced Sea Eagles team carrying three former WNBL players and one current Sydney Uni Flames player on their roster.

Belinda Snell both dropped 24 points to top score. Snell also contributed in other ways, with 7 assists and 7 rebounds to her name. Kristen Forbes added 18, whilst Candice Trevenna registered 10 points of her own as Manly found scoring from a number of options throughout the contest. Cherub Lum led Newcastle with 15 points, whilst Alison Ebzery registered 10 points and 10 rebounds for a valiant double-double.

Box Score

Illawarra 58 lost to Hornsby 92

Illawarra were always destined to find it tough against an in-form Hornsby, and without Lauren Sparks things became even tougher for a Hawks team forced to run with just seven players. The Spiders showed no mercy in the first quarter though, with seven players contributing to the visitors’ 25 points in the opening term. Things changed little in the second quarter as the Spiders continued their march. Despite not receiving much scoring from the likes of Alicia Poto and Darneka Rowe, Hornsby still manufactured a 46-23 lead against a valiant but overmatched Illawarra side, many of whom already had the day’s earlier Youth League game in their legs.

Serena Waters put together a solid performance in that Youth League game for Hornsby, but eclipsed her earlier performance with a stunning effort off the bench. The young starlet top scored for Hornsby, tallying 8 of her 19 points in the third quarter as Hornsby continued to pull away. Illawarra were able to win the final quarter 22-18, but this game belonged to Hornsby, who ran out 90-52 winners on the back of some sterling efforts from their young charges. Paige Phillips and Eleri Morris were outstanding for the Hawks despite playing the majority of the Youth League game as well.

Serena Waters led all scorers with 19 points, and also dished out 4 assists in an electric performance. Kristina Moore added 16 of her own as well as 6 rebounds. Rachel Maenpaa added 15 points and 6 rebounds in her return from a short layoff, whilst Olivia Sheehan was again solid to tally 14 points on 54% shooting.

Four of Illawarra’s starters tallied double figures, with Olivia White leading the team with 15 points and 10 rebounds to complete a double-double. Paige Phillips and Eleri Morris added 14 apiece, and Tiana Porter registered 13 points in a valiant effort by the shorthanded home side.

Box Score

Comets 73 defeated Hills 67

Comets ensured the logjam around the middle of the standings grew with a hard-fought win over Hills. Hills led 15-12 after the first quarter, but the home side rallied to put together a 25-12 second quarter which broke the game wide open by halftime. However, Hills hit back in the third quarter, repeatedly reeling Comets in after the home side opened up significant leads. The home side led by 17 at one point in the third quarter, but Hills gave themselves a fighting chance by cutting the margin to 11 by the conclusion of the term. The visitors won the final quarter by five, but the final basket came with just ten seconds to play when the game was truly done and dusted.

With spiritual leader Jaimee Cohen out injured, Tatyanna Pogonza-Dumas stepped up for Comets. Coming off the bench, Pogonza-Dumas top scored with 13 points and also tallied 7 rebounds and 5 assists to provide a real spark for the home side. Madison Hare also came off the bench to top score for Hills with 16 points. Three more Hills players finished in double figures, with Sherrie Calleia, Emma Claus, and Brooke Roditis all tallying 10 points. Calleia also dished out 7 assists and collected 9 rebounds to finish within touching distance of a triple-double.

Box Score

Weekly Scoring Leaders

Belinda Snell (Manly) – 24 points v Newcastle
Serena Waters (Hornsby) – 19 points v Illawarra
Kristen Forbes (Manly) – 18 points v Newcastle
Madison Hare (Hills) – 16 points v Comets