Wildcats back as season approaches
After a two-year hiatus, Stawell will return to Country Basketball League men’s competition for the 2019-20 season.
The Wildcats previously fielded men’s and women’s teams in the league’s south-west conference alongside Horsham and Ararat but withdrew after the 2016-17 season because of a lack of players.
Stawell’s return means the Wimmera-grampians region will again have three associations in the men’s competition.
Wildcats coach Alistair Beard said the revival of Stawell’s men’s team had been a collaborative effort by many passionate volunteers.
“When a team goes into recess normally that’s it, which is a shame because the CBL is a good, competitive league,” he said.
“In most country towns during summer, apart from cricket and a little bit of tennis, there is not much on offer.
“Most towns survive on football during the winter, but basketball gives kids opportunities to enjoy another sport during the summer.”
Beard said it was a focus on the development of junior players that led to the Wildcats’ revival.
“One of our keys is to develop the juniors so that when the guys get older, we’ve got the next wave of kids coming through,” he said. “We want there to be a pathway for them to continue doing something they enjoy rather than getting to the end of juniors and saying, ‘what do I do now?’”
Beard said Ararat Basketball Association representatives had been helpful in getting the program up and running, offering advice and answering questions.
He said the Wildcats were excited to compete in a pre-season competition against the Ararat, Horsham and Maryborough associations this weekend. Ararat coach Marcus Jenkins said the Redbacks were also ready for the 2019-20 season, although they were dealing with the loss of last season’s leading scorer Zac Dunmore.
“It’s time for the players who were in the shadows last year to step up and take the bull by the horns and lead the team again,” he said.
“Toby Smith is unavailable with work, but the rest of the team should be much the same as it was last season.
“In the five weeks that Zac was out last season, we were competitive.
“It was just the last seven minutes of the game where we lost it, and that comes down to being young and not having the leadership on the court that Zac provided for us.”
Jenkins said there would also be a focus on junior development within Ararat basketball.
“My main aim with the young group we have is to develop them and build something for Ararat that is bigger than just my coaching career here,” he said.
While Stawell and Ararat will focus on junior development, Horsham should be among the conference title contenders again, with all of its players from last season except former coach Cam Bruce, who has retired, returning.
New coach Tim Pickert said Bruce’s absence presented an opportunity for other players to shine.
“Training has been a breeze because we all know what we’re doing and we’ve all been playing together for the past two or three years,” he said.
“We’ll probably see the likes of Sam Breuer and Austin Mckenzie playing much bigger roles than they have in the past.
“The development the likes of Mitch Martin and ‘Jezza’ Mckenzie have shown over winter is also going to help us out a lot.
“Most of the teams in the competition are pretty young, and you look at our team and the average age would probably be about 30. So, to have a couple of young guys coming in and holding spots down is great for us.”
In women’s competition, Horsham will be the sole team representing the Wimmera-grampians region.
New coach Tony Sleep said the team would be similar to last year, with tweaks in game style and young players emerging.
“We have some really solid veterans in Rebecca Mcintyre, Caitlin Story and Shannon Cross, who has just come back from having a baby,” he said.
“Kara Shuttleworth comes back after a year off and Olivia Jones is back after an injury-interrupted year. She brings a load of natural athleticism and sees the game well.
“Some of the stronger players from last year like Georgia Hiscock and Faith Mckenzie look ready to take the next step.
“Molly Lakin will return for her second year as a Hornet and kids like Grace Maserra and Imogen Worthy are long and athletic, and are in the same mold as Faith Mckenzie.” • In round one Ararat hosts Millicent on Saturday, October 12 at 7pm before Horsham host the team the next day at 2pm. Stawell will make its debut in round two with a road game against Mount Gambier. The Lady Hornets will get their first taste of action with a home game against Millicent on October 13.
HARD WORK: Instrumental in reviving Stawell’s men’s CBL team are, from left, committee member Joel Freeland, assistant coach Troy Kenny, coach Alistair Beard and vice-chair Aidan Marr.