Country Basketball League Benalla previews

By Meg Saultry

History will be made when the first Benalla Lady Breakers team runs out on the court against the Shepparton Gators on tonight.

The team, coached by Tony Long and assistant coach Shane Riley, joins the Benalla Breakers men’s team in the Country Basketball League, where it faces the likes of Shepparton, Seymour and Myrtleford.

While Long said the women’s team would not be smashing rival teams any time soon, the ultimate success of the team would prove to be the development of women’s basketball in the region.

‘‘The main aim is to get girls back on the court in Benalla and I think we’re achieving that,’’ Long said.

‘‘It’s massive really. It’s history in the making in itself and all these girls are going to be apart of that.

‘‘For them, it’s a big moment in time, for Benalla and Benalla basketball.’’

Benalla Basketball Association president Wally Armstrong was also excited about the prospect of fielding a women’s team this season.

‘‘We thought we might get seven to eight girls, but to get 14 to 15 girls for the Lady Breakers this season, that is the biggest thrill we can bring to the town,’’ Armstrong said.

Long said it was incredibly important for Benalla to field a women’s senior basketball team to ensure pathways were not broken once girls aged out of juniors, with players needing to travel to Shepparton and Wangaratta to play competitive senior basketball.

‘‘Now you’ve got juniors coming through, you’ve got seniors at the top level, and then you move onto the next level,’’ Long said.

‘‘To build slowly is a great place to be.’’

Long expects a tough first game for a young and inexperienced Lady Breakers team against Shepparton.

The squad was made up of a mix of senior and junior players, with several players returning from playing in Shepparton and Wangaratta to compete for their home town.

Long said while the team had had a slow start in the preseason, he believed they were “slowly building into a solid group that is going forward”.

“We won’t be sensational when we come out first of all,” Long said.

“But I think over the season we’ll certainly build into a group that people realise, we’re going to take some respect from.”

The team was set to play 12 games this season, with a mix of home and away games.

And Long said it was the home games where he would set some real goals for success.

“We’ll set some goals to get some wins at home,” Long said.

“If we can get half our wins at home, I’d be pretty happy with that.

“And if we can strike one away or a couple away, that would be a bonus for us.

“That’s where we will start off and we’ll see where we get from there.”

But first up will be an almighty test, with the Breakers traveling to face Shepparton Gators on their home court.

Despite Long not yet seeing a team list for the Gators, the coach expected a strong Gators outfit to take to the court tonight.

“I’m assuming they’ll be a young group, they had some players nearing their end, so that will make the road a little bit easier for us,” Long said.

“But they are an accomplished team and set of people, so we expect a tough game for that first one.

“As long as we can hold our heads up high and put in a great effort, I’ll be happy.”

Long offered an insight in the stocks of his women’s team.

“Issy Riley will be strong on the outside, while I expect Chelsea Gilcrist and Ellie Culhane to mix things up on the inside,” he said.

“Loni will be an experienced head and Gertie McCallum is an accomplished point guard.”

And as for defence?

“We’ll play a team defence and work from there,” he said.

“We’re starting off and getting to know each other.”

● Benalla Breakers will look to smash through the CBL this season and push for a maiden victory with a new and younger list than last year.

Senior coach Wally Armstrong was confident he had the men to put together a fairly competitive season together.

‘‘We’re pretty new, we’re younger than last year,” Armstrong said.

“We’ve added some youth and shooters to the side.

“We’ll be raw, and reasonable tall.

“We’ll hope to get off to a good start and push a couple of sides.

“Though we’ll have a test straight up, Shepp in Shepp, Seymour in Seymour.’’

And it would be this match experience that could be the major sticking point for the young Breakers as they played sides much older and experienced than it.

‘‘If you’re 10 or 20 points down, they need to know they’ve got to work through it,” Armstrong said.

“We need to hold through the system and go through the process.”

Among the side was experienced North East Bushrangers players Sam Burrowes and Lachy Kego, while Yarrawonga’s Sam Nicholson should be a heavy scorer.

“I’m excited to see what Lachy can bring to the table,” Armstrong said.

“He’s had a good couple of years of Bushies under his belt.

“He’ll be working with Cooper Nichols who comes straight out of Under-18s.”

Hamish Tiechart, fondly known as Hammer to his teammates, added another season of VJBL under his belt, while Mick Ryan, who has never played representative basketball before, could be a hidden gem among the group.

Another boost for the Breakers this season is the installation of Glory League at the Benalla Indoor Recreation Centre, which would see all games recorded.

“We gave it a test run the other night,” Armstrong said.

“I watched six minutes of scrimmaging. You can pick up a lot from watching games.”