New Alloyfold Canterbury Wildcats Head Coach Mel Downer sounds as thrilled as the players ahead of the Sal’s NBL 18IN18.
“It’s incredibly exciting to be able to have a competition for our elite female athletes to showcase their talent and close out a weird and crazy year on a high.
“It would have been a real travesty if these athletes weren’t given the opportunity to play, so it’s really pleasing that this league is going ahead.”
Downer only took charge of the Wildcats a few weeks ago but is happy with the way training sessions have been going.
“So far, so good! We have a great group of athletes who have committed to putting in the work and are driving a high level of professionalism and competitiveness at training.
“It’s a fun group to be around and coach, and they have really bought into what it means to be an Alloyfold Canterbury Wildcat and how we go about our business.”
Planning for 18IN18 has been ongoing, and the former Women’s Head Coach at the Australian Centre of Excellence (previously known as the AIS) knows that it will be different from the norm for the players and coaching staff.
“With multiple games close together over a short period of time we have focussed on training replicating that sort of environment as much as possible with multiple sessions a week, high-intensity sessions and a focus on prehab/rehab and strength work for injury prevention.
“We will be travelling the day before games and with 12 players for load management purposes and injury insurance as well as taking extra support staff to assist with the demands of multiple games and tight turnarounds.
“We also have strict protocols on warm-up/warm-down, recovery and nutrition support to ensure optimal performance in these unique circumstances.”
The timing of the Sal’s NBL 18IN18 and the condensed nature of the fixtures has impacted on the squad that Downer has been able to select.
“A number of athletes are unavailable for selection due to work or university demands which is unfortunate. However, we are in the same boat as the other franchises dealing with the same issues, so it really comes down to who deals with those things the best and I feel like we have done that through our recruiting and talent identification processes.”
Despite the unavailability of some players, the Wildcats have been able to put together a talented squad.
“We have an exciting mix of youth and experience which should provide us with leadership and poise but also youthful exuberance and X-Factor. Our style of play highlights these factors and should make for a fun brand of basketball for spectators and viewers.
“Shea Crotty, Tessa Morrison and Fran Edmondson. They are well known in the women’s game and represent everything that we want to embody at the Wildcats – professional, passionate and fierce!
Morrison, Crotty and Edmondson along with Sapphire Wairau were members of the WBC-winning teams in 2016 and 2017. Also, returning from that group is Terai Sadler – the Cook Island international is now residing in Whangarei but will commute south for the 18IN18.
Unfortunately, Morrison’s participation in 18IN18 is in serious doubt after she picked up a knee injury at the Schick 3x3 Cup in Invercargill.
Getting their first opportunity to represent the Wildcats this year are rookies Millie Knight and Isabella Luhetoa. Knight (Rangi Ruru Girls’ School) and Luhetoa (Christchurch Girls’ High School) will be making the transition to the NBL from club and high school basketball.
“The unique circumstances surrounding the league has provided a platform for athletes to compete in the Sal’s NBL that might not otherwise have the opportunity. I’m sure we will see some of the rising stars of women’s basketball,” says Downer.
The 18IN18 will be broadcast live on Sky Sport and whilst Downer is delighted with this ‘first’ she believes it is long overdue recognition.
“It’s about time! Women’s sport, in general, is severely underrepresented in the media yet, females make up half of the global population. BBNZ and Sky Sport’s recognition of women’s basketball as a watchable and commercially viable product is critical to the future success of the sport across all levels from grassroots to elite. It’s an exciting time to be a part of women’s basketball in New Zealand!”
The Wildcats will be keen to repeat the successes they enjoyed in 2016 and 2017, but the Brisbane native recognises there is a bigger picture when coaching at the elite level.
“Winning is obviously always the goal, however, to win playing our brand of basketball and to represent the Alloyfold Canterbury Wildcats organisation and the broader Canterbury basketball community in the utmost professional manner are keys for us.
“We want to provide the Canterbury community with a team that they can be proud of and that are positive role models for our sport and organisation. Personally, I want to enjoy the moment and relish being able to coach some of the best female talent in the country and to be a positive role model for my daughter and women in basketball and sport in general.”
Wildcats fans will concur with that.
All Sal’s NBL 18in18 games are being televised live on Sky Sport with the season opener scheduled for Thursday 19 November and the grand final scheduled for Sunday 6 December at Pulman Arena.
The Wildcats make their first appearance on day two, Friday 20 November, when they take on 2019 champions, Auckland Dream.
Check out the Wildcats' full roster along with all five other 18IN18 teams here.