By Russell Bennett
“It was 749 days from our first game at Casey when we had more turnovers than points, to last night.”
Pakenham Warriors Youth League women’s coach Darren Thomas knows exactly how long it was before a Big V team he coached at the club finally won a game.
It was June 2014 that Pakenham started the ball rolling on its Big V senior women’s project, and in March the following year came an 80-point loss to Casey … a game in which Pakenham recorded more turnovers than points.
The Warriors’ senior women went through their entire existence without a win, but now coaching the first season of Pakenham’s Youth League women’s team, Thomas is finally a winner once again.
Victory has never tasted as sweet as it did on Saturday night at Mill Park – a 21-point triumph over the Whittlesea Pacers, 81-60.
“For last night to happen, look, obviously it’s a very different group,” Thomas said on Sunday.
“Jaime Armstrong is the only one who’d played previously (on the women’s team).
“Still, the other 10 girls who were there understood where we’d come from and the work that had gone into getting our program to that point. It was pretty exciting, and that team song was amazing.”
The Youth League team fits much better with Pakenham’s young talent rising through the ranks than the senior women’s side did.
“We didn’t have the depth in our female program,” Thomas explained.
“Last season we had seven junior teams playing VJBL and a lot of them were playing at a lower level.
“We were fortunate that our 16 girls were playing in second division, but this year we’ve got our 18 girls playing in the top VC division, and you’re bringing in girls who’ve played against elite players in their age group.
“That means they come into this and they’re not overawed or overpowered, and we can be competitive.”
Sam Neil and Ellie Coutts are two out and out stars of the Warriors’ young set-up. They both had a huge impact in the Whittlesea win, while Neil was missing yesterday in a 10-point loss to Casey – 63-53.
Coutts was again spectacular in that clash with 18 points, 17 rebounds, and 6 steals.
“We’re getting better, and every time we play we’re expecting to win,” Thomas said in the wake of the loss to the Cavs.
“We’re not happy anymore with just getting close.
“The girls all walk away now disappointed with a loss, and that’s fantastic.
“We’re moving in the right direction – the challenge is consistency.”
In other Big V results from across the weekend, Pakenham’s Division 2 men outlasted Craigieburn 100-97 on Saturday night with captain Ben Gaze racking up 37 points and Brad Szalek recording a 10-point, 14-rebound double-double.
“What a hit-out that was,” coach Brent Russell said.
“Some would look at the score of 100-97 and think no defence was played – but what a game.
“Craigieburn was a solid unit and was shooting at some elite basketball percentages. We knew they were strong in that department offensively and worked on how we would cover it in the lead up to the game.
“We executed the defensive strategy quite well – they just made shots.
“Coming out with a win in a close game on their home court was great and the guys kept fighting again with another brilliant team effort – sticking together through all 40 minutes.”
Simo Pajdic’s Youth League Men’s side went down to Craigieburn by a point – 76-75 – on Saturday night, but rebounded on Sunday to record a 68-54 win at home over Melton in an entertaining clash. Lee Belton and Tobie Dean led the way with 16 and 15 points respectively, while skipper Jimmy Magrath had a near double-double with nine points and 10 boards.