Season Preview - Wanneroo Wolves
Wanneroo broke a long drought by winning the men's title in 2011 and weren't far off the women's championship too. Find out if they're well positioned to do it again by checking out the next of SBL.asn.au team previews.
Wanneroo Wolves 2012 Season Preview
2011 Recap: Ben Ettridge's team finally did what so many Wolves playing groups over nearly 20 years had tried - and failed to do and delivered a long-awaited championship, their first since 1993. They finished second with an 18-8 record, which importantly meant they avoided Lakeside's part of the draw, and never had to face the minor premiers after they lost to Perry Lakes. The Wolves squeezed past Willetton before comfortably overcoming Cockburn, then won a thrilling title decider against the Hawks. Greg Hire was inspirational for Wanneroo throughout the campaign, with his breakout season earning him the final spot on the Perth Wildcats roster, while NBL veteran Brad Robbins starred after joining the Wolves mid-season.
Off-Season Grade: B
Off-Season Review: Import big man John Vaudreuil is off, leaving Damian Matacz and Hire to carry the load in the paint. Former captain Tony Pearman also retired after last year's Grand Final win in a blow to their back court depth. There were plenty of positives over the summer though. Matacz will no longer be classed as an import as he applied to the SBL Commission for his status to changed and it was granted. That allowed the Wolves to sign 203cm American forward Jordan Wild, who is effectively a replacement for Vaudreuil. Wild has already arrived in Australia and will have plenty of time to settle into life under Ettridge. The biggest question surrounds Brad Robbins, who hasn't officially been signed but is understood to be keen to return barring any injuries late in the NBL season. The Wolves would obviously love to retain him, even though he will take up a restricted player spot in the adjusted rules which mean NBL players who register a significant amount of minutes throughout the season. Assuming Robbins does eventually sign, he and Wild will be their two restricted players, while Hire didn't reach that status due to his lack of NBL playing time.
2012 Fixtures: Wanneroo's biggest test will come late in the season, with three of their last four games against top four sides from 2011. The first Grand Final rematch against Perry Lakes - on April 7 at the WABC - will be eagerly awaited, as will the match at Lakeside on June 25.
2011 Recap: The 2011 season was about as heartbreaking as it gets for Wanneroo. They finished fifth with a 15-7 record and then upset Mandurah in the quarter-finals. The Wolves were then on the verge of an even bigger upset in the semis when they took game one against eventual champions Willetton before losing game two and suffering a heartbreaking two-point defeat in the deciding game. They led game three by 13 points at one stage and were still ahead with four minutes left, so it's a loss that definitely would've stung. They did well to make it as far as they did though, with Rebecca Mercer scoring 16.2 points per game to play a leading role.
Off-Season Grade: D
Off-Season Review: The departure of Mercer is a huge blow for the Wolves. She headed east in an attempt to further her WNBL career and Wanneroo will have to find a way to replace the heavy scoring load she carried. The Wolfpack will go into 2012 with a very young side and the likes of Shani Amos, Meghan D'Arcy and Ainsleigh Sanders, who all showed promising signs last year, will need to step up and carry the bulk of the load. Sherelle Johnson and evergreen veteran Sue Williams will provide a much needed veteran presence.
2012 Fixtures: Wanneroo doesn't face a top five opponent until playing the Tigers in their fifth game of the season, so they must take advantage and pick up early wins. Remarkably, of the eight games they play as part of doubleheaders, four of those opponents missed the finals and only one made (Mandurah) made the top four.
What the Grades Mean: The grades are a subjective way of analysing whether each team has improved over the off-season. A grade of C- or better indicates they are well positioned to improve on their 2011 performance, while a grade of D+ or below indicates they're expected to be weaker. They are not intended to predict each team's ladder position.
Article by Jacob Kagi
Photo by Helen Theoharakis (Hoop Shots)