Mansfield backs smaller Lightning to have big impact

LAKESIDE coach Craig Mansfield knew early on reigning women's SBL MVP Ali Schwagmeyer would be back in 2017 and he's added Sydnee Fipps to help and while his team will be small early on, he's excited by what they can achieve this season.

Mansfield helped oversee the Lightning back into the playoffs last season after a one-win campaign in 2015 in his first year in charge before they came up short against the eventual champion Willetton Tigers.

He knew quickly that league MVP Schwagmeyer would be returning and then his focus turned to finding a bit more help for her.

Mansfield did that with the signing of Fipps who is a 5'10 forward who finished her career at University of California, Davis as their second all-time leading scorer before spending last year playing in Germany.

She arrives to form a potent combo with Schwagmeyer and despite the loss of Courtney Byrnes and Devanny King from last season.

Ashleigh Grant is unavailable for the first part of the season after her Perth Lynx WNBL campaign, but Mansfield likes his group heading into 2017.

Re-signing Schwagmeyer was obviously the No. 1 focus after she had 20.6 points, 6.6 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 2.5 steals on the way to the MVP in 2016.

However, he sees room for great improvement given she played through injury for most of the season.

"Ali I knew very early that we would get her back. The exciting thing with her is that not only are we getting her back, but she is 100 per cent healthy," Mansfield said.

"I know she got league MVP last year but she was playing with injury for a lot of the year and it affected the range of what she could do, how she could shoot and how she could defend. I'm most excited that she's done all the right things and she is moving really well."

Mansfield is also excited with the addition of a second import in Fipps for this season even if his team will be quite short especially early on.

"Tia Ucich is a good guard who can get on the rim and Ali can drive and get on the rim, and losing Courtney Byrnes to the SEABL meant I wanted to add a shooter," he said.

"So far Syd has been a really good addition and I'm really happy. We'll just be really short and at this point it looks like our starting centre in Round 1 will be 5'9 so that will be interesting. Ali gets excited because she'll get to take the jump ball every game!"

When Mansfield arrived as coach of the Lightning heading into 2016 following a year off after his successful stint with the Kalamunda Eastern Suns, he knew it was a big job following the horror season of 2015 for Lakeside.

That was a little deceiving, though, considering they had made a grand final in 2014 so Mansfield was just trying to make some tweaks, bring in Schwagmeyer and put the pieces in place that he hoped could then take the next step in 2017.

"I wanted to bring in Ali last year first of all because they were coming off one win in 2015 so I knew we needed an injection of talent," Mansfield said.

"On top of that they were losing a couple of girls who were starters so getting Ali was the No. 1 thing, but outside of that the logic was that I wanted to get a good look at everyone and see who could put their hand up.

"But as it panned out, I really enjoyed coaching the girls last year and there was no one who I didn’t want to have involved again even though there's always tough decisions you have to make.

"I'm stoked that we only ended up turning over a couple of players and most of the group has returned from last year and they are training hard. I'm stoked to have them all, they are a really good group of girls."

After being eliminated by the Tigers in the quarter finals last season, Mansfield immediately began planning for 2017 and the Lightning's pre-season has been a long one.

He is now looking forward to getting the games underway with the Lightning's season starting on the road to the South West Slammers on Saturday March 18.

He suspects he's not looking forward to that as much as his players though.

"The thing with losing early in the playoffs is that you start planning for the next year straightaway. As soon as we were eliminated, I started planning and I knew Ali was coming back, I managed to secure an Aussie tall and got to work on Syd. The local girls and everyone committed early," he said.

"I'm really looking forward to starting playing games now. I'm probably a bit more of a training coach and I enjoy that, but the girls will be a lot more excited for the games to start.

"We started a little earlier with our pre-season this year so that has dragged it out a couple more weeks, and it's been handy that we've had Syd and Ali in for a few weeks now. We'll get a couple more weeks into them and then we'll be ready for Round 1."

Photo by Mick Cronin


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