THE Newcastle Hunters will begin their Waratah Basketball League women’s championship title defence with a new-look team against Sydney Comets at Alexandria on Saturday night.
Only a handful of players from the team that won Newcastle’s maiden women’s crown have returned, and superstar recruit Suzy Batkovic will not make her first appearance until next month, leaving coach Mark Gledson with an inexperienced squad for the season-opener.
The Hunters swept all before them last year, losing just one game en route to their grand final victory over Illawarra, but Sophie Kleeman, Susi Walmsley, Razz Muir and Shannon Novosel have moved on, leaving dynamic guard Alison Ebzery as the only returning starter.
Nineteen-year-old Ebzery, the younger sister of Rio Olympian Katie Ebzery, was the Waratah league’s youth player of the year last season but will be one of the team’s leaders in 2017.
Canadian guard Cherub Lum, who is studying at the University of Newcastle, has replaced Kleeman as the primary playmaker.
“Injuries and state team commitments have caused some interruptions to our preparation, so we have brought Meiling Patfield, Maddie Nowland, Melanie Edwards and Abbey Morris up from our youth league program,” said Gledson, who won the Waratah league and Basketball NSW coach of the year awards last season.
“They have been rewarded for their commitment to the senior women’s program. They have trained hard, responded to coaching directions and worked well within the systems to improve the team and themselves.
“This week we get to see Cherub Lum in game situations, and from what we have seen so far, we are very happy she chose Newcastle University to continue her studies.
“Alison Ebzery, Emily Keith and Sophie Parente will provide leadership for the younger players and will be asked to take on most of the workload. All of them have expressed that they are ready to play and are looking forward to the challenges that lie ahead to defend their title, but we all acknowledge that this year will be more challenging and tougher.”
The Hunters men’s team, beaten 84-59 by Hills Hornets at Castle Hill last Saturday, have a bye this weekend.
Maitland are on the road against unbeaten Norths (2-0) on Sunday after splitting their away-home double-header last weekend.
The Mustangs (2-1) bounced back from a 102-79 loss to Sydney at Alexandria last Saturday by beating Central Coast 97-81 at Maitland the following day.