The Cougar West Coast Classic teams showed promise as the season got into gear Saturday night, going down to the Rockingham Flames at Mike Barnett Sports Complex.
The women opened their season against the reigning State Basketball League champions, and after holding a five-point lead with four minutes left in the third quarter, eventually fell 68-84.
Sprouting a youthful starting line up with three athletes under the age of 21, the Cougars were led from the front by 15-year veteran Jodee Sontay, finishing with 12 points at 57% from the field.
Head coach Tyrone Thwaites couldn’t be more effusive of the Cougars co-captain, with her experience proving vital to a young program.
“Sontay plays with just about more heart and effort than anyone in this league,” Thwaites said.
“She elevates her work ethic and it’s contagious, so I don’t think it was any surprise we got the best we’ve seen out of Kahlia Morgan and Emma Burke on Saturday night.
“That’s a reflection on her.”
Former Flame Jesni Cooper faced her old team for the first time and was an early spark for the Cougars, while Emma Burke worked hard in her first game in the blue and gold.
In a game that was defined by its constant change in momentum, there were plenty of bright spots for the Cougars, with Haylee De Sousa and Kahlia Morgan showing the promise Thwaites expected will be a trend in 2020.
“Haylee and Kahlia are just two of many girls we know will improve to become really solid SBL athletes over the next 12-18 months,” he said.
“Hayls (De Sousa) has been so anxious since her ACL injury in 2018 to get a full pre-season in, and it only made it harder when Covid hit.
“But to see her get out there Saturday and make her mark with 11 rebounds is really pleasing – Kahlia was much the same.
“Kahlia is just so determined to get better, her work rate reflects it, and I think we will start to see the reward of that this year.”
Thwaites knows it will take time to build up a youthful group, but believes there is enough within the group to work towards something special.
“We are a proud bunch at Cockburn, and It’s important coaches and players alike understand the historical significance of where we want to get to.
“In years gone, Fleur McIntyre, Vanessa Cahill and even Nicole Roberts (current co-captain) have battled away to build culture we can be proud of.
“We have to respect the past, build from it, and understand it’s not easy to build Championships. The Willetton three-peat and the Perry Lakes of the 2000’s all had a consistent group over a long-period of time.
“It all starts for us now in the West Coast Classic, and every club is treating it differently, but for us all the little things add up.”
The Cougar men were always set for an intriguing match-up, with three players and coaches in Saturday’s line up former Flames themselves.
Head coach Andrew Cooper was an assistant coach of the 2019 Flames, while Perth Wildcat Luke Travers and Kane Waters were Rockingham juniors.
Rockingham jumped out in front of the Cougars early, eventually running out 74-83, with Cooper putting a slow start down to nerves.
“We were just a little anxious to begin, but just couldn’t make a shot in the first half,” he said.
“Much better in the second half after we made some adjustments, with Seva Chan leading from the front and Luke Travers showing promise in his first game for the club.”
The Cougars were up against a Rockingham line up who had a significant amount of State Basketball League experience, with Jackson Hussey and Callum Beard proving to be a little too much for the youthful men’s team.
“It was great to get the first game done against an opposition who play an up-tempo style, and we were really happy getting minutes into our younger guys,” he said.
“We will keep giving guys opportunities to work on executing our game plan better, considering it was LT (Travers) first run with the group after only one training session he will improve and make us better.”
Young Kye Chamberlain was productive in 14 minutes, finishing with two big threes, including one on the quarter time buzzer.
Mitch Hampson and Jacob Polglase also worked hard and finished with eight and six points respectively, part of a Cougars bench whose oldest athlete was just 23 years of age.
The Cougars will look to build off round one as they face a double-header this weekend, set to face the Perth Redbacks at Belmont on Friday, and the Joondalup Wolves in their first home game on Saturday night.