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All paths lead home for Mikhaela Donnelly
Every sport has players who embody the importance of team play, along with the need for family beliefs within a team. Mikhaela Donnelly is everything a coach looks for - passionate, aggressive on the court, loyal, competitive and a leader.
Born in south east Queensland, she played soccer, touch football and volleyball. The talented point guard found a home in basketball and achieved FIBA national representative team honours (2009 and 2012), the Youth Olympic Games for Australia (2010) and two seasons with the AIS (2010-2012). These experiences allowed her to show her ability and be offered opportunities to lay the foundation for her career.
After playing for the Logan Thunder in the WNBL for two seasons before their exit from the league, Donnelly had a break before returning with the Townsville Fire, going on to win the championship. Showcasing her talent, she averaged 3.0 points, 2.0 rebounds and 2.6 assists in 15 minutes per game. Her contribution was ultimately rewarded, re-signing with the defending champions for the coming season.
“Returning to the WNBL after becoming a mum and winning the championship with Townsville tops it all," Donnelly explained in speaking with The Pick and Roll.
"Playing in the WNBL allows you to concentrate on basketball full time, along with the calibre of players you get to play with -- including Suzy Batkovic – who make you better every day.”
She takes pride in captaining the Logan Thunder as she lines up for her fourth season this year in the Queensland Basketball League (QBL). Last season Donnelly led the QBL in assists, as well as averaging 10.7 points, 6.6 assists and 4.9 rebounds - including four games with double-digit assists.
The new season brings changes for Logan with a new coach and player movement. Donnelly saw both of these as positives for 2018.
“The squad has intentions to play a fast style of basketball, but I feel we will be one of those teams who are better suited to adjust our play dependant on who we are playing," Donnelly added. "We are a very versatile team, which allows us to pick and choose from those skills from round to round.
"I feel that we have the ability to make it past the semi's this year, as we have been knocked out at that time over the past few seasons. Last year we had Kate Gaze, who is amazing and a flat out scorer who gets you those 30 points a game no matter what. However now we have a team where everybody has to contribute, and we have to be aggressive to be able to get those points.
"We have Zitina Aokuso (fellow Townsville Fire championship player) who is going to go a very long way. Our import from last year Jacqui Luna-Castro is due back this round, which will also help us a lot also.”
The new coach this season is the greatly respected Mel Downer, who comes in with a great level of experience and smarts when it comes to how to get the best from her new squad. Donnelly was enthused about the prospects regarding the coach change.
“Mel is our coach this season. She is awesome and all of the girls want to play for her, which is great.”
March 2017 saw the arrival of her first child, Adisyn. The addition to this growing family has further motivated her in the way she thinks about the game, her career and future.
“It’s hard. You’re playing without sleep and getting up for games but you never worry about yourself but just always turning out to play. It’s great for me though because I have her for the whole day, then an hour to play basketball, and then I see her after the game. So it doesn’t matter if you win or lose as much anymore because she is there. It is exciting for me as she is a little older now she can come and watch me play.”
She also commented on the pride she takes from being able to show that it is possible to be a mother as well as a professional athlete.
“It is very important to be a role model, not only for my daughter, but for all young girls in sport. It also shows older women who think that they cannot have a family and return to play afterwards. It makes me very happy that I can show them that it is possible.”
Throughout her career she has learnt a lot and implemented those lessons into her play. When discussing who she sees as helping her in this way as a mentor she pinpointed two great athletic women in particular.
“Kate Gaze is definitely one of them. She has been a really big learning curve in my career. Logan was a small club in a growing town and she came in and really pushed everybody and that makes you pick it up and be present every time. Suzy Batkovic (Fire captain and Opal) also. You see what she does, even at her age, and she goes about everything in a way that you try to mimic and improve in your own game. I feel what they both have is very important to future generations of players to see and be a part of and help them take it to the next level.
"Everybody is different so I think I would say it’s best to find out what works for you. There was a point where all the girls my age were playing WNBL and I wasn’t, and I have had the opportunity to come back and win a championship with the Fire. Don’t give up and stick to those habits and you will see results."
This Saturday, 12th May, the Thunder play at home for the first time this season against the Brisbane Spartans, which is something that the rising star felt very excited about.
"Home games are everything. It makes it so much more important being a home game. The people love it, the players love it and the clubs do a very good job in terms of getting juniors and fans involved. We will play our own brand of game and adjust to the Spartans style. Hopefully we get a good crowd and they get behind us."
She continued to explain how being captain of this squad added another level to her game and the way she plans to play each week.
"Captains are responsible for the way their team plays. For me, my goal is to ensure my teammates respect me so it shows in our play. I make sure we all conduct ourselves in a way our fans would be happy with. We have a great culture at Logan where we know the expectations and we are a happy and close family."
Although the boom point guard is still young, she is maturing into a star who is very focused on her plans for the future and working hard to achieve them.
“The main goal for my career is to back up with another WNBL championship with the Fire and take on a bigger role within the team. For the future, I want to knuckle down, finish my studies and be the best family girl I can be for Luke (her partner and Logan Thunder men’s coach) and Addy.” Donnelly beamed.
The path leads home to Cornubia Sports Park for Donnelly and her Logan Thunder this Saturday, May 12th against Brisbane Spartans with tip-off at 5pm local time.
Watch #QBL18 Live Online
You can watch 2018 QBL action live and free online: check the schedule for dates and times.