Carley Ernst on motherhood and an unexpected championship run
After expecting to sit out the season, Melbourne sharpshooter Carley Ernst now looms as a Grand Final x-factor
Credit: Michelle Couling Photography
When the 2021/22 WNBL season tipped off back in November, Carley Ernst was without a team and perfectly content with that state of affairs. She’d just given birth to son Kylan and was too busy with the work of motherhood to miss the game.
But then the Melbourne Boomers got in touch. “They contacted me to see if I was interested in playing and if I was feeling good,” Ernst explained to The Pick and Roll. “I didn’t really expect to play (this season), but my body was feeling good, and I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t think I could have or I wasn’t ready.”
Few players return to the court only four months after having a child, and Ernst says the transition back into playing took a bit of adjusting. “It was a lot, having a newborn at the start,” she says. “But (the team) helped me a lot, let me sort of ease myself into it. Recovery from a baby is pretty tough! It's not easy, but I think I was pretty lucky with my body. It's not always that way after a baby; it can take lots of time.”
Back in 2018, the league introduced a new parental policy to assist mothers players in the league through support personnel and financial support for road trips. Ernst says the new set-up has made life easier. “The policy that’s in place now is amazing. It gives us the confidence to start a family and be able to come back and do what we love. Melbourne Boomers have gone above and beyond, and honestly, I'm so grateful. The way the girls have helped me on road trips everything, it's honestly pretty special.”
Coming off the bench for the Boomers this season, the 27-year-old has chipped in 6.2 points per game and gives Melbourne both an outside shooter and a long-limbed interior defender capable of changing opponents’ shots. She says there’s something of an art to shot-blocking. “I think it’s beating the player to the position, timing it right and getting your arms straight up, so you're not getting fouls called on you. Every now and again, a foul’s going to get called on you; you can't really help it.”
Heading into game two of the Grand Final series, Ernst ranked in the top 10 for three-point percentage, connecting at 35.7% from long range on 15 from 42 shots. She’s always had a particular fondness for the three from the top of the key, particularly when trailing on a fast-break. Standing 196cm and with a quick release, she stretches and tests defences and has the ability to score points in bunches.
While some players prefer starting to find their rhythm in a game, Ernst has no problem coming off the bench this year. “I wouldn’t expect to come in and play high minutes at this point,” she says. “I’m enjoying playing behind Cayla (George) and Ezi (Magbegor) and learning from them. I just come in and do my bit here and there just to help out the team.”
She certainly did her bit against the Townsville Fire earlier in the season, starring with 22 points and hitting a bonkers 6 from 7 three-point shots in just over 20 minutes as the Boomers coasted to a 28-point win.
“Those are really fun games, when you’re just throwing it up and it’s going on,” she says. “A lot of credit goes to Guy (Molloy), he gives us girls the confidence and he gives me a green light. He says: ‘If you've got a shot and you’re open, shoot it’. That night I had more opportunities, more open shots, it was good; they were dropping. So yeah, it was a pretty fun game to play.”
After the grand final series, Coach Molloy will call time on a lengthy WNBL career. He first coached in the league back in 1989 with the Canberra Capitals and is still chasing an elusive championship. Ernst says it’s a motivation as the team approaches the season finale. “We definitely have that in the back of our mind. We've got small goals here and there to tick off as we're going along, but the championship is our main goal...We're working hard. We just want to get the championship, and we really want to get it for Guy also.”
Win or lose in the finals, Ernst will have enjoyed the ride of an unexpected season and the joy of parenthood. “It’s been really nice. You go in day in, day out, and you work your butt off, and then when you’re done, (her son Kylan) is on the sideline, mucking around and having fun. It's like a big family, it’s pretty cool.”
Ernst and the Melbourne Boomers trail the Perth Lynx 0-1 heading into Game 2 of the WNBL Grand Final series on 6 April 2022. Tickets have sold out, but you can watch the game live on Fox Sports, Kayo and ABC iView.