The 2015/16 WNBL season didn’t shape up to be what Melbourne Boomers head coach Guy Molloy had in mind when he witnessed his injury ravaged team limp over the finish line with an 8-16 record, bettering only the University of Canberra Capitals (2-22).
Fast-forward six months and Molloy has revamped his Boomers outfit. The club parted ways with captain Tess Madgen, who decided a move to Europe would help further her career, while also saying goodbye to contributers and spot starters Kate Oliver and Shanae Greaves.
To counter those departures, Molloy had his sights set on youth and stability. Retention was key with Elyse Penaluna, Alice Kunek, Brittany Smart, Olivia Thompson, Rebecca Cole and Maddie Garrick staying on board, while league stalwart Tegan Cunningham jumped ship from rivals Dandenong and Jess Bygate from Adelaide.
The Boomers wouldn’t have believed their eyes when just days out from the 2016/17 season, co-captain Elyse Penaluna announced that she would miss the entire season with complications with her troublesome knee.
It couldn’t happen again!
Swiftly, the Boomers found a Plan B and signed Kelly Bowen on the eve of the season, paving way for also new signing, centre Chante Black to be an integral part of their rotation.
However, it’s been the surprising emergence of former Adelaide player Jess Bygate which has been the catalyst of Melbourne’s terrific start to the season.
Rewarded by Molloy, 6ft1 Bygate is starting at centre for Melbourne and relishing her new role. Despite not showing on the box score, the new Boomers #2 is flourishing on both ends of the floor making an impact in more ways than one.
With co-captain Alice Kunek (15ppg, 4.75rpg, 4.75apg) leading from the front, this has allowed other under rated teammates to step up and play a role.
“Everyone knows who’s starting by now, so it’s our job (as role players) to mirror the way that team’s play us.,” Tegan Cunningham told The Pick and Roll in terms of how the team has been able to start so well.
Cunningham, in addition to the likes of Bygate and Olivia Thompson have been able to be the kind of role players coach Guy Molloy is looking for in his team.
These players compliment stars Kunek, Garrick and Smart by having the length and size to combat such guard heavy stars.
The Boomers have started the season in second after three rounds at 3-1; knocking off Adelaide twice, as well coming from behind to defeat the much fancied Bendigo last week.
Their only loss? A three-point cliffhanger against title favourites Perth Lynx, a game which the Boomers had locked away until the final minutes.
However, round four brings its own challenges – a true litmus test for the surprise packet of the WNBL.
An away trip to Canberra against the revamped Capitals led by star Opal Marianna Tolo on Friday night, before returning home to host Dandenong on Melbourne Cup Eve in the greatest rivalry in this competition.
Former Rangers player now turned Boomer Tegan Cunningham is excited about the opportunity to get out and face her former teammates.
“Can’t wait!” Cunningham laughed.
“It’s always confronting, but I like the fact that it’s at our home (at the State Basketball Centre) first,
“But at the end of the day basketball’s still the same game it doesn’t matter what colours you’re in, you still want to win.”
The Melbourne Cup Eve marquee showdown is set to be one of the biggest games of the year, drawing much attention toward the competition, according to Boomers General Manager Justin Nelson.
“The Boomers are proud to be leading the way in developing and showcasing blockbuster games in the WNBL.
“Our two holiday eve games attracted record crowds last season and we want that trend to continue. The Melbourne Cup Eve showdown against Dandenong looms as a great family night out, it’s a clash all of the WNBL will be tuned into.”
A possible top-of-the-table match pits two fierce rivals against one another on the eve of one of Victoria’s greatest days.
The Melbourne Boomers are putting their past behind them; and if team’s continue to look past them, they’re going to be given a fair surprise.
Steve Chalmers is a WNBL writer for The Pick and Roll, you can follow him on Twitter @cp_chalmers