They won't win the comp, and probably not make the playoffs. But there's been a lot to like about the Maitland Mustangs' return to competition this season. JACQUI NEILL reports.
Hitting the halfway point of the Waratah League season, Maitland Mustangs Championship Women's team are on track making their return to the competition known.
Setting realistic goals and overcoming injuries, they currently sit tenth on the ladder but are finding their stride as they head into the second half of the season.
Going down 87-52 on the road against Canberra Nationals last weekend was a learning experience for the team that produced a number of positives.
"The main difference in the game was shooting percentages," coach Mark Wawszkowicz said. "I said to them after the first quarter 'you're shooting like you just got off the bus' which we literally just had."
Canberra Nationals, formerly a part of the SEABL (South East Australian Basketball League) has a stacked team with players of national level talent.
"The third quarter was almost a full WNBL line-up," Wawszkowicz said. "Their speed of play was about three times faster than we are capable of, but we stuck it out.
"Despite not shooting well, we still put up 52 against them which is great offensively."
With US import Alyssa Bennett playing through sickness she was half a step behind the opposition but still put in minutes for her team, determined to give it all she could.
"The ones who do the extra are the ones I can rely on in the third and fourth quarters of the game. Shakera Reilly is a good example, she's playing 35 minutes-plus and her performance is not dropping off."
Reilly continued to stuff the stat sheet with 15 points, six rebounds and three assists against Canberra as the team's top scorer once again.
Until this season she had to play at the Central Coast as there was no women's program in Maitland. One of the reasons why the program was able to get up and running again was because of the commitment from her and Rachel Williams to return and play in the Women's and Youth League teams. Building that pathway for the female juniors to be able to play in Maitland in future was important to the club.
Reilly trained a lot in the off-season to stay on top of her fitness, but started the season slowly. As she adjusted her training style she has improved her numbers and got her touch back.
Her hot hand is just one of the many on-court qualities. Her versatility and general level of fitness came in handy this last round when the team was down multiple guards.
"Keely Froling is a demon on the offensive boards and Shak [Reilly] said 'I've got her, I'll box her out' and she did. Froling only got two offensive boards for the whole game out of her 16 rebounds," Wawszkowicz said.
They face a tough round this weekend on the road against North Sydney. With former Opal Renae Garlepp returning to the Norths roster and Maitland down three players to injury, the odds are stacked against them. But their long-term vision is keeping them focused.
"We are really happy at where we are at. We are playing with a style now and our style is improving all the time. There is still a lot to play for."