By Kasey Symons
“I get goosebumps thinking about how much I love this team and how special our team is. And I just want the best for our team. And I think that we’re going to create something really special coming into finals.”
Melbourne Boomers co-captain Maddie Garrick has nothing but praise for her side as they prepare for the 2019/2020 WNBL finals series.
“It’s actually incredible. I’ve been part of championship teams before and I’ve been part of teams that have had great chemistry, but really nothing like this one. It’s so unique.”
The WNBL post season FIBA break saw a different kind of pre-finals strategy for the Melbourne Boomers who are preparing to take on last season’s champions, the UC Capitals, in a series beginning this Sunday, February 16.
In amongst managed rest, training and supporting their Opal teammates Cayla George and Ezi Magbegor who went to France to take part in the Olympic Qualifying tournament (The Opals qualified for Tokyo 2020 after a gutsy performance against Brazil), the Boomers went down to East Gippsland to do what they could to help the devastated area bounce back from the bushfires.
Garrick has been humbled by the experience to connect with the community and offer support in what has been a terrible time for many Australians.
“It’s very humbling. We’ve had a few days off to mentally refresh, but we’re down here running a few clinics and doing a few training sessions, and being here and seeing the devastation of the fires… we’re giving back to the community as well as trying to put some smiles on faces at the same time. But we’re preparing just as much as we what we would during the season.
“You come down here, and we did clinics today, and I know some of the students have lost their house, and their families are really struggling and the economy is struggling… so it’s humbling in that sense. It’s not a huge thing, in terms of just traveling there and running clinics. But it means the world to other people who have been through such devastating times. And so that in itself is humbling. And to be able to put smiles on a face that might have been struggling the last couple of months. And we’re staying here, so we can help support the economy and get these people back on their feet.”
While the Boomers were more than happy to adjust their finals campaign preparation to support those affected by the Australian bushfire disaster, another unexpected recent event provided some shock to the team.
Dual athlete Monique Conti made the decision to commit fully to her AFLW career before the league commenced its fourth season last Friday night, leaving basketball behind.
Garrick is disappointed about losing Conti, but ultimately understands the need to become more dedicated to a single sport as women’s leagues aim to become more and more professional.
“I think the departure of Mon has kind of brought us closer together. Somebody explained it really well in our group, that was our circle is really tight and it kind of opened up. It broke when Mon left, but now we’re going to tighten up again. Obviously, we’re disappointed that she’s no longer part of the Boomers. But you know, we obviously wish her well in her endeavours in the AFLW, but we’ve got a job to do.”
This season marks the 40th of the Women’s National Basketball League, making it the longest running women’s sporting league in Australia. It’s an incredible achievement and a testament to the league in paving the way for many national women’s sports leagues to follow. There is however, still a long way to go.
Garrick is well aware of this. “It’s fantastic [the 40 years]. But I’m not going to sit here and say there’s still not a long way to go. It was only last year that we bought in the pregnancy policy and a minimum payment the year before. So to be around for 40 years, it is also very exciting to see where it’s going to go the next 40 years or however long it’s hopefully going to continue to go on, the league is getting better and better each year. We’re getting more calibre players coming in from overseas and the players that are playing here, they’re getting better and the game’s changing. It’s getting more exciting, more athletic.”
Garrick believes media coverage is one of the next big things to focus on to continue to grow the league and women’s basketball.
“I think first and foremost is the coverage that we have, we need to equal media coverage of the NBL, and other sports that are probably more male dominated. That’s not saying that it’s not there, it can always improve. And the playing payments as well. There’s talk about getting [a] CBA as well. I think that will help with playing conditions.”
A CBA is a hot topic with the recently announced historic WNBA CBA adding many improvements for women basketballers in the States. Boomers US import Lindsay Allen followed the announcement closely from Melbourne to see what it meant for her former teammates and friends back home.
“I think the general feedback from the announcement was just, everyone was really excited about it. I think everyone that was involved with it on the player side works so incredibly hard, and for long hours, to figure out exactly what the players wanted and what they needed. And just being able to work together with the league to come to this agreement was huge, because it doesn’t always happen that way. So yeah, just the general excitement and it getting done.”
Allen, in her second season playing for the Melbourne Boomers, sees basketball in Australia as getting closer to that level where a CBA, more media coverage and professionalisation will be key to continue to grow the league.
“I think it’s [Australian basketball], it’s similar, but it’s different at the same time. I mean, basketball is basketball everywhere. Both [Australia and the US] have great athletes in both leagues. I think the US league is a little bit more talented, but that’s just kind of the level of basketball you get in America, as opposed to the basketball you get here just in terms of how many athletes are actually playing basketball. I mean, I have very talented teammates, and they’re incredibly smart, incredibly physical basketball players.”
Like Garrick, Allen also sees equal pay as one of the next big drivers for change in the WNBL.
“I think the next biggest thing, and this is about all women’s sports across the world, is getting our pay to be close to equal to what the men make. And this is going to take a while. I mean, the league has been running for 40 years. It’s not there yet, but I think it’s getting close across the world. The WNBA CBA that they finally got signed, that pay’s better than the last CBA. So it’s gonna take some time, but I think that’s probably the most important step we can work towards, and it’s not going to happen next year, next five years, maybe not even next 10 years, but it’s just kind of making sure that this generation is building on what the last generation helped with.”
Looking forward to the finals series against Canberra, Garrick and the team are focussed on carrying on the dominant form they found towards the end of the season.
“We’ve shown, particularly our last game [against Perth] that we have so, so much to give in terms of the team. And I think we’re turning a corner at the right time. I think we had a few lessons earlier in the season, like our last game against Canberra we didn’t play that well, so it was a turning point for us. And in games after that as well, we still had a lot to work on. But we’re glad that we had those games before finals so I’m actually really excited.”
The Boomers play the first match in their best of three semi-final series against the UC Capitals this Sunday February 16, 5.00pm AEDT.
The full Melbourne Boomers semi-final series information is below and tickets and broadcast information can be found on the Boomers website.
UC Capitals v Melbourne Boomers
Sunday February 16, 5.00pm AEDT
AIS Arena ACT
Tickets: Click here
Melbourne Boomers v UC Capitals
Sunday February 23, 6:00pm AEDT
State Basketball Centre VIC
Tickets: Click here
Game 3 (if necessary)
UC Capitals v Melbourne Boomers
Date & venue: TBC