Bright outlook for Panthers in Big V basketball

By Colin MacGillivray

WALLAN Basketball officials are ‘bullish’ about the club’s return to Big V competition after last season was derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

When play in Victoria’s top basketball league was called off last season, the Panthers concentrated on expanding their youth program for this year. For the first time Wallan will field a team in the Big V women’s youth league division two.

Wallan Basketball president Gary O’Brien said it was a big step forward for the association.

“Our gap was always in the transition from junior rep girls into Big V. For under-18 girls to step into division two women, that’s a huge step and there are only so many spots so it makes it really hard,” he said.

“Holding onto the older age group girls is difficult for every association, so having [a youth league team] gives an incentive for the good basketballers who are coming through.”

Wallan Panthers’ Big V men’s division two team, from back left, Dominic Bruno, Jaak Ponsford, Dev Pretty, Bailey Van Hout, Keenan Gorski, Leigh Saffin, coach Tim Annett; front, Lincoln Stewart, Brad Butler, Kaleb Balcha, captain Sharif Black and Vito Carbone. Absent is assitant coach Max Viitala.

O’Brien said the outlook was also rosy for Wallan’s senior teams this year.

The Panthers’ men are expected to make noise in the division two finals after a strong recruiting campaign.

Dynamic import Sharif Black signed before last season was cancelled and elected to remain with the team during the pandemic.

Black will be joined in the backcourt by Keenan Gorski and Leigh Saffin, two former Panthers who have returned after playing college basketball in the United States at Queens College and Chardon State College respectively.

Completing the guard rotation will be Dominic Bruno, who most recently played for the Whittlesea Pacers in Big V division one.

O’Brien said the new recruits would add to an already solid core of players.

“These guys could all be playing at a higher level, I’ve got no doubt about that, so we’ve been very fortunate to get hold of all these guys. Then you surround them with some of the boys who have been there for a long time like Jaak Ponsford and Linc Stewart and it’s just a really good mix,” he said.

“I think they’re going to be incredibly competitive, and the pre-season practice games have shown that.”

O’Brien said the Panthers’ glut of talent would create ‘good problems’ for men’s coach Tim Annett.

“The challenge is going to be that when you have such a huge amount of talent on the court at once, can you get it all to mix?” he said.

“It’s offensive talent and scoring talent, but there are only so many shots you can take. If everyone plays their role then I think they will be hugely competitive.”

O’Brien said the Panthers’ senior women would also be in the division two finals mix.

Wallan Panthers’ Big V women’s division two team, from back left, team manager Bryan Baird, assistant coach Julia Sant, Rachael McKeown, Rebecca Romeo, Amber Ross, Carly Simons, Erin Mifsud, Sage Dickerson, coach Carey Papanicolaou, assistant coach Michael Byrnes; front, Alex Darby, captain Sarah Scott, Karina Marasco, Megan Marasco, Kaitlyn Wakartschuk and Jayda Hunter.

“The return of Sarah Scott is a huge boost to morale,” he said.

“In 2019 she blew her Achilles up and missed that year. She’s a defensive powerhouse but also provides a scoring option, so she’s basically like a new recruit.

“Bringing Kaitlyn Wakartschuk across from Hume gives us another aggressive guard and court general. They improve the team we had, so we’re feeling really confident with them.”

O’Brien said the men’s youth league team was developing nicely.

“The youth league boys were in a really good position last year and didn’t get a chance to show it,” he said.

“We’ve got the pathway complete with the youth league teams and two senior teams, and I think that’s a really healthy spot to be in as a club.

“That’s where you want to start every year, with your senior teams competing for finals and your junior program pushing up and being competitive for spots in the senior sides.”

Wallan’s season will tip off with three home games this weekend. The youth league men will play Pakenham at RB Robson Stadium at 6pm on Saturday before the senior men play at 8pm. The senior women will play Mornington at home at 1pm on Sunday, and the youth league women will be on the road against Southern Peninsula.

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