CBL ALL CONFERENCE
THE return of Jess May inspired the Churchill Blue Devils to capture the Country Basketball League all-conference women’s title in Bendigo at the weekend.
May, who missed the Gippsland final and most of the season through injury, came back in style with 66 points from three matches on Saturday to lead the Churchill charge, including a game high 26 with five three-pointers in game one.
The Blue Devils maintained their season-long unbeaten record with round robin victories over Shepparton and Horsham, and went on to best the Lady Gators a second time in the final 67-55, despite playing with a bare bones squad of five throughout the tournament.
May played a supporting role in the final with 15 points, with league most valuable player, skipper Tanarly Hood, and Rachael Quirk leading the scoring.
With no substitutes available through injury and junior representative duties, coach Nick Michaelides praised the undermanned team for its grit and stamina in the face of testing heat and tough competition.
“They were fantastic, they were so gutsy because it was quite warm up there and to have only five girls run out for three games with no real respite from the conditions, they were amazing,” Michaelides said.
Slotting back in after shoulder surgery, May seamlessly transitioned from assistant coach to on court menace, much to the delight of Michaelides.
“Her presence, you can’t buy that sort of talent and on court leadership that she had straight away stepping into a team she had been well involved with but hadn’t played with,” he said.
In his first season as women’s coach, Michaelides had modest goals.
The plan was to string together a few wins and reach finals, having missed out on playoffs the previous year.
What came next stunned everyone.
“I must admit, even I was shocked at a completely undefeated season,” Michaelides said.
“Obviously we’re all ecstatic, it’s not something you go into a season expecting to do, but it’s a huge bonus to walk away without a loss.
“We stuck to our guns all year and achieved something that we weren’t too sure was actually possible.”
After dominating the Gippsland conference from start to finish, the Blue Devils men finally hit a road block in their all-conference campaign.
Missing four regulars – Jesse Bowe, Rob Michaelides, Vashon Weaver and Justin Aver – the side tasted defeat for the first time this year against Shepparton 72-70, then again in a 16-point loss to Mount Gambier Lakes to miss the final.
A three-pointer with seconds remaining got Churchill within two in a tight match against Shepparton, but a horror 25-8 first quarter collapse in the Mount Gambier encounter sealed the Blue Devils’ fate.
Jordan Canovan shouldered a bulk of the scoring load with hauls of 26 and 34 respectively, to keep the Blue Devils alive, but lacked the supporting size and strength of his missing comrades.
Michaelides, who also plays in the men’s side, said it was tough to drop two games to finish the year but the season had been outstanding never-the-less.
“It was a bit disappointing to come away with two losses, we were missing four players that would start in just about any other CBL team and that’s not easy to overcome, but in saying that we’re not about making excuses and we’ll come back next year and try and do it all over again.”
Both sides went undefeated in CBL Gippsland competition.
Hood too Good
CHURCHILL Blue Devils captain Tanarly Hood has had a season to remember.
Not only did her side go undefeated in all Country Basketball League competition, Hood led the league in scoring and was named CBL most valuable player.
The skipper racked up 287 points throughout the Gippsland campaign at 20.5 per game, and added 42 in three matches during the all-conference playoffs.
Coach Nick Michaelides said Hood’s consistency was her greatest weapon.
“She just plays the game the same way every game,” he said.
“She’s aggressive, plays strong defence and you know what you’re going to get from her on any given night.”
ALL CONFERENCE MEN
Shepparton Gators 72 d Churchill 70
(Jordan Canovan 26, Nick Michaelides 17, Brett Harvey 12)
Mount Gambier Lakes 86 d Churchill 70
(Jordan Canovan 34, Marcus Webb 13)
FINAL: Shepparton Gators 70 d Mount Gambier Lakes 56
ALL CONFERENCE WOMEN
Churchill 78 d Shepparton Lady Gators 74
(Jess May 26, Tanarly Hood 18, Claire Lawrence 16, Rachael Quirk 15)
Churchill 69 d Horsham Hornets 64
(Jess May 25, Claire Lawrence 16, Rachael Quirk 13)
Shepparton Lady Gators 62 d Horsham Hornets 59
FINAL: Churchill 67 d Shepparton Lady Gators 55
(Rachael Quirk 20, Tanarly Hood 17, Jess May 15)