By SAMUEL DARROCH
LATROBE City Energy begins its 2014 BigV division one basketball campaign this weekend.
Here’s how the men and women line up this year.
THE signing of American import Ashton Pitts has bolstered a largely unchanged Latrobe City Energy outfit set to begin its 2014 campaign on Saturday at home.
The six-foot-eight Southern Polytechnic State University power forward agreed to terms last week and, if all goes smoothly, may suit up for round one against Blackburn Vikings.
Coach Les Stothard said while similar builds, 25 year-old Pitts would bring different qualities to departing import Russell Permenter.
“He brings a lot of energy… has three point range, he’s a very athletic guy, gets up and down the floor well, he can go inside, he can play back to the basket or play outside in as well,” Stothard said.
“He blocks shots which is good so he’s going to be great for the team and a great fit with the guys.”
After an incredible late season surge to reach playoffs last campaign, Energy collapsed to bow out in week one of the finals against Mildura Heat.
Stothard said that demoralising defeat had not been a topic of conversation through pre-season, but that the memory was enough to motivate the squad to greater heights this season.
“They’re very hungry to go much further than last year,” Stothard said.
“There was a realisation there was lost opportunity the way we finished the season then lost the first final.”
Helping the cause will be the evergreen Vashon Weaver, who returns to Energy after another successful Country Basketball League season with Churchill, and will perform the crucial function of guarding tall, agile opposition attacking threats.
Weaver’s inclusion fits with Stothard’s renewed focus on the defensive end.
“At times last year we struggled guarding two or three men with size and agility so he’ll certainly fill that void; he brings a lot of experience to the team and a lot of leadership too,” Stothard said.
“We’ve put some defensive rules in place and we’ll go in with a more defensive mindset; at times last year we were just too happy to get into shootouts with teams and hope we scored more than the opposition.”
Jarryd Moss returns after a successful off season with English division four side Leeds Tigers.
After leading most statistical categories for Leeds, Stothard believes Moss is back to his lethal best.
“He’s come back a very different player and I expect him to have a really good season,” Stothard said.
“He’s got his scoring ability back… added aggression is back in his game and his three point shooting has improved.”
Importantly, the core unit has kept together.
Key man Jordan Canovan will again fill a role at both ends, big man Calvin Rees will return to his preferred position at centre, while Nick Sedley and Billy Hughes have both had excellent offseasons.
Traralgon state and national player Jack White has been earmarked for more court time this season after a breakout 12 months, but may only be available for a dozen fixtures due to representative duties.
“All signs point to us being a better side than last year, but we won’t know until we hit the court,” Stothard said.
Bolstered by the inclusion of its first import, American college star Lindsay Horbatuck, Energy’s women’s side is chock full of Country Basketball League standouts.
CBL most valuable player Tanarly Hood is fresh from an undefeated season with Churchill, and will be joined by MVP runner up Carly Mullen-Bianconi from Moe.
Third in the best and fairest tally was Mikaela Dickson of Warragul, who will return for her second season with Energy armed with some new tricks from the Australian College of Basketball.
Maffra’s Jaz Allman is set to make her Energy debut after polling fourth in the MVP count, adding some spark, while Traralgon T-Birds Laura Joyce and Liesl Sexton again take their place in the line-up.
After missing last year’s BigV competition, Tayler Brouns is back to offer another inside presence alongside Horbatuck and Mullen-Bianconi.
Experienced hands Carmen Weaver and Jess Murphy return to offer guidance and leadership, and the club is hopeful of securing Cindy Wellington.
Wellington has been out through injury and spent the past six months coaching in the CBL.
Club president David Roberts said Energy had assembled a great group of players, whose friendship outside the game would hold them in good stead on court.
“I believe we will have a great and positive season and one that we will remember as a turning point in our women’s program,” Roberts said.
The club is also keen to promote its under 16 talent through the Energy senior program.