IT was the championship defence from hell.
From the opening round loss to Dandenong, nothing really went right for the Bandits in the early going and when it did finally start clicking, it was too late to make the playoffs.
A record four imports suited up for the Border club, with guard Eric Vann sacked and SEABL All-Star Momo Ntumba ruled out for the rest of the season with a knee injury after just nine games.
Replacements Jermel Jenkins and Flenard Whitfield did a serviceable job on short notice. Jenkins in particular had some moments of genuine brilliance.
But the team’s 3-8 start doomed its chase to repeat.
The Bandits did finish the season in better form, winning four of its final six games to submit an 11-17 record, good for sixth in the South Conference.
Had the Border club posted that sort of record in 2012 — coach Brad Chalmers’ first season in charge — the general consensus would have been the Bandits were on track in their attempt to rebuild after a decade-plus in the wilderness.
But by winning the championship in Cinderella fashion, the expectations, fair or otherwise, were raised exponentially.
With Jenkins’ return uncertain, recruiting will be crucial next season; the Bandits can’t afford to miss the playoffs again, lest the magical ride of 2012 appear a fluke.
ALEX OPACIC: B+
28g 43.7% FG, 28.4% 3PT, 72.0% FT, 6.8r, 0.8a, 13.8p
The stretch forward capped his ultra-consistent season with the team MVP award and the Lance Collins memorial award as the best Australian player. By his own admission needs to increase his rebound numbers a touch. Is determined to help get the team back to the post-season next year.
JERMEL JENKINS: B+
16g 40.8% FG, 31.9% 3PT, 82.7% FT, 5.0r, 6.1a, 22.3p
Finished the season on a scoring tear, averaging 26.8 points over his final five outings. The livewire playmaker was held to single-digits just once, with the Bandits going 8-8 in his 16 games. Was an elite scorer and distributor but turnovers remained a problem. Return is questionable.
MOMO NTUMBA: B
9g 50.5% FG, 0.0% 3PT, 73.8% FT, 8.9r, 0.9a, 14.6p
Losing the Congolese man-mountain after just nine games effectively ruined the Bandits’ campaign. If he’s fully recovered from his season-ending knee surgery, re-signing their defensive anchor will be the Border club’s first priority.
NICK PAYNE: B
27g 37.0% FG, 27.2% 3PT, 71.9% FT, 3.8r, 2.6a, 14.0p
The evergreen skipper raised his scoring average by almost a full point over the second half of the season. Was much improved in his all-around efficiency, topping 20 points three times in the final third of the Bandits’ campaign. Earned three technical fouls over the season to prove there’s still plenty of fire in the old dog yet.
FLENARD WHITFIELD: B-
17g 44.6% FG, 0.0% 3PT, 72.1% FT, 8.6r, 0.7a, 14.4p
Headed to the Border on incredibly short notice and having not played organised basketball in more than a year, the likeable Whitfield provided low-post scoring, rebounding and defence. Had seven double-doubles in 17 games but incredibly, also fouled out of seven matches. Unlikely to return.
JACK DUCK: B-
25g 42.3% FG, 33.3% 3PT, 66.7% FT, 2.2r, 0.8a, 7.2p
A niggling knee complaint saw the super-sub’s point production drop over the course of the second half of the season. Scored a crucial 10 points in each of final two wins but struggled in the season-ending defeat to Brisbane, scoring just five points. Needs to get his consistency back.
BEN HOLLIS: B-
28g 57.4% FG, 0.0% 3PT, 69.0% FT, 9.3r, 0.8a, 8.5p
As expected, rebounding numbers took a dip following the arrival of Whitfield, with Jenkins also nicking some of the former Sydney King’s boards. Was a worthy winner of the Allen McCowan memorial award.
DARCY HARDING: C+
27g 30.0% FG, 21.7% 3PT, 38.5% FT, 1.4r, 0.3a, 2.6p
Doubled his scoring over the second half and finally started to show some confidence on court. Admitted he underestimated the strength and speed of the league. Is expected to improve his output next season and is considered a key bench contributor.
MICHAEL WATSON: C+
27g 31.9% FG, 0.0% 3PT, 50.0% FT, 2.4r, 0.9a, 1.4p
Upped his minutes over the second half of the season as his defensive strength was much needed. Was crucial in the late stages of the home wins against Ballarat and North West Tasmania. Sorely needs to add a consistent jumper.
MATT DE KOEYER: C+
24g 35.7% FG, 33.9% 3PT, 60.0% FT, 1.8r, 0.6a, 3.5p
Suffered a broken foot early in the win over Canberra and subsequently missed the final four games. Cracked double-digits once, a 15-point performance against Nunawading on 5-13 three-pointers. Nailed just over a third of his triples for the season as a specialist sniper off the bench.
JOSH McKAY: C
11g 38.5% FG, 0.0% 3PT, 50.0% FT, 1.3r, 0.1a, 1.3p
Looked comfortable on the court at times; a four-point, three-rebound game against Dandenong and a six-point performance against Ballarat showed his potential. Must improve his conditioning but has a future on this team.
BRAD CHALMERS (coach): B
11-17, 6th in SEABL South Conference
Repeatedly frustrated by his team’s defensive shortcomings. The intensity was always there, if anything, he might have cared too much. Took the championship defence personally and even in victory was seldom satisfied. Admitted he was horribly wrong about signing Vann and recognised his motivating techniques may need adjustment. Got the replacement import selections right.
INCOMPLETE: Kyle McMullan, Jon Lindhe, Broady Mills, Tom Sharp
OK, the good news first.
For the first time in more than two years, the Lady Bandits celebrated a win at home and could boast a winning streak that lasted longer than one game.
In addition, by winning its final two games of the season, the Border club trebled its win total from the previous year and lifted itself off the bottom of the SEABL’s South Conference.
Besides the three wins, the team also showed some genuine flashes of potential in narrow losses to playoff teams Bendigo, Geelong and Ballarat.
Now for the bad news.
The Lady Bandits gave up, on average, more than 81 points per game. Admittedly, it was a roster beset by injuries but that number simply must come down if the Border club wants to be more competitive.
After Maddy Plunkett went down with a season-ending foot fracture — and import forward Rachel Maenpaa missed extended time with a back injury — opponents feasted on the height-challenged squad, constantly winning the rebound count by a wide margin.
Repeated offensive stagnation only added to the woes, with 13 losses of 20 points or more.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. Restrictions on New Zealand players have been lifted for next season, meaning coach James Ballinger will more than likely be making some calls back home to add some much-needed height to his frontcourt rotation.
MADDY PLUNKETT: B
15g 36.8 FG%, 26.3 3PT%, 71.4 FT%, 9.8r, 0.7a, 13.4p
Suffered another foot fracture — this time on the Tasmanian road trip — that ended her season. Had shouldered a big scoring and rebounding burden before that and the Lady Bandits sorely missed her presence. Had four double-doubles, including three straight before the injury.
RACHEL MAENPAA: B-
21g 37.9 FG%, 31.1 3PT%, 71.1 FT%, 6.3r, 2.0a, 15.1p
Crippled by a back injury that forced her to miss five games, the Wisconsin native was eased back into the lineup, never topping 27 minutes again. Looked better over the final three contests and was crucial in the back-to-back wins. The Lady Bandits will need her numbers to rise next year.
LONNIKA THOMPSON: B-
25g 32.7 FG%, 24.0 3PT%, 72.0 FT%, 3.6r, 3.2a, 12.7p
Took out the team MVP award for a quietly consistent season. Scoring and distribution numbers were adequate but shooting percentages took a dive after defensive attention increased following injuries to Plunkett and Maenpaa. Unlikely to return.
EMMA MAHADY: B-
10g 33.6 FG%, 9.5 3PT%, 83.3 FT%, 6.1r, 2.0a, 10.0p
The Lady Bandits could have conceivably enjoyed a couple of more wins had Mahady been on the team for the full season. Has benefited enormously from her collegiate experience. Was a major factor in the season-ending win over Brisbane with 17 points, four rebounds, four steals and three assists.
MONTANA FARRAH-SEATON: B-
20g 30.0 FG%, 21.8 3PT%, 73.1 FT%, 5.3r, 1.6a, 9.2p
Enjoyed a purple patch of scoring mid-season and then promptly fell away as teams zeroed in on her. Came good late, scoring in double-digits in the final three outings. At just 16, has an incredibly bright future. Not afraid of the big stage and with time, her shooting percentages should increase.
TENILLE COLLINS: C+
24g 30.9 FG%, 32.4 3PT%, 70.6 FT%, 1.6r, 1.1a, 6.5p
Added some genuine scoring punch off the bench in the second half of the season, notching career highs in scoring and three-point percentage. The all-time Lady Bandits games record holder was as aggressive as ever on defence, driving opponents to distraction with her pesky pressure.
CLAIRE MILLER: C+
24g 29.4 FG%, 17.6 3PT%, 73.5 FT%, 2.6r, 1.1a, 4.8p
The perennially cheerful Miller doubled her career scoring average, including a personal-best 13 points and 6 rebounds against Kilsyth. Nailed a clutch fourth-quarter jumper in the win over Launceston and was a willing contributor on the boards, frequently battling much taller players for position.
SARAH MOORE: C
14g 23.9 FG%, 0.0 3PT%, 57.1 FT%, 4.1r, 0.7a, 3.6p
Played in just six games over the second half of the campaign. Always played hard and had six points and 11 rebounds in the home defeat to Kilsyth despite missing 12 of 13 shots. That was the high-water mark for the 36-year-old rookie, who was held scoreless in limited minutes over her final three games.
CARLY McRAE: C
15g 28.6 FG%, 28.6 3PT%, 75.0 FT%, 3.1r, 0.8a, 2.1p
The former Bendigo junior was an unexpected mid-season addition and provided some handy contributions off the bench. Proved to be an under-rated rebounder and hauled down nine boards — including four at the offensive end — in the drought-breaking home win over the Launceston Tornadoes.
BROOKE CINCURAK: C
25g 23.8 FG%, 31.8 3PT%, 38.9 FT%, 1.4r, 0.7a, 2.1p
Numbers dipped slightly from her mid-season stats with the return of Mahady and the addition of McRae eating into her minutes. Struggled with limited shot opportunities, going scoreless in five of the last seven games. Worked hard but needs to improve strength and foot speed.
JAMES BALLINGER (COACH): B-
3-23, 6th in SEABL South Conference
Kept a steady hand on the tiller despite various injuries to his three best players. Remained patient and level-headed at all times, never getting carried away in either defeat or — late on — victory. The insipid defeat to Dandenong would surely have tested his patience but to his credit, the team didn’t crumble. Off-season recruiting is key if the Border club is to make further progress.
INCOMPLETE: Caitlyn Mlejnek, Jade McCowan, Ellie Campbell, Erin McDonald, Alanaa Northey.