Albury-Wodonga Lady Bandits' time to end the SEABL easy-beats tag

39-153.

Read that record again.

Thirty-nine wins, 153 losses.

That’s the Albury-Wodonga Lady Bandits’ overall record since joining the South East Australian Basketball League at the start of the 2006 season.

On average, the Border club has won about five games for each season it’s been in the league.

For Lady Bandits fans, that means you’ve had about a 20 per cent chance of seeing a win every time you went to see them play.

Ouch.

Besides a solitary playoff appearance in 2009, Albury- Wodonga has routinely found itself anchored to the lower, lower reaches of the standings.

The Border outfit showed a small amount of progress last season, increasing its win total from one victory in 2012 to three, including a road triumph in Brisbane for the first time in the club’s history.

But Lady Bandits coach James Ballinger admitted there needed to be more improvement this year.

“I think expectations for us are simple, we have to get better,” the second-year coach said.

“We can’t afford to continuously be 2-24, 3-23, 6-20.

“We have to show significant improvement and that starts at the defensive end.

“We need to be more accountable and having some bigger bodies helps.

“Then we just have to be better at all facets of the game; there’s a reason why we’re pretty much last in every statistical category so we have to improve.

“A pass mark for us probably, realistically, eight to 10 wins is where we should be.

“It’s hard to convince other players to stick with this when you’re consistently at the bottom.

“So getting to eight or even 10 wins would show we’re definitely heading in the right direction.”

Improvement then, will likely come on two fronts, recruiting and local talent development.

The former has been largely accomplished, with the Lady Bandits finally having some real size and versatility in the frontcourt.

By signing Ohio State University forward Emilee Harmon and former Canberra Capitals pivot Lauren Angel, Albury-Wodonga should at least be able to hold its own on the glass, a major deficiency last year.

However, playoff commitments in Ireland means the 191-centimetre Harmon won’t be available for tomorrow night’s season opener against Launceston at the Lauren Jackson Sports Centre.

With both Harmon and Angel on board and the addition of talented Newcastle playmaker Sophie Kleeman, Ballinger said the Lady Bandits now have plenty of on-court leadership.

A secondary bonus is athletic US import Rachel Maenpaa will be able to move back to her natural small forward position.

“It was obvious last year we had some deficiencies,” Ballinger said.

“So that was key, filling those gaps while being conscious that it is a local side and we need to have a lot of local players and get that balance right.

“All the new players are all leaders in their own right.

“Sophie runs the game from her position and is a great thinker, so she’ll help immensely there.

“Lauren is a great presence inside; she’s a great communicator and isn’t afraid to challenge her own teammates.

“For Rachel, there’s a mindset shift for her as there’ll be nights when she’s not the dominant figure.

“Some nights last year it felt like it was just her trying to maybe do too much to really pull the team along with her.

“This year, she’ll be able to just play within herself and her role and be more effective and efficient at her natural position.

“Emilee is as comfortable at the three-point arc as she is inside and she doesn’t make many mistakes.

“She’s a great rebounder, a very good talker from all accounts.”

The second avenue to more on-court success lies in ensuring there’s enough local talent to complement the team’s elite players.

With rising star Montana Farrah-Seaton expected to again improve on her at-times stellar play to a more consistent level, Ballinger said it was imperative the likes of Claire Miller, Carly McRae, Brooke Cincurak and the returning Alex Trezise fulfilled their expected roles.

The Lady Bandits also received a boost with the addition of Tasmanian junior representative guard Kelsey Johnstone.

Johnstone has moved to the Border as part of her university studies.

But the loss of power forward Maddy Plunkett for the year is a cruel blow.

The fractured foot Plunkett suffered against Launceston last year has failed to respond to treatment and now requires season-ending surgery, ending her campaign before it even started.

Despite this being the second such injury for Plunkett, it is not thought to be career-threatening.

Games record holder Tenille Collins will again lead the club; not so much by her words but with her gritty defensive play that seems to infuriate myriad opponents.

“Shorty (Collins) has been around for so long, she’s been a part of the highs and the lows,” Ballinger said.

“She really embodies the spirit of how we want to play.

“Brooke and Carly will benefit from the acquisitions we’ve made, with bigger players, they’ll be able to return to their natural positions.

“Claire Miller is a real success story of Albury basketball and how they develop their juniors.

“With Alex Trezise coming back, she’s another player who has been around for a while and has been playing over at Ballarat.

“As a team, we’re going to need those contributions from everyone, every single night.

“Everyone has to take ownership of how they can contribute to this team, they have to get out there and make a positive contribution.”

In a re-aligned East Conference that contains a multitude of powerful teams, the Lady Bandits have already been tipped to once again take up their customary place in the cellar.

With the likes of Geelong and Dandenong set to dominate, it would be a surprise if Albury-Wodonga was able to finish above the bottom two.

Injuries, at least in the short-term, certainly won’t help the Border club’s start.

For Ballinger however, there is still his own expectation that the team will improve.

The New Zealand native knows it won’t be easy though.

“I have no doubt we can do it,” Ballinger said.

“We need to be better offensively in terms of getting the right shots from people.

“Having Lauren, Emilee and Rachel is all well and good but we need to get the ball to them in good spots for them to score.

“And we really have to be accountable defensively; there were too many times we gave up layups so we need to challenge teams that they have to beat us from the perimeter.

“I do feel pressure to improve the team, I think there’s always pressure.

“There’s a real responsibility, not just to the playing group.

“You’re asking sponsors in this economic environment to part with hard-earned money and I don’t think it’s fair on them to constantly come up short.”

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