WHEN Jim Wilson took over as coach of the Albury-Wodonga Lady Bandits, the team was a shambles.
There’s no way to soften that blow – even club president Steve Wright said the club was at its lowest point prior to Wilson’s hiring.
A revolving door of coaches and imports left the club anchored to the bottom of the table.
What the now outgoing coach did for the Lady Bandits was restore pride.
Fortunes turned around fairly swiftly – though they weren’t racking up wins, the team, comprising almost exclusively of local players for most of Wilson’s tenure, was hungry.
Their home-grown talent has blossomed over the last three years – Steph Gorman (now with Diamond Valley), Olivia Barber, Casey Ardern and Charlotte Beavan have come along in leaps in bounds.
The SEABL is more talented now than it has ever been – had the club continued on the road it was on before Wilson’s arrival, there’s every chance it would have folded years ago.
“At the start it was about getting some stability in a club, a coach there for multiple years,” Wilson said.
“The plan was always to develop some of the younger players, give them an opportunity to play, rather than focus on bringing in imports, who were generally not getting the results we needed.”
Culture has been key to everything – where in the past, younger players had been discouraged from playing, Wilson has carefully built his teams with a strong combination of veteran presence, be it from imports or otherwise, and rising stars.
They’ve combined for some of the Lady Bandits’ finest moments in recent memory.
“Beating Canberra when Olivia Barber scored 14 points in 12 minutes while being defended by (Australian Opals veteran) Marianna Tolo stands out, though it was waved off, Steph Gorman hitting a buzzer three that would have won a game against Sandringham,” Wilson said of moments that stood out to him.
“Those moments when our younger players took the game by the scruff of the next were very special.”
Had Wilson not put the work in over the last three years, chances are it would have been much more difficult to convince Lauren Jackson to take the reigns.
Make no mistake, had Jackson not joined, the team would have remained in the most capable hands it had been in for the better part of a decade.
“Have I left the club in a better position than when I came on? Yes, I think so,” Wilson said.
He’s absolutely right – and fans should be thankful.