Pioneers eager to ‘shoot some hoops’

The 2021 NBL1 South season resumed last weekend, but without the Mount Gambier Pioneers as border troubles continue to get in the way.

However, the month-long break could be over this weekend with both the Pioneers men and women hoping to jump the border and play a huge doubleheader in Melbourne.

If the green light is given, the Castec Rural and OneFortyOne Pioneers will take on the Kilsyth Cobras and Nunawading Spectres.

Castec Rural Mount Gambier Pioneers  men’s coach Richard Hill said he was optimistic his team could return to the court.

 “Our location is not ideal, but it looks on the surface we can play a double in Melbourne this weekend,” he said.

“When we come back we will have to get tested, but that is not an issue because it is back to the grind preparing for two teams we have not played yet.” However, the fixtures will never be 100% certain until the first whistle is blown with Mount Gambier already missing four rounds due to COVID-19 restrictions.

The team expected to make a long-awaited return to the Ice House last weekend hosting  Dandenong Rangers, but games were postponed due to SA Heath restrictions.

Hill said it was a tough pill to swallow for the players who had been training for weeks leading up to the game.

“The guys were pretty excited last Thursday when it was confirmed we were  going to play, but 24 hours later it was confirmed we would not play,” he said.

 “It was disappointing and the guys were a bit flat at training on Saturday, but we ended up having a decent session.”  The pause in play arrived at the worst possible moment for the Mount Gambier women,  who just started to gain some momentum after a tough start to the year.

Matt Sutton’s team has won two of its last three games and even closed within three points of overcoming second-placed side Launceston Tornadoes away from home.

Sherrie Calleia has been in red-hot form and was a major force behind the Pioneers’ change in fortunes, with captain Jasmin Howe and Hannah Young also performing well.

The road trip to face the Spectres and  Cobras is not the easiest way to reacclimatise with the Victorian teams sitting seventh and eighth on the ladder respectively.

Nunawading appear particularly threatening having won three of its last four games  and easily accounted for Waverley Falcons last weekend, while Kilsyth also showed strong form against Ballarat Rush in round 10.

The Mount Gambier men are right in the mix sitting fifth on the ladder with six wins from nine games.

But they could have held an even better record after their five-game winning streak was broken in heartbreaking fashion against Ballarat, while the Tasmanian doubleheader was split evenly.

With both Nunawading and Kilsyth hot on the Pioneers’ heels, Hill is under no illusions of how important the doubleheader is for the season.

“If we are able to go and win both of these games it will be huge and put us at eight and three in pretty good shape,” he said.

“We will have a little bit of rust to shake off  quickly which will be an issue because training hard is very different to when someone  starts blowing the whistle.”

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