The Mount Gambier Pioneers men and women are braced for a big year on the court after completing the final assignment of preseason.
Both sides travelled to Melbourne’s Dandenong Basketball Stadium where all its rivals to took part in the 2022 Coles Express NBL1 South Blitz.
Coaches Richard Hill and Matt Sutton gained some valuable information on how their teams stack up after a pair of high-paced games over the weekend.
The OneFortyOne Mount Gambier Pioneers women had just welcomed their new imports Haleigh Reinehl and Cassandra Brown and were still finding some connection on the court when they meet Knox and Keilor.
The Pioneers’ campaign opened with Knox and they fell short by 20 points.
A more competitive effort was shown by Jasmin Howe and her team against Keilor, but Mount Gambier was again on the losing side this time by just six points.
It was far from a smooth ride for the girls to get to Melbourne with the expert eyes of head coach Matt Sutton being a notable absence.
The first and only coach of the Pioneers women’s team was forced to hand over the job to Bryan Green and Mel Russell after catching COVID-19 during the buildup.
Fortunately, Sutton is now virus free and can reunite with his team this week, but was forced to watch the blitz from afar.
He said there were still plenty of positives to take away from the last practice matches before round 1.
“From what I have seen there was some cohesion and chemistry with the new players coming in and establishing themselves, but were not very crip in the first game,” Sutton said.
“Knox was a well-oiled machine, so there were plenty of positives to takeaway from that game after getting so close.
“There was a lot more familiarity and improvements made in some areas that were carried over from the first game.”
With the coach locked at home and imports having limited time to get to know the group, Sutton admitted the build up to the Blitz was difficult.
“It is frustrating because it happened on the week when everyone arrived and I really wanted to be there for that,” he said.
“But at the same time we have really good support staff and I have a lot of appreciation for those who stepped up.
“It has been a challenging and distracting couple of weeks with interruptions and players just arriving, but there is always plenty to takeaway from hitting the court.”
The Castec Rural Mount Gambier Pioneers also played two games and raised a few eyebrows winning both games against Waverley and Bendigo.
On Saturday Mount Gambier was rarely troubled on its way to a 25-point triumph over a full-strength Waverley.
One day later a Bendigo team missing three key players was no match for Tom Daly and the Pioneers.
Mount Gambier asserted its dominance from tip off and enjoyed a 40-point lead at one stage before sealing the deal with tired bodies and minds.
The wins arrived at the perfect time for head coach Richard Hill, who had been struggling to complete a playing list even with the season rapidly closing in.
What made the feat more impressive was the fact only seven players were available to hit the courts and they all gave it everything across two taxing days.
Hill said the double delight caught him by surprise given the battled preseason.
“We were in Portland the week before and I have been a bit disappointed because our training has not been great,” he said.
“It has been hard, but not great, but everyone played quite well on the weekend.
“Michael Harris played exceptionally well and scored around 35 points after a big weekend in Portland.
“Everyone chipped in and did their bit.”
With no more games before the opening round of the 2022 NBL1 South season, the Pioneers will be put through their paces on the training track to be in tip-top shape for tip off on Saturday, April 23.
Before then the Mount Gambier Pioneers will hold a season launch at the Cave Gardens next Tuesday from 11.30am.