The OneFortyOne Mount Gambier Pioneers women are ramping up preparations for the inaugural NBL1 season later this year and received a significant boost last week. Mount Gambier will play its first competition in two years alongside a familiar ally after local forestry grower and timber products company OneFortyOne extended its naming rights partnership.
Next month shapes up to be a critical period in the side’s journey to the opening round at the Ice House on Saturday, April 17. The Pioneers women will compete in fixtures in Adelaide over two weekends in March before completing a huge month with a pre-season tournament in Melbourne.
Although an on-court return is just around the corner, Mount Gambier coach Matt Sutton is still finalising his playing squad. He said the implications of COVID-19 have made the recruiting for the side’s maiden NBL1 campaign a tough ask. “The world has posed some challenges for us in terms of recruiting and putting a team together,” Sutton said. “We are still trying to figure out our way through it all, but we are really excited to work with the girls who are coming in. “I think we are shaping up okay in the current circumstances.”
Due to the pandemic, the Pioneers must find replacements for American imports Amanda Frost and Pachiyaanna Roberts which is a hurdle in itself. The skilful players were key parts of the side’s success on and off the court two years ago and may leave holes that cannot be filled.
Sutton hinted more changes may be made to the playing group which finished second in the 2019 Basketball SA Premier League. “It will be a very different group,” he said. “We have lost Emily Winter and both Patches and Amanda will not return. “But hopefully we can bring it together at the right time. “We are working hard with our local contingent and hopefully we can add some pieces down the road to make us more competitive.”
To ensure Mount Gambier makes an impression in the NBL1 South Conference, Sutton has overseen some of the region’s top talent since January. With contracts yet to be inked, he said the girls have ticked all the boxes so far and hopes it leaves the side in a strong position for tip off.
“We have trained twice a week for a while, doing lots of base fitness, skills and teaching our base concepts we will use throughout the season,” Sutton said. “We have been working with young kids to see who is ready and capable for the next step. “They are all committed and working really hard, so hopefully it pays off.”