A FRESH-LOOK Bendigo Lady Braves will have a decidedly stronger Bendigo Spirit flavour during the 2018 SEABL season.
It follows the announcement of new coach Megan Moody’s team’s first signings.
The Lady Braves have added a trio of players with WNBL experience led by potential Spirit 2017-18 season MVP Nadeen Payne and versatile teammate Ash Karaitiana.
Emerging point guard Kara Tessari will also suit up for the reigning east conference champions for the first time.
They will join talented young holdovers Madi Sexton and Spirit development players Maddi Wild, Jess Rennie and Ahlise Hurst, who have re-signed with the team.
Moody, who last month became the first female to be appointed as Lady Braves coach, could barely contain her delight with the new acquisitions.
“We’re not just trying to put an ultra-competitive team on the floor, but also show the pathway we have here in Bendigo and that you can potentially play here in Bendigo 12 months a year,” she said.
“We have a national league program here that you can transition to all the way from an under-12 and have a goal to play all the way through.
“I’m rapt with the line-up we’ve assembled so far, we have some great people on and off the court and have a real mix of youth and experience.
“Hopefully we can be a competitive team, I can’t see any reason why we won’t be, but more importantly we’ll have that link to developing our young talent and giving them an opportunity to see what they can do.”
Moody, who is also an assistant to Spirit head coach Simon Pritchard, said keeping a strong number of the WNBL team’s roster together during the winter could only benefit both teams.
“Nadeen, Ashleigh, Kara, Jess Rennie, Ahlise Hurst, Maddi Wild, those girls have all been working together for the last three months,” she said.
“Then we add in Madi Sexton, who has an opportunity with the SEABL program last season and did a solid job and will get more of an opportunity this year to continue developing.
“We have players who can really bring the group together and are willing to buy into what the group is doing here.”
Payne’s first season with the Lady Braves will be her first in the SEABL since an injury-ravaged campaign with Launceston Tornadoes in 2014, which ended prematurely due to a knee injury.
The 24-year-old spent last winter playing in the Queensland Basketball League with Mackay Meteors, who finished runner-up to Karaitiana’s Brisbane Spartans.
The pair were the standouts of the second and last game of the grand final series with 26 (Payne) and 24 (Karaitiana) points respectively.
We have players who can really bring the group together and are willing to buy into what the group is doing here.Lady Braves coach Megan Moody
Payne, who is averaging career highs in points, assists, blocked shots and steals this WNBL season, said choosing to remain in Bendigo was an decision.
“It was easier than I thought it would be – after my chat to Megan it all just fell into place,” she said.
“I wasn’t really considering it – purely based on the (winter) weather – but after we spoke I realised Bendigo is where I should be.
“It will be great to have so many Spirit teammates around and that will be a vital part of the Spirit moving forward, trying to join these two teams together and develop that pathway between the SEABL and WNBL.
“The other thing is if I am going to get better as a player, I need to be in a league that will really challenge me and the QBL doesn’t necessarily do that week in, week out.”
Karaitiana, a former Australia under-19 representative, previously played in the SEABL with the Spartans before their exit from the league and twice scored 34 points or more in a game during the 2016 season.
Tessari will be playing her first season in the SEABL, Wild her fifth, Sexton her third and Hurst her second.