READY: Charlotte Bull, Josh Morgan, Cheryl Wills and Bennie Murray at the Hunters’ season launch last night. Picture: Jonathan CarrollTHE Newcastle Hunters hope a revamped roster and a more settled pre-season preparation will provide a launching pad for their return to the Waratah Basketball League playoffs.
The Hunters tip off tomorrow against arch rivals Sydney Comets at Alexandria before their first home game against champions Manly tomorrow week.
This time last year, Trevor Gallacher had just replaced Darren Nichols as coach and had to deal with an exodus of senior players.
The Hunters punched above their weight for most of the season but a last-round loss to Sutherland meant they finished with a 12-12 win-loss record and missed the playoffs for the first time in four years.
Gallacher has since welcomed back former National Basketball League point guard Josh Morgan, who will captain the Hunters, and other experienced campaigners including Jon Howe and Adam Melmeth.
Californian Bennie Murray arrived last month to fill the import spot and twin towers Steve Davis and Tim Nall will give the Hunters an inside presence they have lacked in recent years.
‘‘Playing the Comets in round one will be a wonderful challenge,’’ Gallacher said before the Hunters launched their season at the Prince of Wales Hotel last night.
‘‘We have had a great rivalry over the last 10 years and we always consider our match-up to be a good benchmark of the quality of our preparation.
‘‘Our pre-season has been arduous, so the players are excited to start playing.’’
Without Morgan, Melmeth or Davis, the Hunters played trial games against three South East Australian Basketball League teams on a pre-season tour of Victoria two weeks ago.
Gallacher said the Hunters rebounded from a heavy first-up loss to Knox to get within 11 points of defending champions Dandenong before going down to Kilsyth by 30.
‘‘The standard of play in the SEABL competition is exceptional. It was a great basketball experience, and our goal is to be able to perform at that level,’’ he said.
‘‘But we are under no illusions as to the toughness of our own competition also.’’
Cindy Mascord has replaced Paul Lyth in charge of the Hunters women’s team, who again will be captained by playmaker Cheryl Wills.
Already without Opals squad member Katie Ebzery, the Hunters lost home-grown US college guard Sophie Kleeman to SEABL club Albury-Wodonga Border Bandits last month.
Guard Susi Walmsley is due to arrive mid-season, and until then the Hunters will look to Wills, Charlotte Bull, Jill Morgan and Sophie White to lead the way for young guns Jess Orr, Laura Dick and Sophie Parente, who have graduated from the club’s junior ranks.
‘‘We’re looking forward to a fresh new season for a team of mostly youthful players who play with a lot of fighting spirit and enthusiasm,’’ Wills said.
‘‘With a new coach at the helm providing a wealth of experience, we look forward to the wisdom she will impart. This, combined with the passion and exuberance of the new playing roster, we anticipate an exciting and enjoyable year for the Hunters women.’’
Maitland Mustangs, who finished last season on a 20-game losing streak, will welcome Hornsby Spiders to Maitland Federation Centre at 7pm tomorrow.
Again coached by Larry Davidson, the Mustangs have added Goran Veg from the now defunct Parramatta Wildcats, and Terrell Turner has been signed as the second import to partner 2012 WBL Most Valuable Player Mitch Rueter.
Maitland will play last year’s runners-up, Hornsby, at 5pm in the women’s game.