Ipswich's stronger Force for shot at state league title
AFTER their best season finish in state league history, the Ipswich Force women are even more positive about this year's fast-approaching Queensland Basketball League competition.
With a core of closeknit players returning and boosted by import and Brisbane-based quality, head coach Brad George is relaxed about what's in store.
It's the most settled pre-season the Force women have enjoyed for many years preparing for their QBL season opener against Mackay at Ipswich stadium on April 28.
"It's definitely one of our strongest squads depth-wise we've had since I've been a part of it,'' George said having guided the state league team for the past eight seasons.
"It's handy to have pretty much the same core group there that understand the plays and know how we're going to go.
"The ones that have come in just add some depth and they have fitted in really well and made us a bit stronger.''
Force finished last year's regular season in second place before bowing out in the playoffs after losing some key players due to overseas or Women's National Basketball League commitments.
Dependable Force captain Bree Farley is back, supported by last year's regulars including Rachel Mate, Georgia Williams, Catherine MacGregor and Loie Webb.
American import Amanda "AJ" Johnson has also returned after being recruited by the Sydney Flames from her splendid season with Force last year.
AJ has been training with the Force squad for a few weeks, being in great shape after her Women's National Basketball League experience.
Force's second import Kaili McLaren is due to arrive in the next couple of weeks.
But while thrilled to have a loyal and competitive group back, George is also excited to welcome two accomplished newcomers in Amy Lewis and Mikaela King.
"Amy brings a wealth of experience having played all over the world and years in the WNBL for Adelaide, Townsville and the SEQ Stars where I first met her,'' George said.
"She's one of, if not the best two way guards in the league and will add invaluable depth to the team in 2019.''
Former Rockhampton basketballer King is a six foot two big with many years experience in the QBL.
"She has a high basketball IQ and great passing ability,'' the Force coach said.
"Mikaela has the ability to score both inside and out and will add much new depth to the bigs department.''
Talented Ipswich junior Grace Ellis is returning from Brisbane to rejoin the Force side. She can play in multiple positions.
"I'm exited to see her development progress and to take her opportunities with hands when touches the court,'' George said.
One of Ipswich's most tenacious basketballers Lauren O'Sullivan will also be back in Force colours after a break.
"Lauren knows the league well and will provide good energy and physicality when on court,'' George said.
"Loz will provide quality minutes when on the floor and sets good strong screens to free up both herself and her teammates.''
Rising Ipswich products Cassie Poulain, Charlotte Hegvold, Emilee Tahata and Kirstyn Lunniss will gain valuable back-up experience off the bench.
The influx of former and experienced players will cover for Ipswich's loss of Kate Head (ineligible due to overseas college commitments) and Meg Essex who is not returning this season.
Last year's impressive import Gintare Mazionyte is also remaining overseas.
In his ninth QBL season as mentor, Bremer State High School teacher George will be assisted by his wife and former QBL player Marney, along with long-time Ipswich coach Dwight Hicks.
"We're pretty good. We're all ready to go,'' the Force head coach said.
"It's a good position to be in at the start.''
The 2019 Ipswich Force Women's QBL squad is: Bree Farley, Rachel Mate, Georgia Williams, Amanda Johnson (import), Amy Lewis, Kaili McLaren (import), Makaela King, Lauren O'Sullivan, Catherine MacGregor, Grace Ellis, Cassie Poulain, Loie Webb, Charlotte Hegvold, Emilee Tahata and Kirstyn Lunniss.