THERE was a time when Ballarat’s premier women’s basketball team tore through the opposition every year.
No matter where the Ballarat Lady Miners finished in the top four, they were feared in finals.
The Lady Miners won eight-straight Big V Basketball League titles from 1995 and then in 2003 took up the challenge of stepping up to the South East Australian Basketball League.
That was always going to mean a much tougher time.
However, while Ballarat missed the play-offs in that first season, it retained that fighting spirit to win the SEABL championship in 2005 and Australian Basketball Association national crowns in 2005 and 2006.
In those vintage years there was no player physically tougher and mentally stronger than Andrea Nolan.
She will again be there in Ballarat camp in Saturday night’s south conference grand final against Knox, but this time as team manager of the rebranded Auslec Rush.
Nolan said the feeling this time is very different compared with the Lady Miners’ dominant streak – being underdogs.
“Back in the day, we were in finals every year. Even when we didn’t win it, we were still up there,” Nolan said.
“This year, no-one rated us at all. Every other team wrote us off.
“I don’t mind being the underdog, but it’s funny because they know we’ve got the players who can really step up and play.”
The Lady Miners’ success was built on a core group of home-grown players who knew each other’s games inside-out.
Nolan said the competition used to be homegrown and players did not move around other clubs as much.
She said an influx of quality players and WNBL listed players has set a much higher standard in SEABL games.
Rush’s interrupted season, including a change in coach one week in – Donna Rinaldi was sacked and Peter Cunningham appointed – has meant the roster has changed each round.
American Nya Mason arrived mid-April and played four games within nine days, before she had a chance to train with the roster.
WNBL import Alice Kunek has juggled Australian Opals duties, including the Summer Universiade in Russia.
Young guard Abbey Wehrung has travelled from Canberra to play between her Australian Institute of Sport commitments.
Training has required drawing on Rush’s D-League players to help with scrimmage.
“The girls have done extremely well,” Nolan said.
“Each week we’ve focused on different things.
“It’s been a lot harder this year ... I think the girls even surprised themselves.
“Watching them, the ones we lost were mostly really close ones we should have won.
“We’ve got very good players and when they play together, they play really well.”
Grand final rival Knox was the league’s best performed women’s team in home-and-away rounds with 23 wins and three losses.
Rush was the first team to beat Knox, in a one-point win at the Minerdome.
There is a strong belief Rush can beat the Raiders again.
Nolan said it all comes down to who plays best on the day.
She hoped the grand final appearance was the start of another successful period, giving Ballarat fans plenty to cheer about again.