30 Oct Bull Sharks ready to fight for finals position
Two challenging games sit between the Bond University Bull Sharks and the 2020 HART Sapphire Series finals, but recent performances have shown that the team has the skills and determination required to finish in the top four.
Currently the Bull Sharks sit in fifth position and likely have to win both of their fixtures in the expanded final round of the competition to repeat last season’s achievement and qualify for the finals.
However, the Gold Coast side is finding their rhythm at the right time after a slow start to the campaign when several first-choice players were unable to step onto the court.
“Our pre-season was disrupted by COVID, certainly,” said Bull Sharks Coach Sheryl Burns, “especially our attack end. We didn’t have any shooters to start the season, really.”
“Steph Bairstow was injured so she couldn’t play until the third round. Ella (Bertacchini), our Goal Attack, arrived the week before and had to quarantine, and Olivia Dijkstra, who got an American basketball scholarship, played the first two games and then wasn’t allowed to play anymore due to her contract,” she explained.
In contrast, the defence has been reliable since the beginning and the rotating trio of Shenae Grant, Abi Houston and Emily Gilbert have kept the Bull Sharks within reach of their competitors, conceding the second-fewest number of goals in the league behind the Wildcats.
Captain Kristen Oxenford, who passed 100 games a few weeks ago, has led her less experienced teammates admirably throughout the season and the rise of talents such as Ava Black and Rylee Burns, alongside the return of the always-improving Bairstow to the line-up, has pleased the Coach.
“We started a bit slowly, but our team has come such a long way as the girls have got to know each other,” she said.
“The connections have really developed, and the combinations are starting to come together.”
The demanding weekend schedule sees the Bull Sharks come up against the Cougars and the Thunder on consecutive match days, and Burns is prepared to handle the unique circumstances.
“As a Coach I have to think about how to manage players through the next two games, which are really crucial for us. There’s not much leeway – we have to be on the best form we can if we’re looking at getting to finals,” she said.
“It’s about making decisions and managing the players, so they can perform at the best of their ability.”
Both of the Bull Sharks’ upcoming opponents occupy finals positions, with the Cougars in second place after losing just once so far and the Thunder, in third, looking stronger than ever since the return of their Sunshine Coast Lightning stars.
“They’re both very good sides. They’ve got outstanding shooters in their teams, they’ve got great defenders and they’re very solid across the court, so it’s going to be a big team effort to disrupt them,” said Burns.
“We’ve got to come out and just focus on ourselves and not be too overawed by the players we’re up against. We’re a very different team from when we played these teams last time and I think we’ve made huge progress.”
For now, the Bull Sharks’ minds are set on their contest against the Cougars on Saturday, which will determine whether they still have a chance of prolonging their season heading into the Thunder game.
Regardless of the outcome, however, the grit and perseverance displayed by Burns’ players gives her plenty of reasons to be positive about the future of the team.
“I wish there was another round for us, I really do, because I think we’re just starting to hit our straps, but more importantly, we’re building a new club and we’ve got a lot of young, talented players,” she said.
“It takes time to develop and it takes time to build those connections. We are building and I just couldn’t be happier with where they’re at because they are just now starting to reach their full potential.”
You can watch the Bull Sharks in their quest for finals this weekend on the HART Sapphire Series Facebook page, where you’ll also find the rest of the last round action.