March 6, 2024 | Perth Lynx news

He might be giving a lot of the credit to his Perth Lynx players and assistant coaches, but Ryan Petrik is rightfully proud to lead his hometown WNBL team to another Grand Final and for them to have done it their way.

The only thing missing from Petrik’s coaching resume is a WNBL championship with him having now guided the Lynx into a second Grand Final appearance in three years, being a previous Coach of the Year winner and having great championship success with the Rockingham Flames at NBL1 level in both the women’s and men’s competitions.

However, the last thing he is thinking about is himself now that the Lynx did a tremendous job to beat the defending champion Townsville Fire in two games of the semi finals to return to the WNBL Grand Final this season where they will now face the Southside Flyers.

Wherever Petrik has coached and at whatever level, his team has always had a distinctive style and this Lynx team this season is certainly no different. Now that they are full strength and in top form, they have a genuine chance at the franchise’s first WNBL championship since 1992.

To make it to the Grand Final

Getting to the Grand Final is a significant achievement for this Lynx team this season when you consider that only two weeks ago they were in sixth position and needed a lot to go their way to even make the finals.

While the Lynx did make the Grand Final of 2022 and were in the semi finals again in 2023, there was a significant turnover to the playing group for the 2023/24 season with only Mackenzie Clinch Hoycard and Amy Atwell remaining while Chloe Forster was elevated to a full roster spot.

However, Petrik was excited with the group built with the addition of WNBA point guard Aari McDonald, former WNBL MVP Anneli Maley, Canadian centre Emily Potter and then Miela Goodchild, the returning Alex Ciabattoni, Ash Hannan and Steph Gorman to top it off.

On paper, it was a group Petrik was excited about what they could produce and that they could pay at the fastest tempo, quickest shooting and highest scoring team in the league while still doing enough on the glass, defensively and overall to be a winning unit.

That was going well 11 games into the season with the Lynx 8-3 but McDonald injured a knee on December 27 at home to the UC Capitals. Suddenly things became decidedly more difficult without the player who could have well been MVP without the injury.

Perth went 1-7 without her heading into the FIBA break and needed to win their last two games of the regular season, and results to go their way just to finish in the top four.

Everything ended up coming together and then it was a measure of revenge they inflicted on Townsville to win the semi-final series impressively in two games. Petrik couldn’t be more proud of his group to have made the Grand Final.

“Especially with the position we were in and to get there we’ve had to be David up against Goliath,” Petrik said.

“Again in pre-season we were picked to finish seventh so to now be there with all the marbles on the line, it’s really, really impressive and I couldn’t be happier for the group because they’ve busted their backside all year.

“Everyone has gone through adversity and we’ve changed our playbook four times on the fly because of the Aari situation so to get through is something I’m really proud about.”

Pride in the playing group

With such a new playing group for the Lynx this season and without the ability to put together big-name rosters like some of their rivals, Petrik still was confident in his ability to find the right pieces to make them successful.

However, it’s not all about just picking the right players for the team right now, it’s also important for the Lynx to show that there is a genuine path for young West Australian players to grow up and play for their local WNBL team.

With the likes of Atwell, Clinch Hoycard and Forster in the team as WA products along with Sarah Allen, Grace Foster and Amy Jacobs as development players, then there is a great local connection with the team.

That is included in the coaching staff too with Petrik and his assistant Nat Burton born and raised in WA while Brad Robbins has called Perth home now for 18 years, so there’s a lot to be proud of.

“We’re obviously locally owned and we don’t have the goliath budgets of other teams and we have to try to money ball some stuff, we’ve got to try and recruit some West Aussies when we can and provide a pathway forward for our West Australian juniors which is super important for us,” Petrik said.

“And the state has got behind us and you saw that with the crowd for this game and we think our style of game is really attractive for them to come and watch. To now make it to the Grand Final by knocking out Townsville in a sweep, I couldn’t be prouder of that group in red.”

Showing more than just a shooting team

When this team was put together Petrik made no secret the style of play he wanted and that was with McDonald at the helm for them to play at a lightning pace to create more possessions in games they played, and to play at a quick tempo.

The focus was on being a high volume three-point shooting team as well but also to be good at offensive rebounding to create second opportunities. That style has worked well particular when McDonald has been up and firing.

However, it’s a group that has shown they are plenty more than that too and that was evident in the two wins in the semi finals against Townsville where they stood up well physically and defensively while still managing to play at a good pace, which pleased Petrik.

“We still probably gave up too many points, but it’s the pace that we play at and there are way more possessions in a Perth Lynx game,” Petrik said.

“You don’t make a lot of friends with defence and we try to pack this place out with our style of play offensively, but our defence in both third quarters was especially impressive. In fairness, it’s down to Brad Robbins and that scout was off the charts, it was so good.

“The challenge from an assistant coach point of view is that I need you to get in their huddles and to tell me what they’re running before they do it, and he was on everything this whole series. Even on that last play, I just had him draw it up defensively because he knew what they were about to run.

“Then it’s the girls’ ability to execute that is the second part to it. I think we’ve got a lot of scouts right in terms of what they are going to do, and we haven’t always been able to execute on the floor.

“But in this series the tandem of the work Brad Robbins did in the lead up and the girls’ ability to execute is why were able to end up winning.”

Canadian centre standing tall

What makes this Lynx team so good is how deep they go. Sure, McDonald is rightfully attracting plenty of attention as potentially the best player in the league right now while Atwell and Maley are both playing so well they have to be in Australian Opals contention to go to Paris.

However, there’s plenty more players playing key roles and what Potter produced in the semi finals against Townsville was every bit as important as anybody else.

She proved the best centre in the series outpointing Fire pair Zitina Aokuso and Amanda Zahui B, and in Sunday’s Game 2 win at Bendat Basketball Centre she finished with 19 points, 13 rebounds, two assists and two blocked shots in 30 and-a-half minutes.

“Her whole series, without the two games Emily Potter played we’re not winning that 2-0,” Petrik said.

“We showed her some film and made it real clear to her and black-and-white about how we wanted her to play this series, and the two games she had were just phenomenal.

“Her ability to get out of on-balls and go get to the rim, or just on-balling them to death and making the game a little bit simpler, she was phenomenal.”

Role players stepping up to play role

Two other players who came up huge in Sunday’s Game 2 wins were two players who Petrik has now coached for a number of years, Clinch Hoycard and Ciabattoni.

In that win over Townsville, Clinch Hoycard played just over 15 minutes and the Lynx outscored the Fire by 13 points in those minutes while they were +12 with Ciabattoni out there in her 19 minutes for 12 points.

Petrik couldn’t speak more highly of what both bring to the Lynx.

“Those two in particular have been in our system for a while so they have been familiar with our style of play from day one whereas others have taken a little bit longer,” Petrik said.

“Ciabattoni’s experience in both finals, again her stuff doesn’t so much show up in box scores but it’s things like making the right reads in the back court, how smart she is in switching their up-screen reverse actions and she’s just a really high IQ player.

“Then Mac is similar, she can stretch the floor, she’s a much better rebounder than she’s been in the past, a much better defender than she was two or three years ago. She was a DP for us and now she’s playing massive minutes in a final on national TV so her growth has been terrific.”