Nineteen-year-old Alison Ebzery only remaining player for Hunters championship-winning starting side

YOUNG GUN: Alison Ebzery was named WBL rookie of the year last season after helping the Newcastle Hunter to championship glory. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers
YOUNG GUN: Alison Ebzery was named WBL rookie of the year last season after helping the Newcastle Hunter to championship glory. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

Last year she was the baby of the group, the rising talent playing alongside some of Newcastle’s most experienced female basketballers.

This year, at 19, Alison Ebzery is considered a senior player and stepped up to captain the Newcastle Hunters in their season-opener at Sydney Comets at Alexandria on Saturday night.

They did not win but it was always going to be a big ask to go anywhere near replicating the near-faultless effort of the Hunters women last year, who dropped just one game on their way to making history by winning the Waratah Basketball League championship.

Ebzery was named WBL female rookie of the year after her stand-out season.

“It was pretty surreal, everything just fell into place,” Ebzery said.

“I was surrounded by a great group of girls and we all just came through in the end and were able to secure the championship.

“It’s a bit of a different feel to last year I guess. We’ve definitely got a few new younger girls who are going to bring a whole other dimension to the game … it will definitely teach us a lot being such a young team.”

Ebzery was looking forward to playing alongside three-time Olympian and five-time WNBL MVP Suzy Batkovic, who is expected to make her first appearance on April 22.

“It’s pretty surreal that we’ll be playing with someone who has been to the Olympics as many times as her and has just won her fifth WNBL MVP,” Ebzery said.

“She’ll definitely bring a lot to our game. She’ll help us young girls out a lot, with her knowledge of the game and things like that.”

The Hunters have lost Sophie Kleeman, Susi Walmsley, Katie-Rae Ebzery, Razz Muir and Shannon Novosel from their championship-winning side.

The women’s coach Mark Gledson expected Batkovic to “make a big difference”.

“I think she’s going to be the best player in the competition and she will get a lot of attention because of double and triple teams,” Gledson said. “She can pass out of that, so the others have got to be ready to make the most of their opportunities.”

He also expected good things from Canadian signing Cherub Lum, who he described as “a true pointguard”. Lum is studying nutrition and dietetics at the University of Newcastle. 

In the first game of their championship defence, the new-look Hunters lost  54-48 to Sydney Comets at Alexandria on Saturday night. They clawed back from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter to trail 50-48 but were unable to bridge the gap.

They host Illawarra at Newcastle Basketball Stadium on Saturday at 7pm.

Meanwhile, the Hunters men lost 84-59 to Hills Hornets at Castle Hill on Saturday night.

BIG NAME: Suzy Batkovic has signed with the Hunters and makes her first appearance at home on April 22. Picture: Simone De Peak

BIG NAME: Suzy Batkovic has signed with the Hunters and makes her first appearance at home on April 22. Picture: Simone De Peak

NEWCASTLE Hunters never recovered from a sluggish start in their 84-59 Waratah Basketball League loss to Hills Hornets at Castle Hill on Saturday night.

The Hunters offered little resistance early on, trailing 24-13 lead after one quarter, then Hills extended their advantage to 39-21 by half-time as Newcastle struggled to find their rhythm at either end.

It was Newcastle’s second loss of the season after splitting their home double-header against Hornsby and Manly the previous weekend.

“We gave away too many early lay-ups and never really recovered,” Newcastle coach Darren Nichols said.

“It was disappointing but we have a fortnight now to work on what we need to work on at training and get ready for our next game.”

Hills led 56-36 after three quarters and stretched their lead to 28 during the final period.

Seventeen-year-old NSW under-20s representative Jacob Foy was the shining light for Newcastle, compiling a “double double” through an equal game-high 20 points and 10 rebounds in only his third Waratah League game.

Import Dane Suttle was next best for the Hunters with 19 points, seven boards and two steals but they were the only Newcastle players to score in double figures.

Newcastle’s next assignment is against Sydney Comets at Alexandria on March 25. The Comets defeated Maitland Mustangs 102-79 at Alexandria on Saturday night.

NEWCASTLE Hunters struggled to score down the stretch in a season-opening 54-48 Waratah Basketball League loss to Sydney Comets at Alexandria on Saturday night.

But Emily Keith's lay-up at that stage of the game proved to be Newcastle's last points as the Comets closed out the contest on a 4-0 run.

Coach Mark Gledson was satisfied with his inexperienced team's first-up performance because he had called up three players from Newcastle's Youth League squad to bolster numbers.

Five-time Women's National Basketball League Most Valuable Player Suzy Batkovic will not make her Hunters home-coming until April 22 against Bankstown at Broadmeadow.

"Overall, I was very pleased with the effort by all, and it was good to see some of our Youth League women experience the next level of play," Gledson said.

Canadian guard Cherub Lum scored a game-high 17 points in her Newcastle debut and added five rebounds, two assists and two steals.

Hunters captain Alison Ebzery worked hard for her 16 points and 14 rebounds, and Emily Keith also compiled a double-double, scoring 12 points and pulling down 10 boards.

"Cherub is a great find for the club," Gledson said.

"She understands the game very well and contributed in all aspects of the game, so she's been a great acquisition.

"Alison was as tough as usual, and our leading rebounder and one of our leading scorers, and Emily was solid on defence as the game progressed and she settled into her role."

Newcastle made a solid start, building an 18-11 lead by quarter-time, then struggled to find their offensive rhythm and could only manage six and nine points respectively in the next two periods to trail 38-33 heading into the final quarter.

Former Hunter Samantha Hewitt had 10 points and nine rebounds for Sydney.

Meanwhile, Maitland Mustangs continued their strong start to the men's championship with a 90-86 victory over previously unbeaten Norths Bears at Norths on Saturday to improve their win-loss record to 3-1.

Newcastle's men's team had a weekend bye.