Panthers focus on Youth League teams in 2016

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Youth League player Natalia Beaumont in action for the Penrith Panthers. Photo: Noel Rowsell (www.photoexcellence.com.au)

The Penrith Basketball Association will begin a new era this weekend when it fields three Youth League teams and no senior teams for the very first time.

In the recent off-season, the Association voted against fielding teams in the Waratah Championship League this year due to a number of factors, mostly related to growing costs.

Instead the Association will put all their focus and funds towards improving grassroots basketball with three representative teams – Division 1 Youth Men, Division 2 Youth Men and Division 1 Youth Women – competing under the Penrith Panthers banner in 2016.

“We’re going back to the grassroots,” Division 1 Youth Men coach, Jeff Cooper said.
Youth League players have to be under the age of 22 to participate.

14 teams from all over NSW will compete in Division 1 Youth Men while eight teams will battle it out in Division 2. 12 teams will compete in Division 1 Youth Women.

After assisting the team last year to a playoffs berth, Cooper will this season take the reigns as Division 1 Youth Men head coach. He believes he has the talent on deck to go far in the competition.

“I think we’ll be very competitive but, in saying that, other teams have strengthened their sides as well,” he said.

“It’s going to be a very even, strong competition and we’ll have to play well to finish in the top four.”

Cooper said his team will be similar to last season with a few changes that will no doubt strengthen the balance of the side.

“We’ve brought in Joseph Flores from the Hills District plus Nathan Bennett and a couple of my U18s players in Adam Lulka and Mark Isichei,” he said.

“I would class this team as probably stronger than last year’s side.”

Meanwhile, Penrith’s Division 1 Youth Women’s team will return to the Youth League arena for the first time since winning the title back in 2013.

Headed by experienced coach Leonie Moore, the side will feature seven past and present junior State players as well as nine Youth age players and five development players.

“We have a really strong side if we can get them all on the court around their work and uni commitments,” Moore said.

“We have lots of height and plenty of scorers, so we just need to work hard and commit to the program and each other.”

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