A dribbling ball, a swish of the net and shoes squeaking on the hardwood can only mean one thing… basketball is back!
This weekend marks the beginning of the 2022 Waratah League competition, with the Penrith Panthers unleashing a Youth League Men’s and Women’s team into the arena of dreams this season.
After last season was abandoned midway through due to the Delta outbreak in Sydney, local players are bursting at the seems to get back on the court and compete for championship glory.
Versatile Penrith guard Jonah Pares, who will be playing his second year in Youth League, said he’s “very excited” for the new season to begin.
“It’s a new team, new players and that’s very exciting in itself,” the 18-year-old told the Weekender.
“I’ve been injured with torn ligaments the last couple of weeks, so I’ve just been watching the side train, and I’m just eager to get back on the court with them and play. It’s just pure excitement, to be honest.”
Fellow second year Youth League player, 18-year-old Kaleigh Martin said while last year was disappointing due to the COVID shutdown, she was pumped to reignite the chemistry with her team.
“Obviously last year was horrible to have it cut off halfway through, but hopefully this year we can get a full season in,” she said.
“We have a similar team to last year, but we do have a couple of new faces and a few younger ones playing up. I think we have a pretty strong team so far.”
Martin’s side, who will take on the Central Coast Crusaders in Saturday’s season opener, will once again be coached by the very experienced Rod Miskell.
Martin said if the side can improve their teamwork and communication on the court, a top six finish is in sight.
“I think the main goal we are aiming for is top six,” she said.
“Last year we didn’t achieve that but hopefully this year we can. Our coach really wants us to be in the top six, he definitely thinks we can do it.”
Penrith’s Youth League Men’s side will have to wait a little longer for their season debut after being dealt a bye in the first round. They will instead play a double-header against Central Coast and Norths next weekend.
“Double-headers are really tough… the second game is always the hardest as fatigue settles in towards the end, but you’ve just got to push through,” Pares said.
“We’re looking to go for the Championship this year for sure, we want that chip!”
Nathan Taylor is the Weekender’s Deputy Editor and Senior Sports Writer. He also compiles the weekly Chatter on the Box TV column. Nathan is an award-winning journalist, who has worked at the Weekender for a decade.