Big V says ‘yes’ to new young Mermaids side

‘GENERATION Next’ will spearhead Warrnambool Mermaids in 2013 after the Big V accepted the team’s request for late entry.

Teenagers Annie Blackburn, Olivia Krygger, Nicola Handreck and Maggie Baker will form the nucleus of the division two side.

Reigning Big V division one MVP Katie O’Keefe will coach the Mermaids, who have dropped down a level.

The Mermaids, coming off back-to-back division one crowns, withdrew from the competition in November citing a exodus of top-line players.

Warrnambool Basketball Incorporated sent a letter to Big V on January 14 seeking re-admission following interest from a group of parents and players in fielding a team this year.

WBI chairman Shane Dean said former division one stars O’Keefe, Kate Sewell, Holly Greene and Darcy Saunders were unable to play this season as part of the Mermaids’ entry conditions.

All four had suggested they would not play in 2013 after the 2012 grand final series against Craigieburn Eagles.

“Division two was our request and Big V took some convincing it was the appropriate level, with the fact they are the Big V division one champions going into division two the following season,” Dean said.

“I can’t speak highly enough of Big V. They agreed to division two and agreed to fixturing Mermaids’ home matches with Seahawks.

“They have been so accommodating as well with other teams impacted by the fixture.”

Big V chief executive Raelene Whitten said it was important restrictions were in place.

“There was a bit of backlash from some division two and division one teams concerning how strong the team was going to be,” she said.

“That’s why we put a limit on the playing roster, to maintain the competition’s integrity.”

Whitten said while the Mermaids’ reversal was “not ideal”, the Big V understood the benefits of country women’s basketball and wanted to ensure a high-level pathway for aspiring players. 

O’Keefe said she had always had an interest in coaching and was excited about teaching a young group.

Along with the teenagers, Courtney Primmer has signed on as assistant coach and veteran Renee Tuck is likely to play on for another season.

“The potential these kids have is fantastic so putting them in division two they will excel and practice their skills,” O’Keefe said.

“It will be fantastic to watch them.”

O’Keefe will run an official try-out tonight at Brauer College at 6.30pm.

She did not put a restriction on roster numbers.

Krygger, fresh from a gold medal at the Australian Junior Country Basketball Cup, said the Mermaids’ revival was significant.

“I’m very excited about it. It’s fantastic,” she said yesterday. “That’s why we fought so hard, there was really nowhere else for us to go.

“It’s too hard to travel to Melbourne to play and train and Geelong and Ballarat have already picked teams.”

The teenage guard said there was a lot of promise in the new-look Mermaids outfit.

“It’s good for the Mermaids because we have a young side, so division two will be good to develop the side.

“I play basketball as a release from my studies. I go out on the court to have fun and try hard.”

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