Ipswich newlyweds back for crucial doubleheader
BASKETBALL: Higher expectations, ongoing development and consistent performance.
They are the motivations inspiring the Ipswich Force men's team as they chase their ultimate goal of making this year's Queensland Basketball League playoffs.
Having come within one match of that goal last year, the Force men have bolstered their roster and have shown early signs of matching the better teams this season.
However, with two wins from Ipswich's first seven games, head coach Chris Riches is looking to this weekend's away doubleheader to meet enhanced team expectations.
Force play Logan on Saturday night before Sunday afternoon's catch-up clash against the Sunshine Coast Phoenix.
"Last year we were happy just to be on the floor, working together and putting the ethos around the program and stuff like that in place,'' Riches said.
"This year, we want to achieve a playoff berth.
"For us, the focus now is really on getting performance on a regular basis.''
After some early injury and flu disruptions in his team, Riches was confident of fielding a full strength line-up for the first time since week one.
That includes captain Jason Ralph returning from his wedding and good mate and American import Jayden Ferguson back in Force colours.
Ferguson has been managing a knee injury.
"He had his first hit-out on Tuesday where he was back to contact and he was really good,'' Riches said.
"We kept him on ice for a long period of time and made sure that he was fully healed.
"He's one of those top eight guys part of the rotation. Without him there, that obviously made a big difference to us.''
The Force men and women had byes last weekend. Riches said his team used that to rest before focusing on the season-defining run of matches ahead.
"Every single match becomes important to build momentum,'' Riches said.
"For us, we're just really looking back to a situation where we are in full form - back to what our performance was in pre-season.
"That's what we've been working on this week . . . really just trying to get that good gel together that had just before the injuries started to roll in on us.''
Riches has been pleased with the increased scoring support his American vice-captain Kyle Harvey has been receiving this year.
Harvey is top of the Force point-scoring list with 214, ahead of Josh Spiers (117).
"For Spiers, that's a really big part of why he's here,'' Riches said.
"He was playing a secondary role in Townsville and we saw the potential in him.''
Riches said giving him a starting guard role, rather than a small forward/power forward/point forward task, was helping him boost his game.
Other players making valuable early contributions have been Ralph (88), Mitchell Poulain and Marty Leahy (59).
Aged 21, Poulain is improving against more seasoned state league players despite battling through an injury suffered on the trip to Cairns.
"I've always had faith in Mitch as an Ipswich junior coming through,'' Riches said.
"Last year he got consistent minutes and it exposed a lot of weaknesses in his games . . . and in the off-season, he worked relentlessly on those things.
"This year I have seen him not making as many poor choices on the court.
"He's starting to see that type of development.
"It's just a matter of making sure that he continues to grow each time that he touches the ball and he's on the court.''
Extra work on closing the gap
A sign of Ipswich Force's improved professionalism this season is attention to detail in the men's program.
Apart from losing 102-83 to Cairns, the Force men have been in every match and had chances to build on their 2-5 record. Force beat rivals Toowoomba 114-87 in their previous Sunday home match before the break.
"That's really what we're focusing on, reducing those gaps between us winning and losing games,'' Riches said.
"We're doing a lot more scouting, a lot more preparation in regards to each game this year than what we did last year.
"We've probably increased the information provided to the players three-fold compared to last year. There's a lot more video editing, a lot more statistical analysis and things like that.
"All those things play their part and it's also changing the mentality of the guys that we live and learn.
"Everyone is pulling in the right direction.''
QBL men and women: Saturday - Ipswich Force v Logan at Cornubia Park Sports Centre. Games at 5 and 7pm.
Sunday: Ipswich Force v Sunshine Coast Phoenix at Maroochydore. Games at 2 and 4pm.