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Geelong United adjusts to total transformation

With just a handful of players remaining from its 2023 list, Geelong United’s premier women will take time to click — but it might have some potential MVP within its stocks, its coach says.

It was an off-season of tremendous change at Geelong Arena, with Ella Tofaeono, Agnieszka Skobel, Chantel Horvat and Monica Akoye leaving after a preliminary final loss in NBL1 South, along with the departure of senior coach Matt Paton in February just weeks after extending his contract into 2025.

And this year’s squad is still taking shape with US import and six foot four centre Jada Rice arriving on Tuesday morning and the returning Eve Braslis still playing for Grindavik in the Icelandic Premier League and potentially a few weeks away.

Rice, who won an NBL1 Central championship with Norwood Flames last year and was in transit for over 50 hours – flying from Greece, to Atlanta, then on to San Francisco and eventually Melbourne – has impressed with her attitude.

Eve Braslis had a super year with United in 2023, averaging 17 points and six rebounds a game. Picture: Ian Knight Photography.

Along with unveiling Queensland product Shaneice Swain, Lasha Petree, Esta Rarere and Kobe Tehau King-Hawea since Australia Day, United announced two more players three days before Round 1 against the Ballarat Miners: South Sudan national representatives Nyakiir Dau and Yar Mayen.

“This is abnormal,” Petty said of United’s overhaul.

“Right now on our roster, we have three players (Sarah Elsworthy, Jess Scannell and Braslis) that were there last year.

“The girls that we brought in, it’s not like we brought in people who have played together before.

“It’s a group of individuals who are foreign to each other and we’re trying to form a team.”

While United has opened its season with three losses, going down by 10 points to Ballarat, 19 to Bendigo and 17 to Keilor, Petty is already seeing silver linings and is confident Swain and Petree can be league MVP-quality players.

Geelong United’s Jamie Petty coaches against Bendigo in Round 2. Picture: Ian Knight Photography.

The former put up 26 points and collected 10 rebounds and four assists in Round 1 while Petree is averaging 23 points a game.

“She’s one of the best shooters I’ve worked with, with the men’s side or the women’s side,” he said of Petree.

“At all levels of the game. She’s a dead eye shooter.”

He said the Michigan product would adjust to how the game is officiated down under compared to overseas, having already landed in some foul trouble, with five against Ballarat.

“They call a lot less fouls going for steals or block shots (overseas),” he said.

Geelong United lost to Bendigo in Round 2. Picture: Ian Knight Photography.

“When she can get a feel for that, what will and won’t be called a foul here, she’s going to go to a new level, even again.”

He said Petree and Rice would add an extra dynamic to the squad, both possessing bubbly and upbeat personas.

“(Jada has) been a fantastic addition, everything that we were hoping to get from her, on court, she’s clearly a very talented player,” he said.

“Probably more exciting than that is just her character and her energy, she is just an exciting human being to be around.

Cairns product Shaneice Swain, playing for Townsville Fire, had 26 points on debut with United. Picture: Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images.

“She’s always got a good sense of humour, which as you know is a little bit rare for an American (laughs).”

In Round 1, United was outscored 27-9 in the final term against Ballarat after taking an eight-point lead at the final break.

“We were playing without a centre and they had two of the best interior players, arguably in the world to be honest, in (Chloe) Bibby and (Alexandra) Bunton, who are both current or former Opals,” he said.

And United were within single digits against Bendigo with just over three minutes remaining, before the Braves scored 15 of the last 20 points.

“We gambled on a few things trying to make a few things happen but the gamble didn’t pay off,” he said.

Petty said it would take some time for the team to gel.

“Any time you bring a new team together it takes a bit of time to click,” he said.

“And that certainly hasn’t been helped by my late arrival and players still coming into the fold at different stages.

“That has been a challenge, but all things considered and the calibre of the competition we’ve played against, we’re pretty happy with where we are to be honest.”

United play Frankston Blues on Saturday night.

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