Abbey Wehrung excels in golden end to 2017

ABBEY Wehrung’s 2017 was a rollercoaster.

The young gun, Canberra Capitals point guard was enjoying a breakout 2016/17 WNBL season before a serious ankle injury early in February resulted in five long months of tedious rehab.

To say that Wehrung, 22, bounced back from adversity would be an understatement.

She attacked her rehab with the same passion and intensity that she shows on the hardwood and came back better than ever. That return from injury gave her a chance in the national uniform. Wehrung returned from injury to play a pivotal role in the Emerging Opals squad that took out gold at the World University Games in August this year.

Wehrung hails from the small country Victorian town of Korweinguboora, which she describes as ‘a little place in between Ballan and Daylesford’, and her spectacular rise to the Australian side is something she still can’t truly put into words.

“I just don’t even know how to explain it, it’s kind of still surreal that it happened,” Wehrung said. “We played against Chinese Taipei in the semi-final in front of 18,000 people and it was just amazing.

“You couldn’t hear anything, in timeouts we literally had to huddle together face against face, because you literally just couldn’t hear a thing… it was an amazing experience.”

Wehrung’s self-belief skyrocketed because of the World University Games, admitting it helped her mentally and gave her that extra spark of self-belief.

“I’d just come off rehabbing my ankle for five months… it took me five months to get back and I’d literally played only five games with the Capitals Academy and SEABL, just to get some game play and then we went away,” Wehrung said.

“It was awesome to know that I could bounce back like that and perform.

“It was really nice mentally to know that I’m capable of that.”

Mental toughness is one of those traits she has in spades. And it was a good thing she had it. There’s no doubt it was needed, not just from herself, but the entire Emerging Opals squad in a frenetic, intense finish to their gold medal shootout against Japan.

With the game seemingly well in hand after three quarters, as the Opals held a 22-point buffer, Japan came roaring home and Australia had to regroup to get the job done.

The Australians managed to do just that – claiming gold after holding off Japan by seven points. She recounts those final minutes and the monthlong workload that compounded everything.

“I honestly think it was a bit of fatigue,” Wehrung. “We were away for almost a month; we went to the Four Nations Tournament in Japan before that and I honestly think it was a bit of fatigue.

“We kind of had to pull our fingers out because they were coming for us and then once we composed ourselves we were okay… it was a bit stressful but we got there.

“We just wanted to make things a bit exciting,” Wehrung joked.

Her journey to representing Australia on the world stage began back in under-12s playing for her school in Melton before she moved on to play in Ballarat for the Phoenix Basketball Club.

As her game developed, Wehrung became a staple of Basketball Victoria Country teams and she acknowledges how important that pathway was in allowing her to improve and showcase her game against the best young players in the country.

“It was huge in my development – helping me make a name for myself and getting me to where I am now.” Wehrung said.

She represented Victoria in Australian Country Junior Basketball Cups and has dominated the South East Australian Basketball League (SEABL) for many years.

In 2015, she was named Youth Player of the Year, after averaging 17.5 points and 5.7 rebounds per game.

Along the way, Wehrung credits many coaches who have helped her become the player she is today, but two stand out in particular: Peter Cunningham and Phil Brown.

Cunningham helped instil a strong self-belief throughout her time in Ballarat.

“He was huge for me in my skill development and just helping with my confidence because he believed in me so much.” Wehrung said.

Brown worked with her at the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) in 2012 and 2013 – a period of immense growth and development on and off the court.

Through her fourth season with the Canberra Capitals, Wehrung averages career-highs in all major statistical categories with 9.5 points, 3.25 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game, whilst shooting an incredibly efficient 46 per cent from beyond the arc.

She credits a renewed focus on skills during her rehab process as a major driver in her improvement.

“Last year was a big stepping stone for me because I just got to play so much more and that helped my confidence,” Wehrung said. “When I was rehabbing my ankle I worked a lot on my shooting – obviously it was more skill work because I couldn’t play, I think it’s a mixture of all that.”

Although she calls Canberra home in the WNBL, there is a passion and drive within the young Capitals’ lineup. Lauren Scherf, Keeley Froling and Wehrung have been in state teams for years and the trio were all members of the World University Games Championship winning squad.

Wehrung loves having those girls in Canberra.

“It’s a bit of a sisterhood with us.” Wehrung said. “It was really, really special to win gold with them overseas at the World Uni Games.

“It’s fun and the group of girls in Canberra are awesome and I couldn’t fault them.”

After a frustrating season, the Capitals won three games on the trot in mid-December, finally getting some reward for effort. They finished the season with a 7-14 record after maintaining their momentum through the last few weeks.

It makes for a disappointing season in a lot of ways for Wehrung – as she knows the side was there or thereabouts in many of those games. But as disappointing as the losses were, knowing the young group is starting to stitch together some strong performances is just as exciting.

“We’ve worked so hard the whole season but we just kind of had lapses and games slipped away, but it’s good to finally be rewarded and get some wins – it’s nice to see the hard work pay off.” Wehrung said.

With a hugely successful individual 2017 completed – one that showcased the skill and determination Wehrung possesses – she is looking to build on that and reach new heights in the coming years.

“Obviously I’m aiming for the Opals in the future, and I want to play in Europe at some stage.” Wehrung said. “They are some goals for the future but at the moment, I’m just taking it step by step and we’ll see what happens.”

Feature image courtesy of 5footphotography.

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