Warragul ready for 2021 title tilt

The taste of success has Warragul hungry for more.

Capping off an incredible 2019/2020 season with a thrilling 100-87 win over Southern Peninsula in the Gippsland Conference Grand Final, it’s been a while between drinks for the Warriors.

That grand final was held on 21 December 2019… which has given the Warragul men’s team plenty of time to get used to being the reigning champion.

It’s a position that sits nicely on the shoulders of the Warragul roster according to the men’s head coach Mike Santo, who sees his side being ready to go big again in 2021.

With COVID-19 lockdowns and basketball put on the back-burner for most of 2020, it’s been tough for the basketball community. In spite of the challenges presented recently, the Warriors’ group have come back for another tilt and won’t let the interruptions of last year slow them down.

“Preparation for the season has been great we’ve had around five sessions with about 15-20 players at each session all vying for 12 spots in the squad,” Santo said. “That competition for spots has been a fantastic way to prepare for the season.

“The group is keen to get back out there most of the guys have been starved for competition especially our NBL1 and Big V guys.

“The boys love playing and spending time with each other and are all keen to play and have fun.”

The Warriors are coming into CBL21 with plenty of firepower within its ranks as well as experience to boot – with All Stars aplenty in the roster.

Another red-hot year is on the cards for Warragul’s Ambu Uliando.

“Our blend of experience and youth is our clear strength,” Santo said. “Our unity as a group, strong leadership, and emerging younger stars are also strengths.

“Our reigning MVP and defensive POY Jarryd Moss returns but he isn’t actually our best defender… that’s Ambu (Uliando), and we have them both back.

“The emergence of Murray Myers in last year’s playoffs was very exciting to see and he’s continued putting in that hard work and looks amazing so far in practice.

“We weren’t at full strength when we won last year and had a few serious injuries to key role players but it gave other guys a chance to step up which was a blessing in disguise.”

A familiar name amongst Big V and CBL circles will also don the Warragul jersey as Jeff Reid is set to line up for the Warriors.

“Jeff Reid is a huge in,” Santo said “If you don’t know Jeff you don’t know Gippsland basketball.

“Jeff is an amazing shooter and high-level IQ player who has many accolades and played at all levels in the state including a few CBL championships including a Grand final MVP in 2003… so to have him back is amazing.”

Winning the championship is the undefeated best feeling in basketball, but for Santo and his Warriors… it felt natural.

Taking the title is what he expects from the team and he isn’t afraid to lay down the gauntlet to the rest of the conference.

“Feels like it should, to be honest, I believe we have been the most successful side in the history of the league dating back to the early ’90s, so to be reigning champs again sits comfortably with us,” Santo said. “We have always played in the finals, we lost a few grand finals there to strong Churchill teams, but our depth and class have overwhelmed them in recent years.

“We are confident we can do it again.”

Warragul hits the road on Saturday night with the men’s team facing Sale at Gippsland Regional Sports Complex from 7pm.

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