The girls from “Down Under” like to get out and run.
But Coach Glenn Wiensbruh opted for a more measured pace in the early going against Friday Harbor, fearing that his Mornington Breakers might have too little left in the tank after playing five games in six days and contending all the while with the rigors of travel, as well as a steady diet of competition, more than 8,000 miles from home.
Talk about a road trip.
Still, putting the breaks on the Breakers appeared—for a time—to be a bust.
After five consecutive victories over Seattle-area teams, including Rainer Beach and Juanita, the “select” squad of 16 and 17-year-olds from the seaside village 35 miles southeast of Melbourne managed only two points in the opening period and went into the locker room trailing the Wolverines by double digits, 16-6, at the half.
Fatigue from both the gauntlet of games and the travel had started to take a toll, Tiah Irons acknowledged.
“I definitely felt it for the first time tonight,” said Irons, who tallied a team-high 10 points for the Breakers in the Jan. 3 international contest in Turnbull Gym.
Drawn from four different schools in the Mornington area, nine players made the journey from the Melbourne suburb to the U.S., accompanied by parents and several chaperones, of course. Through walk-a-thons, trivia nights, book sales, “sausage sizzles” and various fundraisers, they amassed $35,000 over the better part of 14 months to finance the trip.
For most, it would be a first-ever visit to America. The itinerary boasted nine basketball games in two weeks time in Seattle and the surrounding area, followed by one week in Los Angeles where, as described by Lisa Jordan, mother of the Breakers’ Kiana Jordan, the players would be able to “let their hair down a bit.”
Although the change in time zones and the weather (it’s summertime in Australia), as well as the intensity of U.S. competition, chipped away at his players’ stamina, Wiensbruh also tipped his hat to the Wolverines for giving the Breakers all they could handle.
“They’re the best team we’ve played so far on our tour,” he said.
On the heels of a rousing halftime speech, Wiensbruh eased up on the reins and the Breakers found their form in the second half.
“We got a massive motivational speech at halftime,” Irons said. “In the second half we got back to playing our game and started running.”
The Breakers, cashing in on turnovers and breakaway lay-ins, outscored the Wolverines 15-10 in the third period, narrowing the deficit to five. Friday Harbor’s Madie Kincaid scored eight of a team-high 14 points in the third. Lili Wood contributed 11 points to the team total and Allie Galt had six.
The Breakers doubled-down on an uptempo game and, with Irons blanketing Kincaid on the defensive end, tied the score at 32 apiece on a breakaway lay-in by Claire Campbell with just over three minutes remaining in regulation.
Campbell, who tossed in eight points in the contest, knocked down 1-of-2 free throws moments later to give the “visitors” their first lead of the game.
The Breakers outscored the Wolverines 6-to-2 down the stretch to seal a 39-34 come-from-behind triumph and notch a sixth-straight win in international competition with the victory in Friday Harbor, where the number of fans in the bleachers and their passion for the game left a lasting impression on Irons and her teammates.
“There’s so many supporters in the stands here and the intensity of the crowd makes it that much more exciting,” Irons said. “It’s a lot of fun. I wish we had more of that back home.”
The Wolverines (6-3) face Orcas Island on the road Tuesday, Jan. 6, and are home to host Mount Vernon Christian Friday, Jan. 9; tip off is 5:30 p.m.