By Trevor Jackson
IN A disappointing but not unexpected announcement, the NBL1 South basketball season has been cancelled for 2021.
That leaves the Mount Gambier Pioneers men and women at the end of their playing duties, with just the end-of-year awards left to be handed out.
Last week it was announced the OneFortyOne Pioneers women had ceased their season as the league attempted to conduct playoffs.
The women sat down the ladder and did not qualify for the playoffs.
However, the Castec Rural Supplies men sat in fifth spot and looked to be a good chance to go deep into the playoffs.
But now it is a case of what could have been.
In a statement, NBL1 general manager Dean Anglin said the season cancellation was disappointing.
“Despite working tirelessly with our clubs to try and find a way to complete the season in a safe manner, the extension of restrictions in Victoria and travel restrictions imposed on our Tasmanian clubs, the Mount Gambier Pioneers and Albury-Wodonga Bandits has forced us to make the difficult decision to cancel the season,” he said.
“With a combined 148 men’s and women’s games still to be played, there will be no champion and no individual awards for the 2021 NBL1 South season.
“We thank all of the NBL1 South clubs, Basketball Victoria and our partners for their cooperation and patience during the decision-making process.”
For Pioneers president Tom Kosch it was an equally disappointing announcement.
“It unfortunately hasn’t been an easy period for our basketball club,” he said.
“The beauty of the most recent time is there are lots of stories out there in the community at the minute that things aren’t very easy for people, for the Victorian clubs who are currently in lockdown and unable to leave their homes, but we have been able to stay on court up until this period for both the women and men.
“It has been disappointing to finish that way but there is not much that can be done about it.
“We just need to look forward to the future and what 2022 can bring.”
Despite the cancellation of the season, Kosch said there were many positives to be taken from 2021, from both the men’s and women’s programs.
“I viewed the progress this year as incredibly positive,” he said.
“The teams we put together at the start of the year showed an aspiration to get in and do whatever we needed to do to put two competitive teams on the floor at any time.
“What Matt (Sutton) and the women have done and what Richard (Hill) and the men have done has been outstanding.”
Kosch said prior to the season the club understood the issues it may face due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
He said they were willing to go “the extra mile” to ensure games could be completed, whether on the road or at the Icehouse.”
That was never more evident than a road trip to Tasmania earlier in the season when Victoria was in lockdown., with the team heading to the Apple Isle via Sydney.
“We understood the challenges that can exist when you are part of an interstate competition, but we were fully committed to make sure we could get as much of it done as we could,” Kosch said.
“From where we have been, NBL1 South is exactly the competition we want to be part of.
“From the days of preparation for 2021, we understood there could be some encumbrance of COVID and we were willing to do whatever it took.
“If it meant sending teams through Sydney to get to Hobart, our club was willing to do it.
“I am hugely proud of how our teams responded to that and I am hugely proud of our local community who have supported the board and the basketball club to get through what has been a difficult and challenging season given the state-enforced lockdowns and border closures.”
Kosch also thanked the supporters for continuing to attend games in a year where masks were at one stage mandatory for spectators at games and the season was never guaranteed to be completed.
“To be honest, I am not surprised by the support we get,” he said.
“The local community has supported us tremendously not only through this season, but through 34 years of our history.”
Kosch also gave a shout out to the many sponsors who allow the club to compete.
He said without that “lifeblood”, the club would simply not be able to achieve what it does.
For now the club will hold its Serle-Scott Medal Friday night at the Commodore on the Park, with a slight tweak to the usual program.
MVP season awards will not be handed out for the men or women after such a disrupted season.
However, Kosch said there were other awards to hand out.
“We will issue a number of other player awards,” he said.
“It is also a good opportunity to recognise and celebrate the achievements of the 2021 season for our sponsors and club people, after what was not the season we hoped, but a big achievement to get our first NBL1 season underway.”