Versatile Adelaide Lightning guard Marena Whittle has been making the most of the WNBL off-season.
She’s just re-signed for the 2021/22 season, and has been playing better than ever for NBL1 side Ringwood as she ramps up her pre-season preparation.
Whittle is averaging 16.1 PPG at 39%, 11.8 rebounds and two steals, but it’s her recent form that’s caught the eyes of Lightning fans.
In her past four games she’s averaged 15.7 PPG, 12 rebounds and two steals. Speaking to The Inner Sanctum, Whittle says she’s enjoying the opportunity to flex her skills in point guard across full game time.
“I’ve been fortunate to test myself in some different positions that I don’t normally get to play,” she said.
“I love playing point guard, so being able to run the floor at different times during the games is great, getting back to rebounding and just playing in off-season again after 2020 has just been really good.”
Whittle explains that she’s pushing herself to take the “next step” with her basketball.
She’s done that so far in her 2021 NBL1 season. In addition to her recent strong run of form, she had a monster game against Knox earlier in the season, dropping 38 points at 57% and 15 rebounds in the loss.
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After a season in the Queensland hub in 2020, which saw the Lightning finish in a disappointing sixth, Whittle says she’s making strides in preparing for the challenge ahead.
“Last year, everyone handled COVID differently,” Whittle explained.
“Walking into the WNBL, it was interesting to compare myself with some of the girls that weren’t in Victoria, weren’t necessarily in lockdown for half of the year.
“Now that I’m back into NBL1 it’s really wanting to dominate as much as possible at this level, so that when I step up into WNBL my mindset is still in a dominating position and I still want to take that next step.
“I think if I can get everything right at this level in NBL1 and wanting to dominate these last few weeks, it’s going to do nothing but benefit me stepping into the next level.”
Whittle staying put
Signing for the Lightning for a second year will see Whittle staying put at one club for the longest time since her college days at North Dakota State.
She’s moved around to four different states with four different WNBL teams, from Queensland to Victoria to Western Australia, and now seeming to be settled in South Australia.
Born in Melbourne, it’s always the place she’ll call home. However, Whittle explains that she enjoys the opportunities and excitement that playing across Australia offers.
“Personally, I really enjoy [travelling],” Whittle said.
“I love Melbourne… but for me, It’s such a busy place. That’s why I enjoy going off and exploring other states. I’ve loved every team that I’ve played for, and every place that I’ve played for. I guess the hurdles are making it comfortable.
“That’s always within the first week or two that you get there, it’s just finding that routine, finding that coffee shop, finding that grocery store that you really like.”
After signing with the Lightning in 2020, Whittle didn’t have the opportunity to explore Adelaide, however.
It was a mad dash of pre-season preparation to get up to Queensland in time, the players barely having any time to breathe. It was a sacrifice that needed to be made, but threw Whittle out of her regular routine.
“That was something that I kind of struggled with,” she admitted.
“As soon as we got there, we had to go into quarantine and then as soon as we were out of quarantine, we had to get right into practice.
“We only had a few weeks before we got up to Queensland, so there really wasn’t much time to create a routine and to do all the things I normally would to feel comfortable before starting a season, we weren’t even really able to get settled.
“We trained, or at least we were on court at least six out of the seven days [of the week], then we were only there for four weeks and then right up to Queensland… we had to take everything with us because after Queensland we were going straight home. It was really intense, really different.
“I don’t think I got to see the best side of Adelaide because I just didn’t have the time unfortunately. That’s something I’m really looking forward to this year.
“I like to get over a week before pre-season starts so I can get familiar, get comfortable, get settled and then meet everyone and get all of the official stuff out of the way.”
As for why she’s staying put in Adelaide? Whittle says the difference is made through the people and culture.
She spoke to The Inner Sanctum about the re-signing of young teammate Brooke Basham, who’s looking to take the next step after showing flashes of brilliance in 2020.
It’s not just her teammates that are driving that, however. Whittle says it goes all the way up to the top and behind the scenes too.
“It’s a small town, and it’s something that I’m always drawn to, but it’s the culture within the club and the culture within the organisation that I can really get around,” she said.
“From [Chariman] Bruce [Spangler]… to [General Manager] Tim [Brenton], everyone is just around and so supportive of the girls and everything that we stand for. I know last year we got stuck with the wrong end of the stick… and that’s understandable and that’s okay.
“Knowing that we had the support from the front office, the back office, the head coach, the assistants, knowing that we have so much support around us at every point is such a great thing. I really appreciate having that much support as well, knowing that I can go and have just a casual conversation with the coach and the GM and the CEO.
“They’re just so willing to sacrifice their time for the players, [and] I think that just breeds positivity and breeds growth within a team. I really like that, and that’s what really drew me over to America as well.
“That was the same environment I found myself in at college, and that’s what me have a personally really good college experience. I got a lot out of it on and off the basketball court. That really works for me, so that’s what I really enjoy out of Adelaide.”
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