Preparing for the upcoming NBL1 season, Taylor Ortlepp did not think that her return to the WNBL would take place so soon after switching to play AFLW. A call from her former coach Chris Lucas changed that, reuniting the former Adelaide Lightning head coach with his rising star.
With injuries piling up for the Melbourne Boomers, it was a call from head coach Chris Lucas to former Adelaide Lightning guard Taylor Ortlepp that brought her back to the league. Coming off her debut season for Carlton’s AFLW side, she was expecting to take time to rest and recuperate before another NBL1 season.
Speaking exclusively to The Inner Sanctum, Taylor Ortlepp describes what it has been like to come into a successful club like the Melbourne Boomers and how the opportunity came about.
“It’s been really good so far actually, I definitely wasn’t expecting to be back in the league this year,” Ortlepp explained.
“Obviously the Boomers have had a few injuries on top of their very successful start to the season so I think it was a no-brainer to jump on board and see if I could help them out wherever they need but it’s been a really good experience so far. The Boomers are a great club and [so I] can’t complain.”
Ortlepp then goes on to reflect on why the Boomers are such a successful club as a newcomer coming into the system.
“I think the girls have great chemistry and obviously that reflects on their on-court success as well,” she said.
“They’ve been really welcoming, they’ve helped me a lot and I’m not trying to do anything crazy, I’m just trying to help them wherever they need, wherever they see me being of use to them so they’ve been really supportive and it’s been really enjoyable.”
Coming off a handful of games in the navy blue at AFLW level, Ortlepp outlines her plans for the off-season before the Boomers came knocking.
“[The opportunity] came out of the blue [and] after the season of AFLW, I didn’t really think about [playing in the WNBL], I told myself I was gonna have a break from going from season to season to season so I did,” she said.
“I was in contact with [the] Boomers quite early in November and I decided that I was going to have a break and have Christmas off. It just so happened that I was in Perth on holiday at the end of January and I got a call.
“They are coming up to the finals and there are still injuries so I thought I’d grab that [chance] with both hands. There were seven games left and that’s how many I needed to qualify [to play finals] so I’m just chipping away at that.
Playing for the Adelaide Lightning from 2015-2022, Ortlepp played under Chris Lucas for a large stint before his move to Melbourne. Playing under Lucas again was part of the appeal for her as she explained.
“I mean I’ve played under him for a while now and it’s pretty similar, he’s obviously got a different group this year but as always he’s about working hard,” Ortlepp said.
“[He says] nothing comes easily and nothing comes guaranteed so coming into this finals series we just can’t take the foot off the pedal. We’ve still got to grow and perform each day and make sure we are getting better so he really drives that [mentality] that we’ve got to be working hard but then rest when we need to.”
When speaking to her about the opportunity to sign with the Boomers, Ortlepp remembers him bringing up a shared philosophy about how to be successful in the game.
“He gave me a call and he’s like ‘you know how I work and this is what we are after at the moment, we don’t need anything crazy but I know how you operate, I know you work hard’,” she recalled.
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In her first year as a development player at the Lightning, Ortlepp crossed paths with star Australian Opal Leilani Mitchell who was playing there for the year. Fast forward six or so seasons and both Ortlepp and Mitchell are injury replacement players, with Mitchell to join the team’s set-up shortly.
As someone who has some insight into how Mitchell will assist the team given they both play as guards, Ortlepp speaks about what Mitchell will bring to the star-studded team.
“I’ve actually trained with her once when I was a [development player] in Adelaide and she was in Adelaide also going back multiple years now,” Ortlepp said.
“I’m super excited for her to join the group, obviously she brings an array of experience and championship experience with the Southside [Flyers] when they won a couple of years ago in the hub so I think being an Opals point-guard there’s a lot to learn from her and she will definitely add value to the already strong Boomers team.”
A highly favoured pick for the Suzy Batkovic Medal for the WNBL’s Most Valuable Player at season’s end, Boomers captain Cayla George has continued her hot form displayed in the Women’s World Cup last year.
She has averaged a massive 18.9 points, 11.8 rebounds and 4.7 assists from her 17 games this year. Ortlepp gives an insight into what George is like to play under as a captain and her chance of taking home the MVP award.
“Cayla’s been great in my short time here, I think she’s an exceptional leader, she definitely works hard and she understands the game so well,” she said.
“She’s been putting up big numbers so I think there’s definitely a high chance of her bringing home the MVP this year and I hope she does because she bloody deserves it and she’s been great.”
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