The Melbourne Stars have completed a stunning transformation in the WBBL

At the end of last year, Melbourne Stars incoming general manager Nick Cummins sat down with the club’s long-running list manager Trent Woodhill, with one things on their minds: to transform the club’s Women’s Big Bash League side.

The Stars ended their WBBL05 campaign languishing on the bottom of the ladder, having suffered 12 losses from 14 games.

Off-field changes were needed for long-term on-field success.

The pair started with a coup, signing Australian women’s cricket high-performance guru Leah Poulton as new head coach, but Cricket NSW lured her away again. So, Woodhill put his hand up to coach.

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Stars head coach Trent Woodhill has been pivotal in the side’s rapid rise. Picture: Matt King/Getty ImagesSource:Getty Images

“When we were initially working on this team, Trent wasn’t expecting to be the one actually coaching it,” Cummins said.

Then, Cricket Australia approached Woodhill with a full-time role that would put him in charge of overseas recruitment for the BBL competition as well as advising on innovation and strategy. He accepted and resigned as the Stars’ list manager.

But he did not resign as WBBL coach. Why?

Two words: Meg Lanning.

He’d made a promise to the Aussie captain that if she returned to the Stars from Perth Scorchers, that he would be involved.

“I promised Meg I was going to give her a season that was lots of fun,” Woodhill said.

“One where she didn’t have to be the central focus, and that we’d put people around her to make sure the No. 1 thing was that she was enjoying herself.”

Cummins, who was part of putting together Sydney Thunder’s first WBBL team in 2015 (who ultimately took out that first championship), said once Lanning had signed and Woodhill was confirmed as head coach, the three sat down to map out a clear vision of the cricket the team would play, and built the team from there.

They retained a small, but good core of domestic players including veteran opening batter Elyse Villani and bowler Erin Osbourne, who complemented youngsters like spinner Alana King and all-rounders Annabel Sutherland and Tess Flintoff.

They signed upcomers in Sophie Day and Georgia Gall.

They lured two heavyweight internationals in English pair all-rounder Nat Sciver and fast bowler Katherine Brunt, to play alongside ever-improving No. 3 batter, South African Mignon du Preez.

It hasn’t all been about Meg Lanning, second from right, at the Stars in WBBL06. Picture: Ryan Pierse/Getty ImagesSource:Getty Images

Woodhill’s next job was to tell Villani that she would no longer be captain, with that responsibility falling to Lanning, but would instead take control over off-field roles including cap presentations. Brunt would do opposition analysis.

This meant Lanning could focus on game-day. But at trainings was simply “one of the girls”, working on improving her batting, unsurprisingly smiling and laughing while going about it.

It’s no wonder Lanning finished the minor rounds as the second-leading run-scorer (behind Scorchers’ Beth Mooney), was this week named captain of the WBBL06 Team of the Tournament, and that the Stars climbed from the bottom to the top of the ladder and will play in Saturday’s WBBL final against Sydney Thunder.

But the biggest change to this team has been its mentality.

Stars through to WBBL Final

WBBL: The Melbourne Stars have qualified for their first Big Bash final after cruising to a seven-wicket victory over the Perth Scorchers.

“One of the first things I said to the group was I wanted strong, independent women who weren’t afraid to speak their mind,” Woodhill said.

“And everything is optional, the only thing that is non-optional is I need 11 players at the game: You don’t want to come to training? Don’t come. You don’t what to come to a meeting? Don’t come.

“I gave no thought to winning the competition … which might sound strange, but if you know me, you realise that I have zero interest in other teams. My big thing is about turning people around, empowering them.”

It’s helped foster a genuine sense of team “togetherness” that meant on Thursday night, when the Stars held an optional team barbecue, everyone turned up.

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Alana King was named in the WBBL06 team of the tournament. Picture: Ryan Pierse/Getty ImagesSource:Getty Images

Afterwards, while the Thunder were tearing through Brisbane Heat’s middle order to book themselves a place in the final against the Stars, Woodhill was fast asleep. He woke on Friday morning to be told the result.

But his 25-year-old spin bowler Alana King was watching the game.

She’s one of many cricketers to thrive under Woodhill’s leadership, being named in the WBBL06 Team of the Tournament, after taking 15 wickets so far, with best figures of 3/16.

Having been a part of the Stars since the first season in 2015, she’s seen all the ups and downs.

“It’s been extraordinary and I’m very lucky to be a part of this club and I’m very proud of how we’ve bounced back from last year,” she says.

“We’ve made it to the last day of the tournament and that’s massive for us. We should be proud no matter what the result is, but hopefully we’re the ones lifting the trophy and geez, that would be such a good feeling.”

But for Cummins and Woodhill, you get the sense Saturday’s final won’t just be the culmination of a year spent building a team, but the start of a new era at the club.

Originally published asHow the Stars aligned on remarkable rise

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