CASSIDY McLean felt something was missing in a breakout campaign for the Bendigo Spirit in the Women's National Basketball League season.
Something didn't quite feel right either for Lara McSpadden at the Sydney Flames.
It was the first time since the under-14s that the Newcastle Hunters juniors haven't been side by side.
Best friends, they represented Newcastle, NSW Country and NSW together from the under-16s, were a part of the Australian side that won the under-17 World Championship and spent two seasons as development players at the Sydney Flames.
Now, they are back together and energised to lead the Hunters to a Waratah League Championship.
"It did feel like the other half wasn't there really," McLean said. "We were around each other so much. It gets a bit lonely sometimes when your best mate is not there."
McSpadden agreed that it was "weird not having Cass around".
Semi-finalists last year, the Hunters tip off a new campaign against defending champions Norths Bears at home on Saturday night. The Hunter's men begin their title defence in a double-header.
"I really loved Bendigo but I knew Shannon [Seebohm] was here and he is a great coach and all my family is here," McLean said. "I also heard who else was playing and thought it was a great opportunity to come back and win a championship. I missed having my six-foot-five player there I could just lob the ball to."
McSpadden is confident their natural connection with benefit the team.
"We already know how the other plays, which makes it easier," she said.
The split, albeit short-term, didn't hinder the 19-year-olds' progress.
In Bendigo, McLean backed up starting guard Natalie Hurst, averaged about 14 minutes a game and received the coach's award.
A 194cm centre, McSpadden's role grew as the season progressed. She led the Flames in blocked shots with 18, despite playing limited minutes, and averaged five points and four rebounds per game.
Seebohm has big plans for the duo, who are among five current or former WNBL players in the squad.
"Although they are still young, I think they are at the point in their careers where they need to be coming in and being leaders for our group," Seebohm said. "Their junior days are well and truly behind them and there is a level of expectation that they are going to come in and be strong players. The leadership won't all fall on them but there will certainly be a bit more pressure on them than past years."
What's more, Seebohm is confident both will more than handle it.
"Cass being able to go to Bendigo and play an integral role in that team, she will certainly come back to us with a lot more confidence and experience. We are looking for her to take a big step forward this year. That doesn't mean she is going to have to score 25 points every game, but she will have to be a player who makes few mistakes, does a great job defensively and I'm sure will score points as well.
"Lara started getting more game time at the back end of the Flames season. To be honest, she was probably one of the most improved players in the WNBL.
"I'm hoping she can come back here, assert herself and have a great season. I think that will set her up to go back to WNBL and really take the next step in her career."