2020 WNBL season preview – Part 2: Finalists to line up for another crack at title

IN the second part of our two-part Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) season preview, we look at the four finalists from last year and where they stand. Expect them all to be there at the pointy end, getting stronger over the journey and making it a highly competitive season in 2020.

Southside Flyers

Without a doubt the premiership favourites and team to beat in the WNBL 2020 season. The Southside flyers have not only been able to retain key players, but added some elite talents with a starting five that could well be an international line-up. Over the off-season, they lost Mercedes Russell under the import rule, and then the experienced Louella Tomlinson to Adelaide Lightning. Steph Reid headed to Townsville Fire and both Anneli Maley and Kiera Rowe headed to Sydney Uni Flames.

Whilst those players provided great depth to the club, the Flyers brought in the biggest off-season coup of the lot, signing WNBA talent Liz Cambage to the roster. With Cambage an upgrade on an already elite Russell at the five, then adding in Stephanie Blicavs to join her sister at the club, as well as young gun Monique Conti, the Flyers were literally flying through the off-season. Aside from the inclusions, the Flyers re-signed almost their entire list, with Jenna O’Hea, Sara Blicavs, Rebecca Cole, Aimie Clydesdale and Leilani Mitchell among the key signings.

WHY THEY CAN WIN IT:

On paper there is littler doubt this team could win it, littered with a ridiculous amount of Opals. Their talent is unmatched and they deserve favouritism.

WHY THEY CAN’T WIN IT:

The only reason they might not is due to gelling reasons with such star power across the court. It is hard to imagine them struggling, and they will get to the finals alone on talent, but they will have a lot of top stars fighting for minutes which will be the envy of the competition.

CHANGES:

INS: Liz Cambage (International), Stephanie Blicavs (Adelaide), Monique Conti (Melbourne), Rachel Jarry (NBL1)
OUTS: Anneli Maley, Kiera Rowe (Sydney Uni), Steph Reid (Townsville), Louella Tomlinson (Adelaide), Mercedes Russell (International)
RE-SIGNINGS: Jenna O’Hea, Rebecca Cole, Sara Blicavs, Aimie Clydesdale, Leilani Mitchell, Rebecca Pizzey, Taylah Gilliam, Saraid Taylor, Amy O’Neill

POTENTIAL STARTING FIVE:

Bec Cole
Leilani Mitchell
Jenna O’Hea
Sara Blicavs
Liz Cambage

>> Southside Flyers team preview

PREDICTION: 1st-2nd

The Southside Flyers are the team to beat in season 2020, with talent across the entire court. Not only is their starting five ridiculously strong, but even their bench is clearly a class above any others. They are the standout team and it would take a brave person to back against them this season.

UC Capitals

The reigning back-to-back premiers were quick on the trigger to announce a host of re-signings at the start of the off-season to secure their line-up for a crack a at a three-peat. Whilst it was announced early that they would be without their Most Valuable Player (MVP) Kia Nurse, and Grand Final MVP Olivia Epoupa, they were able to secure everyone else. Only young gun Gemma Potter departed the club for College in the United States, whilst the big guns such as co-captains Marianna Tolo and Kelsey Griffin, Keely Froling and Maddison Rocci all re-signed.

In terms of their inclusions, the Capitals added some extra strength to the line-up with Tahlia Tupaea and Brittany Smart both making the move from Sydney Uni Flames. Hannah Kaser was the other WNBL player to switch allegiances, coming from Adelaide Lightning, while Jade Melbourne took the step up from the AIS and Ashley Taia earned a contract following her QSL season. Abby Cubilo, Alex Delaney and Mikaela Ruef were the other players to re-sign with the reigning premiers.

WHY THEY CAN WIN IT:

They have continuity in their team, they will have a fully fit Griffin and the team knows what it takes to win the title. They have done it twice back-to-back and the team is largely the same minus their couple of imports. If their young guns can step up, they are every chance.

WHY THEY CAN’T WIN IT:

Southside Flyers have brought in some imposing players, while Melbourne Boomers have not got any worse. It will be interesting to see if the Capitals can cover the loss of Nurse and Epoupa this season which will go a long way to determining their fortunes in 2020.

CHANGES:

INS: Tahlia Tupaea, Brittany Smart (Sydney Uni), Hannah Kaser (Adelaide), Jade Melbourne (NBL1), Ashley Taia (QSL)
OUTS: Kia Nurse, Olivia Epoupa, Gemma Potter (International)
RE-SIGNINGS: Marianna Tolo, Kelsey Griffin, Keely Froling, Maddison Rocci, Abby Cubilo, Alex Delaney, Mikaela Ruef

POTENTIAL STARTING FIVE:

Tahlia Tupaea
Maddison Rocci
Keely Froling
Kelsey Griffin
Marianna Tolo

>> UC Capitals team preview

PREDICTION: 1st-3rd

The UC Capitals are too good not to be there at the pointy end. They are a superb team, and whilst the Flyers will be hard to beat with all their firepower, expect the Capitals to give it a red hot crack and go for a three-peat. If they can play at the level they are capable of, they are the best chance of winning another flag.

Melbourne Boomers

The Melbourne Boomers have gone close the last couple of years, but have not been able to come away with any silverware. Remaining one of the most solid units over the off-season, the Boomers only lost a trio of young guns, whilst picking up a top talent from Townsville. Paige Price (Bendigo), Monique Conti (Southside) and Chelsea D’Angelo (Achilles, released) were the three main departures from the club, with the Boomers always relying on Australian talent, so the import rule did not impact them as much as other sides.

Madeleine Garrick, Cayla George, Ezi Magbegor and Kalani Purcell form a dominant four, and throw in the Fire’s Tess Madgen who has made the move to the Boomers, and Guy Molloy will head in with another title-contending unit. Antonia Farnworth, Penina Davidson, Stella Beck and Rachel Brewster re-signed as well as a number of state-league talents, including Tall Black shooter Ashleigh Karaitiana who could prove important coming off the bench.

WHY THEY CAN WIN IT:

The Boomers are a settled unit with very few changes to the side that has challenged the last couple of years. The addition of Madgen is a positive one, and it is hard to see them not at least giving it a crack, even if they do fall short again.

WHY THEY CAN’T WIN IT:

Southside and UC Capitals still have the firepower, though the Boomers might be on par with the Capitals given their losses over the off-season. The Flyers will be hard to beat on paper, but the continuity of the Boomers over a short season might help.

CHANGES:

INS: Tess Madgen (Townsville), Eliza Wright, Hope Terdich, Rachel Antoniadou (NBL1), Ashleigh Karaitiana (QSL)
OUTS: Paige Price (Bendigo), Monique Conti (Southside), Chelsea D’Angelo (Achilles)
RE-SIGNINGS: Madeleine Garrick, Cayla George, Ezi Magbegor, Kalani Purcell, Antonia Farnworth, Penina Davidson, Stella Beck, Rachel Brewster

POTENTIAL STARTING FIVE:

Maddie Garrick
Tess Madgen
Ezi Magbegor
Kalani Purcell
Cayla George

>> Melbourne Boomers preview

PREDICTION: 1st-4th

The Melbourne Boomers are a tough team to beat, and it will take the best of the Flyers and Capitals to get it done. They are certainly among the top sides in the competition, and whilst the Flyers are deserving favourites, the Boomers have enough talent to step up in big games.

Adelaide Lightning

Even though the Lightning might be lower down on this list, there is genuine hope they can repeat their last two season and make finals. The loss of veteran, Lauren Nicholson would have hurt the Lightning, with Steph Blicavs the other massive out for the Lightning. Both players headed off to the east coast to play with Townsville and Southside, though the one benefit is that Blicavs missed last season due to her pregnancy, so effectively Nicholson is the only starting five net out. The other two that were due to come in but have since had to be released were state league talent Jasmin Fejo (pregnancy) and college graduate Alanna Smith (ankle) who would have provided some excitement. Natalie Hurst (retired), Jessie Edwards (Perth), Jessie Rintala (Bendigo) and Hannah Kaser (UC Capitals) were the others to depart.

The Lightning have brought in some vital experience though, with Sydney Uni’s Alex Wilson expected to slot into the guard spot alongside Perth’s Marena Whittle making that a pretty handy, and most importantly steady duo. Steph Talbot and Chelsea Brook provide some strength and consistency through the forwards, and whilst Brook might start as the five, bringing in another veteran in Louella Tomlinson from Southside means Brook might slide to the four. Abby Wehrung is a pretty handy sixth player, with some impressive state leaguers in Carlie Smith and Ella Batish also joining, and a quartet of international young talents in Taylor Ortlepp, Morgan Yaeger, Brooke Basham and Aimee Brett returning to Australia.

WHY THEY CAN WIN IT:

Despite losing Nicholson and Blicavs, the damage to the team from last season that was effectively done was just Nicholson out, and a mix of youth and experience in. They have enough versatility to get the job done and bringing in veterans helps steady the team and allow them to gel quicker. This season should be more competitive and could allow for some upset wins.

WHY THEY CAN’T WIN IT:

In a short season it still will take a little time to gel and adding extra talent to the starting five is great, but it will be interesting to see how they fare against the top three teams. They need a lot to go right to knock them off.

CHANGES:

IN: Marena Whittle (Perth), Taylor Ortlepp, Morgan Yaeger, Brooke Basham, Aimee Brett (International), Louella Tomlinson (Southside), Carlie Smith (QSL), Alex Wilson (Sydney Uni), Abby Wehrung (Bendigo), Ella Batish (NBL1)
OUT:  Lauren Nicholson (Townsville), Jessie Edwards (Perth), Jessie Rintala (Bendigo), Steph Blicavs (Southside), Hannah Kaser (UC Capitals), Natalie Hurst (retired)
RE-SIGNED: Steph Talbot, Chelsea Brook

POTENTIAL STARTING FIVE:

Alex Wilson
Marena Whittle
Steph Talbot
Chelsea Brook
Louella Tomlinson

>> Adelaide Lightning team preview

PREDICTION: 4th-6th

Overall the Lightning are not to be underestimated. There is every chance they force their way into the four. In a short season with a quick turnaround between games, it will be interesting to see how they first gel, and secondly deal with the body management given some of their older talents. Still an outside contender.

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