IT was nothing but heartbreak for Cheryl Chambers and her Southside Flyers at the start of 2020. But after an even harder year that saw a WNBL season like no other, the Flyers can feel nothing but pure elation after they overcame the Townsville Fire to finally be crowned WNBL champions following six weeks of dominance.
Following the acquisitions of numerous elite talents, nobody was more excited to get WNBL20 underway than Southside, and unfortunately for the Bendigo Spirit, their heads were up first on the chopping block. As expected, the Flyers were to win their season-opener by an emphatic 42-point margin, setting the tone for the rest of the League evoking a sense of determination for the club.
A minor hiccup followed, however, to end Round 1 when Southside shockingly fell by 17 to the Melbourne Boomers, but one bad result would not linger in the minds of the Flyers for long, trouncing Sydney Uni Flames the next day, 99-72. A good momentum starter leading into Round 2.
Not for the first time this season, the Flyers would go undefeated for an entire week. First up for week two of the season were the Fire, who put up a valiant effort in the first of the two teams’ four encounters but fell 101-89 on this particular night. The latter of the week’s matchups were the Perth Lynx, who barely cracked 70 points against the Southside defence in what was a complete whitewash. The Flyers drubbing the West Australian side by 46 points.
Bad memories started to resurface from last year’s failures, when the Flyers once again fell to Paul Goriss and his Canberra Capitals by a whopping 23 points in Cairns, but this loss would mean a lot more to last year’s runners-ups, keen not to make the same mistakes as last season.
Kicking off what would be the longest winning streak of the season, another 40-point win over Perth reaffirmed the notion it was Southside’s season to lose. The Flyers then really started to kick up their margins of victories to end Round 3, beating Townsville by 24 (94-70) and then the Adelaide Lightning by 31 (110-79).
Two more double-digit victories in Round 4 over the Lightning for a second time and the Boomers built up even more steam within the Southside engine room with a round still to play, but coach Chambers’ main focus by this stage was to keep her side injury-free heading into the postseason.
A narrow four-point win over the Flames (81-77) secured the side their minor premiership, which preceded a much-needed revenge victory over the Capitals (101-82) to conclude their WNBL20 campaign with an impressive 11-win and two-loss record.
Setting up a semi-final with the Fire in a contest that would mean a Grand Final spot for the victor, the Flyers chose not to beat around the bush. Instead they burned it down, adding another double-digit triumph to their collection despite Townsville’s best effort, toppling the underdogs 106-93 and earning a spot in the big dance.
After four days off, Southside met with the season’s hosts in Townsville for a fourth time after the Fire knocked out the Boomers in the preliminary final thanks to their second chance opportunity.
Relying on the extraordinary effort made by WNBL veteran and WNBA superstar Leilani Mitchell paired with an efficient second half and returning captain in Jenna O’Hea, Southside reached the promised land, defeating the hometown side for a final time (99-82) and leaving the North Queensland hub as WNBL champions.
When the announcement was made that Liz Cambage was going to join the Flyers, it was not unexpected that she would be a major producer for the team. But nevertheless, she made an enormous contribution over the course of the season, leading the league in scoring with 23.5 points per game and blocks with 1.7 per contest, as well as averaging 8.7 rebounds in the process (ranked fourth league-wide), which resulted in an All-WNBL First Team selection and an MVP nomination. Next to Cambage in the All-WNBL side was Sara Blicavs, leading the team in minutes with 28.7 per game, averaging 13.5 points and 7.3 boards per game additionally.
Other Opals to make mention of included of course Bec Cole (15.5 points and 4.3 assists), Rachel Sporn medallist in Mitchell (11.2 points and 6.7 assists) and O’Hea (11 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.4 assists) amongst plenty of other contributors off the bench – rounding out one of the best starting fives and benches to ever grace a WNBL season.
It can be universally agreed that no other team deserved to emerge out of WNBL20 as champions more than the Flyers’ franchise. Looking down the track, whether all of Southside’s individuals return to defend their crowns happens or not in WNBL21, they certainly have a tough act follow from this season – that is for sure.