Tag: cheryl chambers

WNBL20 Season Review – Southside Flyers

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.

Capitals’ reign comes to an end, Boomers advance to prelim

THE three-peat dream for the Canberra Capitals abruptly ended last night as a result of the Melbourne Boomers diligent work on the defensive end, outlasting the reigning premiers 78-68 in Townsville. The win means Melbourne are just one win away from a WNBL Grand Final opportunity.

During the opening five minutes of the game, both sides remained level-headed as the first 20 points of the contest were shared evenly. But the first scoring run went the way of the Boomers, scoring 11 unanswered points to take control of the first period.

Ezi Magbegor’s 10 points in the first was the primary factor that led to Melbourne’s 32-20 lead over the Capitals, but Canberra did not plan on bowing out of their “three-peat bid” after just 10 minutes of play.

As soon as Paul Goriss’s trio of Maddison Rocci, Kelsey Griffin and Marianna Tolo started to click, the Capitals started to earn some success on the floor. Ultimately winning the quarter 15-9 in a more defence-oriented term. Canberra looked to make the elimination final one that would not be decided until the second half, trailing Melbourne by six at the half 35-41.

Magbegor, who went scoreless in the second, headed to half-time with 10 points and three rebounds, while providing much needed consistency inside as the Boomers shot 46 per cent in the first half compared to the Capitals 34 per cent. For the Capitals, Rocci was trying her hand as her team’s main producer with nine points at the half.

Unfortunately for Canberra all of their work from the second quarter was undone in the third, with Melbourne expanding their lead back to 11 points having 10 minutes yet to be played. However, if the Boomers were going to avoid their third-straight semi-final exit in three years, Guy Molloy’s side needed to be on their best form if they were to eliminate the two-time defending champions.

A couple of surprise standouts from each team in the third started to make their imprint on the game, with Boomers’ Izzy Wright holding 11 points and Brittany Smart having 10 of her own at the third intermission.

Even though Canberra limited Melbourne’s scoring early in the fourth, the Capitals were not urgent in their pursuit of points either due to inaccurate shooting and the inability to convert on second-chance opportunities. Drawing back to within eight points with just over two minutes remaining, Canberra tried their best to throw the kitchen sink at Melbourne, while the Boomers made the Capitals sweat for every bucket.

Converting on a fast-break layup following Tess Madgen’s missed bonus free-throws, Smart reduced the deficit to seven. However, two made free throws from Maddie Garrick put the result beyond all doubt in last night’s opener as Melbourne advanced to Friday’s preliminary final while Canberra’s reign in the WNBL came to an honourable end.

Knocking down 44 per cent of their attempts (30-67), the Boomers were able to convert on the majority of their shots while limiting the Capitals to just 68 points, a testament to their moniker of the “League’s Best Defence”. Despite their prominent depth evidenced by their 28 bench points, Canberra now goes home early for the first time in three seasons, with Melbourne emerging superior in various categories such as rebounds, assists and blocks.

Magbegor concluded her performance with a dominant 20-point and 11-rebound double-double effort, while Molloy’s backcourt duo of Garrick (15 points, five rebounds and four assists) and Madgen (13 points, nine rebounds and six assists) proved to be lethal after four quarters. Last and certainly not least, Cayla George dominated on the glass with seven points and 12 rebounds, whereas Wright also notched up 13 points after 40 minutes in her coming out performance of the season.

Although five Capitals players reached double-digit figures, it was not enough to get themselves over the line with Smart leading the way with 15 points off the bench. The WNBL’s sixth highest scorer in Rocci, earned 14 points, seven assists and four rebounds in the loss, while the team’s co-captains in Griffin (12 points and 11 rebounds) and Tolo (10 points and eight rebounds) both made sizeable contributions.

The Boomers will be focusing solely on recovery as they have less than 36 hours to regain their strength in what will be a much-anticipated prelim final on Friday night, bearing in mind the fact that Melbourne are still searching for their first title in more than a decade.

Southside hand Townsville third loss, Fire’s Nicholson leaves with nose injury

GOOD things eventually come to an end and in this instance, it was the Townsville Fire’s three-game winning streak at the mercy of the Southside Flyers, going down to the heavy-handed championship favourites 70-94, while being substantially undermanned.

A scrappy start from both sides led to a low scoring opening few minutes, but two quick fouls for Megan McKay earned her a quick spot on the bench for the rest of the first quarter. The Flyers started to connect on some of their shots as the first quarter rolled on, while Townsville struggled to pick up steam, trailing 4-16 after six minutes of play thanks to nine quick points from Liz Cambage. Not only did Southside’s superior opening period see them gain an 11-point lead, but also a hard blow to Lauren Nicholson’s nose resulting in the Fire losing a star point-guard for the rest of the game.

An And-One from Bec Cole to commence things in the second provided more encouraging signs for Cheryl Chambers and her players, however three straight successful trips up the floor for the Fire was the response Shannon Seebohm wanted to see following quarter time.

Townsville fended off more Southside success leading into the main break trailing only by eight points and winning the quarter 25-22. Down 34-42, the Fire were feeding off of Shyla Heal’s 15 points and three rebounds at this stage, while Nadeen Payne was doing her best to back Heal up with seven points and four boards. Alternatively, Cambage had herself 17 points in 16 first-half minutes next to Cole, who sat on 10 points and five assists at the mid-way point.

Losing Heal for a chunk of the third due to an elbow to the chest, the Fire did a good job of weathering the Flyers’ storm. But a triple from Jenna O’Hea midway through the third quarter signified the gradual expansion of her side’s lead in the second half putting Southside up by 16 with a quarter left to play in Saturday’s opener.

A relatively uneventful final quarter ensued as Southside started to push their advantage towards the 20-point mark and Townsville struggled to cope while running on limited players. As both sides introduced their secondary units in the dying moments of the contest, Southside routinely concluded matters by running out 24-point winners and ending Townsville’s three-game winning streak.

Shooting over 50 per cent throughout all four quarters, Southside was hard to stop from knocking down their shots, particularly down low (48 points in the paint) and from the free-throw-line (14 from 17). The Flyers also held onto the ball well, only turning over the ball eight times the whole game.

Cambage maintained her reputation as a prolific post presence, contributing 26 points, nine rebounds and three assists, while going 75 per cent from the field. Meanwhile, Cole was the next best thing with her 19 points and eight assists. Leilani Mitchell was not a massive presence on the scoreboard, but she certainly facilitated the ball at a high rate finishing with nine assists under her belt.

Heal had another impressive outing racking up a team-high 17 points, four rebounds and three assists, a major talking point for Townsville’s disappointing outcome. But more impressively, were the combined efforts of two of the WNBL’s best auxiliary players. Firstly, 15 points in 26 minutes off the bench for Stephanie Reid provided merit for a top performance from the losing side, whereas Courtney Woods accumulated a modest 11 points in her efforts yesterday afternoon.

Both teams hit the hardwood again in 24 hours, as Southside looks to knock the Adelaide Lightning out of the top four with a second triumph in as many days. While, the Fire look to re-establish themselves as a favourable finals nominee against a Sydney Uni Flames unit that is hungry to climb the standings.

Lightning hit back with statement win

Pic: WNBL

IMPROVING their record to four wins and one loss, the Adelaide Lighting have reiterated the fact that they are a formidable side, after extinguishing the Sydney Uni Flames 75-53, following a one-sided second half and a 30-point masterclass from early MVP-candidate Stephanie Talbot.

Transition points and a quick start from Sydney saw them run the floor well and capitalise on fast break offence early on, but the Lightning had other ideas for how the opening term would end, following a 7-0 run four minutes in for Adelaide. Riding off on their scoring run and four lead changes in the first quarter, Adelaide held a commanding 20 to 12 lead, with Talbot a large presence early having seven points and four rebounds after 10 minutes.

After an extended quarter-time break due to technical difficulties at the Cairns Pop-Up Arena, both teams lost momentum on the scoreboard. Neither side got off a field goal for two and a half minutes, until this trend was upended following a beautiful backdoor cut from Sydney’s Lauren Mansfield.

Baskets became more frequent from both sides prior to half-time and the Flames made some significant headway in the half’s few remaining minutes after two buckets each from Funda Nakkasoglu and Nat Burton, cutting the deficit to only six points at the main break, 32-26.

It was the Talbot show in the opening 20 minutes, with the 26-year-old putting up 15 points during that time and seven rebounds to add to that. While Adelaide had few players with big scoring totals, the Flames had low scoring numbers across multiple individuals with all of their starters converting on shots. The former Opal in Burton led the way with eight points while Alison Schwagmeyer proved her mettle on the glass with seven rebounds in the initial two quarters.

A tit-for-tat beginning was the best way to describe the early moments of the second half, as both sides remained level six minutes into the third phase. However, four pivotal scores from Abigail Wehrung, Talbot who had two of those, and Marena Whittle gave the Lightning a nine-point buffer at what seemed like a turning point in a clash that had little room for errors. A beautiful drive and dish from Ally Wilson to Ella Batish and a fast-break layup by Talbot capped off a 13-0 run for Chris Lucas’ roster and put control of the game firmly in their possession before three-quarter-time, leading 53-41.

Adelaide ballooned their lead out to 25 points long into the middle stages of the final stanza scoring 17 of the first 19 points, as the Flames had no answer for their opponents late in the game. The Lightning’s bench completed the emphatic final period, culminating in a dominant 22-point blowout, reaffirming Adelaide as a serious contender among the League’s ranks.

With the Lightning holding the Flames to 27 per cent shooting efficiency they were able to provide themselves ample opportunity to pull away later in the game given that they converted their shots, which they did by shooting 42 per cent. A plus-11 in assists and a plus-12 in fast break points was a product of the way  coach Lucas’ side worked as a cohesive unit pushing the ball up the other end of the court after Sydney Uni’s missed shots.

Another standout performance from likely MVP candidate Talbot rattled another opponent’s roster, with the small forward racking up 30 points, 12 rebounds and three assists, while being fouled a game-high five times. Wehrung was the only other Lightning individual with double-digit totals, finishing with 11 points by way of three triples. Chelsea Brook contributed eight points and five rebounds, while Batish tallied seven of her own.

Scoring just 53 total game points, Adelaide’s shooting success was few and far between, with Burton being the only player to accumulate over 10 points – she finished with 14 points and a pair of rebounds. Meanwhile, Anneli Maley (seven points and eight rebounds) and Mansfield (seven points and four assists) had quiet nights respectively as neither of them were able to make a substantial imprint on the game.

Sydney Uni and Adelaide return later today to face another two teams who are completing back-to-back fixtures. The Lightning have their work cut out for them if they are to try and slow down the Southside Flyers, who just recently beat the Townsville Fire in convincing style. This brings us to the Flames’ opponents later today, looking to regain lost ground in the standings against the Fire in Round Three’s final game.

Caps keep the good times rolling, extend winning streak to seven

Pic: WNBL

THE longest winning streak of WNBL20 this season continues for the University of Canberra Capitals, as the two-time defending champions extended their litany of victories to seven straight, flattening the Bendigo Spirit in last night’s closer 51-87, rounding off the third of three one-sided contests over the first half of the weekend.

A close contest for the majority of the first period, it seemed as though both sides would be within a possession of each other at the first intermission. However, seven-straight points in the last 60 seconds of the term for the Capitals saw the reigning champions lead 20-12 after 10 minutes, highlighted by a buzzer beating corner three from Brittany Smart.

It seemed early on that the only visible scorer on Tracy York’s side was Tessa Lavey early in the second, who had eight points midway through the period. But numerous participants for the Capitals were finding looks of their own. Starting the second quarter on a 12-4 run, Canberra’s starting five and the extra boost given by former Sydney Uni Flame Tahlia Tupaea, quickly lathered on the points against the Spirit prior to half-time.

Outscoring Bendigo 22-9 in the second period, the Capitals were able to produce two-times the amount of points as their opponents in the first half, leading 42-21 at the midway point. However, given their history against lower-ranked sides Paul Goriss reiterated the notion of playing hard for all four quarters to his side at the main break.

With all five of Canberra starters manufacturing valuable contributions in the first half, it was evident that the Capitals were seeking a team-based win, which was pointed out by their eight assists through two quarters.

Canberra’s lone problem was clearly slowing down Australian Opal in Lavey, who had 13 points in all 20 minutes of the opening half, the only multiple field goal scorer for the Spirit prior to the third quarter, as the side failed to efficiently convert on their scoring attempts only shooting 17 per cent.

The Spirit kicked off the second half with a fast-paced brand of basketball, scoring three of the first four buckets for both teams, but that would be the extent of the good news following this. After making an adjustment on the defensive end, the Capitals turned the momentum in their favour once again and this time for good.

Earning themselves a 33-point buffer at the end of the third term, 37-70, the third game of yesterday’s triple-header looked like it was going finish in familiar fashion to the previous two meetings – a blowout.

This fate for the two sides came to fruition as Canberra completed the four-quarter sweep in Townsville and ultimately the 37-point landslide victory, earning their seventh straight win in the process and putting themselves a game ahead of the Southside Flyers on the WNBL ladder.

Shots just did not fall for the Spirit, who now fall to a winless record of zero wins and eight losses at the middle point of the season. Making 17 shots from 63 attempts (26 per cent) and giving up 36 points in the paint, Bendigo really disadvantaged themselves when it came to Canberra’s depth and team chemistry. Whereas the Capitals made a sizeable 44 per cent rate of their shots along with 22 assists in what was a complete team-effort.

Not a single Capitals player scored more than 15 points, highlighting just how distributed the scoring load was for UC. Leading the side, however, was Marianna Tolo with her 14 points and six rebounds, while Maddison Rocci backed up her captain with 12 points and three assists. Keely Froling and Tupaea each finished their nights with 10 points. For the Spirit, only Lavey was able to crack a double-digit scoring total, but severely slowed her level of production in the second half where she accounted for only four of her 17 points.

The Caps line up again on Tuesday against the Melbourne Boomers in a much-anticipated top-four matchup that will see a semi-final rematch of last season. On the other hand, Bendigo will face off with fellow bottom of the ladder side the Perth Lynx, perhaps the Spirit’s most likely chance at gaining their first win of the season.

Townsville above .500 again, knock off Spirit thanks to third quarter swing

IN the space of about five minutes, the Townsville Fire flipped the script in yesterday’s clash against the Bendigo Spirit, outscoring them by 17 points in the third quarter to ride home their third win of the season 91-81. Meanwhile the Spirit are still searching for the required recipe to win their first game of the campaign, as their losing skid extends to five games.

Bendigo pushed the pace early in the first quarter, getting out to a 17-5 lead halfway through the opening period, which completely dumbfounded the Fire’s defence in the process. This would dominate the headlines in the opening 10 minutes, but six-straight points from Townsville brought the deficit to a more respectable number with some much-needed momentum.

A late And-One from Tessa Lavey repositioned the Spirit with a commanding quarter time lead ahead 26-15, as each of Bendigo’s starters got their names on the scoresheet early on with a 50 per cent conversion rate aiding them.

However, head coach Shannon Seebohm relied on his side’s depth to help will them back into the contest trailing by just four points at one stage in the second. Nevertheless, back-to-back threes from Mary Goulding and Cassidy McLean would sour the Fire’s momentum just a few moments later, re-establishing the double-digit advantage.

Saving the day in the first half for the Fire was Megan McKay, who earned her minutes with her rebounding, totalling six boards through the first two periods along with seven points. Bendigo would conclude the opening half with the lead after two quarters for the first time this season, 47-40, as Lavey led the way with 12 points and six assists while Goulding had herself 13 points as well. Meanwhile, Townsville’s leading scorer in Lauren Nicholson had 11 points throughout all 20 first half minutes.

As Townsville gradually tightened the deficit, Shyla Heal was huge with her mid-range game, knocking down three-straight buckets to pressure the Spirit further and then eventually tally her thirteenth point of the match to put the Fire in front six minutes into the third.

Despite Carley Ernst putting up substantial numbers in the third, Townsville flipped the game on its head and did the same themselves. A 29-11 third quarter for the Fire would reverse the roles for both sides with the score sitting at 69-58 in favour of this season’s hosts. Two early buckets from Bendigo’s duo Lavey and Ernst, provided promising signs early on in the fourth for the Spirit, but the Fire’s tall frontcourt consisting of McKay, Mia Murray and Zitina Aokuso hustled enough in the later stages of the game to fend off Tracy York’s side long enough to get the Fire over the finish line.

A slow start to the game for the Fire was remedied in the second half, allowing them to earn the come from behind win and put their record at three wins and two losses after their hard-fought 91-81 victory. Townsville’s backcourt was instrumental in the win, with Heal being a key contributor against her former side after her 22 points, six rebounds and three assists next to Nicholson’s 20 points and three rebounds. Aokuso also provided a major boost in her 25 and half minutes of play, putting up 21 points and five rebounds.

These performances will need to continue in one way or another as they size up the Melbourne Boomers later today in the second leg of their weekend double-header.

On the other hand, it can easily be argued that yesterday’s efforts from Bendigo involved numerous highlights, a number of those being individual performance like Lavey and Goulding’s 19 points apiece. It also slots nicely next to Ernst’s 15 points, eight rebounds and five assists. The Spirit’s lesser victories in yesterday’s clash put them in good stead for their upcoming meeting on Tuesday against the Fire for a second time, where we will get to see if Coach York changes her tactics in the repeat fixture.

SOUTHSIDE LEVELS PERTH, AWAIT CAPITALS FOR GRAND FINAL REMATCH

Pic: WNBL

ANOTHER impressive wining margin lined the belt of the Southside Flyers last night, as their 12-player roster came back from an early deficit in the opening period to emerge on the other side with another statement win, following a 46-point thrashing of the Perth Lynx, 117-71.

As mentioned, the opening moments of the contest occurred from deep as the first five made field goals from both teams came from three-point range, with Darcee Garbin and Katie Ebzery leading the charge.

With play settling down slightly and the tempo slowing, Perth continued to make their shots count, knocking down their first five attempts from behind the arc, while Liz Cambage did her best to quell the Lynx’s shooting lethality in the opening phase, with 13 points at the first break.

Five triples from Perth and 21 combined points from Garbin and Ebzery helped the Lynx to a 26-21 lead heading into the second, as Flyers captain Jenna O’Hea found early foul trouble. Still, Cambage commenced the second the same way she finished the first by putting the ball in the net, before Stephanie Blicavs tied things up a minute into the second term.

With every minute that went by in the second, the Flyers picked apart Perth’s offence more and more. At the conclusion of the first half, Southside had forced 10 turnovers from the Lynx, which in turn would lead to 18 points from takeaways and a 54-42 lead at the main break.

Even though both teams had shot remarkably well with Southside shooting 50 per cent and Perth shooting 48 per cent, Cambage (19 points and seven rebounds), Sara Blicavs (10 points and four rebounds) and Bec Cole (10 points) were all the major difference makers during the second quarter, as Cheryl Chambers tried her best to slow the production of Garbin (18 points and four rebounds) and Ebzery (13 points and four assists).

Unable to derail the Southside train, Perth’s care of the basketball continued to waver with their turnovers accumulating into the third quarter still. Capitalising on this, Cole increased her statistics while the Flyers’ secondary unit contributed to the blowout third period which saw Southside tally 35 points compared to the Lynx’s 14 and hold a commanding 89-56 lead.

Despite the result being determined prior to the start of the fourth, both coaches saw it suitable to let their younger prospects earn some ample WNBL court time. Both Rebecca Pizzey and Monique Conti impressed in the fourth for the Flyers, while Perth’s Jewel Williams had a couple of memorable moments to add to her night.

Match proceedings would end with Southside winning in rather fashionable form, coming out 46-point victors in the 117-71 demolition of Perth. It was the combined efforts of Cambage (21 points and seven rebounds), Cole (20 points and five assists) and Sara Blicavs (19 points and six rebounds) that accounted for the majority of the Flyers’ success last night, which bodes well for the squad as they get their chance at redemption in Monday’s Grand Final rematch against the Canberra Capitals.

For the Lynx, it was Garbin’s show, following what was a red-hot first quarter which ultimately culminated in a 24-point and seven-rebound outing, whereas Ebzery (13 points and five assists) and Alex Sharp (10 points) added chunks of points to fill out the box score. Perth has a chance to bounce back against the Sydney Uni Flames on Monday as they hope to gain some traction in the mid-table logjam, in a season that could easily slip away from Ryan Petrik’s side if they cannot find positive results soon.

CAPITALS HOLD ON AGAINST RESILIENT FLAMES, EXTEND WINNING STREAK TO FOUR

Pic: WNBL

THE University of Canberra Capitals have solidified themselves as serious contenders in the WNBL this season, after obtaining their fourth win in a row following a scrappy affair against the Sydney Uni Flames, winning by five points 68-63 to close out yesterday’s trio of games.

Little could separate the Flames and the Capitals early on, but the efforts that Anneli Maley made in the opening 10 minutes proved fruitful for Sydney Uni, with the 22-year-old fighting towards seven points and five rebounds in that time. Coupled with Lauren Scherf’s six points, the Flames would pull away at the end of the first quarter leading 23-11 and forcing eight turnovers off of Canberra in the process.

No Capitals players stood out tremendously in terms of scoring during the first half, but rather Paul Goriss’s side spread out the points production after reducing the deficit to just a couple of baskets during the second quarter.

The same could also be said for the Flames, but their method of scoring was slightly different, as they found the majority of their points from either mid-range, the free-throw line or through second chance points, whereas Canberra kept punishing Sydney Uni in the paint with baskets around the rim.

Leading 39-32 at the main break, the Flames shot average at best, converting on 37 per cent from the field, but Katrina Hibbert’s side inherited a huge boost thanks to their 11 free throws (eight more than the Capitals). Furthermore, Lauren Mansfield started to find her stroke with 11 points after two terms.

Things in the third did not start any better for the Capitals, as they fell behind by double-digits. But a strong move by Marianna Tolo and a fast-break And-One by Tahlia Tupaea made the contest a tight one well into the third.

An 11-4 run by the Caps with three minutes remaining in the penultimate period had Canberra nipping at the heels of the Flames in what was shaping up to be a sprint to the finish line, where either side were threatening to take over.

To round off a tumultuous third phase, a beautiful assist and bucket on consecutive possessions from Kelsey Griffin would secure the Capitals a four-point lead with 10 minutes remaining 57-53, and with Maddison Rocci leading the charge submitting 14 points and four rebounds, a win was certainly within view.

Both sides fought tooth and nail in what was a perfect way to finish off yesterday’s fixtures, where plenty of bodies hit the deck, missed shots were contested by multiple individuals and loose balls were jumped on by both teams in hard-nose smash-mouth brand of basketball. But Canberra seemed to be wading away midway through the fourth and Coach Hibbert’s side needed a dramatic boost with less than five minutes remaining.

With 48 seconds remaining, the game hung in the balance for both sides with one point being the difference. Luckily for the defending champions, Griffin was able to force Mansfield’s fourth turnover and again strip Alison Schwagmeyer just 30 seconds later, which cemented the victory for the Capitals after Keely Froling laid up the game-sealing bucket with three seconds left, therefore allowing Canberra to win the contest 68-63 in a down to the wire slugfest. The victory continuing their winning streak to four games.

It was another impressive night for Rocci, who had 17 points and five assists to show for last night’s efforts, as more of Canberra’s contributors from last season added solid performances. Griffin (11 points, nine rebounds and four assists) and Froling (15 points, 10 rebounds) provided relief on the boards, while Tolo also tallied 13 points of her own. The Capitals now need to hunker down and prepare for a formidable Southside Flyers squad that is still stinging from their Grand Final defeat last season, a side that has also significantly improved since then.

The Flames had their regular performers on display again, as Scherf led the way in scoring with 19 points. Whereas, Maley had another double-double night with 13 points and 12 rebounds next to Mansfield’s 16 points from 36 minutes on the floor. Sydney Uni now have their own concerns considering they now find themselves on a three-game skid and are tied for second-last with the Perth Lynx, who they face next on Monday in a game that will prove to be crucial regarding the future of the fourth seed.

Mansfield’s first quarter sets the tone, Flames fan Spirit 100-63

THE Bendigo Spirit have once again suffered a debilitating outcome, going down 63-100 against a red-hot Sydney Uni Flames outfit in Saturday’s opener, who exploded out of the gates with a 34-point first quarter.

Neither team made any alterations to their Starting Fives, with Bendigo lining up Tessa Lavey, Ameilia Todhunter, Mary Goulding, Alicia Froling and Carley Ernst. Meanwhile, the Flames stuck with the formation of Lauren Mansfield, Alison Schwagmeyer, Anneli Maley, Nat Burton and Lauren Scherf.

Both teams were coming off demoralising season opening losses to two of the top ranked sides in the competition, so both sides made the most of their chances early. The Spirit knocked down five of their opening eight attempts, as the Flames stacked it on at the free-throw line, making their opening six attempts from the charity strike, which added to 14 points in the initial four minutes of the contest for side.

It was newly signed recruit Mansfield that led the way for Sydney Uni’s ridiculous efficiency in the first quarter leading to a 34-25 lead, as she would contribute 14 points to the Flames’ 34 throughout the opening 10 minutes. Schwagmeyer also added eight points of her own to the side’s numbers that gave them the solid nine-point buffer after one.

The Flames picked up where they left off, as Burton used her uncanny ability to find the loose ball to convert on two straight attempts in the first minute of the second term. But the Spirit replied in turn, as Ernst hit her third three of the game as Coach Tracy York’s side looked to wind back the early double-digit deficit.

Slowly but surely the star duo of Lavey and Ernst hustled on with their side’s offensive output, minimising Sydney Uni’s lead down to as little as seven points before the end of the first half. However, Shanae Greaves’ bucket with less than a minute remaining in the second put the lead back at 11 points heading into the main break. Bendigo’s tandem would each obtain 11 points by this stage with Lavey in particular dishing out seven assists and grabbing five rebounds through 18 minutes of play.

While the Flames continued to find points after Mansfield’s first quarter, Sydney Uni’s 45 per cent shooting as a team as well as their 11 made free-throws were the main factors in their 51-40 advantage at the mid-way point.

After a scoreless second from Mansfield, she started the third off remedying her scoring drought with her fifth three, which was followed up with a Scherf jumper quickly distancing the two teams by 16 points. Furthermore, the former Lynx prospect continued to shred Bendigo’s defensive schemes, concluding the third with 24 points under her belt and helping the Flames to a convincing 80-54 lead with the final 10-minute phase yet to play.

Bendigo’s woes continued into the fourth, scoring a mere nine points to round out Saturday’s opener. But Sydney kept rolling in their scoring totals, capping off a 49-point second half with 20 more in the fourth, as the Flames polished off Bendigo in emphatic fashion 100-63.

Sydney Uni’s team scoring numbers reflected their mountain of point, shooting 43 per cent from the field and adding 20 free-throws to those shots that missed their marks. Headline outings for the Flames consisted of Mansfield (24 points, five assists and four rebounds), Schwagmeyer (12 points and three rebounds) and Funda Nakkasoglu (14 points off of two threes).

While the highlights were few and far between for the Spirit, who now head into next week winless from their two opening games, Bendigo moved the ball well. This came especially from Lavey, who flirted with a triple-double yesterday tallying 15 points, 10 rebounds and six assists. Ernst produced noticeable numbers as well with 14 points, while young gun Paige Price put on a display of her own with 11 points in 14 minutes of court time.

The Spirit face the two-time defending champion Canberra Capitals to begin Round 2, hoping to keep their opponents under 100 points for the first time this season. On the other hand, Sydney Uni has little time to dwell on yesterday’s triumphs, going up against the Southside Flyers later today.

Boomers hammer home from deep, make statement win over Southside

Cayla George in action against Southside Flyers. Picture credit: WNBL

Everyone knew that winning a WNBL title was not going to be a walk in the park, but not many would have predicted the Southside Flyers going down in only their second game of the season. But this was indeed the case, as the Melbourne Boomers’ exemplary range was enough to strike down the international-level squad.

With both sides maintaining their Starting Fives, the Boomers had Maddie Garrick and Tess Madgen handling the ball with Stella Beck, Ezi Magbegor and Cayla George filling the remaining slots. For the Flyers it was the same five as their first game, Bec Cole and Leilani Mitchell in the backcourt, and Jenna O’Hea, Sara Blicavs and Liz Cambage down low and on the wing.

The Melbourne derby started with a blistering pace from both squads, scoring the majorities of their points early in the offence from fast-break points. But midway through the first quarter a 7-0 run from the Flyers would gift them control of the encounter before the teams’ secondary squads got their shift in the second half of the first.

Two of the best benches in the WNBL were able to show off what they were made of with Southside able to stave off a potential opening quarter comeback from the Boomers to close out a 22-12 lead at the first break.

Melbourne coach Guy Molloy employed his side to play one stop at a time and with this mindset, the Boomers would climb back into the contest six minutes into the second quarter. The side’s captain in George made several great plays including a spot-up three to make it a one-possession game on a 9-0 run.

Despite numerous instances where the Boomers looked like possibly stealing the lead before half-time, Southside’s depth prevented them from doing so. This coupled with Cambage’s second quarter double-double and Cole’s 11 points allowed the Flyers to hold their noses in front at the main break, 40-35, whereas George had 13 points and five rebounds of her own through two terms.

Continuing to hammer Cheryl Chambers’ fortress, a Madgen three would give the Boomers a short-lived lead halfway through the third, which was quickly overturned by Mitchell’s corner three on the next play. This time Melbourne would not waiver in their determination to take control of the possible Grand Final preview, as George nailed her second three-pointer of the game before handing the duties over to the bench.

A strong left-handed layup by Tall-Fern Penina Davidson and a buzzer-beating scoop layup by Beck marked a strong end to what was an out-and-out third phase for Molloy’s roster, as they led by seven at the final break.

Southside’s fourth quarter comeback quest began with a nice post-move and mid-range jumper by Cambage to make the game a shootout between two top teams. Leading the charge was Madgen, who made it rain in the fourth with two pivotal triples to keep the Flyers at bay.

Two more threes from Beck and Ashleigh Karaitiana – her fifth for the night – with less than two minutes to play put the exclamation mark on what was nothing short of a phenomenal shooting night from the Boomers. Melbourne walked away with their confidence sky high, trumping the Flyers 89-72 and upsetting the title favourites.

While both sides shot tremendously, the Boomers shooting 41 per cent and the Flyers shooting 40 per cent, Melbourne made the difference from beyond the arc shooting a total of 16 threes compared to Southside’s four. The same trend could also be found in turnovers, as Molloy’s women forced 16 turnovers, five more than Chambers’.

George turned it up last night with 24 points, eight rebounds and four assists, while Karaitiana shot the lights out from deep obtaining all 18 of her points from behind the three-point-line. Madgen was also a major factor in the same setting, knocking down five threes to go with her 24 points, nine rebounds and five assists. The only concern is that the 30-year-old seemed to roll her ankle severely late in the fourth quarter, forcing her to exit the game early.

Looking to bounce back to their dominant ways in less than 24 hours, the Flyers could not support Cambage’s 24 points and 19 rebounds despite leading comfortably at half-time. Cole and Sara Blicavs each accounted for double-digit totals with 13 and 11 points respectively.

Melbourne can look forward to a well-earned rest day at the top of the standings, as the Boomers head to Mackay on Monday to face off with the Perth Lynx.

Madgen makes a Booming return, Melbourne knock off Flames in Thursday opener

WITH the mission being to win a championship for the first time since 2011, the Melbourne Boomers are on the right track to start their WNBL20 campaign, with a 15-point victory over the Sydney Uni Flames, 85-70.

A 14-point score difference in the second and third quarters proved to be the difference in the end, as the Boomers’ main weapons found their strokes after the first quarter break.

Melbourne’s starting five was as expected with Cayla George and Ezi Magbegor going shoulder-to-shoulder in the Boomers frontcourt with Maddie Garrick, Tess Madgen and Stella Beck filling the spots outside the perimeter. But many were keen to see how Flames Head Coach Katrina Hibbert lined up her squad for the opening tip. Time would divulge the line-up as being Lauren Mansfield, Alison Schwagmeyer and Anneli Maley running the backcourt, and former Opal Natalie Burton defending the rim with Lauren Scherf.

Early rebounds from George paved the way for the opening points of the contest with Madgen making her return to the Boomers official, putting up the initial two points of the game down the lane. The ensuing play throughout the remainder of the first period would be rather even in terms of scoring, with the Flames edging their noses in front for nine of the first ten minutes.

Coach Guy Molloy made his first rotation change six minutes into the first by injecting Kalani Purcell and Ashleigh Karaitiana, which shifted momentum following a layup and a charge from the pair. With less than a minute to play in the first, Beck would drill a three to return the lead to Melbourne and conclude proceedings in the opening 10 minutes, putting the score at 17-15 in favour of the Boomers.

Following a relatively quiet first quarter from both sides, the first score of the second came after two minutes with Purcell capitalising on good aggression to the rim. But the Flames hit back quickly with Carly Boag earning herself an And-One and Mansfield tying it up shortly after with a triple of her own.

Magbegor went through 14 minutes of play without putting her name on the scoresheet, but she quickly bucked that trend with an And-One to reassert her team’s control giving her side a 40-34 buffer. In the twilight minutes of the second quarter Melbourne’s Opals started to shine through, as the combination of Madgen and George put their skillsets on display by putting a double-digit cushion between the two teams.

Madgen, who led the game in scoring heading into halftime with 70 per cent shooting would compile 15 points along with four rebounds and help the Purple and Gold to a comforting 43-31 lead. Meanwhile, Garrick was next up on deck with eight points and George had a rebound for every first-half-point of her own, producing six points and six rebounds in 20 minutes of play.

A quiet first two periods for the Flames saw Mansfield (seven points) and Scherf (six points) leading their roster in the scoring totals, whereas Schwagmeyer was embracing her new role as a starter with five points and a triplet of assists.

Magbegor started the second half picking up steam, knocking down three free-throws and a put-back layup to get Melbourne off on the right foot in their pursuit of a Game One win. On the other hand, a disjointed Sydney Uni offence struggled to convert early in the third quarter. Mansfield, however, came through after three minutes to get her ninth point of the contest.

Midway through the third phase, Molloy’s squad would crack the 20-point-lead mark with five minutes left in the third thanks to a 12-2 start succeeding half-time, as he made the most out of his starters – namely 30-year-old Madgen and her 22 points in 25 minutes, and Magbegor who had a double-double prior to the third intermission for the Boomers, who were up 64-48 with 10 minutes to play.

While the fourth seemed like a formality, the Flames put up a scrappy end quarter to bring the margin back to a respectable number. Sporadic highlights from secondary prospects like Funda Nakkasoglu and Shanae Greaves brought the deficit back to 15, but the damage had already been inflicted by last season’s third seed, as Melbourne coasted home to a dominant 85-70 triumph.

Shooting 47 per cent overall as a team compared to Sydney Uni’s 32 per cent, Melbourne were on another level when it came to putting points up on the scoreboard. A plus-13 on the boards summed up the Boomers’ performance (48-35), as a season-opening win seemed imperative to the team even before the first whistle.

In her return to the side for the first time in five seasons, Madgen put on a clinic during her 33 minutes of court time. She found her mark on ten field goals, which in-turn led to 23 points, five assists and four rebounds on the night. Magbegor had a quiet first half which led to a resounding second, resulting in a 16-point and 11-rebound performance for the 21-year-old, whereas Garrick left the floor with 14 points of her own. George accounted for eight points and nine rebounds.

The Flames will need to move on quickly and revert back to the basics if they are to bounce back in two days against the Bendigo Spirit, but Sydney Uni had some solid performances, nevertheless. Mansfield recorded a team-high 17 points off the back of three triples, while Scherf led the way in rebounds with seven next to her 10 points. But surprisingly in her return to the WNBL, Nakkasoglu came up big with 12 points comprising of two three-pointers and 100 per cent accuracy from the charity strike (6/6).

After a long time away from the city she admires, Madgen noted post-game how much she was looking forward to playing for Melbourne once again, “I love Melbourne, I love the Boomers and we have got a great team,” said Madgen. “[We have] a lot of really good players and a great coaching staff. It has been a long preseason so it is really good to be out there and play,” she added.

Two days from now, the Boomers size up their cross-town rivals the Southside Flyers in what will be a battle of raw talent on both sides, as two of the best clubs in the country go at it head-to-head in Townsville’s Saturday night double-header.

Picture: WNBL

Flyers reinforce notion as “team-to-beat”, thrash Spirit by 42

Liz Cambage made a successful return to the WNBL on Thursday. Picture credit: WNBL

This year’s championship-favourites proved why they hold that title last night in a 40-minute demolition job of the Bendigo Spirit. The Flyers’ international-calibre depth was on display throughout all four quarters led by their marquee signing Liz Cambage and her “hit squad” of long-time Opals, lashing Bendigo 102-60.

Southside’s star-studded line-up was as expected with Leilani Mitchell and Bec Cole in the backcourt being supported by Jenna O’Hea, Sara Blicavs and Cambage. For the Spirit, Amelia Todhunter, Tessa Lavey, Mary Goulding, Alicia Froling and Carley Ernst got the nod to start the contest.

Froling and Mitchell got the scoring going for their respective teams, but two minutes in, Cambage made her presence known with seven-straight points, setting in motion an early advantage to the Flyers.

Cole got her range going five minutes in with a three-pointer, but Lavey and the Spirit proved pesky opponents in the infancy stages of the game. Despite this, former Opal Rachel Jarry put a dent in Bendigo’s ploy with a three and a jumpshot to extend Southside’s first-quarter lead, which was followed up by a last-second layup from Aimie Clydesdale to conclude a 60 per cent shooting first quarter of play with the Flyers up 22-12.

Bendigo came out of the opening intermission with a focused intent, following five-straight points from Ernst. But for every bit of headway the Spirit made, Southside’s depth undid their work again and again. This problem was further compounded by a 14-0 Flyers run topped off by an O’Hea corner three and in the blink of an eye, the score sat at 43-19 halfway through the second.

To wrap up the first half, both sides exhibited their secondary units, as Southside continued their lead upwards thanks to individuals like Stephanie Blicavs and Monique Conti, as the half time score would read 30-56 in favour of the Flyers.

Headlining their ridiculous efficiency through two quarters (63 per cent conversion rate) were the Southside starters, as the team’s core unit spread out the scoring load up until the midway point of the contest. More specifically, Cambage led the way with 13 points and three rebounds next to her frontcourt partner in crime Sara Blicavs, who totalled eight points and eight rebounds after 20 minutes.

Spirit Head Coach Tracy York relied heavily on her marquee duo in Ernst and Lavey, as the two combined for 33 minutes and 18 points in the first half, whereas Froling hustled her way to seven rebounds.

Bendigo enjoyed a rare scoring stint in the third term with an 8-2 run three minutes into the second half, lighting a small fire under the squad. Unfortunately for the Spirit, more of the same from Cambage was to follow, as she used her size and her strength to bully all opponents defending her around the rim.

Southside continued their barrage from deep thanks primarily to Steph Blicavs and Jarry in the third quarter alone, even including Development Player Saraid Taylor on the action as she polished off a triple with a minute remaining in the championship quarter. Clydesdale almost made the quarter better, getting off a last second three-pointer just milliseconds after the buzzer had sounded.

A foregone conclusion long before the fourth quarter, the Flyers ran out Thursday night’s closer with a complete four quarter performance, outscoring the Spirit 22-13 in the fourth, cracking the 40-point lead mark with 102 seconds to play and achieving 100 team points on the game with 40 seconds left, culminating in a head-to-toe 102-60 rout of Bendigo.

Looking at both teams statistically, the Spirit would get the better of the Flyers in free-throw percentage, but virtually every other aspect of the game belonged to Southside. Most noticeable from last night’s victors was their accuracy from the field, as last year’s runners-ups converted on 38 baskets from 71 attempts (53 per cent). This also included 13 threes from 26 assists in what was nothing less than a one-sided affair.

In just 20 minutes of play, Cambage would set a game-high total in points with 19, while Sara Blicavs continued to uphold her reputation as a rebounding machine with a double-double performance of 17 points and 12 boards. Cole (12) and Mitchell (10) also secured double digits, as Conti impressed off the bench with her fast-paced style of play and silky handles – she finished with nine points and three rebounds.

Knowing full well that they face the Sydney Uni Flames in a couple of days, the Spirit have the chance to bounce back from what just transpired. Some positives could be taken away from last night, especially from specific individuals. Ernst earned herself a solid 16-point and seven-rebound effort, whilst Froling made her first contest back since her injury a respectable one on the glass, finishing with four points and 11 rebounds. In what was a lacklustre shooting night for the captain, Lavey’s eight points from 18 per cent accuracy will be a night to forget, as she prepares herself to lead the Spirit into Saturday’s clash.

In her post-game interview, Sara Blicavs pointed to the team’s eagerness to get back on the floor as their primary motivator in what was a total team effort, “I think we were just excited to get back on the court you know?” said Blicavs.

“We are obviously from Victoria, so we have been in lockdown for about six months and we have not played a game since the Grand Final in March, so we were just eager to get out here.

“We were a little bit nervous; but I think pre-game we got a lot of our energy out which was good, and we came out on court and executed,” she finalised.

WNBL fans have to wait for Saturday night in what will be a meeting of two behemoths, with the Flyers taking on the Melbourne Boomers who are coming off a convincing win against the Flames. A true test of strength will be showcased, as we gain insight into what a possible Grand Final matchup could look like.

WNBL20 Team Preview – Southside Flyers

THE Southside Flyers went into the start of last season as heavy favourites, which became an accurate prediction walking away with 17 victories from the home and away season. In their inaugural season since being rebranded, Southside quickly cemented themselves as the team to beat.

As the two-game sweep by the Canberra Capitals to the Flyers is common knowledge, it adds another layer of motivation to the title pursuit of Cheryl Chambers’ squad – and that is a layer that the seven other WNBL sides should brace themselves for. In a team that contains perhaps the most talented roster in WNBL history, given their calibre of players both domestically and internationally, it will be hard for any side to topple what is a complete squad both fundamentally and skilfully.

Off the bat, it is hard to begin this article without first noting the added benefits that WNBA-star and former WNBL champion Liz Cambage offers to the Flyers. The 203cm-tall “Ace” provides an unprecedented and unique presence around the rim at both ends, and in her most recent professional season with Las Vegas in 2019, Cambage averaged 15.8 points, 8.1 rebounds and a block and a half per game.

A close friend of Cambage and the current captain of the Australian Opals, Jenna O’Hea will once again lead the Southside Flyers into another season, this time with a title-sized chip on her shoulder. O’Hea remains a key figure in Australian basketball shooting at an incredible clip of 48.6 per cent, while maintaining 13.7 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game in what was a terrific season.

Backing up their captain in the team’s backcourt will be two more Opals in Bec Cole and Leilani Mitchell – easily the deepest backcourt duo throughout the WNBL in terms of ability and durability. Both stars of the game, Mitchell and Cole will look to add another impressive campaign to their resumes after both inherited splendid numbers last season. For Mitchell, her stat line would read 15.7 points and 5.2 assists, while converting on 42.3 per cent of her three-point attempts and 92.5 per cent from the free-throw line. For Cole, she capped off her season averaging 17.3 points, four assists and 3.6 rebounds.

Providing further energy on the court are Sara Blicavs and her sister-in-law Stephanie Blicavs, as well as dual-sport superstar Monique Conti. In addition to these three are secondary-unit standouts in 2012 WNBL champion Aimie Clydesdale and WNBA/WNBL champion Rachel Jarry, where both will be required to step up constantly in aiding the starting five, as the condensed season will most likely call for more bench minutes.

Rounding out Chambers’ squad are 21-year-old duo Rebecca Pizzey and Taylah Giliam, 22-year-old Saraid Taylor and 24-year-old Amy O’Neill, as each developing prospect will see more minutes than usual in the North Queensland hub.

WNBL Player Spotlight – Southside Flyers – Liz Cambage

TO cap off this week’s Player Spotlight series of the Southside Flyers, we focus on perhaps one of the biggest signings in recent WNBL history. The acquisition of Liz Cambage on August 18 echoed throughout not only the League, but also the country, as the nation welcomed back one of its prized athletes after Cambage spent two seasons away from the Australian basketball scene.

Boasting an exemplary resume on all levels of basketball whether it be domestically or internationally the 29-year-old has logged quite the catalogue. A WNBL champion with the Bulleen Boomers back in the 2010/11 campaign, the League MVP that same season and a three-time nominee to the WNBL’s All-Star Five, Cambage has already proven herself on the local landscape.

Returning from a five-year hiatus in the WNBA, Cambage re-iterated the notion that she is a world-class player following her signing with the Dallas Wings in 2018. After scoring a WNBA-record 53 points against the New York Liberty and maintaining a high-level of play for the duration of the season, Cambage received her first All-WNBA First Team selection, an All-Star nomination and led the League in points – arguably the best season of her career to date before moving to the Las Vegas Aces.

But in a massive morning for Australian basketball, fans across the country reacted ecstatically to the news of Cambage returning to the league. Additionally, Cambage herself noted her eagerness to join the Flyers having already played an abundance of time with the current roster on an international scale.

“I am really looking forward to playing for the Flyers in the WNBL this season. I know they had a great first year and I am keen to help the team go one better and win the Championship,” Cambage said during the club’s announcement.

“It will be great playing with a number of Opals teammates and of course our coach, Cheryl Chambers, who is an assistant coach with the Opals. Flyers captain Jenna O’Hea is one of my favourites, she is also the Opals captain, she is like my captain on and off the court.”

Cambage does not only have professional ties to the club, but also a personal one as evident by the Flyers’ owner Gerry Ryan’s comments in Cambage’s announcement, “It is exciting to welcome Liz home,” Ryan said. “I remember her playing for Dandenong in 2007 as a young up-and-coming star. It will be great to see her in action for Southside Flyers this season and I am sure it will be a real bonus for the WNBL.”

Coach Chambers was also quick to praise Cambage for the person she is and how much of a positive effect she will have on the rest of the side.

“We’re all so excited because she plays with such passion,” Chambers said. “We’re a bit disappointed that we’re not going to have our crowd there because we thought it would be a fantastic opportunity to really grow our brand.”

“We will still do it up in the ‘bubble’ and there is still certainly a buzz with her presence. When she walks in, she is just unique and she has got a big smile on her face, so we are all very excited,” the Flyers’ gaffer said.

Cambage rounds out a star-studded line-up that contains numerous Opals and will certainly look to provide additional help down low in the post and on the defensive end. Less than three weeks remain until the season tip-off and the Flyers are chomping at the bit to make their return to the Grand Final at the end of the year.

Picture: Fox Sports

WNBL Player Spotlight – Southside Flyers – Sara Blicavs

A VETERAN of the game and a faithful individual to the Southside Flyers organisation, Sara Blicavs is warming up for her sixth straight season with the Dandenong-based club (seventh overall) and the WNBL is keen to welcome back one of Victoria’s prized pupils.

Back in 2014, Blicavs received her only taste of WNBL title glory with the Bendigo Spirit. Last season’s 2019/20 year saw her almost repeat that feat, as the Flyers went down to the Canberra Capitals in straight sets during last year’s Grand Final Series. Now, we find ourselves three weeks out from the WNBL21 season and Southside’s power forward will be raring to go and help her side return to the finals once again.

A major proponent of her team’s rebounding alongside former import Mercedes Russell, Blicavs proved again why she is one of the competition’s best frontcourt prospects averaging 13.4 points, seven rebounds and an assist and a half per game. Blicavs converted her attempts at an average of  42.6 per cent from all over the court, including the 33 three-pointers that the 27-year-old made throughout the regular season at a 37.1 per cent success rate. Blicavs is no one-trick pony, and come November 12, many will see her full repertoire on display after re-signing with the Flyers.

“Signing with the Flyers again was a no-brainer,” Blicavs said. “The culture and the professionalism this team brings, mixed with the happiness, joy and fun I get from being involved with this wonderful club just made my decision so easy.”

”I’m super excited to get things going with Southside and hopefully this year you’ll see us go one better and win the championship. I was incredibly disappointed in the loss of the Grand Final, as we all were, which if anything, has only made us hungrier,” she noted.

Praising Blicavs for her energy off the court as well as on it, head coach Cheryl Chambers spoke to Draft Central about what the well-known forward has to offer.

“She brings lots of energy and helps when things are flat, and we need something dynamic and exciting. So, she’s really important to that part of our team and I think that’ll be important in this hub situation where we have lots of games in fewer days,” Chambers said.

Given the extended offseason for Blicavs, the power forward also explained how the extra rest time will further rejuvenate her and prepare her more for what is to be a gruelling WNBL21 fixture over the six-week period.

“Personally, I feel as this off-season has been an absolute blessing. My body and more importantly my knee feels stronger than it ever has. I feel incredibly ready to play and continue to get better and help the club in any way I can,” Blicavs said.

While rebounding was a major focus area for Chambers and her team last year, the addition of Liz Cambage to help on the boards next to Blicavs will hopefully remedy any struggles in that regard, to get them to that championship they missed out on last season and are eager to get their hands on.

WNBL Player Spotlight – Southside Flyers – Jenna O’Hea

ONE of the must-see players throughout the entire WNBL, Jenna O’Hea backs up all the hype that is bestowed upon her each season. Not only does O’Hea’s experience continue to enrich and inspire her peers, but she also comes into the upcoming season with an extra level of motivation pushing her after last season’s upset Grand Final sweep at the hands of the Canberra Capitals.

Having a rich and triumphant history at the Dandenong Rangers (Southside’s predecessor), O’Hea is keen to transfer that glory to the newly introduced Flyers organisation having won titles back in 2010/11 with the Bulleen Boomers and 2011/12 with the Rangers. Adding to this, the 33-year-old is no stranger to leadership or pressure either, as O’Hea goes into another year of captaincy for the Australian Opals squad ahead of preparations for next year’s Olympics and the subsequent Asia Cup Qualifiers.

The first returning player to be announced in early-June for Southside’s roster, it made perfect sense to kick off the offseason festivities from the club’s perspective by welcoming back their leader. However, in terms of verbal output, O’Hea made it clear and concise on just how much last season’s ending had an effect of her.

“While we had a successful season, particularly for our first year as a team, missing out on the Championship really hurt. It has certainly added to the desire to go one better and start what I hope is a fantastic 2021 for the Flyers and the Opals,” O’Hea said.

O’Hea endured hardship on not only a mental level but also a physical one, having missed five regular season games as well as last season’s semi-final series against the Adelaide Lighting thanks to a broken wrist, which was initially diagnosed as “season-ending” and expected to take 10-12 weeks to heal.

Following her surgery, she was notified that her return could be as close to six weeks away if a little luck and strong healing could swing in her favour regarding an earlier than expected return date. Missing out on the team’s series against the Lightning, O’Hea received the green light to play in Game 1 of the Grand Final series against the Capitals.

Coming off the bench in the series opener substituting for Aimee Clydesdale, O’Hea amassed 34 minutes of court time scoring 14 points and grabbing six rebounds. Three days later O’Hea earned a modest eight points and nine rebounds in Game 2, but despite her contributions, the Flyers could not deny Canberra their second straight title in the nation’s capital.

In what can be best described as an “admirable” season, O’Hea concluded her WNBL20 campaign with averages of 13.7 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.9 assists whilst shooting 48.6 per cent from the field.

If anyone understands how motivated O’Hea is to make it that one step further in her bid for her third title, it is her head coach Cheryl Chambers. “She’s really, really determined,” Chambers said to Draft Central. “It was really difficult when she got injured. I think she was playing the best I’ve ever seen her play when she went down with that hand injury. I know she thinks there’s a lot of unfinished business and she’s certainly training the house down at the moment.”

“I’ve got the utmost respect for Jenna’s basketball IQ and I think that she’s probably one of the best players IQ-wise that we have ever seen in Australia. She knows when to pass it, she understands defensive rotations, she helps her players be better and she can score. So, I’m probably one of her biggest fans in regard to her basketball mentality,” Chambers summarised.

Leading the undisputed championship favourites into action next season with nothing in mind but bringing a piece of hardware back to South-East Melbourne at the end the year, we will get to see if the Opals’ captain has what it takes to do so nine seasons since her last trek to the top of the WNBL summit.