Tag: Marianna Tolo

WNBL Player Spotlight – Canberra Capitals – Marianna Tolo

TO complete Draft Central’s Player Spotlights on the University of Canberra Capitals this week, we focus on the second half of the side’s backbone in four-time Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) champion and former Defensive Player of the Year, Marianna Tolo.

The club announced on the second day of Free Agency that they re-signed their co-captain, which would precede the signing blitz of an additional five players in the following few days. Head coach of the Capitals Paul Goriss knew that signing Tolo first would be a major morale boost to the local fan base of Canberra and the club as a whole.

“It’s great for the fans and it’s great for sponsorship,” Goriss said to Draft Central. “It’s great to see that players are sticking by us and are prepared to stay here when they could go to Europe and earn a lot more money than what they would playing in the WNBL.”

“Just to have that consistency and continuity, it really gives the group some stability and people love coming to watch the likes of Tolo play, so it was a huge signing to be able to keep her for a third season in a row,” Goriss said.

Having also been a part of the Capitals’ squads that earned title glory back in the 2009 and 2010 winning seasons, Tolo cemented her Canberra legacy alongside Kelsey Griffin last season, as the pair won the franchise’s ninth title in their history. But Tolo’s season on an individual level was nothing short of elite. The 31-year-old achieved a well-earned stat line of 14.6 points per game, as well as collecting 7.6 rebounds each time out on the floor. Tolo also managed to maintain a ridiculously good field goal percentage, converting on 53.4 per cent of her shots over her 20-game season.

Tolo, who is a definite inclusion for next year’s Olympic Games as an Australian Opal, saw re-signing with the Caps as the perfect option for her preparations especially given the current situation regarding COVID-19. “It’s hard to say no when we have just won back to back. I had initially thought of going overseas but because the Olympics was postponed to next year as well as the ongoing Coronavirus situation… it seemed like the perfect decision to make,” she said in her announcement.

“I know that the way we train and play will prepare me perfectly for Olympics. The UC Capitals also really look after their players, so I know that they always consider my health during the season. They have been great with managing my injuries,” she added.

In terms of leadership, which was outlined in Kelsey Griffin’s Player Spotlight piece, both Tolo and Griffin are the perfect combination to lead Goriss’ side according to the coach, but the Capitals’ gaffer described what effect his center has on the squad and how she has maintained her level of greatness to this point of her career.

“Going back, she has always prided herself on the defensive end,” Goriss said. “She’s always prided herself in getting those tougher matchups and neutralising the other team’s defence and she loves doing that ‘grunty’ kind of work, as opposed to the offensive part of the game. But she’s always been about the team first and sometimes I still feel we’re just scratching the surface with her at the offensive end of the floor.”

For the rest of Draft Central’s Player Spotlights on next season’s Canberra Capitals squad – Click HERE

WNBL Player Spotlight – Canberra Capitals – Kelsey Griffin

CAPITALS co-captain and one half of Canberra’s backbone, Kelsey Griffin means as much to Paul Goriss’ squad as oxygen does to a human being. After Griffin announced at the start of the Free Agency period that she would be a part of the squad for next season, the Capitals franchise could breathe a huge sigh of relief – Goriss in particular.

“Kelsey has been an unbelievable leader,” Goriss said in an interview with Draft Central. “More so from two aspects of her game, her work ethic on and off the court, whether it’s during individuals or triggering team practice and studying for games.

“She’s meticulous in her preparations for games and everything that she does. That applies to gym, taking care of her body, her diet, her nutrition and all those other things. She’s been one of the most professional players that I’ve ever had,” he added.

Last season as a whole was slightly hindered but not the end of the world for the 2019 Most Valuable Player. Suffering a high-grade ankle sprain in the mid-December clash against the Southside Flyers, Griffin was sidelined for close to six weeks leading her into the postseason which allowed younger players to get extra minutes in at the tail-end of the season.

Making an early return with three games remaining in the season, Griffin averaged over 10 points and eight rebounds to round out her campaign. Over the course of her 14 regular season games, Griffin managed to maintain a double-double (15 points and 10.8 rebounds per game), averaging 3.2 steals per game and 1.2 blocks to add to the list of statistics. To top off Griffin’s exceptional yet shortened season, the 33-year-old collected 13.6 points and 10.6 rebounds each time out in their championship playoff run. This also included a seven-steal performance against the Melbourne Boomers in Game 1 of their semi-final series.

“Her work ethic allows her to compete and get those numbers still,” Goriss said. “If you just saw her preparation in how she practices, you can see it is exactly how she plays. There’s no middle ground and there’s no taking it easy. She has to do everything perfect or to the best of her ability. So, it doesn’t really surprise me that she gets the numbers that she gets, but I do sometimes take it for granted,” Goriss said.

More important to the local fan base was the fact that Griffin’s announcement to return emerged a day after her counterpart Marianna Tolo. With the two leaders making their intentions for next season public knowledge, Goriss also reflected on Griffin’s style of leadership and how she complements Tolo in that regard.

“They’re kind of like the yin and the yang,” said the head coach. “They’re both very similar, but their styles of leadership are very different. Tolo is more the caring type and Kelsey is very ‘grab it by the scruff of the neck’. But that’s why they both work so well together, because they’re similar in some respects and different in others. It’s the perfect combination.”

Griffin was originally preparing for 3×3 basketball for the Olympics, but she disclosed that she has been nursing her injured shoulder during the off-season instead. “This down time has been incredible for reflection. I have had a good chance to slow down and re-prioritise what is important to me. It’s been really good for me,” Griffin said.

The WNBL has yet to confirm the start date for the WNBL21 season, but Griffin goes into the 2020/21 campaign a four-time WNBL champion, a League MVP and a three-time Finals MVP. Needless to say, onlookers are eager to see what the Alaskan-born phenom has in store for the next chapter of her career.

WNBL Free Agency Update: Boomers and Capitals

WITH Australian basketball set to hopefully commence in the coming months, Draft Central revisits the Women’s National Basketball League’s (WNBL) Free Agency movements. We begin with two of last season’s top offences. Firstly, the third placed Melbourne Boomers who exited in last season’s semi-finals, then followed by two-time defending champion University of Canberra Capitals.

MELBOURNE BOOMERS

After their semi-final exit in WNBL20, it was evident that Guy Molloy’s squad was on the right track to challenge for the WNBL title. But with the Boomers’ championship drought coming up on its tenth season and the pandemic preventing last season’s imports from returning, Melbourne’s extra signings hope they can take next season’s team to the penultimate step.

The champions of 2010-11, made their immediate offseason intentions known early, quickly re-establishing their core group before teams could react. The first of which were their leaders and captains in Cayla George and Maddie Garrick, indicating that the purple and gold are once again looking at making a serious title run. This coupled with the re-acquisition of one of Australia’s best young talents in Ezi Magbegor, who is currently battling her way through her rookie WNBA season with the Seattle Storm, the Boomers have themselves a talented central unit.

Further adding to their experience, the return of Tess Madgen to the Boomers after more than four seasons up north with the Townsville Fire, will provide an elite-level mentoring group for the abundance of young talent that sits within Melbourne’s current roster.

The majority of the Boomers’ actions during this year’s signing period have been re-signings. Other familiar faces to return include Tall Ferns captain, Kalani Purcell, as well as fellow New Zealand internationals Toni Farnworth, Penina Davidson and Stella Beck. The last of Molloy’s re-signees is Development Player and Nunawading Spectre sharpshooter, Rachel Brewster, as she continues to improve at an astronomical rate.

New to the State Basketball Centre are fresh signings in Izzy Wright and Hope Terdich. Wright, who has in the past contributed to the Perth Lynx and Logan Thunder, took a couple of years away from the WNBL to focus on stability outside of the sport, and is now ready to compete in the league once more. The final piece of the 12-player puzzle, is 34-year-old Terdich, who most recently played a major role in the Diamond Valley Eagles’ NBL1 squad, is no stranger to success. After winning the WNBL Championship with the 2011/12 Dandenong Rangers, she looks to aid this objective once more with their cross-town rivals.

Contracted:

Chelsea D’Angelo (Will not play in WNBL21 due to ruptured Achilles tendon)

Re-signed:

Maddie Garrick
Cayla George
Ezi Magbegor
Kalani Purcell
Toni Farnworth
Penina Davidson
Stella Beck
Rachel Brewster

Signed:

Tess Madgen
Izzy Wright
Hope Terdich

 

UC CAPITALS

Referring back to the old adage, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, Paul Gorris has done little to alter his title-winning formula, with only two signings from other clubs due to next season’s import preventions, particularly the absentees in Kia Nurse and Olivia Epoupa.

The bulk signings of six title-winning players indicated what was to ensue, as captains and leaders Marianna Tolo, Kelsey Griffin and Keely Froling will lead their side for another season. Following up with newly selected Australian Opal, Maddison Rocci, opposing teams will have their hands full outside the perimeter when she is on the floor. This was evident in numerous impressive outings in the Queensland Basketball League in the last month. Rounding out the six early signings were Abby Cubillo and Alex Delaney. Cubillo, who earned Canberra’s Rising Capital Award last season in her first year since being elevated from a Development Player position, will re-join her cohort, whereas Delaney makes her return to the team that she too helped win their last two chips.

After obtaining their early selections, Gorris’ staff did not need to look far for their two new additions, as the Capitals poached 23-year-old point guard Tahlia Tupaea (to replace Epoupa) and 34-year-old veteran Brittany Smart (to replace Nurse) from cross-town rivals, the Sydney Uni Flames.

Smart, who has a cache of professional experience, hopes to bestow some of that on her younger soon-to-be peers, after successful stints in Belgium and Sweden before joining the Melbourne Boomers. For Tupaea, her career arrived before her at the tender age of 15, shaping her into one of the most mature and experienced players for her age and forging an iron-clad bond to the Flames. The pinnacle of her career, however, was being selected in the 2017 Draft to the WNBA’s Minnesota Lynx, with the goal of someday donning the uniform in the seasons to come.

Awaiting the decision on whether the UCLA Bruins will compete in NCAA play for 2020/21, Gemma Potter remains a conditional re-signee for the Capitals, meaning that Mikaela Ruef’s two-year extension sums up Gorris’s squad for next season. The signing of Ruef comes after the US-born forward was granted Australian permanent residency. The delay from her immigration paperwork was the reason why the 29-year-old was unable to play during last season.

Contracted:

 Nil

Re-signed:

Marianna Tolo
Kelsey Griffin
Keely Froling
Maddison Rocci
Abby Cubillo
Alex Delaney
Mikaela Ruef
Gemma Potter (Conditional upon NCAA decision to play)

Signed:

Tahlia Tupaea
Brittany Smart

Four first-time young guns included in Opals Squad

ANNOUNCED on Monday morning, Basketball Australia extended their list of Australian Opal players in preparation for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, Asia Cup Qualifiers and Asia Cup. As the FIBA Qualification period fast approaches (November 8-16), it is still hazy whether the qualifiers for the Asia Cup will go ahead, given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Originally headlined by the likes of Elizabeth Cambage (Las Vegas Aces), Alanna Smith (Phoenix Mercury/Adelaide Lightning), Rebecca Allen (New York Liberty) and Leilani Mitchell (Washington Mystics/Southside Flyers), Head Coach Sandy Brondello has added some younger blood to their initial 19-woman line-up.

The first of four new additions to the roster is 18-year-old newly signed Townsville Fire guard, Shyla Heal – daughter of NBL legend Shane Heal. The Heal family has tasted plenty of success on the international stage with Shane representing Australia in four different Olympic Games (1992, 1996, 2000, and 2004). For Heal however, she is now in a position to fight for that honour herself, joining the senior national team after a productive season with the Bendigo Spirit, averaging 12.1 points and over four rebounds. Heal’s progression during the campaign would see Head Coach Tracy York increase her workload tremendously. By the end of last season, Heal completed games with more than 27 minutes under her belt, becoming one of Bendigo’s top-performers at the conclusion of WNBL20.

Heal joins the Opals squad knowing a few familiar faces, lining up alongside former roommate and Bendigo teammate, Tessa Lavey. Additionally, Zitina Aokuso and Lauren Nicholson, who will suit up for Townsville next season with Heal, also made the original squad.

The second of four new additions Brondello and her staff felt obliged to place into their squad is 22-year-old and two-time WNBL champion, Maddison Rocci, of the University of Canberra Capitals.

In a recent interview with Draft Central, Rocci indicated that the goal of being selected to the national team was already on the cards but remained reserved in whether or not it would happen so soon.

“It’s obviously a dream becoming an Opal one day, whether it is any time soon or in the near future, it has always been a massive goal of mine and to represent my country at the Olympic Games,” Rocci said.

That dream became a step closer to reality for Rocci, after being selected in the final pool of players vying for a position in the finalised squad. Rocci had an outstanding performance in last season’s WNBL competition, which ultimately led to Canberra’s second title in as many years. Rocci, who for the first time in her career, earned the right to be a consistent starter for her team under the guidance of Paul Goriss, consistently played 30-plus minutes each time out. This included a 37-minute performance in Canberra’s title-clinching win over the Southside Flyers.

Individually, Rocci’s season could be categorised as a productive one, averaging nine points a game, alongside 2.3 assists and 2.3 rebounds as well. Canberra’s shooting-guard was consistent from the field, maintaining a 40 per cent shooting efficiency, which also included a three-point-shot clip of 36.1 per cent, making her one of the most reliable three-point shooters across the league.

Other Capitals’ selectees for the National Squad include their co-captains and WNBL veterans, Marianna Tolo and Kelsey Griffin, both of whom re-signed with the defending champs for next season’s three-peat bid.

The remaining two inclusions for the Opals are collegiate superstars in Victorian-born Jaz Shelley (University of Oregon) and Queensland-born Tiana Mangakahia (Syracuse University).

For Shelley going into her sophomore season with the Fighting Ducks, it was nothing short of a success with the Pac-12 side in her freshman year. She broke the program record for most three-pointers in a single game (10) and became the first freshman at Oregon to accumulate 30 points in a single-game since the 2013-14 college season. Shelley earned a Pac-12 All-Freshman Honourable Mention to conclude her opening season of collegiate play.

The 20-year-old has represented Australia on numerous occasions, participating in the 2017 U19 Women’s World Cup and the 2016 FIBA U17 World Championships, where for the first time in the nation’s history they won gold in the tournament.

Looking to the East Coast, Syracuse senior and AP All-America Honourable Mention nominee Mangakahia has earned her first National Squad selection after two terrific seasons with the Orange in New York, capped off by a record-breaking campaign in her Junior year.

Following a long list of accolades, such as being named to the All-ACC First Team, Syracuse Female Player of the Year, breaking the program record for All-Time assists (591) and becoming the fastest player in Syracuse history to reach 1,000 points, Mangakahia still has a season to play for the Orange in her Senior year. How that will take shape due to COVID-19, no one yet knows.

With many more accomplishments still yet to be talked about, it made total sense that Brondello included Mangakahia in the Opals’ preliminary squad. The 25-year-old has represented Australia in the U16, U18 and U19 age brackets in the past, but has never been selected to the Senior National Squad until now, despite attending a Team Camp in April of last year.

The full list of selected Opals can be found – HERE

WNBL Free Agency: Heal and Tupaea become first to switch teams

TALENTED teenager Shyla Heal became the first Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) player to switch allegiances for the 2021 WNBL season. Amongst a high number of re-signings for the University of Canberra Capitals – six players re-signed to the reigning premiers – Heal moved from Bendigo Spirit to the Sunshine State to take a chance with Townsville Fire.

Speaking to Heal last week, the 18-year-old has the intention of nominating for next year’s WNBA Draft, and she is determined to have a strong season with the Fire alongside another talented youngster in Zitina Aokuso. In a breaking announcement today, Sydney Uni Flames point guard Tahlia Tupaea has also headed inland and signed on with the Capitals. The talented 23-year-old who has had her fair share of bad luck through injuries since debuting at the age of 15 – the second youngest in WNBL history – will look to have a clean run in the nation’s capital.

The other big talking point was Alanna Smith returning to Australia from College to line-up with Adelaide Lightning next season. She was drafted in the first round – eighth overall pick – in last year’s WNBA Draft to go to the Phoenix Mercury after graduating through Stanford.

Given the likelihood of Brianna Turner‘s unavailability – due to the league not having imports – the power forward position is Smith’s for the taking. It allows her to team up with Lauren Nicholson and Steph Talbot in the City of Churches to try and bring Adelaide a title after being on the verge of being a contender the last couple of seasons.

The Spirit might have lost Heal over the Free Agency Period, but have re-signed Demi Skinner and Tessa Lavey, whilst Jenna O’Hea put pen to paper for another season with Southside Flyers. The Capitals re-signed six players in a spree early in the period, with Maddison Rocci, Abby Cubillo, Alex Delaney and Keely Froling joining Kelsey Griffin and Marianna Tolo in the capital to try and mount a title defence.

Three players have also announced their retirement from the league with Adelaide’s Nat Hurst, Bendigo’s Gabe Richards and Sydney Uni’s Sarah Graham calling it a day.

Capitals make it back-to-back re-signings with Griffin returning

GOING back-to-back is nothing unusual for the University of Canberra (UC) Capitals, with the reigning premiers having taken out the last two Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) titles. But in the off-season, the Capitals received a huge boost with back-to-back signings after co-captain Kelsey Griffin joined her leadership counterpart, Marianna Tolo in pledging her allegiance to the club for the 2020/21 season.

A past Most Valuable Player (MVP) winner in the WNBL, Griffin is a massive signing in Head Coach Paul Goriss‘ arsenal for the team to try and win a third consecutive premiership. Whilst much re-signing is still to be done across the league, the Capitals have secured their two leaders ahead of the season, an important first step in looking ahead to WNBL21.

“The success that Kelsey has had during her time here at the UC Caps is testament to her hard work, willingness to sacrifice and her winning mentality,” Goriss said to the UC Capitals website.

“The backbone of our team is Tolo and Griffin. “They provide the on-court grunt, leadership and work ethic that drives others to be better. “They both have different styles of leadership that works for them but they are both so critical to our success.”

“Kelsey has proven her worth in the WNBL and with the UC Caps with her determination and never give up attitude alongside her basketball IQ. “She continues to drive for excellence on court, in the gym, with her diet and preparation.

“This driving force is what makes her exceptional and a winner. She continues to play a very high level, and nobody out-works her. “We are privileged to have Griffin back again on court with the UC Caps and in the Canberra community.”

Griffin only managed the 16 games last season due to injury, but still put up a remarkable double-double average of 15.1 points and 10.6 rebounds for the Capitals. Along with this, Griffin managed a solid 2.9 assists and huge 2.9 steals and 1.0 blocks. Fully fit, there is little doubt Griffin could be the best player in the league, and the 188cm forward could be a catalyst in leading her side to more glory next season.

With little doubt she would re-sign with the Capitals, the Opals star was excited about the upcoming Tokyo Olympics, but the postponement due to the COVID-19 pandemic has helped her recover from shoulder surgery.

“This down time has been incredible for reflection,” Griffin said. “I have had a good chance to slow down and re-prioritise what is important to me. “It’s been really good for me.”

“It’s been great to hear the WNBL will be going ahead in November, I think it is one of the best competitions in the world and therefore is the perfect preparation for anyone wanting to be in their best form heading into an Olympics.”

The WNBL season tips off in November with the full fixture yet to be released.

Capitals re-sign Tolo as WNBL21 plans begin

IN a huge announcement this morning, Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) back-to-back champions University of Canberra (UC) Capitals have announced the re-signing of co-captain and centre, Marianna Tolo.

It marks the first re-signing of the off-season for the Capitals, with Tolo joining the club for a third consecutive season. With the WNBL season confirmed to go ahead later this year, the Capitals got on the front foot and signed up their crucial Australian Opal star.

In the 2019/20 WNBL season, Tolo overaged 14.2 points, 7.6 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.6 blocks in 22 games showing remarkable durability. She shot at 53.2 per cent from the field, and 64.6 per cent from the free-throw line after increasing her numbers in both points and rebounds from the previous season.

Capitals head coach Paul Goriss told the UC Capitals website that to have a “crucial piece” like Tolo in the squad was critical for the continued success of the organisation.

“She is one of the best players in the WNBL, an Opal and a crucial piece for us, and not only for her defensive presence on the court,” Goriss said. “She has morphed into a scorer for us and her leadership, work ethic and contribution off the court speaks volumes as to the player and person she is not only for the UC Caps but in the Canberra community.

“Tolo has been a foundation piece for the Caps for many years and she continues to grow and still improve her game. “With such a special person like Tolo, we will continue to build a team around her and others to strive for further success.”

In the same article on the Capitals’ website, Tolo said the current global situation had made her rethink her future plans, but it was also the team’s bond and recent success that helped make her decision easy.

“It’s hard to say no when we have just won back to back,” Tolo said. “I had initially thought of going overseas but because the Olympics was postponed to next year as well as the ongoing Coronavirus situation, it seemed like the perfect decision to make.

“I know that the way we train and play will prepare me perfectly for Olympics. “The UC Capitals also really look after their players, so I know that they always consider my health during the season. “They have been great with managing my injuries.”

Whilst the WNBL 2020/21 fixture is yet to come out, the back-to-back premiers are undoubtedly the team to beat in a league where the landscape could be very different given the COVID-19 pandemic. But with training back on the agenda, no doubt teams will begin to ramp up their preparations for a November start.

Young Guns in the WNBL – Maddison Rocci

FOR many of Australia’s veteran basketball players, some have gone their entire careers without ever laying their hands on the coveted Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) Championship trophy, or at least not until late into their careers. But for Maddison Rocci, the 22-year-old is coming off her second straight title with the University of Canberra Capitals in what is her third season.

While Rocci understands the privilege she has had playing alongside some of the best imports and veteran Australian talents in the league, it has not stopped the Melbournian from playing a pivotal role in each one of her titles, whether it be her scoring ability, her role on the floor or her dedication to the game.

“I have been very lucky in my three WNBL seasons to have such great role models,” Rocci explained. “I’ve had Nat Hurst, Leilani Mitchell, Kelly Wilson, Olivia Epoupa, Kia Nurse, Kelsey Griffin and Marianna Tolo and it’s been super important to my development and just my confidence has grown ever since I’ve been able to play with these individuals.”

Growing up in the Victorian suburb of Werribee, Rocci’s first sporting interest was not shooting hoops, nor even her second, as dancing and netball were the two activities that piqued her interest prior to basketball.

“The switch came from watching my older brother [Kristian] play at the Werribee Devils,” Rocci said. “Seeing what he could do out there on the court, made me want to go and try that sport.”

It was at the age of 11 that Rocci started playing at a domestic level, and soon after that, would try out for the Devils’ representative program in the Under 12’s age bracket in the Victorian Junior Basketball League (VJBL).

Gradually rising through the ranks, Rocci would be picked up by the Centre of Excellence program in Canberra, where she put on impressive displays of basketball in a season of one of the NBL1’s predecessors, the South East Australia Basketball League (SEABL).

Following this, the Canberra Capitals made their move, signing the 168cm-tall shooting guard to her rookie contract for the 2017/18 season. Despite the side not making the top four that season, Rocci and her squad blew the rest of the competition out of the water on their home floor in their 2018/19 campaign, as the Caps led the league in the standings with a record of 16-5, which ultimately would lead them to a 2-1 grand final series win against the Adelaide Lightning, the first for Rocci.

The 2019/20 season for Rocci proved to be her breakout stint, as increased minutes and point production for the guard, would allow her statistics to shine, further validating how effective Rocci’s game has become to this point.

Accumulating numerous starting roles for the Capitals, Rocci’s time of play would average close to 27 minutes per game, providing an imperative amount of support to Paul Goriss’ stars such as Nurse, Epoupa and Tolo. This would also include a season-high 19-point performance against the Southside Flyers and former teammate Leilani Mitchell mid-way through January.

After her 21 regular season contests, Rocci would accumulate decent numbers at the two-guard position, averaging nine points, 2.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game. In addition, she would also remain consistent in her shooting, maintaining a 36 per cent clip from beyond the arc and a 40 per cent field goal percentage to boot.

For Rocci though, the biggest takeaway from last season, was her quest to find out what piece she was in the Capitals’ puzzle.

“The main thing that I learnt from last season was basically I had to find my feet and find my role,” Rocci said. “Being a starter in the WNBL was a really huge goal of mine, but what really helped me was just talking to more veteran players and leaders of the club. When I first arrived at the club, I wasn’t sure on what my role was in this team, but people like Paul [Goriss] and Kia helped me find my feet.”

Following a hard-fought semi-final series against the Melbourne Boomers, the Capitals had their eyes on a back-to-back title. The only thing standing in their way, the Southside Flyers and their impenetrable defence.

With Game One a slugfest from the get-go, it was going to be an absolute mission to steal away a win on Southside’s home-court.

Earning herself a modest eight-point, two rebound and three assist stat line, Rocci and her side would pull out an incredible two-point win to go up on the series 1-0, now knowing they could win back-to-back titles on their home floor.

With the Flyers up against the wall, an explosive opening quarter put Southside ahead by eight after 10 minutes. But, a dominant third quarter by the Caps, would earn them a two-point lead heading into the last quarter. However, reigning MVP and Rocci’s close personal friend, Kia Nurse, drilled a three-pointer with just seconds left to put the nail in the coffin on a series that would go down in Capitals history.

“It was super overwhelming!” Rocci said. “I tried really hard not to have a little tear in my eye when I was celebrating with the girls after, and it just shows the hard work and dedication that our team put in each day to get to that end goal that we set at the start of the season. I honestly can’t believe that I’m a back-to-back WNBL champion and that’s obviously super special and a memory that I will cherish forever.”

After a side wins back-to-back championships in any sport, the obvious thought for the future is the same for many. Can there be a three-peat?

For Rocci, that thought is very much off in the distance and the youngster has no doubts that the goal will be an objective come the start of next season.

“Whenever anyone asks that question you always think that you want to have that three-peat in your mind,” Rocci said. “Obviously that’s going to be a goal of ours, winning a championship going into any WNBL season, so we just gotta work hard each day and be there for each other.”

While the possibility for a three-peat remains a chance, the WNBL’s decision to possibly exclude imports from the upcoming season due to COVID-19 restrictions, would severely hinder the Capitals’ hopes, as Suzy Batkovic Award winner, Kia Nurse, may not be eligible for the 2020/21 season if the exclusion is to take effect.

“Imports are super special, and I’ve had the privilege to work alongside some super special ones in Canberra,” said Rocci. “Kia was one of the best imports I’ve ever played with and she’s really helped me develop my game. She wasn’t one of those imports that was arrogant, and it wasn’t all about herself, she was always willing to give back to the team, that’s the same with Olivia Epoupa.”

“They set a different standard,” Rocci added. “To train alongside someone who’s coming from overseas is pretty special, because when you go to play over there, you know what it’s going to be like. I enjoy playing with imports in the WNBL, so I can’t wait for them to come back after COVID has disappeared.”

After it was announced that next season will take place from the 20th of November, Rocci now has a clearer picture of what her offseason looks like, but up to this point has been training with the NBL1’s Southern District Spartans Head Coach Aja Parham-Ammar, focusing on things like ball-handling, shooting and some strength work at a warehouse up in Brisbane, where she currently resides.

Later down the track, Rocci will look to continue developing her defensive skills such as lateral movement and one-on-one play, as well as maintaining her three-point shot that has become a major weapon for her so far in her career.

Next season will be Rocci’s fourth with the Capitals, as she looks for her third title in as many years.

Draft Central’s 2019/20 WNBL Top 10 Players: #1 – Kia Nurse

DRAFT Central’s formula for deciding this season’s top player of the WNBL was a rather simple one. Similarly to the NBL’s top player of the season, Bryce Cotton, the WNBL’s MVP and top-scorer, Kia Nurse, would reign supreme in terms of success individually and as a teammate. As this this season’s 2019/20 WNBL Champion, University of Canberra (UC) Capitals would defend their title, claiming their ninth in franchise history.

Having already spent a season with the Capitals, Nurse would hit the ground running, opening up her 2020 campaign with a 28-point and seven-rebound performance against the Adelaide Lightning, quickly establishing herself as one of the league’s most deadly offensive weapons. Throughout the entire season, Nurse would continue to provide an abundance of minutes for Paul Gorris’s side, only twice playing less than 32 minutes in a game, therefore leading the league in minutes per game by the end of Round 16, averaging 37.1 (1.4 minutes higher than Alice Kunek). But, the main headline act for the Canadian, was her scoring prowess. Going the entire fixture without scoring single digits is one accomplishment, but to average over 20 points per game throughout the entire competition would have already been enough to secure an MVP award for the 24-year-old.

Helping her side to a 15-win season alongside the likes of Marianna Tolo, Olivia Epoupa, Kelsey Griffin and Keeley Froling, Nurse would receive her second straight All-WNBL First Team selection, the Capitals’ Best and Fairest Award and the Suzy Batkovic Medal (League-MVP) to round out one of the league’s best individual season performances in history. Nurse is grateful of the system she was put in, as it allowed her to develop her offence even more.

“I was allowed to be in a system in Australia where I was a lot more free than any system I’ve played in since my high school days. “That allowed me to kind of get confidence back into my offensive game … and that was pretty exciting.” Playing four years at the UConn Huskies while she attended college, Nurse found out the formula for success is not given, it is earned, which is why the two-time NCAA Champion knew that her 21 regular season games were just stepping stones to the real prize.

The hard work would begin against the Melbourne Boomers in their semi-final series, with their matchup going to a deciding Game Three. Nurse would need every ounce of her will, to help get her side over the line against the wily Boomers side. Playing all 40 minutes at home, Nurse’s hard-fought 18 points, five rebounds, three assists and two steals, would be enough to get the Capitals to the finish line taking the contest, 77-64, with their extraordinary defence being the main proponent of their win. With the Boomers in their rear-view mirror, the Caps would look to topple the best team in the league to this point, the Southside Flyers.

Knowing full well that their best bet to win the series would be to steal Game One in Dandenong, Nurse would again be called on to play most of the game (she would average 39 minutes per game in the series). Scoring 19 points and securing five rebounds in Game One, the Capitals would steal the opening game of the series by a single bucket, forcing a decisive Game Two back home in Canberra. With Game Two being an all-out war between both sides, the Capitals found themselves down by a point with less than 30 seconds to go, but the always reliable Epoupa (Finals-MVP) would find the WNBL’s top scorer open for three, as Nurse would knock it down and win the Capitals their second straight championship. “It was obviously a fairy-tale ending to a really good story,” said Nurse reflecting on what was nothing short of a perfect season.

Whether imports will be allowed to play next season or not is yet to be confirmed by the WNBL given the severity of COVID-19, but if they are, then the likelihood of a WNBL three-peat for the first time since the Adelaide Lightning dynasty of 1994-96 may very well be on the cards for the Capitals, as they continue to be at the forefront of Australian basketball success.

Draft Central’s Top 10 2019/20 WNBL memorable moments: #1 – UC Capitals go back-to-back

WITH no basketball on for the foreseeable future due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we look at the brighter side of the sport that brought plenty of memories throughout the 2019/20 Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) season. Over the next couple of weeks we will countdown Draft Central‘s Top 10 memorable moments from the season. Some are individual events, others are season views, and even a couple are decisions that panned out for the better. Today we continue with our top selection and what else could it be, but the University of Canberra Capitals winning back-to-back WNBL titles.

#1 UC Capitals win back-to-back WNBL titles

After an impressive list of moments predating the number one choice, it was fitting that the top billing belonged to the ultimate success of a season in the WNBL title. Most impressively, the Capitals defied odds to get it done, just making it into second on the WNBL table by year’s-end and defeating the Melbourne Boomers and then minor premiers, Southside Flyers on the way to the title. After winning last year against Adelaide Lightning, the Capitals lost a couple of star talents in Kelly Wilson and Leilani Mitchell – the latter of whom faced off against the Capitals in the Grand Final Series. The Canberra-based side also had more than its fair share of injuries with 2018/19 Most Valuable Player (MVP) Kelsey Griffin and Keely Froling missing multiple games, and instead it was second year import, Kia Nurse who stepped up alongside a really strong core of players to win the 2019/20 MVP award.

The Capitals won the title by the narrowest of margins, getting up by two points in Dandenong on March 1, then three days later returning to AIS Arena where they won 71-68 with a Nurse triple fittingly ending the contest, and the competition without having to go to a third deciding game. Olivia Epoupa won the Finals MVP after 14 points, nine rebounds and six assists in the first game and a massive 16 points, seven rebounds and 11 assists in the second to finish the series with 15.0 points, 8.0 rebounds and 8.5 assists across 77 of a possible 80 minutes on court. Along with Epoupa and Nurse (18.5 points, 5.5 rebounds), Marianna Tolo (17.0 points, 8.0 rebounds), Maddison Rocci (8.5 points, 4.0 rebounds) and Griffin (11.5 points, 12.5 rebounds) all started the matches, while Froling (6.0 points, 3.5 rebounds) and came off the bench for crucial touches. Abby Cubillo also received two and half minutes in the first game in what will be a memorable moment for her in years to come.

Top 10 WNBL 2019/20 moments countdown so far:

#10 – Ezi Magbegor wins second Rookie of the Year award
#9 – Bendigo Spirit breaks road drought
#8 – Mercedes Russell stars in debut season
#7 – Southside’s flying first season
#6 – Back-to-back overtime victories shape finals series
#5 – Southside Flyers’ road win against UC Capitals
#4 – Kia Nurse wins MVP after sensational season
#3 – Nicole Seekamp’s 20-assist game
#2 – Kelly Wilson breaks games record
#1 – UC Capitals go back-to-back