Tag: olivia epoupa

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 2019/20 WNBL Top 10 Players: #10 – Olivia Epoupa

IN her debut season in the nation’s capital, Olivia Epoupa became one the Women’s National Basketball League’s (WNBL) most frightening and imposing guards throughout the 2019/20 season, thus earning her the number 10 seed in Draft Central’s WNBL Top 10 players this season.


Despite a somewhat smaller stature, only standing at 165cm, people are slightly shocked when you mention she is one of the league’s best rebounding guards. Tallying a whopping 7.7 rebounds per game during the regular season, Epoupa ranked ninth amongst the league leaders, which for a point guard, is extremely impressive. Epoupa’s defensive style of play came to light in her first ever contest down-under, as she compiled a hard earned six points, seven rebounds and eight assists against the Adelaide Lightning. Throughout the season, the French-International would secure 10 rebounds or more in a match on six separate occurrences, while she also dished out 10 or more assists three times in the same time span.

Epoupa’s ability to be proficient in numerous facets of the game, has allowed her to stand out in a competition that primarily relies on scoring to decide games. At the conclusion of their 21 games, the Capitals were in good form, as they were in the midst of a five-game winning streak heading into their semi-final series against the Melbourne Boomers.

Epoupa completed her season averaging 9.2 points, 6.7 assists and leading the league in steals with three swipes a contest. Nevertheless, Epoupa would further propel her and her clubs good form against the Boomers. Through the three-game gauntlet, she upped her level of play putting up 14.3 points, six assists and six and a half rebounds each time on the floor, helping her side edge out the purple and gold with an 11 point, nine assist and eight rebound performance in the decisive Game 3.

Moving on to the Southside Flyers in the Grand Final series, Epoupa would present the evidence needed to explain why she was awarded the Rachel Sporn Medal, as she was recognised as the most outstanding player throughout the series. As the Caps were able to sweep the Flyers in two games, Epoupa, or as she is charmingly known as, the ‘French Burglar’, maintained 15 points, 8.5 assists, 8.0 rebounds and 3.5 steals on both encounters.

While Epoupa has returned back to France to continue playing basketball back at home, she was able to reflect on her team’s championship moments and the year she spent living in Australia.

“All the people that were involved in this club, the fans, they were amazing. “The last game at home with the win had an incredible atmosphere. “The crowd was here, and they make the difference. It was a tough game and Southside played very well, but the crowd pushed us. “When they give us that atmosphere, you give everything, you don’t get tired or want to take a break. “It could be the last game, so you give everything because you know you have all this support. “I’d like to say thank you to everyone who supported us.”

Epoupa was also awarded the club’s Defensive Player of the Year Award for her efforts.

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

Draft Central’s Top 10 2019/20 WNBL memorable moments: #4 – Kia Nurse wins MVP after sensational season

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 number four, which looks at Kia Nurse‘s remarkable second season for the back-to-back premiers, University of Canberra (UC) Capitals.

#4 Kia Nurse wins MVP after sensational season

In what was her second season returning to the UC Capitals after a strong first season teaming up with 2018/19 Most Valuable Player (MVP) Kelsey Griffin in Canberra, Nurse produced some of the best basketball there was to see from an offensive standpoint. Clearly the premier shooter in the competition, her luggage on the way back to Canada would have been significantly heavier than when she arrived. In 2019/20, Nurse picked up the Suzy Batkovic Medal (League MVP), UC Capitals’ Most Valuable Player (MVP), a place in the WNBL All-Star First Team, and of course her championship medal.

In winning the Suzy Batkovic Medal, Nurse became the first import in history to win the honour, polling six more votes than Adelaide Lightning’s Brianna Turner in the award. Playing in the WNBL during the WNBA off-season, the 23-year-old averaged 21.3 points, 4.2 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.4 steals throughout the season. She shot from three-point range at a 33 per cent accuracy, but it was her final three-pointer of the season that counted. With 22 seconds left in Game Two of the Grand Final Series, Nurse drained a triple to win her side the 2019/20 title. While Olivia Epoupa was a deserving Finals MVP, Nurse was the reliable scorer throughout the season and a key player for the team.

In departing the club to head back to the WNBA, Nurse told the UC Capitals’ fans that she had loved the atmosphere in Canberra and the support she had received over the past two seasons.

“People tell me I play a very flashy game,” she said. “I was never flashy until I got here. I didn’t play with the swagger and confidence until I got here, and I just continued to grow and that made a difference when I went back to the WNBA last.”

Unfortunately for the Capitals, Nurse will not return to the side citing business opportunities in North America. She thanked the fans and looked forward to tracking how the team went in future years.

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

Draft Central’s Top 10 2019/20 WNBL memorable moments: #5 – Southside Flyers’ road win against UC Capitals

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 number five, which looks at the only dint in the University of Canberra (UC) Capitals’ armour at home – Southside Flyers’ win on the road.

#5 Southside Flyers’ road win against UC Capitals

After copping a disappointing loss to the Capitals earlier in the season at their home court where they went down by 19 points, the Flyers were primed for the next encounter between the pair. At the stage of the first loss, the Flyers were living up to their name and flying, while the Capitals had made a shaky start, thumped by Melbourne Boomers in Geelong and then losing to last year’s wooden spooners, Sydney Uni Flames a couple of days later. Coming into the round, the Capitals had smashed Bendigo Spirit by 25 points on the road, and the Flyers had got up in a seven-point thriller over Melbourne back in Round 8. Already in Round 9, Southside had downed Townsville by 19 points and would fly up to Canberra the next day to face the Capitals who were fresh and raring to go.

Instead, it was the Flyers who started the stronger of the teams, leading by three points at quarter time courtesy of a 22-19 opening term. UC hit right back in the second quarter pleasing the Capitals’ fans to regain the lead by a point, then extended it out to three by the final break. A remarkable final term saw the Flyers put the foot on the gas and accelerate away with a 23-15 last quarter that home fans in Canberra would have otherwise not witnessed or would witness for the remainder of the season. In what would be the only Capitals’ home loss of the season, the score read 70-65 in favour of the visiting team. It was just that kind of day for the Flyers, with Rebecca Cole leading the points-scorers with 21, as well as three rebounds and two steals, well aided by the work of Mercedes Russell (17 points, 10 rebounds, two assists and two blocks) and former Capitals talent, Leilani Mitchell (15 points, seven rebounds and two assists).

Most of the Capitals stars were down on their output with 2018/19 Most Valuable Player (MVP) Kelsey Griffin scoring just four points, shooting at 16.7 per cent from the field, though she did pick up 12 defensive rebounds and a couple of steals. It would be revealed later that Griffin put in a monumental effort to finish the game, suffering an ankle injury in the last term but remaining out there in a bid to try and get her side over the line. She would miss six weeks through the injury. But aside from Griffin, 2019/20 MVP Kia Nurse was also down on her production, recording just 13 points at 22.7 per cent efficiency from the field, while Marianna Tolo‘s 16 points was the highest from her side, also picking up six rebounds and two assists in the loss. Olivia Epoupa was the pick of the home side with a spirited 11 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and four steals. While the result ultimately meant little in the scheme of the season – with the Capitals going back-to-back – it was certainly a moment to savour for the league’s newest franchise.

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

Draft Central’s Top 10 2019/20 WNBL memorable moments: #6 – Back-to-back overtime thrillers shape finals series

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 number six, looking at back-to-back overtime games in Round 13 and 14 that ultimately shaped the WNBL finals series at the expense of the Melbourne Boomers.

#6 Heartbreak for Melbourne Boomers as Flyers and Capitals both win in overtime

They might have been five days apart, but Melbourne Boomers’ back-to-back losses in overtime against fellow top three sides, Southside Flyers and University of Canberra (UC) Capitals in January ultimately shaped the finals series. With the Boomers needing a win to remain clear of the sides, as history would tell us that a victory could have handed them the extra home final against the Capitals. They went down 2-1 in the semi-finals and lost the two on the road, while winning at home, something that might have altered the WNBL Finals Series. They finished on the same amount of wins, but the head-to-head which went in the Capitals’ favour thanks to the heart-breaking 76-75 loss at the National Convention Centre in Round 14 proved to be the ultimate dagger to the heart. That game, along with the Round 13 thriller at the State Basketball Centre (which saw the Flyers defeat the Boomers 75-73) shaped the top three and locked in the finals spots even with a couple of weeks remaining.

In the Boomers-Flyers match, Melbourne got off to a great start to lead by four points at quarter time, five at the main break and six by the final change. Unfortunately a slip up in just one quarter can cost at the elite level, and it proved the case with Southside winning the final term 20-14 to draw level and force overtime. There, the Flyers took it out with an 8-6 overtime to win 75-73, despite a double-double from Ezi Magbegor (24 points, 12 rebounds, two steals and three blocks) and a cameo from Cayla George (13 points, nine rebounds, five assists and two steals). Instead it was four players recording 15 points or more for the Flyers, with Mercedes Russell (21 points, 11 rebounds and two steals) the top player, as Leilani Mitchell (21 points, five rebounds, three assists and three steals), Jenna O’Hea (19 points, six rebounds, two assists and four steals) and Rebecca Cole (15 points, five rebounds, six assists and two steals) all shared around the spoils.

Five days later it was instead the Boomers playing catch-up in a scoreline that was eerily similar to the first game. The Capitals raced out of the blocks to lead by six points – the same score as the final term in the previous match – before the Boomers roped them in over the next three terms to not only draw level, but go up by six points with 43 seconds remaining. An unsportsmanlike foul in between a couple of baskets saw the Capitals drag it back level at the final buzzer. Unfortunately for Melbourne, it was a similar story as the Caps’ reigned supreme with a 10-9 overtime to win 76-75. Kia Nurse (23 points, seven rebounds) and Marianna Tolo (22 points, nine rebounds) dominated, as Keely Froling (12 points, nine rebounds) was solid and Olivia Epoupa was the best across the entire court picking up a ridiculous eight points, 16 rebounds, seven assists and six steals. For the Boomers, it was Stella Beck (17 points, six rebounds and three assists) and Magbegor (14 points, four rebounds) who shared the load with top scorer, Sophie Cunningham (22 points, two rebounds). As hindsight would show, this game ultimately helped the Capitals win the semi-finals series and go back-to-back in the 2019/20 WNBL season.

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

2019/20 WNBL season review: University of Canberra Capitals

WE conclude our Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) team season reviews with the University of Canberra (UC) Capitals. It was a dream year for the reigning premiers who after finishing second on the table at the end of the regular season, managed to topple both the Melbourne Boomers and Southside Flyers on their way to back-to-back WNBL titles.

Ladder: 2nd (Premiers)
Win-loss: 15-6

From coast to coast, Canberra viewing parties sprung up, as people came together in joyous ecstasy to support the Capitals team. Everywhere in Canberra, there was (and still is) a sense of pride for the Capitals basketball team and what they accomplished. This immortalised group of women achieved a feat that very few have ever done, back-to-back champions, and in remarkable fashion. Winning their last game with a dagger from beyond the arc to put Canberra in front and have a 71-68 win over the Southside Flyers, just three days after the Capitals beat the Flyers by merely two points in Game One. But at the start of this memorable season, Capitals fans were not as joyous, starting the off season by losing four-time champion, Kelly Wilson. With Lauren Scherf heading to Sydney Uni, while Leilani Mitchell departed for Southside, it was reassuring to welcome former Capitals’ player, Mikaela Ruef and French national, Olivia Epoupa to the squad. Entering the season as reigning champions, it was clear the Capitals were the team to beat, and they carried this chip through all 26 game of the season

This team, from preseason to the grand final, was built around a number of star players, but the award winner for season 2019/20 was Kia Nurse. Winning Most Valuable Player (MVP), and all Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) First Team honours, Nurse would annihilate opponents, scoring the ball from all angles, leading her to average 20.9 points a game. This production of baskets resulted in her also receiving the top shooter award, an achievement given to the player who accumulated the most points for her team in a season. Playing as a tall gritty unit, the Capitals loved to play in the paint, smashing every team in the competition in total two-pointers made and attempted. A big reason they could play like this is because of last season’s MVP, Kelsey Griffin, who would collect nearly 11 rebounds a game, leading for the team, and playing a major role in the team leading the league in that area despite missing a portion of the season due to injury. Playing the second option on offence behind Nurse, the pair would combine for a mouth watering 828 points for the season, an accomplishment made easy when you obtain one of the best playmaking point guards in the league. Epoupa’s ability to move the ball and get everyone involved was second to none, and definitely was one of the most surprising breakout stars for the year, contributing to the team’s success more than anyone had ever suspected coming into the season. The French star would be given the recognition she deserved when she won the Finals MVP in one of the hardest fought finals series in recent memory. The Capitals made their way back to the grand final to take on the Flyers, a team that had secured the top spot of the ladder by two wins and had bested the Capitals once out of their three meetings. But after two thrilling games where the difference in margin was three points or less, the Capitals won their eighth title. 

After winning back to back titles, the question on everyone’s mind is, ‘are we going to see another Capitals dynasty?’. Last year they won their first title since the 2009-10 season, the last of a golden era which bore an unprecedented seven titles in 11 seasons. The future is uncertain for now with Nurse heading back for the WNBA season – though she has returned each off-season to the Capitals – but fans should have faith regardless that if 2019-20 coach of the year Paul Gorris, will come up with a solution to remain as the team to beat.

2020 WNBL: Kia Nurse hits three pointer to secure Capitals’ ninth flag

WITH only 22 seconds left to win the Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) Grand Final, Kia Nurse nailed arguably the most important three pointer of her career to run out 71-68 winners. In what will go down as one of the most memorable and clutch moments in WNBL history, the Canberra Capitals were in dire need of a star as the Southside Flyers were up but fell with just over 20 seconds left. Nurse, as usual, rose to the occasion surmounting her legacy as one of, if not the greatest players in WNBL history.

The first half was all about one player and one player only, Rebecca Cole who dropped a whopping 21 points in just the first half. It seemed Cole’s hot hand carried over the whole team who finished the half with 49 per cent shooting accuracy, going 6/13 from long range compared to the Capitals who could only shoot a disappointing 36 per cent. It looked like the Capitals’ winning streak at home going all the way back to October 2018, was now at jeopardy. Down 10 at halftime, previously trailing by 16, one must believe that Capitals coach Paul Goriss must have had the speech of all speeches as they outscored the Flyers 21-9 in the third quarter. They shut down Cole who would only score just two more points for the game, they started hitting it from deep, and they locked down defensive rebounds. 

When Marianna Tolo gave the Capitals their first lead of the game, adding to a remarkable 15 point run, the momentum had officially switched, but the Capitals were far from victors. The two teams traded shots in the fourth quarter, as the lead changed several times. But when league MVP, Kelsey Griffin stole the ball and passed to Nurse, all fans were standing in anticipation. Breaking free, Nurse nailed a three point shot from the top of the key to put the Capitals ahead 71-68. The Flyers looked to their team’s leading season scorer, Cole who had been on a tear in the first half but had recently gone cold. Driving to the basket, Cole threw up a contested shot that bounced off the rim to be rebounded by none other than Nurse. Fouled instantly she went straight to the free throw line and surprisingly missed the first, bouncing in and out of the basket. With little time left, it could be argued Nurse missed the second intentionally as making it would have given the Flyers time to recuperate and draw up a play in a timeout. Although, the Capitals height came in favourably once again, as Tolo sealed the rebound and hence sealed the game.

Southside’s lack of roster depth was a crucial aspect of this game as they did not have a single bench point the entire game, even with Aimie Clydesdale playing 32 minutes but only having a disappointing two assist three rebound game. Clearly fatigue played a role as the Capitals had 17 points off turnovers, most coming in the second half. It was evident how exhausted the Flyers were by watching their sloppy defence, finishing the game with 21 fouls. This foul trouble forced the Flyers to bench some of their more important players like Jenna O’Hea who picked up her third foul four minutes before half time, forcing her to ride the bench. Although Cole who finished the game with 23 points, three rebounds and four assists in only 26 minutes, went quiet in the second half mostly due to incredibly tight defence which opened the floor offensively, sadly the rest of the team struggled to pick up the slack. 

Although Nurse’s dagger from three turned the game, and Tolo’s rebound was the final icing on the cake, it was Olivia Epoupa who left the grand final with the Rachael Sporn Grand Final MVP medal, collecting 16 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds. In what was likely her last game in the WNBL, suspected to play in her native country-France, her last dance for Australia was unforgettable. Luckily the Capitals were still able to rise even with last year’s grand final MVP Kelsey Griffin having a quiet five point, one assist, 13 rebound night. Nurse not only delivered in the dying minutes but was sensational from the very beginning putting up 18 points accompanied with Tolo’s 19 point, 12 rebounds performance. 

Capitals won their ninth flag in unbelievable fashion, filled with plenty of twists and turns to go back-to-back. Epoupa, along with Nurse and Griffin will go down in the record books as some of the greatest to play in the league, forming their legacy in front of a ecstatic home crowd of 4481 at the AIS Arena.

Capitals a win away from glory as Flyers look to repeat history

BOTH Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) teams know that there is a maximum two games left in the season, and for the University of Canberra (UC) Capitals, there is no better time to strike than tonight. The reigning premiers came from behind in Game 1 to upset the Southside Flyers on the road and get up by just two points in an enthralling contest. It put the Capitals 1-0 up and turned the tables on the favouritism for the title, given both sides’ ability to create a fortress out of their home court. UC Capitals in particular have been unbelievably dominant at AIS Arena, winning all bar one game at the venue.

That one blemish is what the Flyers will hold onto in this match as indeed it was the Southside team that toppled the Capitals in the nation’s capital. On that night, Southside got up by five points, coming from three points down at the final break to win 70-65. Rebecca Cole shot a game-high 21 points, while Mercedes Russell finished with a double-double of 17 points and 10 rebounds. Former Capital, Leilani Mitchell (15 points, seven rebounds) was also prolific in the win, while Marianna Tolo (16 points, six rebounds) and Kia Nurse (13 points, five rebounds) were the prominent scorers in the losing side, while Olivia Epoupa (11 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and four steals was the best on the court for the Capitals.

Fast forward to last week, and the Capitals turned the tables on the minor premiers, claiming an 82-80 win at the State Basketball Centre, breaking a four-game winning streak by the league’s top side. Though it was not the first time it had happened, because the previous loss for the Flyers was again a defeat at the hands of UC, and again on Southside’s home court. That time it was much uglier with a 24-point win, but last week’s victory has more relevance, and there was not much between the sides by the final buzzer.

Cole again was the top scorer in the match, putting up 23 points as well as recording seven assists, two rebounds and two blocks, while last year’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) Kelsey Griffin was back to her best with a stunning 18 points, 12 rebounds and two assists. She combined well with the 2019/20 MVP Nurse, who sank 18 points herself and collected five rebounds and two assists. Tolo (15 points, four rebounds and four assists) and Epoupa (14 points, nine rebounds, six assists and four steals) were also busy around the court. Aside from Cole, the Flyers shared the points around with Mitchell (15 points, five rebounds, five assists and two steals) and Russell (13 points, nine rebounds) busy, as was Jenna O’Hea who returned to the court after an injury layoff to put up numbers of 14 points and six rebounds. Despite injuring her hand, up-and-coming young gun Maddison Rocci has said she will fight through the pain in Game 2 to try and win back-to-back titles.

The game tips off from 7.30pm at AIS Arena tonight with the UC Capitals strong favourites to sweep the series. The Flyers have had too good of a season to go down without a fight however, and this promises to be a ripping contest. Both these teams would be deserving favourites in the clash, but given UC’s record at home, it is hard to see them losing.