Tag: shyla heal

WNBL Player Spotlight: Townsville Fire – Mia Murray

IN a team that will have a substantially different look compared to last season, the Townsville Fire are welcoming back a familiar and reliable face in Mia Murray. A member of Townsville’s glory days and helping the Fire win back-to-back titles during the 2014/15 and 2015/16 seasons under former head coach Chris Lucas, Murray would also help cap off the Fire’s dynasty two seasons later. Given she was a member of the Fire’s 2017/18 championship winning side as well, thus collecting her third ring in the process.

Following her third championship campaign, Murray stepped away from the game for two seasons to focus on her family, following the birth of her son Sidney. With Murray set to suit up for her eighth season with the Fire, the local fan base in Townsville is ecstatic for her return and her new head coach Shannon Seebohm sees the significance in a signing like this.

“I think it’s huge. She’s such a popular player amongst all the Fire supporters, so it’s obviously great for us to welcome her back,” Seebohm said. “Her maturity, experience and her own style of leadership, I can already see it when we workout and the impact she’s gonna have on some of her teammates. It’s gonna be great for our club to have her back, but also our team on the court.”

Throughout her back-to-back title-winning seasons, Murray proved herself an integral part of both sides. During the 2014/15 season she averaged a solid stat-line of 9.9 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game and was ultimately awarded the Rachel Sporn Medal for being the Grand Final MVP to conclude the season. Meanwhile, the following campaign would encompass similar numbers of 9.9 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.9 assists per contest.

In a city that recognises Murray as a local legend, it makes sense that the 32-year-old is excited to return back to her old stomping grounds, as she noted following the club’s announcement back in early-June.

“I am so excited and grateful for the opportunity to play for the JCU Townsville Fire this season,” Murray said. “The club has played a huge part in my life and I look forward to building on the success we have previously enjoyed on and off the court, I am keen to play again at an elite level and to grow as a player under head coach Shannon Seebohm.”

Not only does Murray’s presence as an individual have an effect on the team, but her style of play is also a major reason why Seebohm and his staff have had their eyes on re-signing the local legend this offseason.

“She’s going to be a really good one-on-one defender,” Seebohm said. “She’s extremely long. I think you don’t realise how long she is, especially with her arms and her reach and her ability to contest shots and challenge shots and how much of a difference that’s going to make for us.”

“I think offensively she’s a star player, she’s a selfless player, a very good three-point shooter. Which, I think again if we’re talking with Lauren [Nicholson] and Shyla [Heal] being creators in on-ball-screens and situations like that, I think players on the floor that can knock down open shots will be really valuable to us, therefore Mia will be a really big contributor for us this year.”

Picture: Townsville Bulletin

WNBL Player Spotlight: Townsville Fire – Lauren Nicholson

BACK in October last year, Lauren Nicholson said in an interview with the WNBL, “A massive thing for me is having an impact straight away, being more aggressive out on the court,” Nicholson said. “That’s something I want to bring from start to finish when I’m on the floor.”

Nicholson now has the chance to bring that mindset to North-Queensland when she suits up for the Townsville Fire after three successful seasons with the Adelaide Lightning. The WNBL’s 2018/19 Defensive Player of the Year was the first to receive the award in an Adelaide uniform in the franchise’s history and was nominated to her first Opals squad in the same year, representing Australia at the 2019 FIBA Asia Cup.

In her most recent season with the Lightning, she helped the team to a solid record of 12 wins and nine losses and a top-four position to boot, getting the Lightning to the postseason as a result.

Despite an early semi-final exit at the hands of the Southside Flyers, Nicholson in particular should be extremely proud of the efforts she made during the WNBL20 campaign. The 27-year-old competed in all 21 games throughout last season, averaging 14.2 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.2 assists. She also swiped an average of 1.4 steals per game to round out an effective season within Adelaide’s backcourt.

“I think Lauren is probably one of the most talented players in the competition full-stop,” stated Townsville head coach Shannon Seebohm. “She’s obviously a great defender, everybody knows that. But I think offensively she’s a great shooter, and I think she’s going be able to show in our system this year that she can do more than just shoot. She’s gonna be able to put the ball on the floor and create for her teammates,” he said in an interview with Draft Central.

While Seebohm is keen to increase Nicholson’s usage rate on the floor next season, he notes he is also grateful for the level of expertise that his new signing will bestow upon some the younger players.

“She’s been a part of WNBL championship-winning sides before, she’s obviously been playing in Adelaide and being in the playoffs the last couple of years,” Seebohm said. “I just think that [her] experience and knowing what it takes to win games and knowing what it takes to play finals basketball, rubs off on all of our other players as well. And I know we have a group that’s hungry to prove themselves this year.”

Another factor in Nicholson’s decision to head up to Queensland is the local fan base. After Townsville announced the news to the public, she praised the Fire’s fans and their commitment to their club. “I am so excited about the move to Townsville and joining the Fire next season, every time I come to Townsville, I love the community feeling, the crowd and its supporters are certainly the loudest and most passionate in the league. I can’t wait to get the feeling of playing at the stadium, with them supporting me, wearing the Fire colours, it will be awesome to be a part of,” Nicholson said.

Nicholson will suit up alongside fellow signing and youngster Shyla Heal, within Townsville’s starting five. With the backcourt duo looking to give the competition’s guards a run for their money.

WNBL Player Spotlight: Townsville Fire – Shyla Heal

FOR Townsville Fire head coach Shannon Seebohm, the challenge of acquiring new faces for next season’s squad would need to start somewhere, and that somewhere was country Victoria.

Rising through the ranks of Tracy York’s side down in Bendigo, Shyla Heal was the immediate selection for Seebohm to initiate his team’s formation, and it was more than just her natural ability on the court that peaked the gaffer’s interest.

“The first thing that stands out with Shyla is actually off the court and how badly she wants to be a pro, how badly she wants to have success at the highest level and her unbelievable work ethic,” Seebohm said. “She has a ton of potential at the point guard position in the WNBL, but also potentially the WNBA and hopefully playing for the Opals for quite a long time.”

Regarding the process in acquiring Heal, Seebohm sees a perfect fit in how Heal would slide perfectly into his side’s offensive tactics.

“In terms of on the court and what we looked at with recruiting her, I want to put my point guards into a lot of ball-screen situations and I think Shyla’s skillset being able to create her own shot in a variety of different ways and then create for her teammates is something that stood out to me,” Seebohm said.

“I really hope that we are gonna be able to continue to unlock her potential in the WNBL and she’s gonna have a really big season this year.”

For Heal, after a quiet season in Perth for the 2018/19 season, she came to the forefront of the Spirit’s offence in the latter half of the WNBL20 campaign. She would also end the 21st game of the competition averaging highly respectable numbers, maintaining 12.1 points per contest, as well as over four rebounds and 1.6 assists each time out on the hardwood. She also strung together consistent performances from the field, converting on many of her attempts, averaging a stellar 43.8 per cent clip as a whole, 37.8 per cent from three-point range and 84.9 per cent from the free-throw line.

For Heal though, she has been working extremely hard to prepare her body for a season that will be a step-up in terms of intensity and participation. In an interview with Draft Central back in late-May, Heal outlined what she was primarily focusing on during the offseason.

“At the start of corona, I said I’m going to focus on building heaps of muscle and getting stronger through stair running, weights in my garage and all that stuff,” said Heal.

With Heal training with Australian basketball legend and father Shane, the structure and regimen of their training sessions recently shifted primarily to Shyla’s cardio at the local sports fields. But now that players can start to train on basketball courts in NSW, the Heal duo has been hitting the court a lot more lately, as preseason preparations start to ramp up.

WNBL Free Agency Update: Fire and Flames

CONTINUING with Draft Central’s updates on the Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL)’s Free Agency movements, we now look to two sides that will be looking to heat up and have bounce back seasons in 2021. First up is a Townsville Fire franchise that has had possibly the busiest offseason throughout the eight teams of the competition, as Head Coach Shannon Seebohm and his staff have strung together a championship-calibre team for the campaign to come. Following Townsville is the Sydney Uni Flames, a team who too have made some key signings during this year’s signing period, as well as an injection of youth. The Flames hope they can earn themselves a postseason appearance for the first time in three seasons.


In terms of redemption, the Fire perhaps have the biggest case to make in terms of attaining it. Finishing at the bottom of last season’s standings next to the Bendigo Spirit (both teams with a record of five wins and 16 losses), Townsville have their eyes set on regaining their championship form, similar to recent years. In their first step to doing this, the club re-signed one of its former champions.

Back in early June, the re-acquisition of Mia Murray, who was a part of the Fire’s three most recent titles, sees her return after two seasons away from the game due to raising her son. Murray, a local favourite in the North-Queensland community, enters into her eighth season hoping to help guide the influx of new and young players to enter the league, while former captain Micaela Cocks leaves the team to focus on the birth of her new child.

A number of young stars to join the team include former member of the Spirit in Shyla Heal, who made the move up north to attain a more consistent role at the starting point guard position. The one-two combination between Heal and the fully recovered Zitina Aokuso could very well become one of the most potent frontcourt/backcourt duos in years to come. Other signings include Lauren Nicholson from the Adelaide Lightning and Nadeen Payne of the Perth Lynx, with the latter returning her home state after the Fire traded for her in an exchange with Darcee Garbin, a resident of Perth.

The final signing for the team needed some extra frontcourt presence to further assist rim protection for Aokuso, seeing 193cm-tall centre Lara McSpadden join the fray, coming over from Sydney Uni Flames. Having already played under Seebohm in the junior national circuit, the two will need little time to re-establish familiarity with their playing and coaching styles, which could be beneficial to the squad.

Rounding out the roster are returning overseas prospects Megan McKay (St Mary’s College and Wasserburg), Courtney Woods (Northern Illinois University) and Stephanie Reid (University of Buffalo), while other contracted players include Kate Gaze and Development Player Aliza Fabbro.


Aliza Fabbro
Kate Gaze
Zitina Aokuso




Shyla Heal
Mia Murray
Lauren Nicholson
Nadeen Payne
Megan McKay
Courtney Woods
Steph Reid
Laura McSpadden



For a team that finished sixth out of the eight teams participating in the WNBL, the Flames were one of the biggest underachievers during the WNBL20 season, despite their .333 winning percentage. Nevertheless, the Flames have made plenty of alterations to their roster in an attempt to take a positive step in their team’s outcomes for next season.

With Lauren Scherf the lone contracted player, the initial procurements for next season came by way of other WNBL teams. Opals guard and former Lynx member Lauren Mansfield averaged 10 points and five assists per game, and also stands strong amongst some of the best defensive backcourt players throughout the league. Meanwhile, young Southside Flyer Anneli Maley adds a prominent presence around the rim after a year with last season’s runners-up. Maley also boasted ridiculous numbers in the 2019 NBL1 competition, averaging 20 points and a mammoth 15 rebounds per game, which earned her the fixture’s Youth Player of the Year award.

Subsequent moves building upon Katrina Hibbert’s team would be the gaining of Alison Schwagmeyer, last season’s Sixth Woman of the Year. Hibbert made a point of signing Schwagmeyer to add her to a new core group of players looking to make a playoff push for next season. Another addition to the group was Florida Gator and member of Galatasaray S.K., 24-year-old sharpshooter Funda Nakkasoglu. The signing of Nakkasoglu marked the beginning of a blitz of new faces.

The next of Hibbert’s signings would be the addition of Kiera Rowe on a one-year-deal and the contract extension of Shanae Greaves a week later. And after securing Opal legend Natalie Burton and former Flame Carly Boag, Coach Frog [Hibbert] had only a single piece remaining to complete her squad. The final move for Sydney’s signing period ahead of November 20 would be the re-signing of Maddie O’Hehir. Having been a Development player with the Flames since the 2017/18 season, O’Hehir will remain with the Franchise for an additional year.


Lauren Scherf


Maddie O’Hehir
Shanae Greaves


Lauren Mansfield
Anneli Maley
Alison Schwagmeyer
Funda Nakkasoglu
Kiera Rowe
Natalie Burton
Carly Boag

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: Ebzery re-signs for another year, Lynx/Fire trade shakes up FA period

FRIDAY was a busy time for the Western Australia-based Perth Lynx, as they made a couple of moves during what was an entertaining end to the second week of Free Agency talks, the latter being a trade with the Townsville Fire.

However, prior to the trade, the Lynx made sure to lock up one of their captains, Australian Opal Katie Ebzery. The club’s current MVP and one of last season’s All-WNBL First Team recipients, Ebzery made her case known last season as one of the league’s most prolific and intelligent forces throughout the competition.

During the 2019/20 season, the 178cm-tall guard cracked the league leaders in points (16.3), assists (4.2) and minutes (33.5) per game, as she paved the way to what was an exemplary season on an individual level.

Despite the Lynx’s 8-13 record last season, falling one spot out of the postseason, the duo of Ebzery and fellow signee in Sami Whitcomb puts Perth’s road to redemption in good stead come Round 1, as the Lynx’s core group of players will bring excitement and success to the West, new Head Coach Ryan Petrik alluded to.

“Katie’s work ethic is phenomenal and her attention to detail is second to none. The pairing of Ebzery and Whitcomb will not only provide fans with some exciting basketball, it sets the standard for our program off the court as well,” Petrik said.

A day later, Perth would complete their second move in a matter of hours as they welcomed home former Townsville forward and two-time WNBL champion, Darcee Garbin, whereas the Fire would also welcome home a local of their own, with Nadeen Payne being the other participant of the transaction.

The trade sees homecomings on both sides, with each player coming off strong 2019/20 seasons.

For Garbin, her past season’s stat line shone a light on her ability to contribute to the scoreboard, averaging 14.4 points per contest, as well as averaging over six rebounds. Garbin’s counterpart in Payne, saw similar totals in points and rebounds averaging 10.2 points and 4.6 boards each time out on the floor, while also accumulating almost a steal per game.

Specifically, for Payne, she joins one of the most impressive pre-season line-ups heading into WNBL20, as she stands alongside a new look Fire squad that will most likely challenge for a title next season, a team she said she looks forward to joining.

“My mum and dad still live in Townsville, it will be great to be back around my family and playing Fire colours again, I am even more excited to learn that this season is the Fire’s 20th season and cannot wait to be a part of the celebrations and back with the local community, I think our team will be one that they will be really excited to get around.”

Garbin’s signing adds to a list containing Lauren Nicholson, Shyla Heal, Mia Murray, Kate Gaze and Zitina Aokuso.

WNBL Free Agency: Nicholson to join Fire and George back in Boom Town

SINCE Tuesday afternoon, the WNBL has had its hands full with big moves in its second week of the Free Agency period. Former Defensive Player of the Year (2018/19) in Lauren Nicholson has joined what is starting to look like a serious contender in the Townsville Fire, while former Perth Lynx star, Sami Whitcomb, is set to return to the west after an overseas stint in France.

In addition, WNBL veterans Cayla George and Brittany Smart have stated their intentions for the upcoming season, with George staying put in “Boom Town” for a third consecutive season and Smart making the move to the nation’s capital to suit up in Paul Gorris’ side.

Nicholson, who has long been praised for her defensive ability, was awarded the Adelaide Lightning’s club Defensive Player of the Year Award this past season adding to what has been a very successful WNBL career to this point.

Following the move Tuesday, Nicholson lines up next to the likes of young guns Zitina Aokuso and Shyla Heal, as well as Mia Murray in Shannon Seebohms bid to bring glory back to the far-north following a sub-par 5-16 record in WNBL20.

At a glance, Nicholson was a productive force for the Lightning last season, as she helped her side to a fourth-place finish after 21 games. She would average a consistent 14.2 points per contest, while earning her keep in the rebounding and steals categories, averaging 3.4 and 1.4 in the respective categories.

In Townsville’s media release, the location of the move and the community love for the team were the critical factors in the 27-year-old’s decision, “I am so excited about the move to Townsville and joining the Fire next season, every time I come to Townsville, I love the community feeling, the crowd and its supporters are certainly the loudest and most passionate in the league. I can’t wait to get the feeling of playing at the stadium, with them supporting me, wearing the Fire colours, it will be awesome to be a part of,” said Nicholson.

Out by the Indian Ocean, the Perth Lynx have initiated their announcements regarding next season’s signees, as Whitcomb will don the red and black for the first time since the 2017/18 campaign.

Following a WNBA championship with the Seattle Storm and two seasons with French powerhouse, Basket Lattes, Whitcomb brings an abundance of success and experience to newly signed head coach, Ryan Petrik’s side.

Whitcomb averages over 20 points per game to this point in her WNBL career, as the backcourt prospect will prove to be a handful for opposing sides with the goal of helping the Lynx return to the postseason.

Down in Victoria, the Melbourne Boomers announced that co-captain George (next to Maddie Garrick) would be staying at the club for another year, as the 31-year-old WNBL Hall of Fame inductee will be a part of Guy Molloy’s 2020/21 squad.

Completing her WNBL20 season with averages of 14.3 points, 8.5 rebounds and four assists per game, George continues to ride a string of successful seasons in the Purple and Gold as the Boomers can look to both their team leaders for next season’s affairs.

Looking to the nation’s capital, where Gorris has added some more experience to the defending champs, as Smart has signed on for a one-year contract in the ACT, according to the club.

Coming off a minimised season (seven games), Smart would still maintain almost 10 points per game in the games she would participate in, indicating there is more to be offered by the 35-year-old.

Smart enters her sixth season in the WNBL and will look to be a guiding force for the Caps, as they look to make history and win three consecutive championships for the first time since the Adelaide Lightning dynasty of 1994-96 led by Rachael Sporn.

Draft Central can also confirm that the following Canberra signings during the Free Agency period have all agreed to one-year contracts for the 2020/21 season, per the Capitals administration.

Marianna Tolo, Kelsey Griffin, Keely Froling, Maddison Rocci, Abby Cubillo, Alex Delaney and Tahlia Tupaea.

WNBL Free Agency: Garrick re-signs as McLean joins Spirit

MELBOURNE Boomers have re-signed Maddie Garrick as Bendigo Spirit announced a new recruit in the two moves over the past 24 hours in the Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) Free Agency Period. The two moves followed from a big first few days of Free Agency which saw a number of players re-signed and a couple – Shyla Heal and Tahlia Tupaea – join new clubs.

The sole signing to the WNBL on Friday was Bendigo Spirit bringing in recently-turned 21-year-old Cassidy McLean, a former young star at the club. The 178cm forward had signed on to play with Bendigo Braves in the NBL1 competition, but that was scrapped due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite the disappointment of not playing in what was effectively the WNBL off-season, McLean has had extra time to recover from an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear she suffered in March, 2019. Talking to the NBL1 website about her move to the Braves and subsequent Spirit, McLean said she had learnt a lot living with star basketballer, Tessa Lavey.

“I was living with Tessa when I came back to Bendigo for the NBL1, but it only ended up being about three weeks,” she said. said. “That was the first time I had met Tessa and we got to know each other. She is a great person, not just a wonderful basketballer. “It will be great getting to learn from her because she has experienced so much and gone to the Olympics and played at World Cups. They are all things I’d like to do in the future.”

Last year McLean had represented Newcastle Hunters in the Waratah Basketball League after heading north at the conclusion of the 2018/19 WNBL season. Whilst the season did not go to plan, the talented youngster has had plenty of time off to gain strength in her knee and be ready and raring to go for WNBL21.

Garrick was the sole re-signing on Friday, with the 179cm guard putting pen to paper for the Boomers. She averaged 11.2 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.8 steals representing the Boomers in the 2019/20 WNBL season, playing all 23 games in a remarkable run of form.

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.

Young Guns in the WNBL: Shyla Heal

COMING off a stellar season with the Bendigo Spirit, Shyla Heal continues to drive home the message that “age is just a number”, with the 18-year-old developing into one of the Womens National Basketball League’s (WNBL) top guards and currently sits as one of the league’s biggest unsigned prospects.

As Heal’s contract with the Spirit would wind down following the conclusion of the 2019/20 season, Bendigo have at this stage tendered an extension, but it would seem that the NSW-born star is keen to test the waters of free-agency and find a more consistent role in a starting point-guard position.

In the past, Heal has openly stated her intentions to participate in next year’s WNBA draft, her development is key if she is to give herself the best chance of success but is still keen to make a championship push wherever she lands.

“Any team I play on I always want to win, I’m a competitor. Any season I go into I want to win a championship, so that’s definitely the main thing,” Heal explained. “But development is really important to me considering I’m still young and the draft is coming up. So, in summary, first, win a championship, second, get better every day.”

Following a fragmented and injury-prone second season with the Perth Lynx in 2018/19, the move to Bendigo was a suitable one, as Heal would land herself in a team that would give her a good number of minutes, thus allowing her to develop at a tremendous rate and aid her side in numerous facets of their games.

“She plays both ends of the floor really well,” Spirit Head Coach Tracy York said. “She’s a great defender and loves to defend end-line to end-line which is fantastic and not seen from a lot of guards these days, but she’s great sticking to someone like glue,” she added.

Not only does Heal’s defensive ability stand out to York, but her ability to put numbers on the scoreboard has proved beneficial on various occasions too, with York noting Heal’s scoring prowess and ability to take on defenders.

Heal’s progression throughout the season would be evident in her 21 games from last season. She averaged 9.8 points, three rebounds and 1.2 assists per game through her first 10 contests of the season. But, from Bendigo’s first matchup with the Townsville Fire all the way to the conclusion of the season, Heal’s averages increased to 14.2 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game, including a 30-point demolition job of her old side Perth late in the season.

While Heal’s statistics would rise over her campaign, her minutes did too. Participating in 22.7 minutes per game over the first half of the season, York would continue to increase Heal’s workload, increasing her minutes per game to 27 by the end of Round 16.

Heal’s season stat line finished with 12.1 points per outing, along with 4.1 and 1.6 being the averages for her rebounding and assist categories, while shooting at a 43.8 per cent clip from the field.

As numbers would go up, the main takeaway from last season for Heal was the experience she gained each time out and going up against a high level of competition on a more consistent basis.

“Just gaining more experience against veterans like Leilani Mitchell [for example], picking up things from her game and adding it to mine,” Heal said . “Little things like that, I think were really big for me this season, especially playing behind Tessa Lavey and learning little things from her,” Heal followed up with.

However, Heal would finish the season feeling she had a lot more to offer, after the Sapphire-selectee would play a lot of the time at the shooting-guard position, as opposed to her regular point-guard spot. The Spirit finished the season equal last with the Townsville Fire, resulting in a five win and 16 loss campaign.

“This season kind of left me hungry,” Heal said. “I didn’t really play the one [point-guard] spot much, which is my usual position. So, I didn’t really get to show the league what I could actually do playing my proper position.”

Heal developed a close relationship with Lavey both on and off the floor at Bendigo, with the two being flatmates. Lavey earned herself an Opals selection to this year’s Olympic Games, with Heal lapping up all the wisdom she can from the basketball veteran.

“For me it was obviously a great friendship,” Lavey said. “I like to think she can message me at any time and ask questions and I’m always happy to help Shyla out because she’s a really good person,” she added.

Taking on a mentoring role for Heal, Lavey was able to feed off the youngster’s energy in-game, creating what was a two-way street for helping each other’s games.

“Strictly on the court, Shyla is a competitor,” included Lavey. “We fed off each other very well,” she said.

“Shyla in some games struggled a lot just to get into the game and she was really worried about that, so the things I would say to her were ‘focus on the next thing’, or if she’s not scoring I’d say ‘you can always be doing something else’,” the 27-year-old said, ultimately summarising what would blossom into a formidable partnership for the blue and yellow.

What is Heal focusing on now? For now, the 18-year-old has set various goals for herself, bearing in mind the new restrictions COVID-19 have put in place.

“At the start of Corona I said I’m going to focus on building heaps of muscle and getting stronger through stair running, weights in my garage and all that stuff,” Heal said.

This training regiment and structure would transfer to cardio with her father [Shane], on playing fields such as ovals, for around two to two and a half hours per session, roughly six times a week, as Heal prepares to market herself to possible teams during the offseason.

But for now, in terms of decisions, all Heal can do is wait, as the rest of the league and WNBL fans await an announcement for when the Free Agency period will open.