Tag: southside flyers

WNBL20 Season Review – Southside Flyers

IT was nothing but heartbreak for Cheryl Chambers and her Southside Flyers at the start of 2020. But after an even harder year that saw a WNBL season like no other, the Flyers can feel nothing but pure elation after they overcame the Townsville Fire to finally be crowned WNBL champions following six weeks of dominance.

Following the acquisitions of numerous elite talents, nobody was more excited to get WNBL20 underway than Southside, and unfortunately for the Bendigo Spirit, their heads were up first on the chopping block. As expected, the Flyers were to win their season-opener by an emphatic 42-point margin, setting the tone for the rest of the League evoking a sense of determination for the club.

A minor hiccup followed, however, to end Round 1 when Southside shockingly fell by 17 to the Melbourne Boomers, but one bad result would not linger in the minds of the Flyers for long, trouncing Sydney Uni Flames the next day, 99-72. A good momentum starter leading into Round 2.

Not for the first time this season, the Flyers would go undefeated for an entire week. First up for week two of the season were the Fire, who put up a valiant effort in the first of the two teams’ four encounters but fell 101-89 on this particular night. The latter of the week’s matchups were the Perth Lynx, who barely cracked 70 points against the Southside defence in what was a complete whitewash. The Flyers drubbing the West Australian side by 46 points.

Bad memories started to resurface from last year’s failures, when the Flyers once again fell to Paul Goriss and his Canberra Capitals by a whopping 23 points in Cairns, but this loss would mean a lot more to last year’s runners-ups, keen not to make the same mistakes as last season.

Kicking off what would be the longest winning streak of the season, another 40-point win over Perth reaffirmed the notion it was Southside’s season to lose. The Flyers then really started to kick up their margins of victories to end Round 3, beating Townsville by 24 (94-70) and then the Adelaide Lightning by 31 (110-79).

Two more double-digit victories in Round 4 over the Lightning for a second time and the Boomers built up even more steam within the Southside engine room with a round still to play, but coach Chambers’ main focus by this stage was to keep her side injury-free heading into the postseason.

A narrow four-point win over the Flames (81-77) secured the side their minor premiership, which preceded a much-needed revenge victory over the Capitals (101-82) to conclude their WNBL20 campaign with an impressive 11-win and two-loss record.

Setting up a semi-final with the Fire in a contest that would mean a Grand Final spot for the victor, the Flyers chose not to beat around the bush. Instead they burned it down, adding another double-digit triumph to their collection despite Townsville’s best effort, toppling the underdogs 106-93 and earning a spot in the big dance.

After four days off, Southside met with the season’s hosts in Townsville for a fourth time after the Fire knocked out the Boomers in the preliminary final thanks to their second chance opportunity.

Relying on the extraordinary effort made by WNBL veteran and WNBA superstar Leilani Mitchell paired with an efficient second half and returning captain in Jenna O’Hea, Southside reached the promised land, defeating the hometown side for a final time (99-82) and leaving the North Queensland hub as WNBL champions.

When the announcement was made that Liz Cambage was going to join the Flyers, it was not unexpected that she would be a major producer for the team. But nevertheless, she made an enormous contribution over the course of the season, leading the league in scoring with 23.5 points per game and blocks with 1.7 per contest, as well as averaging 8.7 rebounds in the process (ranked fourth league-wide), which resulted in an All-WNBL First Team selection and an MVP nomination. Next to Cambage in the All-WNBL side was Sara Blicavs, leading the team in minutes with 28.7 per game, averaging 13.5 points and 7.3 boards per game additionally.

Other Opals to make mention of included of course Bec Cole (15.5 points and 4.3 assists), Rachel Sporn medallist in Mitchell (11.2 points and 6.7 assists) and O’Hea (11 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.4 assists) amongst plenty of other contributors off the bench – rounding out one of the best starting fives and benches to ever grace a WNBL season.

It can be universally agreed that no other team deserved to emerge out of WNBL20 as champions more than the Flyers’ franchise. Looking down the track, whether all of Southside’s individuals return to defend their crowns happens or not in WNBL21, they certainly have a tough act follow from this season – that is for sure.

Southside Flyers claim premiership glory

SOUTHSIDE Flyers have notched up their inaugural premiership since being rebranded with a 17-point victory over Townsville Fire on Sunday afternoon (99-82). After taking out the minor premiership it was only fitting that the Flyers also walked away with the final piece of the puzzle – a premiership ring – after a dominant 2020 WNBL season. Despite not walking away with the chocolates, the Fire will hold their heads high, pushing the Flyers all the way and enjoying a rapid rise up the ladder throughout the condensed season.

Having met only days before it was always going to be a tough battle and the first quarter was proof of that with neither side able to be separated at the first break sitting at 22 points apiece. Play commenced with none other than Liz Cambage out of the middle however it was Townsville Fire’s Lauren Nicholson that landed the first blow nailing a layup. It was not long before Sara Blicavs made her presence felt converting at the charity strip and evening things up early in the piece.

The Fire pushed out to as much as six points ahead in the first five minutes before the Flyers found their groove and Cambage was subbed out due to foul trouble in the opening few minutes. Rebecca Cole levelled the scores with just over six minutes of play left in the term showcasing just how much of a tight game the fans were in for. This back and forth nature continued for most of the term with both sides trading blows and unable to arrest any sort of momentum given the high pressure nature the game was being played under. Nicholson was playing her part for the Fire leading the charge both off the boards and on the scoreboard while Leilani Mitchell sensed the occasion and stepped up to the plate with a couple of consecutive jump shots.

With scores tied at the first break the Flyers steadily built ahead in the second term opening up a two point lead off the back of some Mitchell magic. The Southside Flyers representative seemed to have her own ball out there, displaying her impressive range and relative accuracy. The term started with Zitina Aokuso hitting a jump shot and stealing the lead for the Fire before Mia Murray also got involved in the action to extend the lead to four points.

But that did not last long with Mitchell and Cole chiming in and playing their part for the Flyers. The lead ebbed and flowed as the Flyers created a handy four point buffer before Townsville once again fought back to reduce the deficit and steal the lead. It was a high intensity term with no player able to catch their breath with  Jenna O’Hea impressing and nailing a triple before Blicavs also added her two cents worth to the tally. Nicholson continued her dominant ways while Stephanie Reid also got busy with a jump shot to get her side back within touching distance.

Two points separated the sides at half-time but it was clear that the Flyers came to play in the third quarter really putting the foot down. Known as the premiership quarter Cambage started to inflict some serious pain with a couple of much needed baskets while Blicavs proved to be a handful. If it was not Cambage attacking the rim it was Mitchell with the two causing chaos and finding the basket with relative ease to keep the scoreboard ticking over and the Fire at bay.

Townsville went three minutes without a score such was the defensive pressure of the Flyers while they managed to slot six points of their own and extend the margin to eight points. Shyla Heal started to get involved in the action nailing a handy jump shot while Aokuso also found the basket moments later but the pattern had started to become clear with the Fire unable to keep up with the steam train that was Southside.

With the silverware in sight it was clear that the Flyers were not about to let go, coming out with a higher level of intensity and real sense of determination. The Fire threw everything they had at the Flyers with Nicholson and Heal combining to cut the margin to nine and cause a couple of scares but that was short lived as the minor premiers held their nerve. Rachel Jarry was in good form and that showed making the most of her free-throws while Mitchell continued to star. Cole had a day out in the final term of play nailing a triple and relishing the opportunity to go to the line while Townsville simply did not have enough firepower to compete.

It is no surprise Mitchell walked away with Player of the Match honours with 31 points, four rebounds and five assists in an impressive showing for the Flyers. Cole also impressed throughout the game with 22 points shooting at 70 per cent from the field while also accumulating three assists, five steals and two rebounds. Cambage was quiet but still had an impact collecting 14 points, five rebounds while Blicavs managed seven points , nine rebounds and three assists.

Nicholson was once again they go to player for the Fire walking away with 20 points, seven rebounds and four assists while Payne also had an impact with 14 points, six rebounds and two assists. Heal was down on her usual output but still managed 11 points and seven rebounds.

WNBL20 Season Review – Melbourne Boomers

FOR the third consecutive season the Melbourne Boomers have been knocked out of the finals without reaching the big dance, even though head coach Guy Molloy and his formidable side exhibited a ferocious brand of basketball all season long, proving to be one of the WNBL’s toughest opponents. Along with their preliminary final defeat to the Townsville Fire, Melbourne’s title drought extends to a twelfth season.

Commencing season play with a superior 15-point win over their Sydney counterparts, the Sydney Uni Flames, the contest everyone one was waiting eagerly for was the first Melbourne Derby of the campaign between the Boomers and Southside Flyers.

Leading into the derby, Southside had already made a loud announcement to the league with a 42-point drubbing of the Bendigo Spirit in their previous outing, but Melbourne would unleash their season’s biggest weapon – their defence. Holding the Flyers to 72 points, the Boomers ran out with a convincing rout of their cross-town rivals by 17 and led into Round 2 at optimal form.

Melbourne’s undefeated start continued to three games after a hard-earned 62-56 win over the Perth Lynx, but the two-time defending champion Canberra Capitals put the first blemish on the Boomers’ record, thoroughly outperforming their foes by 17 points and holding them to just 50 points. Melbourne’s second round got worse as the Townsville Fire started to pick up numerous successful outcomes, defeating the Boomers 87-75 and weakening Molloy’s record to three wins and two losses.

The Boomers re-established their form in Round 3 with a 40-point win over the Adelaide Lightning, the only game of the week for the purple and gold, as they would relish a weeklong rest before undertaking a four-game Round 4.

To begin the week, Melbourne exacted their revenge on the Capitals (73-67) and cap off the season double over the Flames (86-64). The same could be said for the Spirit, going down to the Boomers by 32 (84-52) meaning that last season’s semi-finalists were one win away from an undefeated four-game week. This time it was not the case however, with Southside redeeming themselves from their early season encounter with the Boomers, edging out their old foes 94-79.

Two expected wins against the Lightning (76-55) and the Spirit (91-70) preceded a season-concluding loss to the Fire (64-70), all but confirming a postseason position, although not in the top-two following their loss to Townsville.

Being one of three teams to finish the season with a record of nine wins and four losses, it represented just how even things were at the top of the standings. Melbourne now had to batten down the hatches and get results given they had not earned a double chance by finishing third.

First up on the finals docket for Melbourne was Canberra, a team they split their two prior meetings with during the regular season. But it was plain and simple for the Boomers – defend, defend, defend, and that is what they did against the reigning premiers. Holding the Capitals to just 68 points, the Boomers ran away 10-point victors, ending the Caps three-peat bid and putting in motion a much-anticipated preliminary final against the Fire.

In a tightly contested clash that lasted all 40 minutes of play, Townsville continued to fend off a resilient Boomers outfit and with Shyla Heal running the show based on her remarkable 28-point performance, Melbourne just could not get ahead of the host-city side, losing out in the final seconds 62-65 and ending their season one win short of their main objective in making the Grand Final.

Once again it was the expected trio of WNBA champion Ezi Magbegor (15.4 points and 8.8 rebounds), Cayla George (14.2 points, 9.5 rebounds and 3.4 assists) and Maddie Garrick (10.5 points and 2.5 assists) that ran the show for Melbourne, however the addition of returning Boomer Tess Madgen (13.6 points, 6.2 assists and 5.4 rebounds) made Molloy’s core unit that much more potent throughout the entire season. But the late-season surge of Ashleigh Karaitiana (6.9 points and 1.8 rebounds) and consistency of Stella Beck (5.3 points and 2.5 assists) added another layer of depth to the WNBL20 roster. Furthermore, New Zealand Tall Fern Kalani Purcell (4.5 points and 3.7 rebounds) was able to add another successful season under her belt.

As a franchise, the Melbourne Boomers have an abundance of motivators amongst their ranks and because of the fact they have to wait another season to have a crack at that WNBL title once again, you can be dead serious that the club’s fire to get there is only burning brighter.

WNBL Grand final preview: Southside Flyers v. Townsville Fire

IT all comes down to this day with Southside Flyers and Townsville Fire set to lock horns in a do or die grand final battle. Southside will be out for vengeance after falling in last year’s WNBL grand final while Townsville Fire have proven they have nothing to lose and everything to gain after an impressive rise through the ranks this season.

The last time these two sides met was only days ago with Southside getting the last laugh in the first semi-final and claiming an important victory, fuelling them with momentum heading into this clash. Despite having a shorter turn around then their competitors, the Fire have an insatiable thirst for a win and will be keen to provide their fans with plenty of entertainment and make full use of their homecourt advantage. It has been a roller coaster season for both sides but by late this afternoon there will be a new crowned champion with either the Flyers or Fire set to walk away with some nice silverware. A victory here would see Southside claim their first premiership since being rebranded while for Townsville it will mark their fourth premiership in history.

The WNBL minor premiers have a real pep in their step having won every outing against Townsville in the past two seasons but will have their work cut out for them against the Fire who are reinvigorated and have a real sense of momentum after stringing together a couple of strong quarters. It is fair to say that belief is strong in the Townsville unit overcoming an experienced Melbourne Boomers outfit only days ago to make their way to the grand final and give themselves a chance to hold the premiership cup aloft.

Statistically speaking, the Flyers have an insane ability to hit the basket with great accuracy and penetration to constantly keep the scoreboard ticking over, meaning that the Fire will have to be on their a-game in order to limit the opportunities in which Southside have to attack the rim. The Flyers also have the upper hand when it comes to fast break points and ability to convert points from turnovers given the high calibre of players that are able to seize the moment and take charge. Defensively the Flyers also reign supreme amassing 33 more blocks than the Fire while also highlighting their cleanliness and ability to attack the ball with 140 steals compared to 109. Southside have the ability to play with a shared mentality highlighted through their higher assists count 369 to 249.  On the flip side the Fire have proven to be tried and tested performers on the rebounding front able to reel in missed shots time and time again.

When looking at top players in either squad it is hard to go past All-WNBL First team star Liz Cambage who has made a lasting impression and will be eager to once again inflict some pain both on the scoreboard and rebound front in the grand final. The center has an impressive set of averages with 24.1 points, 8.9 rebounds and 1.7 blocks a game. She is not alone though with Sara Blicavs a real livewire out on court with her 13.9 points, 7.2 rebounds and 2.2 assists while Rebecca Cole has elevated her workload throughout the season to collect 15 points, 2.2 rebounds and 4.4 assists each time she steps out on court. The Flyers also have plenty of depth with Leilani Mitchell able to change the course of a game alongside Monique Conti, Aimie Clydesdale and Jenna O’Hea.

The Fire have two key prongs in their unit with Lauren Nicholson and Shyla Heal the go-to-girls able to light up the court and cause a wave with their impact. Nicholson is a seasoned campaigner that knows how to stand up when it counts and averages an impressive 18.8 points, 3.9 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.4 steals a game. Partner in crime, Heal is coming off a stellar performance and will be hoping to replicate similar feats today with the youngster not afraid to take the game on credit to her averages of 17.1 points, 4.7 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.4 steals. Off the bench Townsville have some good support with Zitina Aokuso a handy inclusion with her 9.7 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.1 assists while Nadeen Payne also brings another element to the contest.

It will be a thrilling contest between the two sides as they battle it out for the most prestigious award and honour in the WNBL. Expect the game to go down to the wire and for each player to throw everything they have at it in order to get their side over the line.

WNBL20 Season Review – UC Capitals

HAVING ruled the WNBL from late-2018 to early-2020, many were disappointed not to see the third three-peat in league history fulfilled by the University of Canberra Capitals. A lot of those who actively follow the WNBL had a glimmer of hope that Paul Goriss and his side might do it again, but it just was not to be.

The Capitals’ fairy-tale ending would fall short in WNBL20 following their Elimination Final loss to the team they knocked out in 2019/20, the Melbourne Boomers. Despite bowing out of this season earlier than they were hoping for, Canberra had a season to be proud of nevertheless.

To begin their campaign, the Capitals put their wrong foot first so to speak kickstarting WNBL20 with a major upset after being defeated by the Adelaide Lightning. Such a loss paired with the fact that their two star imports from last season could not suit up (Kia Nurse and Olivia Epoupa), brought into question just how far this Capitals unit could get.

Canberra quickly re-established themselves as a postseason contender with a bounce-back win against a highly touted Townsville Fire squad, squaring their season record up after Round 1 with a win and a loss under their belt.

A rather uncomplicated and straight-forward outcome over the Bendigo Spirit begun a successful three-game week for the two-time defending champs, most notably in their second game of Round 2 with a dominant 67-50 result over the Boomers in their first matchup. A third victory after their win against the Sydney Uni Flames to wrap up the second week of contests brought Canberra’s record to four wins out of five results, but the club’s exclamation point came at the beginning of the next week.

Once the Southside Flyers started to pick up form early on in the season it seemed like last year’s runners-ups were almost unstoppable, but the Capitals single-handedly sent shockwaves throughout the League at the start of Round 3 after a four-quarter demolition job of the eventual minor premiers by 23 points. Canberra continued their form by stringing together a second-straight undefeated week of games.

The Capitals’ winning streak of seven came to an end following their second meeting with the Boomers and in their closing contest of Round 4, again they would fall, this time to the Fire (Canberra’s only losing round of the season).

After a split in the results of the last round, firstly a win against the Perth Lynx, then a second less favourable result against the Flyers to end WNBL20, Canberra would finish the season on a record of nine wins and four losses (one of three teams to hold this record) and secure third position on points percentage thus setting up a date with the Boomers in the Elimination Final.

In a clash that demanded strong defence from both sides it was Melbourne that was able to stick to their guns that they had relied on all season, limiting the Capitals to just 68 points following their contest. More importantly, the Boomers were able to put 78 points of their own on the scoreboard, knocking out the reigning premiers in one fell swoop.

Top individual performers were various and many for coach Gorris’s side, with Maddison Rocci continuing her astonishing development over the past year averaging 16 points, 3.8 assists and 3.5 rebounds whilst leading the side in minutes with 29.4 per contest. As a result, Rocci earned All-WNBL Second Team honours solidifying her as one of the competition’s elite. It would be uncharacteristic for Canberra to have a successful season without key contributions from their co-captains Kelsey Griffin and Marianna Tolo. Griffin concluded her season with averages of 12 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.5 steals, whereas Tolo’s statistics would read 11.3 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.1 blocks.

Surprise standouts included Keely Froling who ranked fourth in the team’s scoring and rebounding departments with 9.4 points per game and 5.7 boards per outing. All of this while WNBL rookie Jade Melbourne turned many heads in her initial season averaging 8.3 points and two assists in 22.8 minutes of play each time out.

While Canberra’s dynasty may well possibly be in its twilight stage, many might wonder what form the roster will shape up to look like in the coming years. With young talent like Rocci, Melbourne, Froling and Abby Cubillo rising through the ranks, the nation’s capital can look forward to a competitive women’s basketball team for the foreseeable future.

Heal drops 28 as Fire return to Grand Final

THIS season’s WNBL Grand Final will have a home-court advantage, after Townsville Fire squeezed out a three-point victory against the Melbourne Boomers in last night’s preliminary final, 65-62. The Fire have managed a complete flip from a season ago, going from wooden spoon recipients in 2019/20 to now facing the Southside Flyers tomorrow afternoon in what will be a must-see season decider.

Neither of the two teams were able to take command of the prelim in the opening period, but good shooting and some terrific finishing allowed Townsville to hold a solid five-point advantage with Shyla Heal exhibiting some good shooting early on with seven points after one quarter.

Kalani Purcell kicked off the second with her first basket of the contest in a see-sawing affair throughout the first half. But the second term provided little scoring and inconsistent offence with both teams locking down on defence. Winning the second quarter 12-11, Melbourne trimmed the deficit to four points in time for the main break meaning that the contest still hung in the balance.

Early on in the second half, more of Melbourne’s usual producers started to make a difference such as Maddie Garrick, Cayla George and Ashleigh Karaitiana. Guy Molloy’s squad found the majority of their points in the third thanks to Tess Madgen’s ability to facilitate the ball. But the Fire returned serve with a six-point scoring run to give themselves a temporary buffer at an important stage of the game with 10 minutes to go, leading 54-47 at three-quarter time.

The Boomers had a formidable mountain to climb and Heal’s layup to get the fourth going did not help Melbourne’s cause. However, the purple and gold continued to stick around in a game as important last night’s.

Having not made a dent in the margin and actually falling behind by as much as nine points, the Boomers kicked into desperation mode with less than five minutes remaining before coach Molloy deployed his starting five back onto the court to finish the game. The same could be said for Shannon Seebohm with the only exception being Megan McKay because of foul trouble, thus allowing Zitina Aokuso the chance to help close the book.

A layup for Karaitiana, two buckets from Ezi Magbegor and a fast break layup for Garrick, sparked eight unanswered points for the Boomers in their last roll of the dice cutting Townsville’s lead down to just one point. But two made free throws with 21 seconds from none other than Heal put the Fire up by three.

Melbourne’s flurry of threes in the dying moments were not enough to save the contest, meaning Townsville would head to the grand final for the sixth time in nine years, a feeling of success that Townsville’s faithful feared they would not have for the next few years.

Adding to her collection of impressive performances in WNBL20, Heal finished her night with 28 points, five rebounds and three assists, while fellow backcourter Lauren Nicholson played a full 40-minute game compiling 12 points and eight rebounds. Adding to this was Aokuso, accumulating 10 points and five rebounds, as well as WNBL legend Mia Murray providing a much-needed presence on the glass with eight boards.

Melbourne’s frontcourt was its primary producer last night, with Magbegor (19 points and nine rebounds) and George (15 points, 10 rebounds and five assists) putting up impressive statistics. Furthermore, despite no other Boomers gaining double-digit totals Madgen was instrumental yesterday even though the side could not get it done with nine points and six assists.

It is the end of Melbourne’s remarkable road, but Townsville’s triumph provides a first versus second seed grand final and a chance for the Fire to redeem themselves at the best possible moment. Even though the Flyers have two days of extra rest going into tomorrow, you can rest assured that the Townsville fans will provide their club with a massive chunk of adrenaline in 24 hours.

WNBL Season Review – Sydney Uni Flames

ONE of the biggest improvers following on from last season was without a doubt the Sydney Uni Flames, despite moving up just one spot in the WNBL standings after placing fifth overall in North Queensland with five victories in their 13 contests.

Winning just one third of their outings in 2019/20 (seven wins, 14 losses), Katrina Hibbert and her side fell just a win and a half behind a .500 record after a major face-lift during the free agency period.

New additions to the Flames like Lauren Mansfield and Alison Schwagmeyer who both arrived from the Perth Lynx, and former Southside Flyer Anneli Maley, made tremendous contributions to their new team in WNBL20 in bunches, making Hibbert’s job a little easier in the process.

After a valiant effort in their season opener against the Melbourne Boomers, the Flames would begin their season on a loss going down by 15 points. But a bounce back trouncing against this season’s wooden spooners the Bendigo Spirit, quickly brought back confidence into the Sydney Uni locker room before closing the books on Round 1.

Sizing up the Flyers in their third contest of the fixture, like many, Sydney Uni found out just how good Southside’s outfit really was. Eventually going down 72-99 to this season’s championship-favourites, the Flames would have a losing record after the opening sequence of matchups with no easy matchups ahead in Round 2.

In an expectedly hard second round of games against the Townsville Fire and the Canberra Capitals where they both bested the Flames unit, Sydney Uni’s by-line fell to one win and four defeats, signalling a need for some urgent results for coach Hibbert’s side before the season started to get away from them.

Round 3 provided slightly better outcomes, with the Flames scraping away with one win out of three clashes knocking over the Perth Lynx 74-67 to obtain their second victory of the campaign. But similar to their final record from last season, Sydney Uni were on track for another season with a .333 win percentage with six losses to their name after three weeks of play.

A second win against the Spirit would trade off another loss to the Boomers in the penultimate round of the season, meaning that the Flames would fall out of finals contention. This fact was unfortunate given the final week of the season that Sydney Uni had.

With victories to end their season against the Lynx and the Adelaide Lightning in Round 5, the Flames were able to steal the fifth seed away from the latter on points percentage, providing evidence that Sydney Uni’s season held an abundance of good fortune as well as promising signs heading into 2021.

Point guard and one of two Lynx players to be traded to the NSW-based team, Mansfield adjusted to her new team almost seamlessly based on the 2020 season she had. Averaging 14 points per game and 4.5 assists in 31.9 minutes each game, Mansfield led the side in all three of these categories, putting her in good stead for a contract extension for WNBL21. The second of the two Perth signatures acquired in the offseason, Schwagmeyer was a pivotal part of the Flames rotation with 13.3 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.9 assists being her averages during the five weeks of the regular season. Nevertheless, easily the most visible improvement was the dominance on the glass by 22-year-old Maley. Leading the WNBL in rebounding, Maley averaged a whopping 12.1 boards per game, almost three more per game than the next highest rebounder (Cayla George – 9.4), while also averaging 7.9 points as well.

Falling one spot out of the postseason this time around, it is obvious what the club’s ultimate objective will be for next season. Bearing this in mind as well as the fact that the franchise has not made the finals since the 2017/18 campaign, Sydney Uni would consider anything less than a top-four finish next season a failure in their eyes.

WNBL20 Season Review – Adelaide Lightning

SUFFICE to say, it was not the Adelaide Lightning’s season after finishing sixth at the conclusion of WNBL20, serving as the only team from earlier this year to not make the postseason this time around, finishing with a record of five wins and eight defeats.

Preceding the first contest of their fixture, the Lightning were dealt a huge blow to their core unit with the announcement that Phoenix Mercury member, Alanna Smith would be absent for the six-week season due to injury.

But that did not stop Chris Lucas’ squad from ruining the Canberra Capitals’ start to their three-peat bid, toppling the two-time defending champions 85-73 in Mackay to kick off the competition. Following their upset win against the Capitals, the Lightning kept the momentum going to begin their season with a hard-earned win against fellow mid-table inhabitants the Perth Lynx, putting together a perfect start to the season after Round One.

Just when Adelaide started to look like a serious contender for the season, fortunes became reversed when the Queensland government put in place a mandatory quarantine for recently arrived individuals from South Australia, therefore affecting the Lightning’s schedule in Round Two.

After nine days of inaction, Adelaide made its return to the court but similar results would prove a lot harder to come by. Going down to the Melbourne Boomers by 40 points, Adelaide’s success took a dramatic turn for the worse. While they attained their third and fourth wins of the season against the Bendigo Spirit and the Sydney Uni Flames, it was noticeable that the Lightning struggled against top-tier teams.

Back-to-back games against the Southside Flyers in rounds three and four really showcased the difference between Adelaide’s style of play and that of the eventual minor premiers. Going down by 31 and 39 points in each clash, it set the tone for a rather uneventful run home despite still having a realistic chance at making the postseason at that stage.

However, after a 20-point defeat to the Capitals in their second battle of the season and a minuscule defeat against the Lynx, Adelaide’s season was hanging by a thread with an unfavourable sequence of opponents waiting in the distance for Round Five.

With the only positive result in the final round being knocking over the Spirit once again, Adelaide would fall to the Boomers for a second time, the Townsville Fire, and the Flames in their closing game of the season, solidifying themselves in the middle echelon of the standings.

Adelaide captain Steph Talbot, who was consistently leading her side in numerous categories each and every night, took home the Suzy Batkovic Medal, the league’s highest individual honour. Talbot averaged a whopping 18.2 points (third highest in WNBL), nine rebounds (third highest in WNBL), three assists, 1.9 steals (third highest in the WNBL) and 30.6 minutes per game (ninth highest in the WNBL) in what would one of the most dominant seasons for an individual across all categories in recent WNBL history.

Backing up Talbot was shooting guard Ally Wilson, who ranked first or second in areas like scoring, assists and minutes; averaging 11.3 points, 4.3 assists and 31.7 minutes in said categories. While on the whole, Adelaide as a unit was a class below the WNBL’s top four, individuals like Abigail Wehrung (average 11.3 points and 2.5 assists), Chelsea Brook (9.3 points and 4.4 rebounds) and Marena Whittle (8.7 points and 5.3 rebounds) provided substantial aid to their two leaders on multiple occasions throughout the team’s regular season fixture.

While Adelaide missed out on finals this season, a few upgrades to the secondary unit would be a much-needed benefit to next year’s side and their MVP in Talbot. Should Smith make a successful return to the side, anything is possible for the Lightning in WNBL21.

Southside torch Fire, advance to second straight Grand Final

IN the WNBL’s new postseason format, the Southside Flyers have earned the first spot in the Grand Final series after a well-fought win against an extraordinarily resilient Townsville Fire squad, taking the contest 106-93. As a result, the Fire compete again in a day’s time against the Melbourne Boomers who eliminated the Canberra Capitals in yesterday’s opening meeting thanks to their second chance seeding.

If you thought the Flyers were going to get off to a hot start, that would be an understatement, as Southside made their opening 10 field goal attempts in front of a raucous Townsville crowd. More surprisingly, however, was that the Fire trailed by just a couple of possessions.

But proficient scoring got better for Southside, knocking down three consecutive threes, stringing together a 14-2 run to finish the side’s 41-point opening quarter and putting themselves ahead of Townsville by 16 in what was perhaps one of the best 10-minute stretches of play in WNBL history. In addition, both Leilani Mitchell and Bec Cole accumulated 11 and 10 points respectively in that time.

Kate Gaze commenced the second quarter with a triple for the Fire, hoping to put a spark in her team’s mindset early on, but who else other than Cole to answer back with a three of her own, immediately shifting momentum back to Southside.

While Townsville did a decent job of slowing Southside’s roll, the task of reducing their deficit was proving to be an even tougher task. Funnily enough though, Townsville showed some real persistence concocting a 13-2 run in the closing stages of the first half and reducing the distance to single figures. Winning the second quarter 27 to 19, Townsville’s impressive spurt before the main break provided the home crowd with some hope at a pivotal point in the meeting.

Back to the Flyers, they had three players over 10 points with Cole and Mitchell leading in scoring with 15 points apiece, whereas Liz Cambage collected her eleventh point shortly before the midway point of the contest. Meanwhile, youngster Shyla Heal (15 points and four assists) was carrying her side’s fightback next to MVP nominee Lauren Nicholson (13 points and five assists) with Townsville holding the swing of the game at half time.

A slower brand of basketball briefly came to the fore in the third, but scoring eventually picked up in the second half. Controlling the play and tempo of the game helped Cheryl Chambers and her team put a double-digit distance between the two opponents once again. However, a Heal buzzer-beater to end the third signalled a pulse in the Fire roster, down 74-86 with a quarter to go.

Townsville showed tremendous resilience against the Flyers all the way through the fourth quarter, but Shannon Seebohm’s unit just could not climb the mountain, getting to within seven points of Southside. But the minor premiers walked away 13-point winners in the end putting up an enormous 106-point total.

Managing a 52 per cent conversion rate, it was Southside’s game to lose and it just was not the Fire’s night on the whole. While Townsville shot the ball more efficiently than their opponents, the Flyers topped the Fire in almost every other category.

Following a massive second half, Cambage ended the night as the game-high scorer with 31 points and 18 rebounds in what was a mammoth effort against the center-combo of Megan McKay and Zitina Aokuso. Additionally, Cole accumulated a massive 22 points in under 28 minutes of play, whereas Mitchell (19 points and 10 assists) and Aimie Clydesdale (12 points and six assists) each put up valuable totals.

Heal (30 points, six assists and six rebounds) and Nicholson (30 points, seven assists and four rebounds) had memorable efforts last night with each All-WNBL selectee compiling team-highs of 30 points each. Aokuso (11 points and six rebounds) was the only other Townsville player with over 10 in the game.

For the second year in the row Southside will suit up in the WNBL’s season-decider on Sunday afternoon, looking to redeem themselves after last season’s season sweep against the Capitals. They await the winner of Friday night’s preliminary final between the Fire and the Boomers with an extended period of rest to their advantage.

WNBL20 Season Review – Bendigo Spirit

LOOKING back to the beginning of the WNBL 2020 season, it was widely touted that this year’s Bendigo Spirit would finish close to the bottom of the table at the conclusion of the campaign.

This was well and truly the case for head coach Tracy York’s roster following their 13-game trail, as not only would Victoria’s country side cement themselves at the bottom of the ladder, but for the first time since the 2005/06 season, a team would go winless for the whole season (AIS, 0-21).

From day-one of their 2020 fixture, the Spirit would get no reprieve, opening up their new fixture against one of the most talented WNBL sides in the league’s history, Southside Flyers. After Bendigo was handed a 42-point defeat, the Spirit immediately received a taste of what the season would have in store for them.

Two days later, more bad luck followed the Spirit, losing by only five points less than their season-opener to the Flyers. The initial round very early on, indicated what kind of competition Bendigo would be facing over the next four weeks. But that did not stop the wily country side from being determined each time they stepped out on to the floor.

Suffering double-digit losses to the Canberra Capitals, Perth Lynx and the Townsville Fire twice in Round 2 and the start of Round 3, it was not until Bendigo’s seventh game of the season in late November that the Spirit would fall by less than 10 points (83-89) against an Adelaide Lightning side that was returning from a COVID-induced quarantine enforced by the Queensland Government.

Bendigo produced just one more defeat with a deficit of less than 10 points in Round 5 against the Sydney Uni Flames, but the remainder of their contests told a similar story. Their lack of depth and experience was a constant factor for the young side all season, and when the roster full of exciting prospects performed well, it seemed mental lapses in small portions of the games were enough to be their downfall.

A 21-point loss to their state rivals the Melbourne Boomers concluded a rather forgettable season on the court for the Spirit, as they committed their thirteenth defeat in thirteen meetings despite their best efforts.

Reflecting back to the individual performances, it was essentially the duo of team-captain Tessa Lavey and talented center Carley Ernst that carried the majority of the workload leading a side with six rookies and seven players under the age of 23.

Lavey, who is set to earn another position amongst Sandy Brondello’s Australian Opals squad in the near future, showed once again why she is one of the most revered point guards in the WNBL.

Starting all 13 games, Lavey accumulated 15.2 points per game, as well as averaging 5.9 assists and 4.8 rebounds in a well-rounded season, while shooting a respectable 35.3 per cent from the field and playing 35 minutes a game. As for Ernst, she held similar numbers accounting for averages of 14.8 points, 7.5 rebounds and a block per game in her average 30 minutes of court time.

A surprising improvement for Bendigo, New Zealand Tall-Fern Mary Goulding, also made a positive impact in her debut WNBL season, stringing together 6.8 points per contest (third highest amongst team) and 4.1 rebounds (third highest amongst team). Goulding also led the side in steals, while being the third highest ranked in average minutes (21.3) and ranked fourth in assists (1.3).

Coach York will head back to the drawing board with assistant coach Mark Alabakov after a well-earned rest, knowing full-well that the only direction is up for her team.