Tag: Tessa Lavey

WNBL Player Spotlight – Bendigo Spirit – Carley Ernst

IN an offseason that has seen numerous new pieces trying to find their place amongst Bendigo’s 2020/21 puzzle, there was one piece that sat in the middle of the picture before the offseason even began. Draft Central looks at Carley Ernst, who now enters the second year of her two-year deal as the anchor of the Spirit at both ends of the floor for WNBL21.

The 196cm-tall Center still remains an imposing figure within head coach Tracy York’s side, as she prepares for her tenth playing season in the League at the age of 26. Naturally gifted athletically and diligent in her roles around the ring as of late, Ernst showed off her consistency once again last season solidifying admirable numbers in all facets of the game.

Ernst would summarise her WNBL20 season by earning 12 points and 6.7 rebounds on a daily basis. Additionally, a couple assists on top of the bulk of her production and a 40.2 per cent field goal percentage truly established Ernst as one of the premiere frontcourt players across the entire WNBL.

On particular nights, the Center accumulated double-digit numbers in either points or rebounds. Most notably, Ernst tallied a monumental effort in her third game of the season fixture against the Perth Lynx, compiling 29 points, 16 rebounds, four assists and three steals while knocking down four threes in the process. A quintessential performance from a quintessential player to say the least.

“With Carley, she is such a talent!” York said. “With her height as well and her ability to shoot the three, there are many strengths to her game.” But York mentioned that she needed to encourage Ernst frequently to get near the rim last season. “We said ‘you need to get inside!’, because she can be an inside and an outside player, and when our bigs had injuries last season she had to start down low. The more she can get inside and have a look at what is there and then get outside if she needs to, that is where you see the all-around game from a girl with Carley’s abilities,” York added.

While Ernst sets the tone on the floor whenever she plays, York sees the 26-year-old (alongside teammate Tessa Lavey) as a pivotal member of the team off the court just as much. It is well-known that the Bendigo Spirit prides itself as a franchise developing young prospects through the ranks and introducing them to the professional-level play of the WNBL. With numerous individuals in next season’s Spirit side entering either their first or second seasons in the League, it will be imperative to have experienced individuals like Ernst in the rotation according to York to help guide the way during these uncertain and unprecedented times.

“It’s very important that they provide that leadership to the group, because we can’t exactly tell them how this season is going to roll,” York said. “It’s all new to everybody, but being those types of leaders that everyone sees as doing the right thing on and off the floor, how they conduct themselves and how they talk to each other, I think that’s really important and Carley will provide that for us,” finalised York.

WNBL Player Spotlight – Bendigo Spirit – Tessa Lavey

WHILE few familiar faces will return to Bendigo’s side next season, coach Tracy York and her staff have managed to hold on to one of their cornerstone pieces from last year in Tessa Lavey and will look for another productive campaign from the national-level guard. Spending over four seasons away from the Spirit serving time with both the Perth Lynx and the Dandenong Rangers, Lavey made her return to her former club for the 2019/20 season and displayed all the extra experience she gained while away.

After receiving a consistent starting role in the Spirit’s rotation, Lavey produced exceptional numbers in all 21 contests of last season. She maintained over 10 points per game in addition to 3.4 rebounds and 4.1 assists on a nightly basis. Her manner of shooting stabilised at a frequently high level, falling just under a 40 per cent conversion rate from the field (39.6) and three-point range (38.4).

Stated often as a crowd-favourite of the club, the re-signing was a big move for the club. “It was exciting for me and Mark [Alabakov],” York said. “She’s clearly got a lot of talent and she’s a really good person, and that is really key. She’s really coachable, she doesn’t bring any drama to the group, she’s very funny and everybody just loves Tessa,” York added.

After her successes in WNBL20, the national Opals side saw fit to nominate the 27-year-old to the 23-player shortlist for next year’s Olympic squad as well as Asia Cup Qualifiers. Being a frontrunner to make the final cut amongst the guards available, York indicates Lavey still needs to be slightly more of a producer and a facilitator for the side on the offensive end, a player similar in some respects to the likes of Leilani Mitchell suggested the Spirit’s coach.

“At that starting guard spot, she does need to be more of a scorer and a distributor, which is what her feedback from the Opals has been to her in taking on that point-guard role,” York said.

“In that last game of last season against Townsville she had 21 points and watching that game back again it was just her normal style of basketball. She got out on the break, she hit a couple open threes, she got a couple of drives and that’s the thing that I said to her which is ‘that is what we’re looking for’ and I’m sure that kind of thing is what the Opals are looking for as well.”

During her announcement, Lavey voiced her excitement for re-signing for another year in Bendigo, focusing on her love of the fans and what the club has to offer. “I’m really excited to announce that I’m staying in Bendigo for WNBL21. The program has some exciting things coming its way, I can’t wait to be involved,” Lavey said.

“I’m also super keen to get to work and push for Tokyo and I believe Bendigo can really give me all the opportunity to get there. I am looking forward to seeing everyone at the games when it’s safe to do so. Never underestimate our fans support at home,” she added.

Lavey will be one of the must-see players for next season’s WNBL campaign, as many will be eager to see what the national-level guard is capable of in what will surely be another impressive year.

WNBL Free Agency Update: Lynx and Spirit

TO round out Draft Central’s WNBL Free Agency updates, we look at the team out west and the team out back, as the Perth Lynx and the Bendigo Spirit prepare for what will hopefully be bounce back seasons, after each of the sides missed out on postseason action in WNBL20.

PERTH LYNX

The Perth-based side were looking to make a big splash into the Free Agency pond from the get-go. To do this, newly signed Head Coach Ryan Petrik pursued the signing of WNBA Seattle Storm star, Sami Whitcomb. Whitcomb, who committed to three seasons with the Lynx between 2015 and 2018, will make her return to the club for next season under her new coach.

Following Whitcomb’s announcement, Petrik started to compile his core two days later. The re-acquisition of current Australian Opal Katie Ebzery would be the club’s next move, after the 30-year-old would finish sixth amongst league leaders in scoring (16.3 points per game) and 10th in the category of assists (4.2 per game).

Perth-native Darcee Garbin and familiar face, Alex Ciabattoni would be subequent moves for the Lynx. Garbin would be one of the two participants in a two-way trade between the Lynx and the Townsville Fire, as Nadeen Payne would head east to north Queensland. The latter of the two new additions, Ciabattoni has in the past donned the Red, Grey and Black, after a successful 2015/16 season where she would be rewarded with the Rookie of the Year accolade, which was followed by two more seasons before heading overseas to play in Italy.

The pattern of new signings for the side became more consistent, once Perth consolidated their essential picks. The weekly signings kicked off with defensive anchor in Maddie Allen, who averaged 1.8 blocks per contest last season (second only to Adelaide’s import Brianna Turner). A week later, Petrik would announce the addition of one of the League’s most promising young prospects in Nas’eya Parker-Williams, hoping to increase her minutes three-fold compared to her past campaigns.

Two out of Perth’s final three roster alterations came by way of returning college hoopers. The first of which being University of Minnesota alum, Jessie Edwards, who would lead the Gophers in blocks each season during her time in the States. Concluding her three seasons in Minneapolis, Edwards would finish sixth all-time in blocks and ninth all-time in offensive rebounds. The second college recruit of the signing period came by way of Wake Forest’s Alex Sharp, who completed a spectacular career with the Deacons accumulating over 1000 points and 900 rebounds during her time in North Carolina.

The most recent piece of the puzzle was the re-signing of 19-year-old guard Tayah Burrows, who has decided to spend another season in the WNBL before heading off to the States to commence her college career, which will be key to helping Coach Petrik get his new team to a winning record.

Contracted:

Jewel Williams

Re-signed:

Katie Ebzery
Maddie Allen
Nas’eya Parker-Williams
Tayah Burrows

Signed:

Sami Whitcomb
Darcee Garbin
Alex Ciabattoni
Jessie Edwards
Alex Sharp

 

BENDIGO SPIRIT

Head Coach Tracy York has once again had her hands full this offseason, as the combination of renewing her assistant coach’s contract and not having access to imports this season, has resulted in a major facelift for the Bendigo squad heading into the WNBL21 season.

The staff from Bendigo would kick off the Free Agency period, as the team obtained the first signature of the season, with the re-signing of Demi Skinner being the first move made across all eight sides in the competition. After Skinner, would be another re-signing, as Opal nominee Tessa Lavey committed to the side for a second straight season.

With York securing the majority of her core unit, herself and assistant coach Mark Alabakov could start to shop around for fresh new talent to join their ranks and would look to an individual who is keen to make a return to the WNBL. Cassidy McLean’s first season with the Spirit in the 2018/19 season would see her average 3.1 points, 1.8 rebounds and an assist in her debut campaign, however, after sustaining a knee injury that would see her miss the 2019/20 season, she is raring to go for a more successful 2020/21 fixture. Next up would be Indiana University commit and former Melbourne Boomers development player, Paige Price. The daughter of legend Bulleen Boomer, Simone Gloster, Price looks to gain more professional experience before starting her career in the Hoosiers’ program overseas.

Other youngsters to join the fray would be long-time member of the Bendigo Braves’ NBL1 squad Piper Dunlop (Development Player), former Fordham University sharpshooter and New Zealand Tall-Fern Mary Goulding, as well as 23-year-old Shelby Britten.

York’s final two acquisitions of the offseason included Alicia Froling (twin sister of Canberra Capitals’ forward Keely Froling) as well as long-time competition veteran, Amelia Todhunter, who hopes to bestow her invaluable experience to younger players during the later stages of her championship-winning career. Meanwhile, Carley Ernst (Bendigo’s only contracted player prior to the signing period) hopes to pull together this new team and get the Spirit off the bottom of the WNBL standings after a lacklustre 2020 ending.

Contracted:

Carley Ernst

Re-signed:

Demi Skinner
Tessa Lavey

Signed:

Cassidy McLean
Paige Price
Piper Dunlop
Mary Goulding
Shelby Britten
Amelia Todhunter
Alicia Froling

Picture: Seattle Times

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: Week 3 Update

THE WNBL has had a very traffic-heavy third week in the league’s Free Agency Period, as five of the competition’s eight sides made roster updates, whilst the Adelaide Lightning announced earlier today that they will disclose their second (possibly third) signing this upcoming Monday.

Going through each team alphabetically, Draft Central outlines how the third week has panned out.

Adelaide Lightning

Almost two weeks prior to now, the Lightning organisation revealed their marquee signing of the WNBL21 season, with the acquisition of Australian Opal and member of the Phoenix Mercury, Alanna Smith.

Moving down the track to earlier today, Adelaide’s social media platforms teased the fact that on Monday June 29, the unveiling of their second and possibly third Free Agency signings will be made known to the public.

Bendigo Spirit

Known to carry a development philosophy throughout their club, the Bendigo Spirit further cemented that notion with the acquisition of 17-year-old Young Gun and University of Indiana-commit, Paige Price.

While Price spent all of last season as a development player with the Melbourne Boomers, getting just a couple of runs throughout the campaign, she’s eager to get some serious game time, as she signs with her former side’s country rivals.

But the rising star knows that she needs to work hard if she’s to earn additional minutes for next season under the guidance of Head Coach Tracy York.

“I am excited to be joining the Bendigo Spirit. I have spent a lot of time training and playing at Bendigo throughout my Vic Country experience, so I know the place well and feel comfortable in the environment and excited to be back in Vic Country.”

“There are no guarantees or promises from Tracy, but it is up to me now to earn any minutes.”

“I see the move to Bendigo as the next progression in my career and I’ve loved Tracy’s coaching style when I played under her for Australia at the FIBA Oceania Tournament so I am confident I will make the most of this opportunity,” she said.

Price is the sixth confirmed member for the Spirit next season, following the confirmations of Alicia Froling, Carley Ernst, Cassidy McLean, Demi Skinner and Tessa Lavey.

Melbourne Boomers

At the conclusion of her second season with the Melbourne Boomers, newly re-signed 20-year-old Ezi Magbegor was gifted the Betty Watson Australian Youth Player of the Year Award for a record setting second time of her career, which makes you understand why the club is ecstatic to welcome her back for a third fixture in WNBL21.

With the Seattle Storm set to debut Magbegor in the coming weeks for their shortened WNBA season, it provides the Opal an opportunity to really raise her benchmark of opposition, before coming back to the WNBL to help push for the franchise’s first title under the ‘Melbourne’ moniker in the club’s history.

In a brief statement to the club, Magbegor highlighted her confidence in the team that is set to take shape. “I’m excited to be going into my third year with the Boomers,” she said.

“With a lot of returning players, we’ve built a strong team and I am looking forward to getting on the court with the team and really working this season,” she added.

As per Melbourne’s signed players thus far, Magbegor joins the likes of co-captains Maddie Garrick and Cayla George, as well as Townsville’s Tess Madgen.

Perth Lynx

Shortly after it was divulged that All-WNBL First Team recipient Katie Ebzery and WA-local Darcee Garbin were to be playing in the red and black next season, it seems as though ‘home is where the heart is’ for much of the Lynx’s WNBL21 roster, as Ryan Petrik and his team signed returning Perth player and former WNBL Rookie of the Year recipient, Alex Ciabattoni.

Beginning her WNBL career in her home state of South Australia, Ciabattoni would cement a splendid rookie season with the Lightning, earning herself ROTY honours in the 2015/16 season. She would make the move out west for the 2017/18 season with the Perth Lynx, helping the team to a minor premiership and a 15-6 record. Following a semi-final upset to the Boomers, the 26-year-old Forward made the trip over to Italy to sign with Reyer Venezia (Serie A1), while also going on loan to Ponzano Basket during her overseas stint.

Heading back home to what Ciabattoni calls her “second home”, Petrik seems optimistic of what this Perth side is capable of as they move along in the offseason, given he knows what his latest signee’s skills bring to the table.

“Alex is someone who can do a little bit of everything and with the way the game is going that skillset is really valuable to us,” he said

“We know Chibba’s game really well and we’re confident that she has the ability to be a real weapon for us this season.”

Sydney Uni Flames

Following the signings of Australian Opal Lauren Mansfield and the fast developing Anneli Maley, the Sydney Uni Flames became the final team to enter the Free Agency conversation, as they confirmed more signings to come in the next couple of weeks.

Mansfield, who spent her previous season with the Lynx, provided herself with what was a very respectable season. Earning solid numbers in all of the major categories, Mansfield averaged 9.6 points, 4.5 assists, 3.1 rebounds and 1.6 steals (eighth highest in the WNBL) per game.

Heading into the twilight years of her career at the age of 30, Mansfield is still aiming to refine her game further, which she addressed following the announcement of her transfer. “After speaking with Katrina, who emphasised building a good culture with a mix of young talent and experienced players, I thought Sydney would be a great fit for the further development of my basketball career,” explained Mansfield.

The latter of the Flames’ two signings, Maley, who played for the Southside Flyers in WNBL20, projects an energy around her that motivates her teammates. This attracted Head Coach Katrina Hibbert to the 21-year-old, something her side will need if they are to improve upon their sixth-place finish from last season.

“She’s known for her athleticism, energy, effort, and rebounding abilities – just to name a few,” said Hibbert.

“I’m looking forward to welcoming her into our program this season as she is a natural leader through her approach to basketball on and off the court. It’s going to be wonderful to see her continue her development and continue to blossom under a style of play that will compliment her versatility.”

The two join Lauren Scherf as the Flames’ only contracted players to this stage.

Townsville Fire

The Fire family keeps getting bigger, as they signed Wasserburg Power Forward, Megan McKay, who is coming off a tremendous season in the German Bundeliga (top Basketball competition in Germany).

An alum of the notorious Saint Mary’s College Gaels in the U.S, McKay has an extensive history of playing against top-level competitors. This included averaging 16 points and eight rebounds per contest for Wasserburg in her most recent season overseas.

Having also represented Australia in U17’s, McKay is happy to be back at home competing in the WNBL.

Head Coach of the Fire Shannon Seebohm believes that McKay will fit in well with his frontcourt, given her abilities in and around the basket.

“She is a strong interior presence and a great rebounder. She will bring a lot of energy to our team and I am excited to see her play in the WNBL and show what she is capable of,” he explained.

Stay tuned for more WNBL Free agency updates.

WNBL Free Agency: Madgen back to Melbourne, Bendigo contract details

WEEK 2 of the Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) Free Agency period has kick-started with a bang, as it was announced Monday morning that former Melbourne Boomers captain, Tess Madgen, is set to return to her former club for the WNBL 2020/21 season. Furthermore, Draft Central can confirm the contract details of the Bendigo’s signees so far during the offseason.

Melbourne adds a former captain to the 2021 squad

Australian Opal, Tess Madgen, who is coming off a solid second season with the Townsville Fire, averaged respectable numbers across the board for Shannon Seebohm’s side throughout all 21 games.

Putting up 12.1 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.6 assists each time out on the floor for the Fire, Madgen proved herself to be one of the leading all-around forces in Australia’s top flight. She would also prove to be one of Townsville’s most reliable scorers too, as she also maintained a 39.5 per cent clip from the field.

Following Melbourne’s announcement that their former leader would be making the move down south to cooler climates, Madgen praised the club as a whole, speaking highly of the Boomers’ organisation from top to bottom.

“I am super excited to be back playing for the Boomers,” said Madgen.

“From the board, the employees, the coaching staff to the playing group it is obvious to see there is a great culture and vibe and I am really looking forward to being part of that again, it feels like a homecoming for me.

“The club has a great history, being the longest running female professional sports team in Australia and that says a lot about it as a club.

“I am excited to build on a great season the Boomers had last year and can’t wait to get to work with the girls,” she added.

Madgen, who spent time with the Phoenix Mercury (USA) and AZS UMCS Lublin (Poland), has shown nothing but improvement since recovering from an old anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury and will look to be a prominent leader in Guy Molloy’s squad next season.

The move comes just days after current captain, Maddie Garrick announced that she too would sign the dotted line for Melbourne’s 2020/21 season.

Bendigo’s signings details

While Carley Ernst and coach Tracy York enter the second year of their respective contracts, the Bendigo Spirit’s administration has told Draft Central that their signings Demi Skinner, Tessa Lavey and Cassidy McLean have all agreed on one-year contracts for the 2020/21 season during the free-agency period.

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.

Draft Central’s Top 10 2019/20 WNBL memorable moments: #9 – Bendigo breaks road drought

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 nine, an upset in the final round of the season that meant a lot to the competition’s last placed side.

#9 Bendigo Spirit breaks road drought with win over Townsville Fire

It took until the final round of the year, but Bendigo Spirit finished the 2019/20 WNBL season on a high with a victory against Townsville Fire. Up until that point, Bendigo had not won a road trip all season, and indeed the last victory when travelling was November 18, 2018 when the Spirit triumphed over 2018/19 WNBL wooden spooners, Sydney Uni. That day the team was different, with Natalie Hurst and Rebecca Tobin combining for 11 points each in a low-scoring team effort during the 67-55 victory. This season, Hurst had moved on and Tobin only managed the seven games. Instead it was Carley Ernst leading the way with the forward picking up a double double in the Spirit’s win over Townsville Fire on February 1, some 441 days later.

Ernst led all the major statistical areas, picking up team-highs in points (26), rebounds (10), assists (seven) and steals (two) to spur her team onto victory. Tessa Lavey picked up an equal team-high seven assists to go with 21 points and four rebounds, while former Perth Lynx young gun, Shyla Heal had 14 points, five rebounds and five assists in the win. To show just how much the Spirit had changed in that 15-month period, Abigail Wehrung was the only player to be on court for both away wins. In 2018, she had nine points, three rebounds, three assists and two blocks, while in the most recent victory, she had five points, five rebounds, two assists and one block, but was far more accurate with her field goal percentage. Whilst in the scheme of the season, Bendigo still finished on the bottom of he table and Townsville escaped the wooden spoon, it was a nice way for the Spirit to finish off the season. Credit has to be given to Christina Boag in the loss though, with the Fire talent picking up 22 points, 15 rebounds, three assists, two steals and two blocks in a clear standout performance for her side. Both teams will be looking to rise up the ladder in the 2020/21 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