Tag: tracy york

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.

Melbourne find late-season form, rout Spirit 84-52

AFTER an even first quarter from both sides, the Melbourne Boomers ran away with Saturday’s only game in the remaining three quarters against the Bendigo Spirit, namely in the middle two periods where last year’s semi-finalists outscored their opponents 42-14, ultimately concluding matters 84-52 and extending their winning streak to four.

Given the Boomers’ red-hot form as of late, it did not shock many when Melbourne opened up the contest with a 7-0 run, which acted as a prelude to what would be a strong initial term for Guy Molloy’s squad.

Despite its opponent’s exceptional start to the game, Bendigo worked its way back into the contest leading into the first break. Backing their duo of Carley Ernst and Tessa Lavey, who had eight and six points respectively, the Spirit found themselves level with the Boomers 20-20 after 10 minutes of play, one of their best opening periods to date.

Again, the Boomers strung together another sizeable scoring run to start the second, concocting 14-straight points over the opening five minutes of the period and really separating themselves from this season’s likely wooden-spooners after an even first term.

Cayla George made her impact visible in the later stages of the first two quarters, accumulating 13 points, five rebounds and three assists as she led the charge in gaining her side a 38-23 half-time score line.

But with Tracy York’s side converting on just a single field goal in the second, it allowed Melbourne to take control of the contest and secure the driver’s seat in the process, thanks to individual efforts like Ezi Magbegor and Ashleigh Karaitiana’s in the first half.

Putting their advantage over 20 points in the penultimate period, the Boomers run to the finish line became relatively uneventful as they gave their secondary unit an abundance of court time in the second half.

Coach Molloy’s bench held their own to conclude the third, extending their side’s lead to 28 points at the turn of the third with Bendigo totalling just 11 points in the third quarter, and 14 total points over the two middle stanzas.

While the Boomers rested their star players, the Spirit did the same as we got to see some up and coming talent show off their quality from both squads. Melbourne would eventually topple Bendigo by 32 points and stretch their winning streak to four matches.

Quite simply, Melbourne blew Bendigo out of the water following the opening quarter and maintained a substantially high shooting percentage, converting on 41 per cent of its attempts (33/80), whereas the Spirit managed a meek 27 per cent on the night. Additionally, coming out superior on the boards with a plus-24, the Boomers destroyed their counterparts on the glass.

George would only add two more points to her 15 in total, while Penina Davidson made the most of her increased court time with 15 points of her own in almost 16 minutes of game time. Magbegor would finish with a humble 12 points and 10 rebounds, while Izzy Wright (nine points and five rebounds) and Kalani Purcell (nine points and three rebounds) were the team’s next highest contributors.

In a quiet night across the board for the Spirit, not one individual would compile more than eight points by the final buzzer, as Ernst earned her team-high eighth point before half-time and gathered seven rebounds in the process. Demi Skinner rounded out her afternoon with seven points, meanwhile 17-year-old rising star Piper Dunlop tallied a season-best seven points and three rebounds.

Both sides make their returns to the court later today as all eight teams are scheduled to play in Sunday’s Round 4 action. Bendigo will open up proceedings against the Sydney Uni Flames, where the Spirit have only a couple more chances to get into the winner’s column before the season’s end. The Boomers have their work cut out for them when they size up the Southside Flyers, who did not play a particularly good brand of basketball in their last meeting – a memory they will look to rectify this time around. More importantly it will set the tone for both teams with finals play just around the corner.

Southside hand Townsville third loss, Fire’s Nicholson leaves with nose injury

GOOD things eventually come to an end and in this instance, it was the Townsville Fire’s three-game winning streak at the mercy of the Southside Flyers, going down to the heavy-handed championship favourites 70-94, while being substantially undermanned.

A scrappy start from both sides led to a low scoring opening few minutes, but two quick fouls for Megan McKay earned her a quick spot on the bench for the rest of the first quarter. The Flyers started to connect on some of their shots as the first quarter rolled on, while Townsville struggled to pick up steam, trailing 4-16 after six minutes of play thanks to nine quick points from Liz Cambage. Not only did Southside’s superior opening period see them gain an 11-point lead, but also a hard blow to Lauren Nicholson’s nose resulting in the Fire losing a star point-guard for the rest of the game.

An And-One from Bec Cole to commence things in the second provided more encouraging signs for Cheryl Chambers and her players, however three straight successful trips up the floor for the Fire was the response Shannon Seebohm wanted to see following quarter time.

Townsville fended off more Southside success leading into the main break trailing only by eight points and winning the quarter 25-22. Down 34-42, the Fire were feeding off of Shyla Heal’s 15 points and three rebounds at this stage, while Nadeen Payne was doing her best to back Heal up with seven points and four boards. Alternatively, Cambage had herself 17 points in 16 first-half minutes next to Cole, who sat on 10 points and five assists at the mid-way point.

Losing Heal for a chunk of the third due to an elbow to the chest, the Fire did a good job of weathering the Flyers’ storm. But a triple from Jenna O’Hea midway through the third quarter signified the gradual expansion of her side’s lead in the second half putting Southside up by 16 with a quarter left to play in Saturday’s opener.

A relatively uneventful final quarter ensued as Southside started to push their advantage towards the 20-point mark and Townsville struggled to cope while running on limited players. As both sides introduced their secondary units in the dying moments of the contest, Southside routinely concluded matters by running out 24-point winners and ending Townsville’s three-game winning streak.

Shooting over 50 per cent throughout all four quarters, Southside was hard to stop from knocking down their shots, particularly down low (48 points in the paint) and from the free-throw-line (14 from 17). The Flyers also held onto the ball well, only turning over the ball eight times the whole game.

Cambage maintained her reputation as a prolific post presence, contributing 26 points, nine rebounds and three assists, while going 75 per cent from the field. Meanwhile, Cole was the next best thing with her 19 points and eight assists. Leilani Mitchell was not a massive presence on the scoreboard, but she certainly facilitated the ball at a high rate finishing with nine assists under her belt.

Heal had another impressive outing racking up a team-high 17 points, four rebounds and three assists, a major talking point for Townsville’s disappointing outcome. But more impressively, were the combined efforts of two of the WNBL’s best auxiliary players. Firstly, 15 points in 26 minutes off the bench for Stephanie Reid provided merit for a top performance from the losing side, whereas Courtney Woods accumulated a modest 11 points in her efforts yesterday afternoon.

Both teams hit the hardwood again in 24 hours, as Southside looks to knock the Adelaide Lightning out of the top four with a second triumph in as many days. While, the Fire look to re-establish themselves as a favourable finals nominee against a Sydney Uni Flames unit that is hungry to climb the standings.

Lightning hit back with statement win

Pic: WNBL

IMPROVING their record to four wins and one loss, the Adelaide Lighting have reiterated the fact that they are a formidable side, after extinguishing the Sydney Uni Flames 75-53, following a one-sided second half and a 30-point masterclass from early MVP-candidate Stephanie Talbot.

Transition points and a quick start from Sydney saw them run the floor well and capitalise on fast break offence early on, but the Lightning had other ideas for how the opening term would end, following a 7-0 run four minutes in for Adelaide. Riding off on their scoring run and four lead changes in the first quarter, Adelaide held a commanding 20 to 12 lead, with Talbot a large presence early having seven points and four rebounds after 10 minutes.

After an extended quarter-time break due to technical difficulties at the Cairns Pop-Up Arena, both teams lost momentum on the scoreboard. Neither side got off a field goal for two and a half minutes, until this trend was upended following a beautiful backdoor cut from Sydney’s Lauren Mansfield.

Baskets became more frequent from both sides prior to half-time and the Flames made some significant headway in the half’s few remaining minutes after two buckets each from Funda Nakkasoglu and Nat Burton, cutting the deficit to only six points at the main break, 32-26.

It was the Talbot show in the opening 20 minutes, with the 26-year-old putting up 15 points during that time and seven rebounds to add to that. While Adelaide had few players with big scoring totals, the Flames had low scoring numbers across multiple individuals with all of their starters converting on shots. The former Opal in Burton led the way with eight points while Alison Schwagmeyer proved her mettle on the glass with seven rebounds in the initial two quarters.

A tit-for-tat beginning was the best way to describe the early moments of the second half, as both sides remained level six minutes into the third phase. However, four pivotal scores from Abigail Wehrung, Talbot who had two of those, and Marena Whittle gave the Lightning a nine-point buffer at what seemed like a turning point in a clash that had little room for errors. A beautiful drive and dish from Ally Wilson to Ella Batish and a fast-break layup by Talbot capped off a 13-0 run for Chris Lucas’ roster and put control of the game firmly in their possession before three-quarter-time, leading 53-41.

Adelaide ballooned their lead out to 25 points long into the middle stages of the final stanza scoring 17 of the first 19 points, as the Flames had no answer for their opponents late in the game. The Lightning’s bench completed the emphatic final period, culminating in a dominant 22-point blowout, reaffirming Adelaide as a serious contender among the League’s ranks.

With the Lightning holding the Flames to 27 per cent shooting efficiency they were able to provide themselves ample opportunity to pull away later in the game given that they converted their shots, which they did by shooting 42 per cent. A plus-11 in assists and a plus-12 in fast break points was a product of the way  coach Lucas’ side worked as a cohesive unit pushing the ball up the other end of the court after Sydney Uni’s missed shots.

Another standout performance from likely MVP candidate Talbot rattled another opponent’s roster, with the small forward racking up 30 points, 12 rebounds and three assists, while being fouled a game-high five times. Wehrung was the only other Lightning individual with double-digit totals, finishing with 11 points by way of three triples. Chelsea Brook contributed eight points and five rebounds, while Batish tallied seven of her own.

Scoring just 53 total game points, Adelaide’s shooting success was few and far between, with Burton being the only player to accumulate over 10 points – she finished with 14 points and a pair of rebounds. Meanwhile, Anneli Maley (seven points and eight rebounds) and Mansfield (seven points and four assists) had quiet nights respectively as neither of them were able to make a substantial imprint on the game.

Sydney Uni and Adelaide return later today to face another two teams who are completing back-to-back fixtures. The Lightning have their work cut out for them if they are to try and slow down the Southside Flyers, who just recently beat the Townsville Fire in convincing style. This brings us to the Flames’ opponents later today, looking to regain lost ground in the standings against the Fire in Round Three’s final game.

Caps keep the good times rolling, extend winning streak to seven

Pic: WNBL

THE longest winning streak of WNBL20 this season continues for the University of Canberra Capitals, as the two-time defending champions extended their litany of victories to seven straight, flattening the Bendigo Spirit in last night’s closer 51-87, rounding off the third of three one-sided contests over the first half of the weekend.

A close contest for the majority of the first period, it seemed as though both sides would be within a possession of each other at the first intermission. However, seven-straight points in the last 60 seconds of the term for the Capitals saw the reigning champions lead 20-12 after 10 minutes, highlighted by a buzzer beating corner three from Brittany Smart.

It seemed early on that the only visible scorer on Tracy York’s side was Tessa Lavey early in the second, who had eight points midway through the period. But numerous participants for the Capitals were finding looks of their own. Starting the second quarter on a 12-4 run, Canberra’s starting five and the extra boost given by former Sydney Uni Flame Tahlia Tupaea, quickly lathered on the points against the Spirit prior to half-time.

Outscoring Bendigo 22-9 in the second period, the Capitals were able to produce two-times the amount of points as their opponents in the first half, leading 42-21 at the midway point. However, given their history against lower-ranked sides Paul Goriss reiterated the notion of playing hard for all four quarters to his side at the main break.

With all five of Canberra starters manufacturing valuable contributions in the first half, it was evident that the Capitals were seeking a team-based win, which was pointed out by their eight assists through two quarters.

Canberra’s lone problem was clearly slowing down Australian Opal in Lavey, who had 13 points in all 20 minutes of the opening half, the only multiple field goal scorer for the Spirit prior to the third quarter, as the side failed to efficiently convert on their scoring attempts only shooting 17 per cent.

The Spirit kicked off the second half with a fast-paced brand of basketball, scoring three of the first four buckets for both teams, but that would be the extent of the good news following this. After making an adjustment on the defensive end, the Capitals turned the momentum in their favour once again and this time for good.

Earning themselves a 33-point buffer at the end of the third term, 37-70, the third game of yesterday’s triple-header looked like it was going finish in familiar fashion to the previous two meetings – a blowout.

This fate for the two sides came to fruition as Canberra completed the four-quarter sweep in Townsville and ultimately the 37-point landslide victory, earning their seventh straight win in the process and putting themselves a game ahead of the Southside Flyers on the WNBL ladder.

Shots just did not fall for the Spirit, who now fall to a winless record of zero wins and eight losses at the middle point of the season. Making 17 shots from 63 attempts (26 per cent) and giving up 36 points in the paint, Bendigo really disadvantaged themselves when it came to Canberra’s depth and team chemistry. Whereas the Capitals made a sizeable 44 per cent rate of their shots along with 22 assists in what was a complete team-effort.

Not a single Capitals player scored more than 15 points, highlighting just how distributed the scoring load was for UC. Leading the side, however, was Marianna Tolo with her 14 points and six rebounds, while Maddison Rocci backed up her captain with 12 points and three assists. Keely Froling and Tupaea each finished their nights with 10 points. For the Spirit, only Lavey was able to crack a double-digit scoring total, but severely slowed her level of production in the second half where she accounted for only four of her 17 points.

The Caps line up again on Tuesday against the Melbourne Boomers in a much-anticipated top-four matchup that will see a semi-final rematch of last season. On the other hand, Bendigo will face off with fellow bottom of the ladder side the Perth Lynx, perhaps the Spirit’s most likely chance at gaining their first win of the season.

Boomers bounce back in style, stun Lightning by 40

AFTER back-to-back defeats, the Melbourne Boomers are again back on the right side of a result following a 40-point landslide win against the Adelaide Lightning in last night’s opening contest, 91-51.

The Boomers were not phased in the slightest by Adelaide’s extended rest period, opening the game up with an 8-0 run before Abbey Wehrung got the Lightning on the scoreboard three minutes in.

Picture-perfect shooting by Melbourne allowed them to create a decent margin by the end of the first quarter while keeping Adelaide to single digits in the process, leading 28-8 in what can be described as one of the best quarters so far this season for Guy Molloy’s team.

To add to the list of issues that the Lightning had to try and contain, Melbourne’s shot conversion rate was a significant one. The Boomers went 19 from 39 (48 per cent) throughout the opening half compared to 33 per cent shooting from Adelaide – numbers that would be the reason for the game’s 53-28 score line at the main break after two quarters.

Looking to repeat a successful first half, the frontcourt duo of Tess Madgen and Maddie Garrick looked to continue their production as they scored 14 and 13 points respectively in the opening 20 minutes of play. But, the job of containing Adelaide’s Opal forward in Steph Talbot was going to prove more of a challenge, as she sounded off on 10 points and three rebounds in the same amount of time.

Both sides slowed down offensively with the two teams combining for 26 points, but the uphill battle did not become any easier to manage for Chris Lucas’s outfit, as the Boomers looked to bounce back from two straight defeats prior to last night as extra motivation.

Leading by 17 with one quarter left, Melbourne just needed to stick to their routine and manage the clock, as a late charge did not seem likely of their opponents. Finally concluding matters last night, the Boomers convincingly outscored the Lightning 24 to 11 in the final term and holding their opponents to 51 points.

The Boomers knocked down field goals at a stellar pace all game, converting on 39 shots from 79 attempts (44 per cent), much higher compared to Adelaide’s average conversion rate of 31 per cent shooting. A plus-25 in rebounding for Melbourne coupled with a plus-13 in assists covered most of the important statistics related to the game that were considered necessary. In addition to this they doubled the amount of points that came from their bench players with 24 compared to Adelaide’s 12.

Marquee players from Molloy’s outfit put on impressive displays, stemming from the rebounding efforts of Cayla George (16 points and 15 rebounds) and Ezi Magbegor (11 points and eight rebounds), and then leading onto the scoring efforts made by Madgen (16 points and five assists) and Garrick (15 points and four assists).

On the flip side, Adelaide’s Ally Wilson submitted a team-high 13 points along with seven rebounds, whereas Talbot finished her night with a modest 12-point and seven-rebound performance.

Taking the contest by 40 points, the Boomers repositioned themselves back in the top four next to the Southside Flyers. But the team now have to wait a week before their next clash against the Canberra Capitals, and given too much time off, a win is anything but a sure thing. A different kind of wait beholds the Lightning, as they have less than a day to recover from their efforts last night, before taking on the winless Bendigo Spirit, who are yet to emerge triumphant after six meetings this season.

Townsville leave Spirit shocked, extend winning streak to four

Pic: WNBL

HOSTS and now the hottest team in the WNBL, the Townsville Fire have kept alive their winning streak in emphatic style by lathering on the points against the lowly Bendigo Spirit 99-51. The result symbolises the two most opposite teams in the competition in terms of form, with the Fire extending their streak to four and the Spirit losing their seventh game in as many contests.

Coming into last night’s contest on a three-game winning streak and in their home city, the Fire were not going to slow down even remotely early on in the contest. This would result in a dominant initial quarter for Head Coach Shannon Seebohm’s side.

Dictated by their smooth passing, six of Townsville’s players put the ball in the net after 10 minutes of play and combine for nine assists on their way to an encouraging 30-10 lead after the first quarter siren. This was topped off by Nadeen Payne’s triple on the buzzer providing an extra boost of momentum.

In a scrappier second term, both teams traded rare baskets in a more spaced out fashion, but as Bendigo started to make encouraging progress, Shyla Heal’s second three-pointer six minutes into the period seemingly halted any chance of a run to conclude the first half and thereby kickstarted the cascading display of points to follow.

However, a good first half followed Mary Goulding, as she waltzed her way to double-digit totals halfway through the game (10 points and two rebounds), but it was a minor footnote as Townsville had more than double the amount of total points that Bendigo had produced leading up to half-time, the score being 51-23.

Things went from bad to worse in the second half for the Spirit as they scored 17 points compared to the Fire’s 27 in the third quarter, which in turn saw the three-quarter time lead grow to 38 points and signify the inevitable win for Townsville before the fourth even began.

The Fire were able to cap off a complete game by winning the final quarter in addition to the previous three, falling one point short of the century mark, but 48-point winners nevertheless.

Townsville emerged victorious in virtually every aspect of the game with the exception of blocked shots, as Bendigo gained the advantage 6-3 in that respect. More importantly, the Fire’s shooting at an exceptional level was their main proponent in the win. Finishing with a clip of 47 per cent, it dwindled the Spirit’s shooting efficiency of 32 per cent. The Fire also bested their opponents in rebounding (42-35) and assists (27-15), as well as forcing 26 turnovers from Tracy York’s roster.

A slow second half individually depleted Goulding’s numbers by the final whistle as she would not score again after half-time for the Spirit. Bendigo’s next highest contributor was Jennie Rintala, who amassed 10 points off the bench with four rebounds. Meanwhile, Tessa Lavey and Carley Ernst were almost absent from the contest, stringing together just nine points between them.

Four out of five of Townsville’s starters reached scoring figures over 10 points, with the Fire’s frontcourt duo of Payne and Megan McKay exhibiting their shooting consistency. Payne sunk six three-pointers to get her 18 points and seven rebounds, while McKay accounted for 18 points and eight rebounds.

Bendigo will square off with the Adelaide Lightning later today as both sides are in dire need of a victory, whereas Townsville have a hefty four-day break before heading to Cairns to try their hand again at defeating the Southside Flyers.

Townsville above .500 again, knock off Spirit thanks to third quarter swing

IN the space of about five minutes, the Townsville Fire flipped the script in yesterday’s clash against the Bendigo Spirit, outscoring them by 17 points in the third quarter to ride home their third win of the season 91-81. Meanwhile the Spirit are still searching for the required recipe to win their first game of the campaign, as their losing skid extends to five games.

Bendigo pushed the pace early in the first quarter, getting out to a 17-5 lead halfway through the opening period, which completely dumbfounded the Fire’s defence in the process. This would dominate the headlines in the opening 10 minutes, but six-straight points from Townsville brought the deficit to a more respectable number with some much-needed momentum.

A late And-One from Tessa Lavey repositioned the Spirit with a commanding quarter time lead ahead 26-15, as each of Bendigo’s starters got their names on the scoresheet early on with a 50 per cent conversion rate aiding them.

However, head coach Shannon Seebohm relied on his side’s depth to help will them back into the contest trailing by just four points at one stage in the second. Nevertheless, back-to-back threes from Mary Goulding and Cassidy McLean would sour the Fire’s momentum just a few moments later, re-establishing the double-digit advantage.

Saving the day in the first half for the Fire was Megan McKay, who earned her minutes with her rebounding, totalling six boards through the first two periods along with seven points. Bendigo would conclude the opening half with the lead after two quarters for the first time this season, 47-40, as Lavey led the way with 12 points and six assists while Goulding had herself 13 points as well. Meanwhile, Townsville’s leading scorer in Lauren Nicholson had 11 points throughout all 20 first half minutes.

As Townsville gradually tightened the deficit, Shyla Heal was huge with her mid-range game, knocking down three-straight buckets to pressure the Spirit further and then eventually tally her thirteenth point of the match to put the Fire in front six minutes into the third.

Despite Carley Ernst putting up substantial numbers in the third, Townsville flipped the game on its head and did the same themselves. A 29-11 third quarter for the Fire would reverse the roles for both sides with the score sitting at 69-58 in favour of this season’s hosts. Two early buckets from Bendigo’s duo Lavey and Ernst, provided promising signs early on in the fourth for the Spirit, but the Fire’s tall frontcourt consisting of McKay, Mia Murray and Zitina Aokuso hustled enough in the later stages of the game to fend off Tracy York’s side long enough to get the Fire over the finish line.

A slow start to the game for the Fire was remedied in the second half, allowing them to earn the come from behind win and put their record at three wins and two losses after their hard-fought 91-81 victory. Townsville’s backcourt was instrumental in the win, with Heal being a key contributor against her former side after her 22 points, six rebounds and three assists next to Nicholson’s 20 points and three rebounds. Aokuso also provided a major boost in her 25 and half minutes of play, putting up 21 points and five rebounds.

These performances will need to continue in one way or another as they size up the Melbourne Boomers later today in the second leg of their weekend double-header.

On the other hand, it can easily be argued that yesterday’s efforts from Bendigo involved numerous highlights, a number of those being individual performance like Lavey and Goulding’s 19 points apiece. It also slots nicely next to Ernst’s 15 points, eight rebounds and five assists. The Spirit’s lesser victories in yesterday’s clash put them in good stead for their upcoming meeting on Tuesday against the Fire for a second time, where we will get to see if Coach York changes her tactics in the repeat fixture.

SOUTHSIDE LEVELS PERTH, AWAIT CAPITALS FOR GRAND FINAL REMATCH

Pic: WNBL

ANOTHER impressive wining margin lined the belt of the Southside Flyers last night, as their 12-player roster came back from an early deficit in the opening period to emerge on the other side with another statement win, following a 46-point thrashing of the Perth Lynx, 117-71.

As mentioned, the opening moments of the contest occurred from deep as the first five made field goals from both teams came from three-point range, with Darcee Garbin and Katie Ebzery leading the charge.

With play settling down slightly and the tempo slowing, Perth continued to make their shots count, knocking down their first five attempts from behind the arc, while Liz Cambage did her best to quell the Lynx’s shooting lethality in the opening phase, with 13 points at the first break.

Five triples from Perth and 21 combined points from Garbin and Ebzery helped the Lynx to a 26-21 lead heading into the second, as Flyers captain Jenna O’Hea found early foul trouble. Still, Cambage commenced the second the same way she finished the first by putting the ball in the net, before Stephanie Blicavs tied things up a minute into the second term.

With every minute that went by in the second, the Flyers picked apart Perth’s offence more and more. At the conclusion of the first half, Southside had forced 10 turnovers from the Lynx, which in turn would lead to 18 points from takeaways and a 54-42 lead at the main break.

Even though both teams had shot remarkably well with Southside shooting 50 per cent and Perth shooting 48 per cent, Cambage (19 points and seven rebounds), Sara Blicavs (10 points and four rebounds) and Bec Cole (10 points) were all the major difference makers during the second quarter, as Cheryl Chambers tried her best to slow the production of Garbin (18 points and four rebounds) and Ebzery (13 points and four assists).

Unable to derail the Southside train, Perth’s care of the basketball continued to waver with their turnovers accumulating into the third quarter still. Capitalising on this, Cole increased her statistics while the Flyers’ secondary unit contributed to the blowout third period which saw Southside tally 35 points compared to the Lynx’s 14 and hold a commanding 89-56 lead.

Despite the result being determined prior to the start of the fourth, both coaches saw it suitable to let their younger prospects earn some ample WNBL court time. Both Rebecca Pizzey and Monique Conti impressed in the fourth for the Flyers, while Perth’s Jewel Williams had a couple of memorable moments to add to her night.

Match proceedings would end with Southside winning in rather fashionable form, coming out 46-point victors in the 117-71 demolition of Perth. It was the combined efforts of Cambage (21 points and seven rebounds), Cole (20 points and five assists) and Sara Blicavs (19 points and six rebounds) that accounted for the majority of the Flyers’ success last night, which bodes well for the squad as they get their chance at redemption in Monday’s Grand Final rematch against the Canberra Capitals.

For the Lynx, it was Garbin’s show, following what was a red-hot first quarter which ultimately culminated in a 24-point and seven-rebound outing, whereas Ebzery (13 points and five assists) and Alex Sharp (10 points) added chunks of points to fill out the box score. Perth has a chance to bounce back against the Sydney Uni Flames on Monday as they hope to gain some traction in the mid-table logjam, in a season that could easily slip away from Ryan Petrik’s side if they cannot find positive results soon.

CAPITALS HOLD ON AGAINST RESILIENT FLAMES, EXTEND WINNING STREAK TO FOUR

Pic: WNBL

THE University of Canberra Capitals have solidified themselves as serious contenders in the WNBL this season, after obtaining their fourth win in a row following a scrappy affair against the Sydney Uni Flames, winning by five points 68-63 to close out yesterday’s trio of games.

Little could separate the Flames and the Capitals early on, but the efforts that Anneli Maley made in the opening 10 minutes proved fruitful for Sydney Uni, with the 22-year-old fighting towards seven points and five rebounds in that time. Coupled with Lauren Scherf’s six points, the Flames would pull away at the end of the first quarter leading 23-11 and forcing eight turnovers off of Canberra in the process.

No Capitals players stood out tremendously in terms of scoring during the first half, but rather Paul Goriss’s side spread out the points production after reducing the deficit to just a couple of baskets during the second quarter.

The same could also be said for the Flames, but their method of scoring was slightly different, as they found the majority of their points from either mid-range, the free-throw line or through second chance points, whereas Canberra kept punishing Sydney Uni in the paint with baskets around the rim.

Leading 39-32 at the main break, the Flames shot average at best, converting on 37 per cent from the field, but Katrina Hibbert’s side inherited a huge boost thanks to their 11 free throws (eight more than the Capitals). Furthermore, Lauren Mansfield started to find her stroke with 11 points after two terms.

Things in the third did not start any better for the Capitals, as they fell behind by double-digits. But a strong move by Marianna Tolo and a fast-break And-One by Tahlia Tupaea made the contest a tight one well into the third.

An 11-4 run by the Caps with three minutes remaining in the penultimate period had Canberra nipping at the heels of the Flames in what was shaping up to be a sprint to the finish line, where either side were threatening to take over.

To round off a tumultuous third phase, a beautiful assist and bucket on consecutive possessions from Kelsey Griffin would secure the Capitals a four-point lead with 10 minutes remaining 57-53, and with Maddison Rocci leading the charge submitting 14 points and four rebounds, a win was certainly within view.

Both sides fought tooth and nail in what was a perfect way to finish off yesterday’s fixtures, where plenty of bodies hit the deck, missed shots were contested by multiple individuals and loose balls were jumped on by both teams in hard-nose smash-mouth brand of basketball. But Canberra seemed to be wading away midway through the fourth and Coach Hibbert’s side needed a dramatic boost with less than five minutes remaining.

With 48 seconds remaining, the game hung in the balance for both sides with one point being the difference. Luckily for the defending champions, Griffin was able to force Mansfield’s fourth turnover and again strip Alison Schwagmeyer just 30 seconds later, which cemented the victory for the Capitals after Keely Froling laid up the game-sealing bucket with three seconds left, therefore allowing Canberra to win the contest 68-63 in a down to the wire slugfest. The victory continuing their winning streak to four games.

It was another impressive night for Rocci, who had 17 points and five assists to show for last night’s efforts, as more of Canberra’s contributors from last season added solid performances. Griffin (11 points, nine rebounds and four assists) and Froling (15 points, 10 rebounds) provided relief on the boards, while Tolo also tallied 13 points of her own. The Capitals now need to hunker down and prepare for a formidable Southside Flyers squad that is still stinging from their Grand Final defeat last season, a side that has also significantly improved since then.

The Flames had their regular performers on display again, as Scherf led the way in scoring with 19 points. Whereas, Maley had another double-double night with 13 points and 12 rebounds next to Mansfield’s 16 points from 36 minutes on the floor. Sydney Uni now have their own concerns considering they now find themselves on a three-game skid and are tied for second-last with the Perth Lynx, who they face next on Monday in a game that will prove to be crucial regarding the future of the fourth seed.

Madgen makes a Booming return, Melbourne knock off Flames in Thursday opener

WITH the mission being to win a championship for the first time since 2011, the Melbourne Boomers are on the right track to start their WNBL20 campaign, with a 15-point victory over the Sydney Uni Flames, 85-70.

A 14-point score difference in the second and third quarters proved to be the difference in the end, as the Boomers’ main weapons found their strokes after the first quarter break.

Melbourne’s starting five was as expected with Cayla George and Ezi Magbegor going shoulder-to-shoulder in the Boomers frontcourt with Maddie Garrick, Tess Madgen and Stella Beck filling the spots outside the perimeter. But many were keen to see how Flames Head Coach Katrina Hibbert lined up her squad for the opening tip. Time would divulge the line-up as being Lauren Mansfield, Alison Schwagmeyer and Anneli Maley running the backcourt, and former Opal Natalie Burton defending the rim with Lauren Scherf.

Early rebounds from George paved the way for the opening points of the contest with Madgen making her return to the Boomers official, putting up the initial two points of the game down the lane. The ensuing play throughout the remainder of the first period would be rather even in terms of scoring, with the Flames edging their noses in front for nine of the first ten minutes.

Coach Guy Molloy made his first rotation change six minutes into the first by injecting Kalani Purcell and Ashleigh Karaitiana, which shifted momentum following a layup and a charge from the pair. With less than a minute to play in the first, Beck would drill a three to return the lead to Melbourne and conclude proceedings in the opening 10 minutes, putting the score at 17-15 in favour of the Boomers.

Following a relatively quiet first quarter from both sides, the first score of the second came after two minutes with Purcell capitalising on good aggression to the rim. But the Flames hit back quickly with Carly Boag earning herself an And-One and Mansfield tying it up shortly after with a triple of her own.

Magbegor went through 14 minutes of play without putting her name on the scoresheet, but she quickly bucked that trend with an And-One to reassert her team’s control giving her side a 40-34 buffer. In the twilight minutes of the second quarter Melbourne’s Opals started to shine through, as the combination of Madgen and George put their skillsets on display by putting a double-digit cushion between the two teams.

Madgen, who led the game in scoring heading into halftime with 70 per cent shooting would compile 15 points along with four rebounds and help the Purple and Gold to a comforting 43-31 lead. Meanwhile, Garrick was next up on deck with eight points and George had a rebound for every first-half-point of her own, producing six points and six rebounds in 20 minutes of play.

A quiet first two periods for the Flames saw Mansfield (seven points) and Scherf (six points) leading their roster in the scoring totals, whereas Schwagmeyer was embracing her new role as a starter with five points and a triplet of assists.

Magbegor started the second half picking up steam, knocking down three free-throws and a put-back layup to get Melbourne off on the right foot in their pursuit of a Game One win. On the other hand, a disjointed Sydney Uni offence struggled to convert early in the third quarter. Mansfield, however, came through after three minutes to get her ninth point of the contest.

Midway through the third phase, Molloy’s squad would crack the 20-point-lead mark with five minutes left in the third thanks to a 12-2 start succeeding half-time, as he made the most out of his starters – namely 30-year-old Madgen and her 22 points in 25 minutes, and Magbegor who had a double-double prior to the third intermission for the Boomers, who were up 64-48 with 10 minutes to play.

While the fourth seemed like a formality, the Flames put up a scrappy end quarter to bring the margin back to a respectable number. Sporadic highlights from secondary prospects like Funda Nakkasoglu and Shanae Greaves brought the deficit back to 15, but the damage had already been inflicted by last season’s third seed, as Melbourne coasted home to a dominant 85-70 triumph.

Shooting 47 per cent overall as a team compared to Sydney Uni’s 32 per cent, Melbourne were on another level when it came to putting points up on the scoreboard. A plus-13 on the boards summed up the Boomers’ performance (48-35), as a season-opening win seemed imperative to the team even before the first whistle.

In her return to the side for the first time in five seasons, Madgen put on a clinic during her 33 minutes of court time. She found her mark on ten field goals, which in-turn led to 23 points, five assists and four rebounds on the night. Magbegor had a quiet first half which led to a resounding second, resulting in a 16-point and 11-rebound performance for the 21-year-old, whereas Garrick left the floor with 14 points of her own. George accounted for eight points and nine rebounds.

The Flames will need to move on quickly and revert back to the basics if they are to bounce back in two days against the Bendigo Spirit, but Sydney Uni had some solid performances, nevertheless. Mansfield recorded a team-high 17 points off the back of three triples, while Scherf led the way in rebounds with seven next to her 10 points. But surprisingly in her return to the WNBL, Nakkasoglu came up big with 12 points comprising of two three-pointers and 100 per cent accuracy from the charity strike (6/6).

After a long time away from the city she admires, Madgen noted post-game how much she was looking forward to playing for Melbourne once again, “I love Melbourne, I love the Boomers and we have got a great team,” said Madgen. “[We have] a lot of really good players and a great coaching staff. It has been a long preseason so it is really good to be out there and play,” she added.

Two days from now, the Boomers size up their cross-town rivals the Southside Flyers in what will be a battle of raw talent on both sides, as two of the best clubs in the country go at it head-to-head in Townsville’s Saturday night double-header.

Picture: WNBL

Flyers reinforce notion as “team-to-beat”, thrash Spirit by 42

Liz Cambage made a successful return to the WNBL on Thursday. Picture credit: WNBL

This year’s championship-favourites proved why they hold that title last night in a 40-minute demolition job of the Bendigo Spirit. The Flyers’ international-calibre depth was on display throughout all four quarters led by their marquee signing Liz Cambage and her “hit squad” of long-time Opals, lashing Bendigo 102-60.

Southside’s star-studded line-up was as expected with Leilani Mitchell and Bec Cole in the backcourt being supported by Jenna O’Hea, Sara Blicavs and Cambage. For the Spirit, Amelia Todhunter, Tessa Lavey, Mary Goulding, Alicia Froling and Carley Ernst got the nod to start the contest.

Froling and Mitchell got the scoring going for their respective teams, but two minutes in, Cambage made her presence known with seven-straight points, setting in motion an early advantage to the Flyers.

Cole got her range going five minutes in with a three-pointer, but Lavey and the Spirit proved pesky opponents in the infancy stages of the game. Despite this, former Opal Rachel Jarry put a dent in Bendigo’s ploy with a three and a jumpshot to extend Southside’s first-quarter lead, which was followed up by a last-second layup from Aimie Clydesdale to conclude a 60 per cent shooting first quarter of play with the Flyers up 22-12.

Bendigo came out of the opening intermission with a focused intent, following five-straight points from Ernst. But for every bit of headway the Spirit made, Southside’s depth undid their work again and again. This problem was further compounded by a 14-0 Flyers run topped off by an O’Hea corner three and in the blink of an eye, the score sat at 43-19 halfway through the second.

To wrap up the first half, both sides exhibited their secondary units, as Southside continued their lead upwards thanks to individuals like Stephanie Blicavs and Monique Conti, as the half time score would read 30-56 in favour of the Flyers.

Headlining their ridiculous efficiency through two quarters (63 per cent conversion rate) were the Southside starters, as the team’s core unit spread out the scoring load up until the midway point of the contest. More specifically, Cambage led the way with 13 points and three rebounds next to her frontcourt partner in crime Sara Blicavs, who totalled eight points and eight rebounds after 20 minutes.

Spirit Head Coach Tracy York relied heavily on her marquee duo in Ernst and Lavey, as the two combined for 33 minutes and 18 points in the first half, whereas Froling hustled her way to seven rebounds.

Bendigo enjoyed a rare scoring stint in the third term with an 8-2 run three minutes into the second half, lighting a small fire under the squad. Unfortunately for the Spirit, more of the same from Cambage was to follow, as she used her size and her strength to bully all opponents defending her around the rim.

Southside continued their barrage from deep thanks primarily to Steph Blicavs and Jarry in the third quarter alone, even including Development Player Saraid Taylor on the action as she polished off a triple with a minute remaining in the championship quarter. Clydesdale almost made the quarter better, getting off a last second three-pointer just milliseconds after the buzzer had sounded.

A foregone conclusion long before the fourth quarter, the Flyers ran out Thursday night’s closer with a complete four quarter performance, outscoring the Spirit 22-13 in the fourth, cracking the 40-point lead mark with 102 seconds to play and achieving 100 team points on the game with 40 seconds left, culminating in a head-to-toe 102-60 rout of Bendigo.

Looking at both teams statistically, the Spirit would get the better of the Flyers in free-throw percentage, but virtually every other aspect of the game belonged to Southside. Most noticeable from last night’s victors was their accuracy from the field, as last year’s runners-ups converted on 38 baskets from 71 attempts (53 per cent). This also included 13 threes from 26 assists in what was nothing less than a one-sided affair.

In just 20 minutes of play, Cambage would set a game-high total in points with 19, while Sara Blicavs continued to uphold her reputation as a rebounding machine with a double-double performance of 17 points and 12 boards. Cole (12) and Mitchell (10) also secured double digits, as Conti impressed off the bench with her fast-paced style of play and silky handles – she finished with nine points and three rebounds.

Knowing full well that they face the Sydney Uni Flames in a couple of days, the Spirit have the chance to bounce back from what just transpired. Some positives could be taken away from last night, especially from specific individuals. Ernst earned herself a solid 16-point and seven-rebound effort, whilst Froling made her first contest back since her injury a respectable one on the glass, finishing with four points and 11 rebounds. In what was a lacklustre shooting night for the captain, Lavey’s eight points from 18 per cent accuracy will be a night to forget, as she prepares herself to lead the Spirit into Saturday’s clash.

In her post-game interview, Sara Blicavs pointed to the team’s eagerness to get back on the floor as their primary motivator in what was a total team effort, “I think we were just excited to get back on the court you know?” said Blicavs.

“We are obviously from Victoria, so we have been in lockdown for about six months and we have not played a game since the Grand Final in March, so we were just eager to get out here.

“We were a little bit nervous; but I think pre-game we got a lot of our energy out which was good, and we came out on court and executed,” she finalised.

WNBL fans have to wait for Saturday night in what will be a meeting of two behemoths, with the Flyers taking on the Melbourne Boomers who are coming off a convincing win against the Flames. A true test of strength will be showcased, as we gain insight into what a possible Grand Final matchup could look like.

2020 WNBL season preview – Part 1: Bottom four sides looking to force their way into finals.

IN the first of our two-part Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) season preview, we take a look at the four teams that missed out on finals last season and where they might land. Both the Townsville Fire and Sydney Uni Flames have made some exciting changes to their line-ups, whilst Bendigo Spirit has remained relatively stable, and Perth Lynx lost a lot of starters making it a challenging year. Here is how they are shaping up for the 2020 season and where we think they might finish.

Townsville Fire

After a season to forget in 2019/20, Townsville Fire will be gearing up to rise off the canvas and up the WNBL ladder. They added some much needed experience to their starting five line-up and it would not be completely irrational to think that last year’s wooden spooners could make the finals. In fairness, the Fire have lost some quality players who were either starters, or getting considerable minutes, with Abby Bishop released mid-season last year, and Bridget Carleton and Julie Vanloo forced out due to the WNBL’s import rule. Darcee Garbin headed to Perth and Tess Madgen moved to Melbourne, but the ins have been just as impressive.

The Fire have brought in experienced guard Lauren Nicholson who could make a deadly combination of experience and youth in the back court with young gun, Shyla Heal. The duo join Perth’s Nadeen Payne as exciting additions to the starting line-up, whilst tall Zitina Aokuso is effectively a new inclusion to the line-up after missing all of last year. Throw in Mia Murray who returns after a two-year stint off and the entire Townsville Fire starting five is brand new. That means they could completely shock everyone, or struggle to gel, but either way it makes it an exciting time. Others who have joined include Southside Flyers Steph Reid and Lara McSpadden from Sydney Uni, whilst Aliza Fabbro and Kate Gaze re-signed with the Fire. Megan McKay, Courtney Woods and Kelsey McDermott have all returned from overseas, whilst Sharna Thompson showed enough in Tasmania’s SBL to be given a shot on a list.

WHY THEY CAN WIN IT:

They have a great blend of youth and experience, and there is enough talent to suggest they could go all the way. Going from wooden spooners to premiers is near-impossible, and they might not have the experience that some do, but the likes of Nicholson, Murray and Payne will be important.

WHY THEY CAN’T WIN IT:

Five starters, five fresh faces. That will be difficult to gel and they get a baptism of fire up first against title favourites Southside Flyers. In a shortened season a lot of the young legs could prove the difference in between making finals and not.

CHANGES:

IN: Shyla Heal (Bendigo), Lauren Nicholson (Adelaide), Nadeen Payne (Perth), Megan McKay, Courtney Woods, Kelsey McDermott (International), Steph Reid (Southside Flyers), Lara McSpadden (Sydney Uni), Sharna Thompson (TAS SBL)
OUT: Tess Madgen (Melbourne), Darcee Garbin (Perth), Bridget Carleton, Julie Vanloo, Abby Bishop (International)
RE-SIGNED: Mia Murray (returns after two seasons), Zitina Aokuso, Aliza Fabbro, Kate Gaze

POTENTIAL STARTING FIVE:

Lauren Nicholson
Shyla Heal
Mia Murray
Nadeen Payne
Zitina Aokuso

>> Townsville Fire team preview

PREDICTION: 4th-6th

It is every expectation the Fire avoid the bottom two, and they will be in the mid-table logjam with the Lightning and Flames to try and secure a finals spot. Regardless of where they finish, the Fire could well be the most exciting team in the league with plenty of upside to go with consistency and do not be shocked if they surprise a lot of teams with their run.

Sydney Uni Flames

The Sydney Uni Flames finished sixth last season, but were still five wins outside the top four. Expect that gap to close in 2020, but it will just be how much it can close as to whether or not the Flames can make finals. Sydney Uni still appears to have more about them than the bottom two predicted teams with Bendigo and Perth having either not gained much or lost too much respectively, whilst the Flames have added some talented players to the roster. In terms of their outs, Alice Kunek, Tahlia Tupaea and Jessica Kuster have departed, as have Brittany Smart and Lara McSpadden. With a mix of starters and depth gone, the Flames needed to go on a recruiting spree.

They opted to bring in some familiar pairings with Lauren Mansfield and Alison Schwagmeyer from Perth Lynx which was a big coup for the club. Then they recruited Southside Flyers’ duo Anneli Maley and Kiera Rowe with the pair hopeful of seeing more court time this season. A big inclusion was veteran Opal, Natalie Burton who could play at the four or the five working in tandem with the ever-crucial Lauren Scherf. Twins Carly Boag and Christina Boag, and Funda Nakkasoglu also returned from overseas, while Shanae Greaves and Madeleine O’Hehir both re-signed as well. Sherrie Calleia returns coming off an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury to rejoin the team.

WHY THEY CAN WIN IT:

There are enough pieces in the team to form a competitive unit, and they have enough of a mix of bigs and smalls to challenge. The back court duo of Mansfield and Schwagmeyer will already have the connections, as will Maley and Rowe, so there will be less time needed to gel on the court.

WHY THEY CAN’T WIN IT:

The top three teams still seem that touch above, and whilst the net improvement is there, it will still need a lot to go right to cause and upset and claim the title. They are in the hunt, but more of an outsider at this stage.

CHANGES:

IN: Anneli Maley, Kiera Rowe (Southside), Lauren Mansfield, Alison Schwagmeyer (Perth), Funda Nakkasoglu, Natalie Burton, Carly Boag, Christina Boag (International)
OUT: Jessica Kuster (retired), Tahlia Tupaea, Brittany Smat (UC Capitals), Lara McSpadden (Townsville), Alex Wilson (Adelaide), Alex Kunek (International)
RE-SIGNED: Lauren Scherf (contracted), Shanae Greaves, Madeleine O’Hehir, Sherrie Calleia

POTENTIAL STARTING FIVE:

Lauren Mansfield
Alison Schwagmeyer
Anneli Maley
Natalie Burton
Lauren Scherf

>> Sydney Uni Flames team preview

PREDICTION: 4th-7th

The Sydney Uni Flames are one of six teams that could genuinely win it, and they have got a nice balance of talent across the court. It will be tough to upstage the likes of Southside Flyers, but the Flames have been known to cause upsets and could push here.

Bendigo Spirit

Bendigo Spirit has lost a number of crucial players over the off-season with veteran Gabrielle Richards retiring, Rebecca Tobin forced out due to the import rule, Abbey Wehrung heading to Adelaide and young gun Shyla Heal moving to Townsville. Those four outs will sting, but fears for Bendigo’s season may not be that bad considering their re-signings and some handy inclusions.

Centring her team around Carley Ernst, Tracy York brought in Paige Price from Melbourne and Piper Dunlop from the NBL1 to provide the potential lost by Heal’s departure. Add in New Zealand-born forward Mary Goulding and college graduate Georgia Pineau as well as Adelaide Lightning’s Jennie Rintala, and the side has some depth. Cassidy McLean has had an extra 12 months to recover from an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury, while Demi Skinner, Tessa Lavey and Alicia Froling will all be crucial cogs in the team, with Shelby Britten also an important re-signing.

WHY THEY CAN WIN IT:

Bendigo does have stability despite the outs, and have brought in some up-and-coming talents who have potential. If the seasoned stars can produce, and the inclusions lift, anything is possible.

WHY THEY CAN’T WIN IT:

Just seem that rung below the top few teams on overall talent, though could use the season to also provide vital court time to the young ones coming through. Given they could not crack into finals last season and have lost more than they have gained in terms of known quantity, it will be a challenge.

CHANGES:

IN: Paige Price (Melbourne), Piper Dunlop, Amelia Todhunter (NBL1), Mary Goulding, Georgia Pineau (International), Jennie Rintala (Adelaide)
OUT: Shyla Heal (Townsville), Abbey Wehrung (Adelaide), Rebecca Tobin (International), Gabrielle Richards (retired)
RE-SIGNED: Carley Ernst (contracted), Demi Skinner, Tessa Lavey, Cassidy McLean, Shelby Britten, Alicia Froling

POTENTIAL STARTING FIVE:

Amelia Todhunter
Tessa Lavey
Demi Skinner
Alicia Froling
Carley Ernst

>> Bendigo Spirit team preview

PREDICTION: 7th-8th

The Spirit have finished bottom three the past three seasons and it looks likely to continue, though the goal would be to be competitive in every match. York is always looking to bring through the Bendigo youth which will set the Braves up for another successful dynasty like years gone past.

Perth Lynx

The Lynx have had the most challenging off-season with five of their top six players choosing to explore their options in free agency, with four heading to the east coast and WNBA talent Ariel Atkins ruled out due to the import restrictions. It left incoming coach Ryan Petrik a little hamstrung when it came to options, but he has brought in Darcee Garbin from Townsville with some WNBL experience, as well as a host of international young guns returning home.

Unfortunately due to personal reasons and mental health respectively, Sami Whitcomb and Maddison Allen both had to withdraw from the North Queensland hubs which meant the Lynx grabbed some additional players from the WA State Basketball League. The Lynx also signed Emma Clarke late who could well slot right into the starting five, alongside Garbin, captain and Opal Katie Ebzery, and international duo, Alex Ciabattoni and Alexandra Sharp. Though in that scenario the Lynx lack a little height, so Adelaide’s Jessie Williams could provide that as a natural center. They do have the flexibility with local talents in Mackenzie Clinch-Hoycard and Ashleigh Isenbarger able to play the four or the five to allow Garbin to remain at the four.

WHY THEY CAN WIN IT:

It would be a backs-against-the-wall effort under new coach and experienced assistant coach Petrik. They have unpredictability on their side and with a lot of college talent, opposition teams will have to adjust to some likely fast-paced an exciting basketball.

WHY THEY CAN’T WIN IT:

There are too many outs with great experience and the ins, whilst having the potential to reach some impressive levels, there are just too many unknowns at this stage. With some bad luck over the off-season it will be tough for them to challenge the top teams, but expect them to get better as the season rolls on.

CHANGES:

IN: Darcee Garbin (Townsville), Alex Ciabattoni, Alexandra Sharp, Emma Clarke (International), Jessie Edwards (Adelaide), Ashleigh Isenbarger, Kayla Steindl, Mackenzie Clinch-Hoycard (SBL)
OUT: Nadeen Payne (Townsville), Lauren Mansfield, Alison Schwagmeyer (Sydney Uni), Marena Whittle (Adelaide), Ariel Atkins (Import/Turkey)
RE-SIGNED: Katie Ebzery, Nes’eya Parker-Williams, Taylah Burrows, Jewell Williams

POTENTIAL STARTING FIVE:

Katie Ebzery
Alexandra Sharp
Alex Ciabattoni
Darcee Garbin
Jessie Edwards

>> Perth Lynx team preview

PREDICTION: 6th-8th

It is always tough to put any team last but some side had to land there, and after heartbreakingly missing out on finals last season following their impressive season before, it looks like the Perth Lynx were in for a tough year. Whilst they have brought in some great young talent both local and abroad returning home, the outs hurt plain and simple.

WNBL20 Team Preview – Bendigo Spirit

ONE WNBL club ready to move past last season and start fresh when the upcoming campaign starts next Wednesday, is Tracy York’s Bendigo Spirit, who finished with the equal worst record next to the Townsville Fire last season with five wins and 16 losses. This fact coupled with the added element of imports being absent from competition this year, the Spirit will boast one of the most youthful sides set to take the floor over the next six weeks and will certainly be one of the most motivated prior to the opening tip-off.

It is common knowledge that heading into the WNBL20 season, Bendigo’s roster had two main cogs in their team’s machine. The first being Carley Ernst, who was already contracted to play for the Spirit this season. The second being Tessa Lavey, who had entered into Free Agency at the conclusion of last season.

The immediate actions from Bendigo were going to be to reacquire Lavey’s services for another year given her importance to York’s rotation. Last season, she accounted for over 10 points, four assists and three rebounds per game, making her one of the Spirit’s primary producers next to Ernst last year – which led to an announcement on June 10th that Lavey would be returning for another year.

While the team has taken on board numerous new faces over the last few months, a few are also familiar. The signings of Demi Skinner and Cassidy McLean are evident of this, as both had solid seasons in their debut fixtures in the WNBL. For Skinner, averages of 9.1 points and three and a half rebounds rounded out her 2019/20 stat line, whereas McLean accumulated averages of 3.1 points, 1.8 rebounds in a promising first season.

Another impressive name added to the masthead, was 17-year-old Indiana University-commit Paige Price, who is ready to make a name for herself on home soil before commencing her NCAA career in the Hoosier-red next year. Price, who served as a Development Player at the Melbourne Boomers, joined the Spirit as a contracted prospect with the intention of earning consistent minutes, as she sets her sights on competing against some of Australia’s top talents.

Also, worth mentioning is one of the most anticipated returns for next season, with Alicia Froling set to suit up for Bendigo after missing out on last season with a wrist injury, a massive loss given “someone of her calibre”, according to York. Froling’s extensive attributes list will provide much needed depth to the side, given her lengthy four-year college career at Southern Methodist University.

Bendigo’s secondary unit has some impressive additions like experienced former WNBL champion Amelia Todhunter, who will provide the side with invaluable experience while the team spends six weeks in a different state. Others include WNBL debutants like New Zealand Tall Fern Mary Goulding, who completed an accolade-filled three-year stint at Fordham University, Newberry College alum Shelby Britten, who averaged 15.1 points and 4.4 assists during her time there, as well as last and certainly not least, Jennie Rintala, who will join the Spirit after five impressive outings at the Adelaide Lightning last season.

Long-time Bendigo player from the junior level to the WNBL side, Piper Dunlop will serve her first year as one of the Spirit’s Development Players for next season in what is a “dream come true” for the 17-year-old. Next to her is former Boston College Eagles player Georgia Pineau completing the franchise’s 12-player roster for Queensland.

Season Opener for the Bendigo Spirit – Thursday November 12th – 9:00pm (AEDT) vs Southside Flyers @ Townsville Stadium, Townsville

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 – Alicia Froling

A PLAYER born and raised in the far-north tropics of Townsville; Alicia Froling got her first taste of Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) in her hometown amongst the Fire’s roster from 2011 to 2014. She now looks to make her return to the League after five years of NCAA basketball in the States and one year off due to injury with the Bendigo Spirit.

The experience of playing at a professional level in her earlier years proved handy, as the young Australian talent shook up the American Athletic Conference for the Southern Methodist University Mustangs in Dallas, Texas. She became the first player in SMU women’s basketball history to accumulate 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds and receive All-American Athletic Conference Third Team honours in her senior year.

After five years of college ball (redshirted in her fourth year due to injury), Froling made her way back home and head coach of the Spirit Tracy York knew she wanted the tenacious forward to be a part of her roster for the 2019/20 season. The only restriction for this move, however, was the fact that Froling would not actually suit up for Bendigo in WNBL20, as she recovered from a season-ending wrist injury that saw her sidelined for the entire campaign. Nevertheless, Bendigo’s administration was more than eager to hold on to the 24-year-old the season after.

“Given her career in college, she’s an elite rebounder and defender,” York stated. “That’s just massive to be able to have someone with good possession play and of her calibre as well, so we definitely wanted to jump on that and get her back with us this year.”

Not only does Froling’s game appeal to York, but the 191cm-tall prospect’s laid-back attitude is also a key attribute. “She’s a very chilled person, she will sit in the background and quietly smile, she will talk if you ask her questions and she takes it all in,” York said. “Everyone has different personalities, but I think she’s very excited. It has been a long time coming for her, obviously after finishing her college career and I think she’s ready to get started, and maybe start a little bit of competition with her twin sister Keely so we will see.”

Froling herself indicated excitement in returning to the WNBL, noting the level of competition the League has on offer, as well as praising York and her staff for the squad she has pulled together during the offseason.

“I’m really excited to be playing with Bendigo this WNBL season. After missing last season due to injury, I am even more excited to finally get to play in Bendigo, and in one of the best leagues in the world,” Froling said. “Tracy has put together a great team l and I’m looking forward to getting together with the group and seeing what we can achieve,” she concluded.

Froling remains up in Townsville for now, being trained by her father Shane as well as receiving regular check-ins by way of York’s notorious Zoom sessions, as teams continue to wait for announcements regarding “return to play” procedures from the WNBL.