Tag: wnbl

It’s balls in all court’s for Lavey

BASKETBALL and football are two sports that often go hand in hand but not always at the elite level however, Australian Opal and Richmond AFLW player, Tessa Lavey, is proving it is possible to have the best of both worlds.

“[Footy and basketball] do have similar traits to them, when you’re in close there is a lot of decision-making with your hands,” she said.

“Footy into basketball has helped me a lot to be honest with the contact side of things, I think I’m taking a lot more contact now. So yeah, I think both have really had a positive impact on one or the other.”

Lavey has certainly been on the move for her career. She was born in Swan Hill in regional Victoria, then lived in Hamilton before getting a scholarship to the Australian Institute of Sport at 16 years old. At 18 she moved to Bendigo to play in the Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) for the Bendigo Spirit, before jetting across the country to become the first captain of the Perth Lynx. Lavey then relocated to Melbourne to play for the Dandenong Rangers, then back to Bendigo, and then recently moving back to Melbourne.

She is currently playing for Melbourne based women’s team, the Frankston Blues, who are part of the NBL1, during the off season from the WNBL. The Blues are currently undefeated and are sitting at the top of the ladder.

“I wanted to be down in Melbourne and be closer with, I guess, football to be able to do both, and I know Snelly [Belinda Snell] really well, I’ve played with her before, and she also does the Opals, so me trying to get to Tokyo that’s obviously a bonus for me knowing the plays inside and out. So I ended up out at Frankston.”

Lavey has been apart of the national team for a while now, debuting for the Opals at the Rio Olympics back in 2016.

“So 2016 was really wild over in Rio. I didn’t expect to go to Rio, and it all happened really quickly… I was like a 23-year-old looking around just taking everything in as much as possible.”

Again selected for the Opal’s Olympic team this year and set to head over to Tokyo in July, Lavey said that the feat is “an amazing achievement of mine that I’m really fortunate to have in front of me at the moment”.

“I’ll be doing that same thing, going in and taking everything in and using my experience as well… I think us as a group, we’re just ready to get over there and give it all we have.”

With the Olympics originally set to be held in 2020 but postponed due to COVID-19, the opportunity to play sport again was one of real excitement for a lot of people, but especially for Lavey.

“I think everyone missed sports in general last year, so for us to be playing, we know we are really lucky to be doing that, and it’s been really nice to reconnect with a lot of people, and the AFLW was obviously really cool to play and also share that experience with a lot of family [and] friends.”

The Richmond Tigers selected Lavey with pick no. 43 during the draft in 2020 after not having played football much since her days running around with the boys in the under 14’s in Casterton.

“I’ve supported them my whole life, so when they got an AFLW team I always joked around that I would eventually play for them,” she said.

“I just sort of reached out… got the ball rolling and went down for a kick, then turns out we were lucky enough to get me through on draft night.”

With so much to juggle, Lavey is trying to focus on one thing at a time, with the next goal in her sights the Olympics.

“Tokyo is the main focus right now. And then after that, just get back to Australia and see some family and friends, catch up with everybody, and then I’m straight back into everything; footy, basketball, it will be full tilt ahead.”

Photo credit: Tracey Nearmy

WNBL20 Season Review – Southside Flyers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WNBL20 Season Review – Townsville Fire

BESIDES being the most improved team in WNBL20 by a country mile, this season’s hosts, the Townsville Fire performed at an exceptional rate over the entire six weeks, culminating in two All-WNBL team selections, a Coach of the Year, a Sixth Woman and a Youth Player of the Year recipient, as well as a Grand Final opportunity. After receiving the wooden spoon at the start of this year, the Fire improved at a rapid rate and despite missing out on the final piece of silverware will take plenty of positives out of their campaign.

After a busy offseason to say the least, a new look Fire squad took the floor in Mackay during mid-November, to commence the long-awaited season with a determined mindset. This was shown against the Perth Lynx in Townsville’s season-opener as the hub hosts ran away with a 25-point triumph. But it did not take long for the Fire to realise that this season’s competitors were not to be taken lightly, losing their second contest of Round 1 to the defending champion Canberra Capitals (67-78).

Round 2 of the season fixture for the Fire proved to be a pivotal point in the campaign for head coach Shannon Seebohm and her squad, as they had to work their way through a four-game week. After a successful three-point result over the Sydney Uni Flames, Townsville got to test their mettle against the WNBL’s top-contender in the Southside Flyers, but to no avail going down to the league’s benchmark side 89-101. Fortunately for the Fire, they performed well in their remaining games that week against both the Bendigo Spirit twice and the Melbourne Boomers, placing their record at five wins and two losses entering the middle portion of the season.

Going down again to the Flyers to conclude Round 3, Southside proved to be more than a nuisance as the season continued, with Townsville unable to find the solution to slow down the Flyers’ offence. While Seebohm and his side showed lapses throughout their season, it was their ability to repeatedly bounce back from negative results that helped in the long run.

A two-game split in Round 4 against the Lynx (75-84 loss) and the Capitals (84-71 win) put the Fire well within finals eligibility with the last round still yet to be played, but with a top-two seed still hanging in the balance.

Knocking off Adelaide Lightning in convincing fashion 95-66, Townsville now had the chance to steal the second seed in WNBL standings at the end of the season. To get to that goal, the Fire just scraped away with a six-point win over the Boomers and leapfrogged the Melbourne-based side in the process, nabbing the second-seed at the last possible moment.

The Fire found themselves face-to-face with a team they had yet to defeat during the season and one of the most talented domestic line-ups in Australian basketball history, Southside. That streak of defeats to the Flyers unfortunately continued for the Sunshine-State team, going down in the second semi-final of the day 93-106, meaning next up would be a win or go home preliminary final against the Boomers once more.

In a meeting drowned in defence, neither Townsville nor Melbourne would manage to accumulate over 65 points, as shooting efficiency was few and far between. Luckily for the hosts, they kept their noses in front for the majority of the encounter withstanding onslaught after onslaught from the Boomers. Eventually conquering Melbourne 65-62 and setting up the franchise’s first grand final in little more than three seasons.

For all of Townsville’s players, it was a dream come true to compete for a WNBL title in front of their home crowd at Townsville Stadium. But their final hurdle would be the most difficult to combat and overcome, given that the Fire had not been able to beat Southside in any of their three previous meetings throughout the campaign.

Despite having four players reaching double-digit totals in what was for the most part a tightly knitted affair, the Flyers’ marquee players made their presence felt. A near-perfect second half for the Flyers, as well as a performance to remember from Leilani Mitchell would be enough to silence their opponents 99-82 at the final buzzer, ending the Fire’s prominent season and redeeming themselves after last year’s Grand Final failures – breaking the hometown fans’ hearts in the process after a gallant year.

MVP-candidate, member of the All-WNBL First Team and new signing for Townsville, Lauren Nicholson reminded everyone why she is a force to be reckoned with averaging 18.9 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.7 assists. Next to her is perhaps one of the biggest success stories this season for another new signing in Shyla Heal. Heal ended her WNBL20 with averages of 16.7 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.4 assists and being named this season’s Australian Youth Player of the Year.

Other standouts included Sixth Woman of the Year, Zitina Aokuso (9.6 points and 5.5 rebounds), Nadeen Payne (8.5 points and 6.3 rebounds) and Megan McKay (7.3 points and 5.9 rebounds).

In a season that could have gone either way because of the major roster changes that were made before the season even began, Seebohm did an exemplary job alongside his coaching staff merging numerous personalities together to work as a collective unit. With Seebohm signing a two-year extension, the future possibilities for this Townsville side are limitless.

Southside Flyers claim premiership glory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WNBL20 Season Review – Melbourne Boomers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WNBL20 Season Review – UC Capitals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heal drops 28 as Fire return to Grand Final

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WNBL Season Review – Sydney Uni Flames

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WNBL Preliminary final: Townsville Fire v. Melbourne Boomers

IT is a do or die clash for the Melbourne Boomers and Townsville Fire as both sides aim to keep their grand final hopes alive with a win in the preliminary final. Melbourne is chasing its first premiership in over a decade while the Fire have enjoyed a rapid rise up the ladder and will be hoping not to bow out in straight sets.

The Boomers switched on the fireworks in their semi-final win against two-time premiers, UC Capitals and will be wanting to replicate those highs against a young and inexperienced Fire side. On the other hand, Townsville fell victim to a rampant Southside Flyers outfit that was eager to make amends for its shortcomings last year, succeeding with a dominant first term that set up the win.

In terms of recent results, the two sides cannot be separated with the Boomers and Fire winning three of their past five outings to highlight just how evenly poised they are. There has not been too much time between their last encounter with the second and fourth ranked sides meeting in Round 5, when Townsville Fire reigned supreme by six points. The Fire had the better of Melbourne, making them work in overdrive and shutting down a couple of their key figures, an area Melbourne will be hoping to address ahead of their preliminary final clash tonight.

Statistically speaking, the Fire have proven to be more potent in attack than their competitors; averaging 82 points across their 14 games while the Boomers have managed a lesser total of 77. If the Fire are able to find easy avenue to the basket, the Boomers could be in trouble. However, the Boomers’ strength lies in their defensive prowess with the side recognised for its ability to slow down opposition teams and be a real menace off the backboards, boasting 30 more rebounds than the Fire (565-535). Melbourne also reigns supreme in blocks (62-21) and steals (108-105) indicating its defensive minded techniques. When it comes to shooting percentage it is hard to split the two, however the Fire have the upper hand in all areas; going at 46.3 per cent from the field, 75.4 from the charity strip and 35.1 per cent from outside the arc compared to Melbourne’s 43.4, 73.2 and 33.1 respectively.

There are plenty of exciting players across the court with Lauren Nicholson and Shyla Heal likely to light it up for Townsville. Nicholson was awarded All-WNBL honours for her performances throughout the season, averaging 18.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.08 steals while shooting at a 48.1 field goal percentage. Heal has also been recognised for her breakout season, winning the Youth Player of the Year award and will be eager to keep her scintillating form going heading into the preliminary final. She has registered averages of 15.2 points, 4.8 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.2 steals per game while another one to keep an eye out for is Zitina Aokuso, with her ability to come on and impact the play. Players such as Kate Gaze, Nadeen Payne and Stephanie Reid are also handy inclusions that are able to make a splash.

The Boomers are not without their plethora of stars, with Ezi Magbegor leading the pack. The defensive star averages some impressive numbers (14.8 points, 8.6 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 0.8 steals and 1.1 blocks) and knows what it takes to perform on the big stage, converting at a 56.2 per cent clip. Partner in crime and Boomers captain, Cayla George is another dynamite player, able to leave a lasting imprint with her hot hand and rebounding ability; averaging 14.1 points, 9.4 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.4 steals and a little over a block a game. Maddy Garrick also has an uncanny ability to sense the moment and star, amassing averages of 10.9 points a game, 2.8 rebounds and 2.7 assists. Meanwhile, Tess Madgen is a force to be reckoned with alongside the likes of Ashleigh Karaitiana and Kalani Purcell.

WNBL20 Season Review – Adelaide Lightning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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