This evening in the Dandenong Rangers first home game of the 2016/17 WNBL season forward Sara Blicavs reaches 150 WNBL games, becoming the fourth player on the Rangers roster to reach this milestone, joining Stephanie Cumming (230 games), Amelia Todhunter (166) and Jacinta Kennedy (159).
At just 23 years of age Blicavs is in her eighth WNBL season, having had a career-best season with the Rangers in 2015/16, demonstrating her versatile skill-set she ranked in the top 20 of the WNBL in four categories, steals – seventh, rebounds – 11th, assists – 19th and points – 14th. Blicavs finished 10th in the 2015/16 WNBL MVP award with 56 votes, ranked second at Dandenong behind club MVP winner and WNBL Defensive Player of the Year Steph Cumming who finished sixth overall with 73 votes.
At 189 centimetres tall Blicavs uses her athleticism, reading of the play and quick hands to full effect, ranking in the top 10 of the WNBL for total steals in a season three times – 2011/12 with the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS), 2014/15 with Bendigo and 2015/16 with Dandenong. Sara’s 148 WNBL games to date are comprised of 45 with the AIS, 51 with the Bendigo Spirit and 52 with the Dandenong Rangers. Dandenong commenced Round 2 with a road trip to play Sara’s former team Bendigo on last night before hosting Perth this evening in Sara’s 150th WNBL game.
In 2009/10 Blicavs made her WNBL debut at 16 years of age with the Australian Institute of Sport, during her three seasons with the club she improved significantly and in her final season Blicavs ranked in the top two at the AIS for points, rebounds, assists and steals. Blicavs joined the Dandenong Rangers for the 2012/13 season and starred on debut, scoring 19 points and taking eight rebounds. Blicavs is playing her third WNBL season at Dandenong in her second stint at the club, having played for the Bendigo Spirit in 2013/14 and 2014/15. Blicavs was a member of Bendigo’s 2013/14 championship winning team, the second leg of the club winning back to back WNBL titles, with Bendigo having won their first championship in club history in 2012/13. During her past four WNBL seasons Blicavs has steadily improved, increasing her scoring output from 7.5 points per game in 2012/13 to 13.7 in 2015/16 and increasing her rebounds per game from 4.4 to 6.6 in the same period.
In the past 18 months Blicavs has regularly represented the Australian Opals, including on several overseas tours and during the two-game 2015 Oceania Championships victory against New Zealand which qualified Australia for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. Blicavs was a late inclusion in the Opals squad for the 2016 Rio test event in January this year which comprised three games. Blicavs was named in the preliminary 17 player Opals squad for the Rio Olympics before getting cut in late June.
To celebrate Blicavs reaching 150 WNBL games this weekend she was the subject of the league’s Round 2 player profile, in the article published on WNBL.com.au Sara commented with surprise on reaching her milestone “I didn’t know I was that old” and went on to say about playing her third season overall with the Dandenong Rangers “I’ve moved back into the same room this season that I’ve had for the three years and I’m used to the court and the people at Dandenong so it’s definitely feeling like home.”1
During the Rangers TV Round 2 preview Dandenong head coach Larissa Anderson spoke of Blicavs achievement in reaching 150 WNBL games, saying “It is not a small feat to reach that in the WNBL, I think she is a name that is just going to get bigger and bigger, she is a pleasure to coach, she is the first one to put her hand up and say I could have done better, or the first one to put up her hand and say I’ll do that. I couldn’t congratulate her more, I think she is going to get better and better and she works really hard, I am very excited to see what she becomes as a player.”
Sara’s journey from making her WNBL debut with the AIS at 16 years of age to being a key player for WNBL finalists Bendigo Spirit and Dandenong Rangers, and regularly representing the Australian Opals is comprehensively covered below.
Both of Sara Blicavs parents, dad Andris and mum Karen represented Australian national basketball teams, Andris played at three major championships for Australia comprised of one Olympic Games and two world championships from 1974 to 1978, whilst Karen Odgen represented Australia at the 1983 world championships in Brazil and was selected for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics but was forced to withdraw from the team due to a knee injury. Karen won the WNBL MVP in 1982 and 1983 and was a key member of the St Kilda team that won the inaugural WNBL championship in 1981
Sara Blicavs was born on 15 February 1993 in Sunbury and has two older brothers, Kris and Mark. Kris has played several seasons of basketball in the South East Australian Basketball League (SEABL) including with the Geelong Supercats in 2015/16. After being an athlete competing in the 3,000 metres steeplechase Mark Blicavs was selected by AFL club Geelong in the 2012 Rookie Draft. Mark has easily exceeded Geelong’s expectations, proving to a be a very difficult player to match up on as either a big-bodied midfielder or an athletic ruckman, Mark has played 90 AFL games and won the Carji Greeves medal in 2015 as Geelong’s best and fairest. As a junior Sara also competed in athletics however a key factor in her preferring basketball over athletics was that she enjoyed being part of a team that worked together to achieve common goals more than competing as an individual in athletics. In December 2015 Kris got engaged to Sara’s Dandenong Rangers team-mate Steph Cumming, the couple are getting married in March 2017, further increasing the stock of sporting talent in the Blicavs family.
Sara started playing basketball as a junior for the Sunbury Jets and progressed to play on representative teams for the Melbourne Tigers. Impressive performances for the Tigers earnt her selection in the Vic Metro under 16’s team and Sara went on to play in five consecutive National Championships with Vic Metro from the under 16’s to the under 20’s. In June 2013 Sara and brother Mark were interviewed on the Channel Nine Australian Rules television show ‘Future Stars’. When asked ‘How much of an influence were your parents on your sporting careers’ Sara responded “They were a massive influence, obviously dad was very heavily involved with me growing up, being my coach for the first three years and same with my oldest brother Kris, I think he even coached Mark as well, so he was always getting me out on our court at home, and shooting foul shots and defense at a young age as well, making me play a point guard so that was pretty good.” Later in the interview when asked ‘How important are your parents when you need advice or support’ Mark responded “Yeah, it is very handy, I suppose with mum and dad both representing the country for basketball they have played elite sport at an elite level and been elite athletes themselves so I am always looking to them for advise, and dad’s very, very happy to give out his advise and lectures (met by laughter and agreeance from Sara), I take it all on board, more mum than dad now (again laughing Sara says ‘yeah’), they are both very handy and I suppose at the moment things are going quite well for me and Sara but when things aren’t going so well we are more than happy to have a chat with them, they keep us grounded and are always there to give us some advise.”A link to the ‘Future Stars’ interview is below.
Sara made her WNBL debut at 16 years of age for the AIS in 2009/10, her team-mates included Tess Madgen, Tayla Roberts, Gretel Tippet, Nadeen Payne, Alice Kunek, Carley Mijovic, Rebecca Cole, Tessa Lavey, Olivia Thompson and Alex Bunton. The AIS finished last on the ladder of the 10 teams in the WNBL with one win and a percentage of 59.9, one win behind ninth placed Perth. Blicavs played eight games for the AIS in 2009/10, averaging 3.6 points, 2.4 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 1.1 steals and 16.4 minutes per game.
In July 2010 Sara represented Australia in the under 17 World Championships held in Rodez and Toulouse France. Australia were in Group B which played their games in Toulouse and had a group record of three wins against Spain, Argentina and Mali, and two losses against Belgium and China. Australia finished third in their group behind Belgium and China.
Blicavs played all eight of Australia’s games and averaged 9.9 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.6 steals and 23.9 minutes per game. Blicavs ranked third for Australia for points, rebounds and assists, first for steals and third for minutes played behind Gretel Tippett and current Dandenong co-captain Aimie Clydesdale. Blicavs scored at least 19 points in four of her games with a tournament best of 19 points along with eight rebounds and four assists against Japan.
During her second season with the AIS in 2010/11 Blicavs’ court-time increased, playing 16 games and averaging 8.94 points, 4.6 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 1.1 steals and 24.7 minutes per game. Blicavs ranked second at the AIS for points per game just behind Tayla Roberts (9.1) and just ahead of Rebecca Cole (8.91), fourth for rebounds per game behind Roberts, Bunton and Rebecca Allen and sixth for assists per game. Whilst the AIS again finished on the bottom of the ladder, they were more competitive, having three wins and a percentage of 69.3%, level on wins with the ninth placed Adelaide.
During July 2011 Sara represented Australia in the under 19 World Championships in Chile. Australia were undefeated in the group stage to finish on top of Group C. Australia won three of their next four games to progress to the semi-finals where they were defeated in a low scoring game by Spain 55-49. Australia lost the bronze medal game to Brazil by three points 67-70 to finish the championships in fourth position.
Blicavs played all eight of Australia’s games and averaged 7.4 points, 4.9 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 1.4 steals and 17.8 minutes per game. Blicavs ranked fourth for Australia for rebounds, fifth for points and third for steals. Blicavs scored at least 19 points in four of her games with a tournament best of 19 points along with eight rebounds and four assists against Japan.
Due to AIS team-mates suffering injuries Sara was given increased court-time in her third season and thrived with the added responsibility. During Sara’s third and final season with the AIS head coach Phil Brown commented in late November 2011 that Sara Blicavs ”has never seen a shot she hasn’t liked, and her mum and dad were the same. That’s not a criticism, that’s great. Lauren Jackson, Penny Taylor, Trish Fallon … you can probably count on one hand [Australians] who’ve been world-class scorers, and Sara potentially could be one of those players. Certainly in the women’s game we haven’t had a lot of players that have an unbelievable offensive presence. Sara’s picked up the athleticism [from her parents], and certainly the scoring orientation is not an issue.”2 Blicavs gave a best on court performance in the AIS’s first win of the 2011/12 season, scoring 27 points in the side’s thrilling one point win against Townsville 68-67 at home in the AIS training hall. Even at that early stage of her career it was a goal of Sara’s to follow in her parents footsteps and represent Australia, commenting ”I always hear coaches talk about my parents and say they were pretty good, and you just want to be like them, or even better. That’s definitely my number one goal to make Opals and if I could get on a camp before the 2016 Olympics, that’d be great.”3
The AIS had only one more win for the 2011/12 season, finishing in last position with a record of two wins, 20 losses and 69.0%, level on wins with West Coast whose percentage was 76.1. During 2011/12 Blicavs played 21 games for the AIS, averaging 12.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.8 steals and 29.5 minutes per game. Blicavs led the AIS for scoring, assists and steals, and ranked second for rebounds behind Olivia Thompson. With her breakout 2011/12 season Blicavs well and truly stamped herself as one of the best young prospects in the WNBL, ranking equal fifth in the league for steals, 25th for points and rebounds, and 35th for assists. 2011/12 was the AIS’s last season in the WNBL as changes were made to the Basketball program at the AIS. Whilst the program is still located at the AIS it is now referred to as the Basketball Australia Centre of Excellence (COE). Now Basketball Australia COE teams compete in both the men’s and women’s SEABL leagues.
Days before playing her 150th WNBL game Blicavs commented to WNBL.com.au about her start in the league at the AIS “I received my scholarship and Browny (Phil Brown) told us we had our first WNBL game in about two weeks. The team had six or eight new faces and we were all so skinny. I went from training once or twice a week and playing just once to playing a WNBL game every week- it was a massive shock to the system. In my first game, I had never been more tired in the first two minutes. I had no strength either. I don’t remember who it was but someone just touched me and I went flying. I’m very thankful for the AIS and being able to play for them in the WNBL. I got the chance to be seen by coaches and develop my game.”4
Sara represented Australia at the 2012 FIBA 3 x 3 Women’s World Championship in Greece along with Alice Kunek, Tess Madgen and Katie-Rae Ebzery. Australia excelled at the 24 country strong championships to have a record of eight wins and one loss to win the bronze medal, with USA winning gold and France winning the silver.
Blicavs was a highly sought after player for the 2012/13 WNBL season, and along with her AIS team-mate Carly Mijovic signed with the defending champions – the Dandenong Rangers. In her first game for Dandenong Blicavs exceeded expectations, scoring 19 points and taking eight rebounds. Blicavs was named the game MVP by TV Broadcaster ABC and in the post-game interview with Stephanie Brantz Blicavs commented “It was a really good game, a great bunch of girls to play with and they are teaching me a lot so I am really happy to be there, I think I made a great choice.” Brantz commented ‘Dandenong have made very few changes, you are one of only two new faces, have you found them to be a really settled group.’ Blicavs responded “Oh definitely, and I am really happy because my best friend Carley Mijovic is down as well, so like I said they are accepting, they are teaching us a lot and we have fitted in great, we fit into their style of play which is athletic and a running game so it’s been good for us.”
Dandenong retained most of their championship winning squad from the 2011/12 season and the addition of the AIS recruits resulted in a very deep roster, the starters were Kathleen Macleod, Steph Cumming, Jenna O’Hea, Alison Downie and Krista Phillips. The bench consisted of sixth-man Tegan Cunningham, Blicavs, Mijovic, and two current Dandenong team-mates in Aimie Clydesdale and Rosie Fadljevic. A third of the way into the season the Rangers further strengthened their roster with the recruitment of import Monica Wright.
Dandenong were one of the three standout teams during the 2012/13 regular season along with Bendigo and Adelaide. During the regular season the Rangers lost all three games to Bendigo, had a 1-2 record against Adelaide and were undefeated in games against the six remaining sides who in their ladder positions from fourth to ninth were Townsville, Bulleen, Logan, Sydney, Canberra and West Coast. Dandenong finished third on the ladder with a record of 19 wins, five losses and a league leading 120%, two games behind Bendigo and one game ahead of Adelaide. Dandenong lost their semi final on the road to Bendigo 71-78 and then were upset in a home preliminary final by Townsville 64-78.
Although Blicavs didn’t turn 20 years old until late in the season and was part of a very deep Rangers roster she played just under 50% game-time, playing all 26 games for Dandenong, averaging 7.5 points, 4.1 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 0.8 steals and 18.6 minutes per game. Blicavs’ field goal percentage increased in each of her first four seasons to be 46.5% in 2012/13, the highest percentage she has recorded in her seven completed seasons until the end of 2015/16. Sara ranked sixth at Dandenong for points behind, McLeod, O’Hea, Cumming, Wright and Cunningham, fifth for rebounds and fourth for steals. Two Dandenong Rangers were named in the All-WNBL team, MacLeod and O’Hea who ranked second and third in the league respectively for assists behind Kristi Harrower. Three Dandenong players ranked in the top 11 of the league for points per game, MacLeod (4th), O’Hea (8th) and Wright (11th).
On being selected for an Australian Opals tour of China in June 2013 Sara commented “It was late notice me going into the camp which was last week and I get chosen from then, there were 35 girls participating in that camp and you know it is always exciting being named in an Australian team and it just happened to be the main Opals team, so that’s always good, good to represent your country again, and at such a high level too.”
Sara signed with the Bendigo Spirit for the 2013/14 season, Bendigo had won the 2012/13 WNBL Championship under head coach Bernie Harrower, making it two seasons in a row that that Sara had joined the defending WNBL champions. In Bendigo’s opening game of the 2013/14 season they lost to Townsville on the road 67-79. After unexpectedly making the 2012/13 Grand Final Townsville had strengthened their roster in the off-season recruiting three-time Olympian Suzy Batkovic from Adelaide and Steph Cumming from Dandenong. Bendigo had retained all their starters from 2012/13 in Grand Final MVP Kelsey Griffen, four-time Olympian Kristi Harrower, Kelly Wilson, Chelsey Aubrey and Gabe Richards and had recruited Elyse Penaluna from the Melbourne Boomers and Blicavs from Dandenong to also strengthen their roster in 2013-14. During 2012/13 11 Bendigo Spirit players had at least 100 minutes court-time for the season, eight of these players returned in 2013/14, all five starters along with Chantella Perera, Madeleine Garrick and Jane Chalmers. The three players that left Bendigo for the 2013/14 season were Renae Camino, Hayley Munro and Rachel Herrick.
Bendigo won their first home game of the season by six points against Adelaide, 65-59 and went on to win 16 consecutive games before losing to Townsville 70-81 at Bendigo Stadium in Round 15. Bendigo won their remaining five games of the season including a win in Round 16 over Townsville 78-57 at the Townsville RSL on Australia Day. Bendigo won the minor premiership for the second season in a row, having a regular season record of 22 wins and two losses, six games ahead of the second placed Dandenong Rangers and Townsville Fire in third position. The Melbourne Boomers finished in fourth position with 14 wins and 10 losses.
Bendigo continued their dominance over Dandenong to win their semi final 71-62 at Bendigo Stadium and qualify for their second Grand Final in a row. Townsville won a thrilling preliminary final against Dandenong 74-71. With the Grand Final being hosted by Bendigo against a visiting Townsville Fire that had won the season split between the two clubs 2-1 the expectations were that it would be a closer Grand Final than the previous season. This was exactly how it played out with Bendigo leading by only two points at three-quarter time. With the opening nine points of the final quarter Bendigo set up an 11 point victory over Townsville to win back to back WNBL championships. Bendigo forward Kelsey Griffin won the Grand Final MVP for the second year in a row.
During the 2013/14 WNBL season Blicavs played all 26 games for the Bendigo Spirit, averaging 9.0 points, 3.7 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 1.0 steals and 20.3 minutes per game. Blicavs ranked third at Bendigo for points behind Kelsey Griffen and Gabe Richards, sixth for rebounds and assists, second for steals behind Griffin, fourth for blocks and sixth for minutes played.
Of the 12 players that had at least 100 minutes court-time for the Bendigo Spirit during 2013/14 10 returned for the 2014/15 season, with the two departures being Elyse Penaluna and Chantella Perera. Three-time Australian Olympian Belinda Snell joined Bendigo in 2014/15, Blicavs’ AIS team-mate Tayla Roberts was also recruited but played minimal court-time. Bendigo commenced the 2014/15 WNBL season with a road trip to Townsville just like they had in 2013/14 and were defeated by three points 70-67. Blicavs played less than 16 minutes court-time in each of Bendigo’s first two games of the season and her court-time fluctuated greatly throughout the season, this is partly due to Harrower being prepared to mix up his team depending on match-ups and partly due to Blicavs quickly picking up multiple fouls in some games.
In successive road games on 9 November against Adelaide and 16th November against Dandenong Blicavs scored 20 points and 24 points respectively. Against the Adelaide Lightning Blicavs also took eight rebounds, made six of 12 field goal attempts, two of three three-pointers and all six free-throws in just 23 minutes, 40 seconds court-time in the 43 point win, 76-33. Blicavs was even more accurate against Dandenong, making eight of 12 field-goal attempts and all eight free-throws during the 14 point victory, 89-75.
Blicavs scored more than 14 points in a game six times in 2014/15 including a hot-streak where she achieved this feat four times in five games from Round 10 to Round 14 including 23 points and six rebounds against Canberra on 23 January, making nine of 16 field goal attempts.
Bendigo remained near the top of the WNBL ladder throughout the 2014/15 season but weren’t as dominant as they had been in the previous two season, recording 15 wins and seven losses to finished second, two games behind minor premiers Townsville and three games ahead of Dandenong in third place with the Sydney Uni Flames completing the top four on 11 wins.
In the semi final at Townsville the home side defeated Bendigo comfortably, 82-63. Bendigo defeated Sydney in a preliminary final at Bendigo by eight points to set up their third grand final in a row against Townsville. Bendigo led the Grand Final by two points at quarter-time however a dominant 26-16 second quarter gained Townsville the ascendancy and they won the club’s first ever WNBL championship 75-65.
In 2014/15 Blicavs played all 25 games for the Bendigo Spirit, averaging 11.2 points, 4.7 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1.2 steals and 22.9 minutes per game. Blicavs ranked fourth at Bendigo for points behind Griffin, Belinda Snell and Richards, third for rebounds behind Griffin and Richards, sixth for assists, second for steals, equal third for blocks and fourth for minutes.
Blicavs was selected in the Australian Opals team for the Oceania Championships against New Zealand in August 2015. In game one of the Oceania Series on 15 August Australia defeated New Zealand 61-41 at Rod Laver Arena, restricting New Zealand to just five points in the opening quarter. A double-header was played at Rod Laver on the mid-August Saturday night with game 1 of the Women’s Oceania Series followed by game 1 of the same series for Men, also between Australia and New Zealand. The double header at Rod Laver Arena was a sell-out attracting more than 15,000 people and at the time of tip-off for the Women’s game the crowd had already reached 11,500.
At Tauranga, New Zealand in game 2 of the 2015 women’s Oceania series in Australia and New Zealand were locked at 14 points apiece at quarter-time before the Opals gained the ascendancy in a high scoring second term in which they outscored New Zealand 26-19. The Opals won both terms in the second half to win 80-63 and qualify for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. In the two game series Blicavs played a total of only 10 minutes, but impressed with her rebounding too take six rebounds in her limited court-time to rank equal fifth for Australia for total rebounds at the Oceania Championships.
After two seasons at Bendigo Blicavs returned to the Dandenong Rangers for the 2015/16 season. In March 2015 Larissa Anderson was named as the Dandenong Rangers WNBL head coach for the 2015/16 season, replacing Mark Wright who held the role for five years. Larissa is the first woman to coach the Dandenong Rangers in the WNBL, and shortly after her appointment she stated an intention to recruit players that had represented the Dandenong Rangers in the WNBL previously, which she followed through on, recruiting five former Rangers players in Blicavs, Steph Cumming, Jacinta Kennedy, Amelia Todhunter and Alison Downie. Excluding development players the only player Dandenong recruited for the 2015/16 season that hadn’t played WNBL basketball for the club previously was centre Alex Bunton.
Core players that returned from 2014/15 in addition to Pickrel were 2014/15 WNBL Rookie of the Year Lauren Scherf, Aimie Clydesdale and Tegan Cunningham, resulting in four of the eight players that formed Dandenong’s core rotation in 2014/15 returning in 2015/16. Only one of Dandenong’s starters from 2014/15 returned for the 2015/16 season, American import Annalise Pickrel who averaged 11.1 points per game in 2014/15, ranked fifth at Dandenong. The four starters that didn’t return for the 2015/16 season were all ranked in the top 15 of the WNBL for points per game in 2014/15, being Penny Taylor (19.3 points per game), Cappie Pondexter (17.0), Alice Kunek (12.9) and Kathleen McLeod (12.9).
The Dandenong Rangers starting line-up for the opening game of the season in the eight point victory against Canberra was Clydesdale, Cumming, Blicavs, Pickrel and Bunton, however Clydesdale injured her knee in this game and only one game in the next two months being replaced in the starting line-up by Amelia Todhunter for the rest of the season. A back injury to centre Alex Bunton in late November resulted in her missing two and a half months of basketball and playing restricted court-time when she returned late in the season. Veteran, Jacinta Kennedy in her first WNBL season since 2005/06. Dandenong’s three remaining starters had a great run with injury with Blicavs and Cumming playing every game for the season and Pickrel missing just one game.
After scoring a total of 16 points in her first two games of the 2015/16 season Blicavs scored at least 15 points in each of her next four games. In a 32 point win at home against former side Bendigo in a Round 3 Friday night game Blicavs scored 15 points and set outright or equal team-highs in four categories, with seven rebounds, three assists, two blocks and three steals. In the post-game press conference Blicavs commented on playing against her former team Bendigo “It was a bit nerve racking, it is always a bit hard playing against your old team but I can’t be thinking about that the whole time, I just really wanted to I guess prove to them that I can still play and wanted to be in their minds a little bit, but tonight I really focused on my defense because Kelsey Griffen’s an amazing player and Belinda Snell, defense gets you into offense so that is what I really focussed on tonight.”
In Dandenong’s second game of Round 3 against Perth on 25 October Blicavs played a brilliant all-round game, scoring 19 points, took a game-high 14 rebounds, made a game-high six assists and made two steals. These two superb games earnt Blicavs a spot in the WNBL’s team of the week for Round 3, she was also selected in the team of the week in Rounds 11 and 13.
In an interview with the Dandenong Journal between Round 3 and Round 4 of the 2016/17 WNBL season when the Rangers were in equal top-spot on the ladder Blicavs commented “We can have someone who’s not playing well and anyone can step up for us off our bench – Tenaya (Phillips), Jacinta (Kennedy), anyone. We’ve just got so much depth and I think that’s why we’re doing quite well at the moment. We’re so under-rated. I think the WNBL tipped us to come second last, and I absolutely love it when people do that because then you get a chance to prove people wrong. No-one will expect us to do well, but to be honest I look at our team and I think we can do very well.”5
Later in the interview with the Dandenong Journal Blicavs spoke about the influence her family had on her career and the benefits they get from being able to draw on each other’s experiences. Blicavs said “You hear it from coaches, and you hear it from players and other people – and even your parents – about what to do but for me it doesn’t really click until my brothers say it to me. Mark is brutally honest with me and I’m the same with him. I know nothing about football but I know what should be done and it’s good because we do feed off each other. But Kris, in particular, I play a lot of one-on-one and two-on-two with. I shoot around and work out with him and I think he’s quite smart and he really knows what he’s talking about. I know it’s clichéd but I really respect my parents and what they’ve done in the basketball world. They are a massive influence but really my brothers are too. I absolutely adore and love them. They all ride the highs and lows with me.”6
In a six point Round 11 win at home against cross-town rival the Melbourne Boomers on 18 December Blicavs scored a game-high 21 points, making eight of 17 field goals in a team-high 34 minutes and 22 seconds court-time. Blicavs also took seven rebounds and made some crucial free-throws in the final quarter after being fouled whilst using her athleticism to drive to the basket. On the road against Townsville on 20 December Blicavs scored 12 points, and had nine rebounds and three assists to set team-high’s in the latter two categories.
Blicavs was selected in the WNBL team of the week for Round 13 – her third and final selection for the season, scoring 16 points in each game, a 16 point road-win against Adelaide and then a thrilling three point win against Sydney at Dandenong Stadium. Bicavs shot the ball superbly against Adelaide, making five of her eight field goal attempts for an accuracy of 62.5%, made all six free-throws and took eight rebounds. Blicavs’ 16 points against Sydney was a game-high, she also took a team-high 11 rebounds and made two steals.
The WNBL had a week off between Rounds 13 and 14 to enable the Australian Opals to participate in a test-event in Rio for the Olympic Games. Although players currently playing in overseas leagues could not be considered for the test-event in Rio, Basketball Australia were still able to send a strong 12 player squad comprised of 11 WNBL players and Erin Phillips who missed the WNBL season due to injury. Nine of the squad members having represented Australia at a major championship (Olympic Games or World Championship) previously, being: Rebecca Allen, Suzy Batkovic, Bishop, Natalie Burton, Cayla George, Rachel Jarry, Tessa Lavey, Leilani Mitchell and Erin Phillips. The three squad members without major championship experience were Katie-Rae Ebzery, Stephanie Talbot and Blicavs who came into the squad as a late replacement for Tess Madgen who was ruled out due to an ankle injury. In an interview with Dandenong Rangers TV After being named as the Opals injury replacement player for Madgen, Blicavs commented “That she was really excited, I was pretty happy because I was pretty sad when I was told I wasn’t in the team, so I have just been really working on my game and it is an honour to get that call up.” When asked ‘What does representing the country mean to you?’ Sara responded “Everyone says it, it is kind of a cliché to say it is an honour, but when I played at Rod Laver Arena for the Oceania series and it was in Australia in front of Australians in front of my family, I actually knew what that meant and what that felt like, and it was a massive thing and so surreal to me, so I am going to stick with that and say that it is a big honour and so exciting and I get happy when I think my parents are proud.”
The Dandenong Rangers finished third on the WNBL ladder with a record of 15 wins and nine losses, two wins behind minor premiers, Townsville Fire and one win behind the second placed Perth Lynx. The fourth placed SEQ Stars also finished with 15 wins and nine losses but lost the tie-breaker due to Dandenong having the better head to head record, winning two of the three games between the clubs. A key reason in Dandenong making the WNBL finals was their remarkable record in close games, of their 14 games decided by eight points or less during the 2015/16 regular season they won 12 and lost only two. Dandenong’s depth was extremely important throughout the 2015/16 season given that due to injury they frequently had one or more of their core players missing. The Dandenong Rangers had the equal-best home record in the WNBL during the regular season with the Perth Lynx, having a record of nine wins and three losses. With their entertaining brand of basketball and their superb record of winning close games at home the Rangers provided tremendous value for money for their members in 2015/16. Dandenong had six wins and six losses on the road, the equal fourth best record in the WNBL, three games behind the best team on the road, the eventual 2015/16 WNBL Champions the Townsville Fire.
Dandenong hosted SEQ in the minor semi final and held the ascendancy for most of the game, leading by 15 points late in the second quarter, however SEQ overran Dandenong to win by four points, 86-82. Blicavs was phenomenal in the semi final playing one of the all-time great WNBL finals games, scoring 38 points on 14 of 26 field goals, taking a team-high nine rebounds and made an equal team-high four assists. Some of the shots Blicavs made against SEQ under strong defensive pressure were extraordinary, as well as shooting at 54% from the field Sara made all seven free-throw attempts. The Dandenong Jayco Rangers broke a club record in making the WNBL finals for a sixth consecutive season in 2015/16, however in the past four seasons they have been unable to win a final.
During the 2015/16 WNBL season Blicavs played all 25 games for the Dandenong Rangers, averaging 13.7 points, 6.6 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.4 steals and 31.4 minutes per game. Blicavs ranked third at Dandenong for points behind Cumming and Pickrel, equal first for rebounds with Pickrel, second for assists behind Cumming, first for steals and second for minutes played behind Cumming. Blicavs set new career-highs for points, rebounds, and assists in a season. Blicavs won the Dandenong Rangers 2015/16 members MVP award jointly with Pickrel.
Sara attending several Opals Training Camps and played on several overseas trips during 2016 before cut from the Opals Olympic games squad on 29 June 2016 when it was reduced from 17 players to 15 players, the other player cut at the same time was 2014/15 WNBL MVP Abby Bishop. After making the cut Opals head coach Brendon Joyce commented “As we move through the process, we have had to make tough decisions already and Sara and Abby will still be in contention should an unexpected injury arise. I want to personally thank them for their contribution that they have made to the team throughout the selection process.”7
When being interviewed and Radio Station SEN’s ‘The Run Home’ in October 2016 Sara commented on being cut from the Opals Rio Olympics Games team “Honestly I don’t put too much pressure on myself, I never have, and I was never expecting to make the team, so to make the top 15 I think it was just a bonus and I was actually just happy to be there, although watching the girls play in Rio did hurt me a little bit, especially after them losing to Serbia, but that’s life and those things happen and I am still raring to go.”
Later on in the interview on SEN Blicavs commented on how the WNBL compares to other leagues in the world, saying “It’s definitely up there, WNBL is in the top three leagues, so I think we have got, WNBA is obviously the best league in the world, then you have got Euroleague and us right behind and we are getting WNBA stars in, Americans are coming down to Australia to play as well, the league is great, definitely every year it gets better and better, it is a great challenge, it’s fast, it’s exciting, honestly I think women are a bit smarter than men so it is a very tactical game.” Blicavs is comfortable and confident speaking to the media which has allowed her personality to shine through.
After signing with the Dandenong Rangers in early May this year for the 2016/17 WNBL season Sara commented on dandenongbasketball.com.au “The girls are beautiful and such a joy to be around, train against and play with. The coaches are great to work with and helped me immensely last season, and the club as a whole is a fantastic environment to be a part of. I cannot wait for next season and hopefully the fans can be just as marvellous as they were last season”.8
In the Dandenong Rangers opening game of the 2016/17 season Sara was one of only two Rangers to reach double figures for points, scoring a game-high 23 points in 35 minutes and 16 seconds game-time whilst returning import Natalie Novosel scored 22 points. On the road Dandenong started slowly to trail Canberra 14-25 at quarter-time. Canberra’s biggest lead for the game was 17 points, Dandenong did very well to reduce the margin to four points at three-quarter time, however Canberra’s lead had increased to 13 points, 54-67 with five minutes and 48 seconds remaining and it looked like the result of the match had been decided. The Dandenong Rangers dominated for the remainder of the game, going on a 17-2 run to have a miraculous fight-back two point win, 71-69 with Steph Cumming after being fouled on a defensive rebound making two free throws with four seconds remaining to give Dandenong the lead for the first time in the game. Dandeong’s starters against Canberra were Clydesdale, Cumming, Novosel, Blicavs and Scherf. Blicavs played a critical role in the Rangers remaining within striking distance, scoring 11 of Dandenong’s 14 points in the first quarter to start the 2016/17 season in the same way that she finished 2015/16. Against the Capitals Sara took six rebounds – ranked second for Dandenong behind Scherf with 10 and shot the ball proficiently, making nine of 18 field goal attempts and all four free-throw attempts.
In an interview on ‘The Run Home’ on radio station SEN Sara spoke about the changes to Dandenong’s roster for the 2016/17 season “A bonus about our team is that we have the kept the majority of it so we haven’t had to do through that whole gelling stage, we don’t have to try and get the cohesion, we already have that. We have got two Americans in, Natalie Novosel and Ally Malott, both play WNBA as well so obviously they come with experience.” Malott missed the game against Canberra due to an ankle injury but played against Bendigo in Round 2, replacing Natalie Novosel in the starting line-up. Shooting guard Novosel played all 26 games for Dandenong in the WNBL during the 2013/14 season. Another ex-Ranger Rosie Fadljevic has also returned, having been a development player at Dandenong in 2012/13. Both players have played in WNBL championships with the Townsville Fire with Fadljevic playing in the 2014/15 title alongside current Rangers teammate Cumming, whilst Novosel played in the 2015/16 championship and was one of the best three point shooters in the league, making 34 of her 70 attempts for a phenomenal accuracy of 49%. Six of the seven Dandenong players that played at least 300 minutes court-time in 2015/16 have returned in 2016/17 with the exception being import Annalise Pickrel. None of the four Rangers that played between 50 and 295 minutes in 2015/16 have returned to the club this season with Tenaya Phillips and Tegan Cunningham joining rival WNBL clubs Perth Lynx and Melbourne Boomers respectively. Alex Bunton is playing in Europe whilst Dandenong Rangers veteran Alison Downie who has the distinction of being the only player to play in all three of Dandenong’s WNBL championships is changing sports, having been drafted by the Carlton Football Club with selection 129 in the inaugural AFL Women’s draft last week after being named in the 2016 VFL Women’s team of the year for her performances in the ruck for Diamond Creek.
Last night the Bendigo Spirit continued their dominance over the Dandenong Jayco Rangers at Bendigo Stadium, winning a low scoring game by 15 points 59-44 and restricted Dandenong to less than 14 points in each quarter. In Sara’s 150th WNBL game this evening Dandenong host last season’s runners-up Perth Lynx at Dandenong Stadium at 5pm. Dandenong have a record of one win and one loss whilst Perth have won two of their three games, including a three point win on the road against the Melbourne Boomers last night, after trailing for most of the night Perth outscored the Boomers 25-17 in the final quarter.
During the past five WNBL off-seasons Sara has played 94 games seasons in the South East Australian Basketball League (SEABL), playing with the Launceston Tornadoes in 2012 and with the Geelong Supercats for the past four seasons from 2013 onwards. In all five seasons Sara has averaged at least 14.7 points, 66.6 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game.
In her first season in the SEABL Blicavs was selected in the 2012 All-SEABL team, playing 24 games for the Launceston Tornadoes and averaging 20.3 points, 9.6 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game. Blicavs was one of just five players to average a double-double in the SEABL during 2015 and was selected in the All-SEABL team for a second time, playing 14 games for Geelong in the SEABL, averaging 19.1 points, 10.6 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 2.2 steals and had a field goal accuracy of 51.4%, her most accurate season in the SEABL.
In an interview with WNBL.com.au in the week leading up to her 150th WNBL game Blicavs commented “Winning the Championship with Bendigo was the highlight of my career. Words cannot describe how good the feeling is to win,” and went on to comment on Dandenong’s game style for 2016/17 “We’re going to be the same as last year- that annoying, youthful, speedy side that oppositions don’t like to play against. It’s a fun style to play.”9
In her final season with the AIS in 2011/12 Blicavs commented that she had aspirations to play for the Australian Opals and had a goal of making at least one Opals training camp before the Rio Olympics. Blicavs well and truly exceeded this to first represent the Australian Opals in 2013 and has regularly represented the Opals during the past 18 months.
During her 149 game WNBL career to date Blicavs has averaged 10.1 points, 4.7 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 1.2 steals per game. Sara Blicavs is a very difficult match-up for opposing forwards due to her strong all-round game, athleticism and reading of the play. With steady improvement from 2012/13 onwards and the confidence she has gained from training and playing with the Australian Opals as well as her incredible semi final performance against SEQ last season the task of curtailing Sara Blicavs is set to become even more difficult in 2016/17 and beyond.
By Dean Andrews
Twitter – @DeanAndrews7777