After their final home game of the 2017/18 WNBL season on Saturday December 23 the Jayco Rangers held their WNBL Season awards on court at Dandenong Stadium, Kayla Pedersen won two awards and Steph Blicavs, Kiera Rowe and Tessa Lavey each won one award. With one game left in their 2017/18 season tonight against the Melbourne Boomers at the State Basketball Centre the Rangers have a record of seven wins and 13 losses, ending a sequence of seven consecutive finals appearances which commenced in 2010/11.
In their first two seasons with Larissa Anderson as head coach during 2015/16 and 2016/17 the Rangers had a great record in close games and this continued to be a strength early in the 2017/18 season as four of the Rangers first seven games of the season were decided by six points or less with the Rangers having a record of three wins and one loss in these close games. Dandenong lost by five points to Sydney in Round 2, however the Rangers recorded three victories by two points or less after trailing by 10 points or more in the first third of the season, with these victories being against the University of Canberra Capitals by one point on the road in Round 3, at home by two points against the Sydney Uni Flames in Round 4 and by one point on the road against the Adelaide Lightning in Round 5. After the road victory against Adelaide only four games during the WNBL season to that stage had been decided by two points or less with the Rangers winning three of these games and the Melbourne Boomers recording a two point overtime victory at home against the Perth Lynx in Round 3 in the other game with a margin of two points or less.
After the opening weekend in November the Rangers lost all six games they were involved in up until the end of Round 12 that were decided by six points or less which resulted in them dropping out of finals contention. One of the common themes in the Rangers close losses during 2017/18 has been having a lower field goal accuracy than their opponents.
During the 2017/18 season eight Jayco Rangers averaged more than five points per game with five of these players featuring in all 20 games to the end of Round 12 being Steph Blicavs, Carley Mijovic, Kayla Pedersen, Tayla Roberts and Amelia Todhunter. The remaining three players in this category have missed 21 games between them being Tessa Lavey (missed four games), Laia Palau (six games) and Sara Blicavs (11 games) due to several injuries to her knee in Round 6 against Adelaide including her anterior cruciate ligament. Palau ranked in the top 10 of the WNBL for assists per game whilst Sara ranked in the top 10 of the WNBL for points, steals and minutes per game.
Details on the winners of the five Jayco Rangers 2017/18 WNBL season awards are provide below.
Kayla Pedersen – Defensive Player of the year and Janine Fielder Award
American import Kayla Pedersen returned for her second season with the Rangers in 2017/18, having previously played for the club in 2013/14. Pedersen was the only player to win two awards at the Jayco Rangers 2017/18 WNBL Season Awards, winning both the Defensive Player of the Year and the Janine Fielder Award. A major factor in Pedersen winning the Rangers Defensive Player of the Year Award was the 193 centimetre tall centre’s ability to defend her direct opponent despite giving away size. Two of Pedersen’s opponents throughout 2017/18 were Liz Cambage (203 cm tall) and Jennifer Hampson (200 cm).
The Janine Fielder Award is awarded to the player whose teammates felt best represented them on and off the court, and who they enjoyed playing with the most. When asked by MC Nathan Strempl how does the Janine Fielder Award compare to other Pedersen said it was the best award you could get as it is voted on by your team-mates.
Pedersen played a pivotal role in the Rangers recording a fightback two point victory at home against the Sydney Uni Flames in Round 4, having two massive defensive plays in the final minute of the game which both resulted in steals. In Round 6 against the Adelaide Lightning at Dandenong Stadium Pedersen scored 13 points, had an equal game-high 12 rebounds, a game-high five assists and two steals to be named in the Round 6 WNBL Team of the Week.
In the first 12 rounds of the 2017/18 WNBL season Kayla Pedersen has played all 20 games for the Jayco Rangers, averaging 11.2 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.3 steals per game. Pedersen leads the Rangers for total rebounds, ranks second for steals and third for points. With one round remaining in the 2017/18 WNBL season Pedersen ranks seventh in the league for rebounds per game and is almost certain to finish the season in this position. Pedersen made 48% of her field goals – ranked second at the Rangers behind Tayla Roberts with 50%.
Kayla has recorded seven double-doubles in 2017/18 including in four of her first five games of the season. Kayla had at least eight rebounds 14 times in the Rangers first 20 games of the season and has scored 10 points or more 16 times, including a season-high 19 points three times.
Pedersen’s statistics in 2017/18 are very similar to her first season with the Jayco rangers in 2013/14 in most categories, however one significant area of improvement has been her assists per game increasing by 85% from 1.4 per game in 2013/14 to 2.6 per game in 2017/18. Frequently when the Rangers brought the ball over half-court this season the first pass in their offensive set was to Pedersen outside the three-point line, having confidence in her decision making, ball handling and passing ability. In 2013/14 Pedersen ranked fifth in the WNBL for total rebounds and third for defensive rebounds.
Kayla has played 185 games in the WNBA, being the number seven selection at the 2011 Draft by the Tulsa Shock and making her debut in the same year. Kayla’s last 91 WNBA games from 2014 onwards have been with the Connecticut Sun, her WNBA team-mates at the Sun in 2017 include Courtney Williams and Rachel Banham who are both playing in the WNBL in 2017/18 as imports with the Perth Lynx and Bendigo Spirit respectively.
Kiera Rowe – Caitlin Ryan Rookie of the Year Award
Rangers forward Kiera Rowe was the recipient of the club’s Caitlin Ryan – Rookie of the Year Award, named after former Jayco Rangers guard Caitlin Ryan who won the WNBL’s Rookie of the Year Award in 1998/99.
In the opening game of the 2017/18 season Kiera Rowe made her WNBL debut at 18 years of age for the Jayco Rangers against the Melbourne Boomers. Kiera, a 184 centimetre tall forward played limited game-time during the first six Rounds, however a season ending knee injury to Rangers forward Sara Blicavs in Round 6 resulted in Kiera spending more time on court. Rowe started several games for the Rangers in the second half of the season. In a Round 12 road game against the Bendigo Spirit Rowe scored four points, had two rebounds, two assists and one steal. The experience of starting some games and playing against some of the WNBL’s best forwards during 2017/18 will prove invaluable in Rowe’s development.
Rowe was part of the Australian Sapphires team that won a gold medal at the under 17 World Championships held in Spain during June and July 2016. Kiera played all six games at the World Championships, ranking fifth for the Sapphires for points and rebounds per game and fourth for minutes played. Rowe also represented the Australian Gems at the under 19 World Championships in 2017, one of her team-mates at both under-age World Championships was Rebecca Pizzey who like Rowe signed a two-year contract with the Rangers in late May 2017 also made her WNBL debut for the club during the 2017/18 season. Both Rowe and Pizzey will be playing for the Rangers in the SEABL during 2018 and will play their second WNBL season for the Jayco Rangers in 2018/19.
Tessa Lavey – Coaches Award
In her first season with the Jayco Rangers point guard Tessa Lavey was a unanimous selection by the Jayco coaches to win the club’s coaches award for the 2017/18 season, winning praise for her team-first attitude and the leadership she provided both on and off the court.
Tessa started the Round 7 game against Bendigo at Traralgon Sports Stadium in blistering fashion, scoring 12 points and having two assists in the first quarter. During the opening term Lavey made all five of her field goal attempts including two three-pointers. The Rangers defeated Bendigo by 10 points, Lavey finished the game with 19 points and was named in the WNBL Round 7 team of the week.
During the 2017/18 season Lavey had at least five assists in a game five times with a season-high of seven assists in the 17 point victory against the Townsville Fire at home in Round 3. With one game remaining in their season Tessa has played 16 games for the Jayco Rangers during 2017/18 and ranks third at the club for assists and three-point accuracy. Lavey missed several games in the last third of the WNBL season due to concussion.
Tessa has been a regular for the Australian Opals in recent years, having represented her country at both the 2014 World Championships in Spain & Turkey where the Opals won a bronze medal, and also the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, Brazil. Lavey will be returning to the Jayco Rangers for the 2018/19 WNBL season and with her career tally currently at 148 WNBL games she will reach the milestone of 150 games early next season.
Steph Blicavs – Most Valuable Player
In 2017/18 Jayco Rangers captain Steph Blicavs won the fourth Jayco Rangers MVP of her career, winning the award in each of the past three seasons and having also won the award in 2009/10 at 19 years of age. Steph has remained very consistent throughout the 2017/18 WNBL season, scoring at least 13 points in a game 17 times for the season. Steph scored more than 23 points in a game twice for the season including a season-high 29 points against the University of Canberra Capitals in a Round 10 game at Dandenong Stadium, Steph shot the ball at 55% from the field and also had seven rebounds and five assists in this game.
In the first 12 rounds of the 2017/18 WNBL season Steph Blicavs has played all 20 games for the Jayco Rangers, averaging 15.7 points, 4.4 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.2 steals per game. Steph leads the Rangers for total points, ranks second for assists, third for steals and fourth for rebounds. Throughout her career Steph has been a very accurate free-throw shooter and 2017/18 was no exception for her making 65 of 69 free-throws for a phenomenal accuracy of 94%,
Shooting guard Steph has played 277 games and scored 3,223 points during her 12 season WNBL career including a club record 2,339 points for the Jayco Rangers. After averaging between 10 and 14 points per game in six seasons from 2009/10 to 2014/15 Steph has averaged over 15 points per game in her last three seasons, ranking in the top 10 of the WNBL for points per game in all three seasons, including ranking eighth in 2017/18. Steph has played in two WNBL Championships – 2011/12 with the Jayco Rangers and 2014/15 with the Townsville Fire and was named the WNBL’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2015/16.
Steph was part of the Australian Opals team that won a silver medal at the 2017 Asia Cup to qualify for the 2018 World Championships, being joined in the team by two of her Rangers team-mates – sister in law Sara Blicavs and Tessa Lavey. Steph and Tessa have both been named in the Australian Opals squad for the first camp in Italy in February next year in the lead-up to the Commonwealth Games held in April 2018 on the Gold Coast.
Early in 2018 a more detailed article will be published on Milestones and misses celebrating Steph Blicavs winning the 2017/18 Jayco Rangers MVP award, the article will comprehensively cover Steph’s 2017/18 season and summarise the rest of her career.
By Dean Andrews
Twitter – @DeanAndrews7777