2021/22 WNBL Season Preview

The 2021/22 WNBL season commences with two games this weekend, more than 11 months after the 2020 hub season concluded with Southside Flyers defeating Townsville 99-82 in the Grand Final on 20 December to win the WNBL Championship. Due to COVID-19 and border restriction issues the start of the 2021/22 season was delayed until early December 2021 and travel between states has been minimised early in the 2021/22 WNBL season.

The fixture for the 2021/22 WNBL season was released on 26 October, the WNBL’s Executive General Manager, Paul Maley commented “The priority this season is for the players to play in front of fans, it’s imperative for our Clubs and the League that we have a home and away season. The delay to the season opener will allow us to have crowds at the games which is a great win for the fans.”1 The 2021/22 WNBL season will be broadcast on television by free to air network ABC, Fox Sports and Kayo.

The ever evolving environment in relation to border restrictions due to COVID-19 meant that changes were always going to be needed to the WNBL fixture, it was a matter of how many changes would be needed and how significant these changes would be. Border restrictions and quarantine requirements in Western Australia meant that a major change was required to the fixture before the season had even commenced and Perth Lynx wont start their season until January when they will face a long stint on the road before playing six home games late in the season.

The opening game of the 2021/22 WNBL this evening at Dandenong Stadium between Southside Flyers and Bendigo Spirit will be the first WNBL game played outside Queensland since the 2019/20 Grand Final series between the University of Canberra Capitals and Southside 21 months ago in March 2020.

Opening tip of the pre-season game at Casey Stadium between Southside Flyers and Bendigo Spirit on 20 November 2021

Nine members of the Australian Opals Tokyo Olympics are playing in the WNBL this season comprised of Adelaide duo – reigning WNBL MVP Steph Talbot and Alana Smith, Southside frontcourt pair Jenna O’Hea and Sara Blicavs, Bendigo Spirit guards Tessa Lavey and Leilani Mitchell and Melbourne Boomers trio Cayla George, Ezi Magbegor and Tess Madgen.

The return of imports to the league is headlined by 2018/19 WNBL first team member Lindsay Allen returning for her third season with the Melbourne Boomers and 3×3 Tokyo Olympics gold medallist Jackie Young playing for first WNBL season with the Perth Lynx.   

With the return of imports to the WNBL this season the standard of the league will increase. The teams that missed the finals in 2020 have all strengthened their rosters in the off-season and the battle for the four finals spots will be hotly contested.

One of the themes of the 2020 season was younger players elevating their game to a new stratosphere, highlighted by guards Maddison Rocci and Shyla Heal earning their first All-WNBL selection and the rise of teenage guard Jade Melbourne who started several games and hit a game-winning three pointer for the University of Canberra Capitals.

A theme of the 2021/22 WNBL season will be the frequent use of small ball line-ups as over half the players in the league this season are guards. The tactical battle between teams with small ball line-ups such as the Sydney Uni Flames and teams with a stronger front-court presence such as the Melbourne Boomers will be intriguing to watch.

A preview of the 2021/22 WNBL season including a breakdown of roster changes is provided for all eight WNBL clubs below.

Adelaide Lightning

Head Coach: Chris Lucas will be in his sixth consecutive season and ninth season overall as Lightning’s coach

2020:     five wins and eight losses, finished sixth

Returning: Steph Talbot, Abbey Wehrung, Chelsea Brook, Marena Whittle, Taylor Ortlepp, Brooke Basham, Ella Batish

Adelaide have been able to retain most of their core with seven of the 10 players from the club’s 2020 roster that played at least 10 games and averaged more than 7.5 minutes per game returning   in 2021/22 including a quartet of starters in Talbot, Wehrung, Brook and Whittle who all ranked in the top five for scoring at Adelaide in 2020. Adelaide Lightning are the only WNBL club that have four of their top five scorers per game starters from 2020 suiting up again this season.

Arrivals:  Alanna Smith (Phoenix Mercury – WNBA), Kiana Williams (Seattle Storm – WNBA), Kylee Shook (New York Liberty – WNBA), Sam Simons (Forestville Eagles – NBL1 Central), Taylah Brazel (Sturt Sabres – NBL1 Central) Jasmin Fejo (West Adelaide Bearcats  – NBL1 Central)

The recruitment of three players that played in the WNBA earlier this year – Australian Opal Alanna Smith along with American import duo Kiana Williams and Kylee Shook is a coup for the Lightning. Williams has been teammates of Smith at Stanford in 2017/18 and 2018/19 and of Talbot at Seattle Storm for most of the 2021 WNBA season. Adelaide completed their roster by recruiting three players under 23 years of age that played in the 2021 NBL1 Central season – Sam Simons, Taylah Brazel and Jasmin Fejo.

Departed:  Alex Wilson, Louella Tomlinson (retired), Carlie Smith, Morgan Yaeger (Sydney Uni Flames), Aimee Brett

The most notable departure for Adelaide is 2020 starting point guard Alex Wilson who ranked equal second at Adelaide in scoring per game and led the team in minutes played. Adelaide’s leading shot-blocker from 2020, Louella Tomlinson has retired.

Predicted Starters:   Kiana Williams (guard), Abbey Wehrung (guard), Steph Talbot (guard/forward), Alanna Smith (forward), Kylee Shook (centre)

Other Squad members:   Taylor Ortlepp (g), Brooke Basham (g), Tayla Brazel (g), Jasmin Fejo (g), Marena Whittle (g/f), Sam Simons (g/f), Chelsea Brook (f), Ella Batish (f)

Steph Talbot was phenomenal in her first season as Adelaide captain in 2020, excelling at both ends of the court to become the first player in WNBL history to win the league’s Most Valuable Player Award and Robyn Maher Defensive Player of the Year Awards in the same season and the fifth person to win both awards during their career.

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Steph Talbot playing defense for Adelaide Lightning against Melbourne Boomers at the State Basketball Centre on 22 December 2019

By adding a trio of players with WNBA experience in Smith, Williams and Shook to the seven players returning from the 2020 core rotation Adelaide Lightning have reduced their reliance on Talbot and  improved both their starting line-up and depth.

Five of the six Lightning players that made at least 11 three-pointers during the 2020 season will suit up for the Lightning in 2021/22 – Wehrung (24 three-pointers made), Talbot (13), Brook (12), Ortlepp (12) and Whittle (11). Adelaide were one of only two teams in 2020 along with Townsville Fire that had at least six players make more than nine three-pointers for the season. In the off-season Adelaide Lightning have further strengthened their three-point shooting by recruiting a duo of excellent three-point shooters in Williams and Smith who were teammates at Stanford and have WNBA experience. Power forward/centre Kylee Shook was also effective from the perimeter late in the 2021 WNBA season.  

After missing the 2020 WNBL season with an ankle injury Australian Opal Alanna Smith makes her much awaited WNBL debut. Playing for Phoenix Mercury and Australian Opals Smith’s minutes have fluctuated. With the Adelaide Lightning Smith will have the opportunity to play a consistent role as a starting forward and get some continuity in her basketball.

Bryden Sydney Uni Flames

Coach:  Shane Heal will be in his first season as Sydney’s head coach

2020:     five wins and eight losses, finished fifth

Returning:           Lauren Mansfield, Funda Nakkasoglu, Kiera Rowe, Sherrie Calleia

During 2020 Lauren Mansfield led the Flames for scoring, assists and minutes per game whilst Funda Nakkasoglu ranked fourth in scoring.

Arrivals:               Keely Froling (University of Canberra Capitals), Shyla Heal (Townsville Fire), Stephanie Watts (Chicago Sky – WNBA), Chelsea Dungee (Dallas Wings – WNBA), Keely Froling (University of Canberra Capitals), Kalani Purcell (Melbourne Boomers), Bec Pizzey (Southside Flyers), Emma Mahady (Albury Wodonga Bandits – NBL1 South), Morgan Yaeger (Adelaide Lightning), Katie Deeble, Chyra Evans

The Flames arrivals include a trio of guards that were selected in the top 10 at the 2021 WNBA Draft – Dungee (pick 5), Heal (pick 8) and Watts (pick 10). Heal had a break-out 2020 WNBL season and was rewarded with selection in the All-WNBL second team. Sydney have recruited a trio of forwards from rival WNBL clubs – Keely Froling, Kalani Purcell and Bec Pizzey.

Departed:           Alison Schwagmeyer-Belger (Montana – Bulgaria), Anneli Maley (Bendigo Spirit) Lauren Scherf (Perth Lynx), Carly Boag (Bendigo Spirit), Natalie Burton, Shanae Greaves, Christina Boag, Madeline O’Hehir,

Seven of the 10 players that played more than five games for the Flames in 2020 have departed the club including the club’s three leading rebounders – Anneli Maley who led the league in this category, Lauren Scherf and Alison Schwagmeyer-Belger who also ranked second at the club in scoring.

Predicted Starters:     Shyla Heal (g), Lauren Mansfield (g), Stephanie Watts (g), Chelsea Dungee (g), Keely Froling (f)

Main roster members: Funda Nakkasoglu (g), Kiera Rowe (g), Emma Mahady (g), Kalani Purcell (f), Bec Pizzey (f/c)

Development Players: Katie Deeble (g), Chyra Evans (f), Sherrie Calleia (g), Morgan Yaeger (g)

There is a far higher of proportion of guards in the WNBL in 2021/22 this season and small ball line-ups are likely to be a feature of the league this season. Sydney are the most extreme example of this with their 10 player main roster comprised of seven guards and only three front-court players – forwards Keely Froling and Kalani Purcell along with forward/centre Bec Pizzey.  

Sydney Uni Flames had signed American forward Leonna Odom as an import, however due to an Achilles injury Odom was ruled out for an extended period and as a result didn’t join the Flames for the 2021/22 season. On signing guard Chelsea Dungee as the Flames second import head coach Shane Heal commented “We decided to go with a wing instead of replacing Odom with another player in the four spot. Chelsea will fit our up-tempo style of basketball as she has an ability to shoot the three or play off the dribble to create and score.”2  

The Flames up-tempo style of basketball could feature four guards in their starting line-up –  Heal, Mansfield, Watts and Dungee along with forward Froling. On offense the Flames will look to exploit opposition defenses with quick play and swift ball movement.

Mansfield and Heal both played predominantly as point guards during the 2020 season and were very effective to both rank in the league’s top 12 for assists per game and the top 15 for scoring. Mansfield led the WNBL with 2.6 made three-pointers per game.

Playing for the University of Canberra Capitals in 2020 Keely Froling averaged 9.9 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. Froling has the opportunity to be the number one frontcourt player at the Flames and has quickly earnt respect at her new club, being appointed club captain alongside Mansfield.  

Given the Flames lack of size New Zealand Tall Ferns forward Kalani Purcell is likely to play a critical role, particularly on the defensive end. Purcell is renowned for her hustle, defense and one percenters, enabling her to rank in the WNBL’s top five for total steals during the 2020 regular season, despite averaging just 17.4 minutes per game for the Melbourne Boomers.

Deakin Melbourne Boomers
Coach:
Guy Molloy will be in his ninth consecutive season as Boomers head coach

2020:     nine wins and four losses, finished regular season in fourth position. Defeated by Townsville in a preliminary final

Returning:           Cayla George, Ezi Magbegor, Tess Madgen, Izzy Wright, Penina Davidson, Rachel Brewster

Melbourne’s three top scorers from 2020 in Cayla George, Ezi Magbegor and Tess Madgen have all returned for the 2021/22 season. George was selected in the 2020 All-WNBL first team whilst Magbegor and Madgen each earnt selection in the All-WNBL second team, highlighting the impact this trio had with the Boomers last season.

Arrivals:               Lindsay Allen (Indiana Fever-WNBA), Tiffany Mitchell (Indiana Fever-WNBA), Lou Brown (Nunawading Spectres – NBL1 South), Lily Scanlon (Eltham Wildcats – NBL1 South), Tess Heal (Eltham Wildcats – NBL1 South), Sophie Burrows (Diamond Valley Eagles – NBL1 South), Charlise Dunn (Knox Raiders – NBL1 South), Jacqui Trotto (Ringwood Hawks – NBL1 South)

After missing the 2020 WNBL season due to COVID-19 restrictions and imports not being eligible Lindsay Allen returns for her third season with the Deakin Melbourne Boomers and is joined by Indiana Fever teammate and fellow American Import Tiffany Mitchell.

Departed:           Maddie Garrick (Bendigo Spirit), Kalani Purcell (Sydney Uni Flames), Stella Beck (career break), Antonia Farnworth (retired), Ashleigh Karaitiana

Half of the Boomers 10 player core rotation from 2020 have left with Maddie Garrick returning to the Bendigo Spirit after six seasons with the Boomers, New Zealand Tall Ferns quartet Kalani Purcell, Stella Beck, Antonia Farnworth and Ashleigh Karaitiana have all departed.

 Predicted Starters:         Lindsay Allen (g), Tiffany Mitchell (g), Tess Madgen (g), Ezi Magbegor (f/c) Cayla George (f/c)

Main roster members:   Izzy Wright (g), Rachel Brewster (g), Lily Scanlon (g), Tess Heal (g), Penina Davidson (f), Lou Brown (f)

Development Players: Sophie Burrows (g), Charlise Dunn (f), Jacqui Trotto (f)

During the 2020 WNBL season Australian Opals trio George, Madgen and Magbegor all averaged between 13.0 and 15.5 points per game. Madgen ranked second in the league with 6.2 assists per game whilst George and Magbegor ranked second and fifth in the league respectively for rebounds per game.

The 2021/22 WNBL season will be Guy Molloy’s ninth consecutive season and final season as Melbourne Boomers head coach. Molloy will be continuing his role as New Zealand Tall Ferns coach and will also coach the Wellington Saints in New Zealand’s NBL. The Deakin Melbourne Boomers have made the finals in four consecutive seasons and are seeking the club’s second championship in their history.  

Allen is the only import with previous WNBL experience that is playing in the league in 2021/22. Allen finished in the top 10 of the league’s Most Valuable Player Award in both 2018/19 and 2019/20 due to a knee injury. In addition to being familiar with the league and having played alongside several of her Melbourne Boomers teammates previously Allen has also been a teammate of fellow Boomers import guard Tiffany Mitchell at Indiana Fever during the 2021 WNBA season. During a six-season WNBA career Mitchell has averaged 10.1 points per game, playing 175 games including 87 starts.

All five of the Deakin Melbourne Boomers starters for the 2021/22 season have WNBA experience and will be a difficult proposition for rival WNBA teams to nullify. Madgen and Allen have both excelled playing as point guards in the WNBL and whilst it is likely that Allen will be the Boomers primary ball handler there will be times Madgen is the point guard when Allen is off the court and also for some variety at times when Allen is on the court. Several WNBL teams in 2021/22 have multiple players that are adept at playing as a point guard however at 183 centimetres tall Madgen offers a point of difference and will have a size advantage.

Front-court duo George and Magebgor will be a difficult match-up for opposition teams due to their size and respective skill-sets with Magbegor’s athleticism complementing George’s versatility and outside shooting ability. During the 2020 WNBL season Magbegor and George each ranked in the top seven for blocked shots.

Ezi Magbegor playing defense for the Melbourne Boomers against the Southside Flyers at the State Basketball Centre on 4 November 2019

Whilst the Boomers have an imposing starting line-up only two bench players that averaged more than 8.0 minutes return from last season, guard Izzy Wright (16.3 minutes per game) and Penina Davidson (9.0 minutes). With the departure of four New Zealand Tall Ferns players the Boomers have a weaker bench than last season. The contribution Guy Molloy gets from his bench, more so defensively could be critical to the Boomers performance.

Jayco Southside Flyers

Head coach: Cheryl Chambers will be in her third consecutive season as the Flyers head coach

2020:     11 wins and two losses, finished regular season in first position. Defeated Townsville in the Grand Final to win the WNBL championship

Returning:           Bec Cole, Sara Blicavs, Jenna O’Hea, Aimie Rocci (nee Clydesdale), Rachel Jarry, Taylah Giliam, Saraid Taylor

Five of the eight players who averaged more than 15 minutes court-time per game for the Jayco Southside Flyers in 2020 will be suiting up for the club again in 2021/22, with starters Bec Cole, Sare Blicavs and Jenna O’Hea joined in this category by Aimie Rocci (nee Clydesdale and Rachel Jarry.

Arrivals:               Maddison Rocci (University of Canberra Capitals), Abby Bishop (Ipswich Force – NBL1 North), Kate Gaze (Townsville Fire), Kristy Wallace (Melbourne Tigers – NBL1 South), Emilee Whittle-Harmon (Dandenong Rangers – NBL1 South), Taylah Simmons (Cockburn Cougars – NBL1 West), Chelsea D’Angelo

Point guard Maddison Rocci ranked in the top 10 of the WNBL for scoring, assists and steals in 2020. Abby Bishop ranks in the 15 of the WNBL’s All-time list for both rebounds (2,155) and points (3,828). Guard Kristy Wallace represented the Australian Opals at the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup in Jordan.

Departed:           Liz Cambage, Leilani Mitchell (Bendigo Spirit), Steph Blicavs, Rebecca Pizzey (Sydney Uni Flames), Monique Conti (focusing on AFLW with Richmond Tigers)

Three players from the Flyers 2020 core rotation wont be playing for the club in 2021/22. The Flyers and the league’s leading scorer in 2020 Liz Cambage, 2020 Rachel Sporn Medal winner Leilani Mitchell and guard Steph Blicavs whose accomplishments include ranking in the top 25 of the WNBL’s All-Time list for both games played (317) and points scored (3,556).

Predicted Starters:          Maddison Rocci (g), Bec Cole (g), Jenna O’Hea (f), Sara Blicavs (f), Abby Bishop (c)

Other Squad members:  Aimie Rocci (g), Kristy Wallace (g), Kate Gaze (g), Taylah Giliam (g) Chelsea D’Angelo (g), Taylah Simmons (g), Rachel Jarry (f), Emilee Whittle-Harmon (f), Saraid Taylor (f)

Even after the departure of Cambage four players on the Flyers 2021/22 roster ranked in the WNBL’s top 20 for scoring in 2020 – Maddison Rocci (16.0 points per game), Cole (15.0), Blicavs (13.9) and O’Hea (11.5). With Bishop returning to the league all five starters will be scoring options.  

In 2019/20 and 2020 two All-WNBL teams were named, a first team and a second team which meant that 10 players earnt selection in each season. Four Flyers – Rocci, Cole, Blicavs and O’Hea were selected in an All-WNBL team in the past two seasons whilst off-season recruit Bishop won the WNBL’s Most Valuable Player Award in 2014/15. Seven players on the Flyers 2021/22 roster have played over 150 WNBL games and the team is loaded with players that experience representing the Australia. O’Hea, Bishop, Blicavs and Jarry have all played for the Australian Opals at the Olympic Games and Cole is a fixture in the Australian women’s 3×3 team.

Heading into the 2020 WNBL season the Southside Flyers were overwhelming championship favourites and lived up to top billing. This season the Flyers are one of the three favourites along with cross-town rivals Melbourne Boomers and Perth Lynx.

JCU Townsville Fire

Head coach: Shannon Seebohm will be in his third season as Townsville’s head coach

2020:     Nine wins and four losses, finished regular season in second position. Lost to Southside Flyers in the Grand Final.

Returning:           Lauren Nicholson, Nadeen Payne, Zitina Aokuso, Mia Murray, Stephanie Reid, Courtney Woods, Lara McSpadden

Six of the nine players in Townsville’s core rotation that averaged at least 12.0 minutes per game in 2020 have returned in 2021/22 headlined by Nicholson and Payne who ranked first and second respectively at the Fire in 2020 for minutes played per game.

Arrivals:               Monique Billings (Atlanta Dream – WNBA), Sug Sutton (Ślęza Wrocław – Poland),  Micaela Cocks (Townsville Flames – NBL1 North), Aliza Fabbro, Carla Drennan

Townsville have recruited American import duo Monique Billings and Sug Sutton. The Fire welcome back 2015/16 Rachel Sporn medallist and former Townsville captain Micaela Cocks for her 10th season with the club after missing the 2020 hub season.

Departed:           Shyla Heal (Sydney Uni Flames), Megan McKay (Bendigo Spirit), Kate Gaze (Southside Flyers), Kelsey McDermott, Sharna Thompson

Two of Townsville’s 2020 starters have left to join rival WNBL clubs, Heal ranked second at scoring for the Fire whilst McKay ranked second for rebounds.

Predicted Starters:          Sug Sutton (g), Lauren Nicholson (g), Nadeen Payne (f), Monique Billings (f), Zitina Aokuso (c)

Main roster members:                  Micaela Cocks (g), Stephanie Reid (g), Courtney Woods (g), Mia Murray (f), Lara McSpadden (c)

Development Players:   Aliza Fabbro (g), Carla Drennan (f)

There is a high degree of familiarity amongst the Townsville Fire squad with seven players from 2020 suiting up again in 2021/22 including six that averaged more than 13.0 minutes court-time per game. Cocks who has won three WNBL Championships with Townsville also returns to the club.

Lauren Nicholson had a career-best WNBL season in 2020 to lead Townsville with 18.5 points per game, ranked second at the Fire with 2.4 assists per game, finished third in the WNBL’s MVP Award  was selected in the All-WNBL first team and finished third in the defensive player of the year award.    

Townsville are likely to have a traditional starting structure of two guards Sutton and Nicholson, two forwards Payne and Billings along with centre Aokuso. After missing the entire 2019/20 WNBL season due a knee reconstruction JCU Townsville Fire power forward/centre Zitina Aukoso made a successful return in 2020 to play all 16 games and made an impact off the bench to be the only player in the WNBL to average less than 22 minutes game-time and more than 8.5 points per game. With McKay’s departure Aukoso is likely to be inserted in the starting line-up and play a more prominent role.

Zitina Aukoso shooting a free-throw for the Townsville Fire against the Dandenong Rangers at Dandenong Stadium on 13 January 2019

Monique Billings has played 127 games for Atlanta Dream in four WNBA seasons from 2018 to 2021 and averaged 8.1 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 1.0 blocks per game in 2021.      

Perth Lynx

Head coach: Ryan Petrik will be in his second season as Perth’s head coach

2020:     Four wins and nine losses, finished seventh

Returning:           Darcee Garbin, Alex Sharp, Alexandra Ciabattoni, Ashleigh Isenbarger, Emma Clarke, Tayah Burrows, Emma Clarke, Mackenzie Clinch Hoycard

Six of the nine players that played more than five games for Perth Lynx in 2020 will suit up again in 2021/22 including the three players ranked second to fourth in scoring – Darcee Garbin, Alexandra Ciabattoni and Alex Sharp.

Arrivals:               Jackie Young (Las Vegas Aces – WNBA), Marina Mabrey (Dallas Wings – WNBA), Lauren Scherf (Sydney Uni Flames), Emma Gandini (Willetton Tigers – NBL1 West), Mia Satie (Perry Lake Hawks – NBL1 West), Mia Jacobs (Eastern Suns – NBL1 West) 

American import duo Jackie Young and Marina Mabrey both play in the WNBA and have experience as teammates, having played three seasons of college basketball at Notre Dame from 2016/17 to 2018/19. As Sydney’s starting centre Lauren Scherf averaged 11.2 points and 7.2 rebounds per game in 2020.  

Departed:           Katie Rae Ebzery (retired), Kayla Steindl (retired), Jessie Edwards, Jewell Williams, Nes’eya Williams

Perth’s leading scorer Katie Rae Ebzery and fifth ranked scorer from 2020 Kaya Steindl have both retired. Ebzery retire at the top of her game as highlighted by being one of only three players to earn selection in an All-WNBL team in both 2019/20 and 2020.

Predicted Starters:          Jackie Young (g), Marina Mabrey (g), Alex Sharp (g), Darcee Garbin (f), Lauren Scherf (f/c)

Main roster members:    Alexandra Ciabattoni (g), Tayah Burrows (g), Ashleigh Isenbarger (f), Emma Clarke (f)

Development Players:   Emma Gandini, Mia Satie, Mia Jacobs, Mackenzie Clinch Hoycard

Perth will experience a very different 2021/22 WNBL season to other clubs, not being able to start their season until Round 5 due to border restrictions and will then face an extended time on the road before being six home games late in the season. Perth will be able to fine-tune their game-plan in an extended pre-season but wont have the same level of match conditioning as rival clubs.

Perth have retained six members of the core rotation from 2020 but are likely to have three new starters. New recruit Lauren Scherf was an Australian Opals teammate of Alex Sharp and Darcee Garbin at the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup held in Jordan from 27 September to 3 October. Jackie Young and Marina Mabrey extensive experience as teammates for three seasons at Notre Dame will be beneficial.

Young was selected by the Las Vegas Aces as the number one draft overall in the 2019 WNBA Draft. In three seasons with the Aces Young has played 88 games including 66 starts and in 2021 averaged 12.2 points, 4.1 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 31.8 minutes per game. At the Tokyo Olympic Games Young was a member of the USA team that won a gold medal in 3×3 basketball.

Mabrey was selected by the Las Angeles Sparks with pick 19 in the 2019 WNBA Draft. After playing the 2019 season with the Sparks Mabrey was traded to the Dallas Wings. In three WNBA seasons Mabrey has played 81 games including 20 starts and in 2021 averaged 13.3 points, 3.9 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 24.2 minutes per game with the Dallas Wings.

Including development players 11 members of the Perth Lynx 2021 roster played in an NBL1 Conference earlier this year. Guard Alex Sharp excelled playing for the Willetton Tigers, averaging 19.0 points, 13.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game to win the NBL1 West Conference Most Valuable Player Award.   

Darcee Garbin had the best WNBL season of her career in 2020 to rank in the league’s top 12 for rebounds and points per game.

University of Canberra Capitals

Head coach: Paul Goriss will be in his sixth season as Canberra’s head coach

2020:     Nine wins and four losses, finished third in the regular season. Lost semi final to Melbourne Boomers.

Returning:           Kelsey Griffin, Tahlia Tuapaea, Jade Melbourne, Mikaela Ruef, Brittany Smart, Abby Cubillo

From the Capitals nine player core rotation that averaged more than 14.0 minutes per game in 2020 six players have returned in 2021/22 including three-time Rachel Sporn Medal winner Kelsey Griffin and one of the revelations of the 2020 season, guard Jade Melbourne.

Arrivals:               Kelly Wilson (Bendigo Braves – NBL1 South), Brtittney Sykes (Los Angeles Sparks – WNBA), Alex Bunton, Alicia Froling (Bendigo Spirit), Gemma Potter (Dandenong Rangers – NBL1 South), Shaneice Swain, Abby Solway, Casey Samuels, Bronte Corke

The WNBL’s All-time games record holder Kelly Wilson returns to the Capitals. Due to knee injuries Alex Bunton was forced to retire after winning a silver medal with the Australian Opals at the 2018 World Cup, Bunton makes her WNBL return with the Capitals this season. American import Brittney Sykes has 150 games WNBA experience. The Capitals replace one Froling twin sister with another Froling twin sister with Alicia joining from the Bendigo Spirit.

Departed:           Maddison Rocci (Southside Flyers), Mariana Tolo (Basket Landes – France), Keely Froling (Sydney Uni Flames), Hanah Kaser, Alex Delaney, Ashley Taia

Three of the Capitals top four scorers from 2020 have left the club – Maddison Rocci, Mariana Tolo and Keely Froling.

Predicted Starters:          Kelly Wilson (g), Jade Melbourne (g), Brtittney Sykes (g) Kelsey Griffin (f), Mikaela Ruef (f/c)               

Main roster members: Tahlia Tuapaea (g), Brittany Smart (g), Abby Cubillo (g), Gemma Potter (g), Shaneice Swain (g), Alicia Froling (f), Alex Bunton ( c )                             

Development Players:  Abby Solway (g), Casey Samuels (f), Bronte Corke (f)

With six players from the Capitals 2020 roster suiting up again in 2021/22 and two former Capitals in Kelly Wilson and Alex Bunton returning to the club there will be a high degree of familiarity amongst the playing group.   

Griffin, Tupaea and Smart all missed multiple games due to injury during 2020 and had managed minutes in other games. During the 2020 season Griffin was efficient, averaging 12.0 points and 7.8 rebounds per game despite averaging just 21.9 minutes per game.

Sykes has played 150 WNBA regular season games and in 2021 averaged 9.4 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 29.3 minutes per game for the Las Angeles Sparks. Sykes led the WNBA in steals and finished runner-up in the league’s Defensive Player of the Year Award.

Jade Melbourne ranked fifth at the Capitals in scoring in 2020 and hit a game-winning three. 19 year-old Melbourne was part of the Australian Opals team that won a bronze medal at the 2021 FIB Asia Cup in Jordan.  

The Capitals have great depth in their squad and will be hoping for a good run with injuries to utilise this to full effect.

Villawood Bendigo Spirit

Returning:           Tessa Lavey, Mary Goulding, Demi Skinner, Cassidy McLean, Piper Dunlop

Three of the players that ranked in the top four at Bendigo Spirit for scoring in 2020 will suit up for the Spirit again in 2021/22 season, being Tessa Lavey (ranked 1st for scoring in 2020), Mary Goulding (3rd) and Demi Skinner (4th).

Arrivals:               Leilani Mitchell (Southside Flyers), Anneli Maley (Sydney Uni Flames) Maddie Garrick (Bendigo Spirit), Megan McKay (Townsville Fire), Carly Boag (Sydney Uni Flames) Bella Stratford, Alana Goodchild

During the off-season Villawood Bendigo Spirit were able to strengthen their 2021/22 roster by recruiting four players that were starters for rival WNBL clubs in 2020 – point guard Leilani Mitchell (Southside Flyers), forward Anneli Maley (Sydney Uni Flames), centre Megan McKay (Townsvile Fire) and shooting guard Maddie Garrick who returns to the Bendigo Spirit after six seasons playing for the Deakin Melbourne Boomers including being a Boomers co-captain in 2019/20 and 2020

Departures:        Carley Ernst (had a baby boy), Alicia Froling (University of Canberra Capitals), Amelia Todhunter, Jennie Rintala, Paige Price, Chevannah Paalvast, Shelby Britten

Carly Ernst who ranked second in scoring and will miss this season after having a baby boy.  

Predicted Starters:          Leilani Mitchell (g), Tessa Lavey (g), Maddie Garrick (g), Anneli Maley (f), Megan McKay (c)

Main roster members: Cassidy McLean (g), Mary Goulding (g/f), Demi Skinner (f), Piper Dunlop (f), Carly Boag (f), Demi Skinner (f/c),

Development Players:  Bella Stratford (g), Alana Goodchild (f)

In the 2020 WNBL season Mitchell led the league for assists, Maley ranked first for rebounds, Garrick ranked in the top 10 for three-pointers made and McKay led the league for field goal accuracy among players that made at least 10 field goals for the season.

With the recruitment of Mitchell Bendigo Spirit wont have the same level of reliance on Lavey as they did during the 2019/20 and 2020 WNBL seasons. Having two quality point guards provides the Spirit with flexibility, enabling Mitchell and Lavey to rotate between the point guard and shooting guard positions. Three of the seven players on the Spirit 2021/22 roster that averaged more than 6.5 points per game during the 2020 season ranked in the WNBL’s top 15 for three pointers made last season in Mitchell, Garrick and Lavey whilst Skinner ranked in the top 20 despite averaging only 18.2 minutes court-time per game. The long-range prowess of this quartet is complemented by McKay, Maley and Goulding who only made a combined eight 3’s between them in 2020 but were able to make an impact closer to the basket. Of the players that made at least 10 field goals in 2020 McKay led the WNBL with a field goal accuracy of 64.5% and Goulding (49.2%) ranked in the top 15. Maley led the league in offensive rebounds and ranked in the top 10 for free throws made. Having several adept three point shooters combined with players that are great passers and effective in the pick and roll will enable the Villawood Bendigo Spirit to space the floor and generate a variety of scoring options on offense, both in terms of the method and the player.

Articles and photographs by Dean Andrews

Twitter – @DeanAndrews7777

References

1 https://wnbl.basketball/adelaide/news/its-coming-home-the-wnbl-21-22-season-set-to-reunite-with-fans/

2 https://wnbl.basketball/sydney-uni/news/flames-sign-wnba-star-chelsea-dungee/

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