Southside Flyers sixth woman Aimie Rocci plays 200th WNBL game

Whilst growing up in Endeavor Hills Aimie Rocci (nee Clydesdale) commenced playing basketball as a junior in the Dandenong Basketball Association. Rocci played club basketball at Dandenong Stadium and then representative basketball for the Dandenong Rangers. As a development player Rocci made her Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) debut at 17 years of age in 2010/11 for the Jayco Dandenong Rangers.

Before a home game at Dandenong Stadium on Saturday evening 18 December 2021 Southside Flyers sixth woman Rocci was recognised for reaching 200 WNBL games in her 12th WNBL season comprised of seven seasons for the Dandenong Rangers from 2010/11 to 2016/17, two seasons with Adelaide Lightning and is now in her third consecutive season of a second stint with the WNBL’s Dandenong based team who were rebranded the Southside Flyers in July 2019.

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As a development player Rocci played a total of 11 WNBL games across the 2010/11 and 2011/12 seasons and was a member of the Jayco Rangers WNBL championship winning team in the latter season. Point guard Rocci became a member of the Dandenong Rangers core rotation during the 2012/13 WNBL season and took on more responsibility over time, culminating in being a Jayco Rangers co-captain along with Steph Blicavs (nee Cumming) in 2015/16 and 2016/17 and was the Rangers starting point guard in the latter season.

From 2010 to 2017 Rocci played two seasons a year for the Dandenong Rangers, playing for the Rangers in the South Eastern Australian Basketball League (SEABL) in between WNBL seasons. Rocci played in four SEABL Championships with the Dandenong Rangers –  2011, 2012, 2015 & 2016. Rocci was the captain of the Rangers 2016 SEABL championship winning team and earnt selection in the 2016 All-SEABL team.

After 119 WNBL games in seven seasons for the Jayco Rangers Rocci joined Adelaide Lightning, signing a two-season deal for 2017/18 and 2018/19. In 2017/18 Rocci ranked third at Adelaide for assists per game, fourth for minutes played and fifth for scoring. Rocci played a total of 40 games in two seasons with the Adelaide Lightning.

In all three of the Southside Flyers WNBL seasons from 2019/20 to the current 2021/22 season 176 centimetre tall Rocci has been the Flyers sixth woman and has ranked sixth for minutes played. Late season injuries to Flyers captain Jenna O’Hea resulted in Rocci starting multiple finals games for the Flyers in 2019/20 and 2020. Rocci was a member of the Southside Flyers 2020 WNBL Championship winning team and ranked third at the club in assists.

After Rocci had signed with the Jayco Flyers for the 2021/22 WNBL season Southside head coach Cheryl Chambers commented “It is such a pleasure coaching Aimie, she is an incredible team first player who accepts a role that is best for the team and seamlessly makes it happen. She is a super athlete, quick on her feet, drives to the basket, and her defensive work is fantastic. She puts real pressure on the opposition at both ends of the court.”1

More detail on 28 year old Aimie Rocci’s basketball career in the WNBL with the Dandenong Rangers, Adelaide Lightning and Southside Flyers is provided below. Rocci’s junior career, playing in the SEABL, NBL1 and representing Australia is also covered.

Early life and junior career

Aimie Clydesdale was born on 21 September 1993 in Noble Park and grew up in Endeavour Hills, a suburb approximately 35 kilometres south-east of Melbourne. In an interview with Medibank in June 2016 Aimie commented on how she started playing basketball, saying “Growing up, both my brothers played basketball, so I always looked up to them and played with them in the backyard. Then I started on a school team. I was lucky enough to be around Dandenong so since then I’ve gone through their whole program from domestic to rep to SEABL to WNBL, so I’ve been really lucky.”2

As a youngster Aimie was in the stands at Dandenong Stadium watching the Jayco Dandenong Rangers win back- to-back WNBL titles in 2003/04 and 2004/05, the first two WNBL championships in the team’s history. Aimie idolised several of these players and would later go on to play alongside a couple of these players on senior Rangers teams at SEABL and WNBL level. Members of the Rangers Championship winning teams included Jacinta Kennedy (nee Hamilton), Emily McInerney, Carly Wilson, Jess Bibby, Alison Downie, Caitlin Ryan, and Sam Richards.

Rocci’s performances for junior Dandenong Rangers teams earnt her selection on the Victorian team for the under 14 National Championships in 2005 & 2006. Aimie and current Flyers teammate Sara Blicavs were members of the Victoria Metro team that won a gold medal at the 2008 under 16 National Championships.

In July 2010 Aimie represented the Australian Sapphires at the under 17 World Championships held in Rodez and Toulouse France, Australia finished seventh. Rocci played all eight of the Sapphires’ games and ranked fourth on the team for assists and steals.

At the 2011 under 20 National Championships Rocci was a member of the Victorian team that won a gold medal. Rocci played all eight games for the Australian Gems at the 2011 under 19 World Championships in Chile. Australia lost the bronze medal game to Brazil by three points 67-70 and finished the tournament in fourth place.

WNBL debut as a development player with the Jayco Dandenong Rangers

Aimie made her WNBL debut as a development player at 17 years of age for the Dandenong Rangers during the 2010/11 season, her Rangers teammates included Kathleen MacLeod, Steph Blicavs (nee Cumming), Alison Downie and current Flyers teammate Abby Bishop. Mark Wright was in the first season of his second stint as the Jayco Rangers head coach, having previously coached the club for four seasons from 1998/99 to 2001/02. During the 2010/11 WNBL season Rocci played a total of 11 minutes across five games and scored her first WNBL points.

During 2011/12 Rocci continued as a development player for the Jayco Rangers and was able to learn from two players that were later selected in the Australian Opals 2012 Olympic Games team, point guard Kathleen MacLeod and current Flyers captain Jenna O’Hea. Other members of the starting line-up were Steph Blicavs, Alison Downie and Canadian import centre Krista Phillips, whilst Tegan Cunningham was the sixth-woman.

With six rounds remaining in the 2011/12 season the Rangers were a middle of the road team personified with a record of eight wins and eight losses and looked very unlikely to make the WNBL finals. The Rangers turned things around in dramatic fashion and went on one of the most amazing winning streaks in WNBL history with the team gelling brilliantly in the last third of the season to win nine consecutive games including three finals to win the 2011/12 WNBL Championship. Holding an unassailable lead in the Grand Final at the Melbourne Sports Centre Parkville (also known as the Cage) against the Bulleen (now Melbourne) Boomers the Rangers bench players including 18 year-old Aimie were substituted in during the dying minutes and remained on the court until the final buzzer with Aimie being the last Rangers player to handle the ball during the game. Dandenong recorded a convincing 24 point victory, 94 points to 70 to win the club’s third WNBL Championship, with all three titles being won in a span of nine seasons. During 2011/12 Rocci ranked 12th at Dandenong for both games and minutes played with six and 36 respectively.

Part of the Dandenong Rangers core rotation from 2012/13 to 2014/15

Following two seasons as a development player Rocci became a member of the Dandenong Rangers core rotation in 2012/13. Of the players that made at least 10 field goals for the Rangers in 2012/13 Rocci had the second highest field goal percentage, making 50% of her shots comprised of 18 made from 36 attempts.

Kathleen MacLeod missed the 2013/14 WNBL season to have her son Jaxson. After playing alongside MacLeod for the first three seasons of her WNBL career Clydesdale was able to train alongside and learn from another elite point guard in Leilani Mitchell during the 2013/14 WNBL season. Across the 2012/13 and 2013/14 seasons Rocci played a total of 40 WNBL games, averaging 2.5 points and 7.8 minutes per game.

During the 2014/15 season Rocci’s court-time increased significantly and she was able to learn from several experienced players including four-time WNBL All-Star five member MacLeod, three-time All-WNBA first-team member Cappie Pondexter and one of Australia’s greatest basketball players of all-time in Penny Taylor who was playing her first WNBL season in 12 and a half years, having previously played with the Dandenong Rangers in 2001/02 when she won her second consecutive WNBL MVP award.

Rocci commented on playing alongside Pondexter and Taylor in an interview with Roy Ward “Getting Cappie and Penny has been awesome. They contribute a hell of a lot for the team. I feel pretty lucky to be out there with them – it’s a once in a life-time experience to have those two together and a real privilege.” During the interview Rocci went on to say “They have been very good for me personally. Just them taking notice of you, having someone of their calibre take interest in what you do and genuinely want you to do better is special.”3

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In January 2015 Rocci was called into the Rangers starting line-up due to starting point guard MacLeod having a knee injury. Aimie commented on her surprise elevation to the starting line-up “It was kind of announced to the team that Kathleen would be out for three weeks or so, but I didn’t instantly expect the starting role because Cappie can play the point guard too. Then I had a chat with (Rangers Coach) Mark Wright and he was confident I could do it – after that I thought it would be a good opportunity to play some extra time.”4

As the Dandenong Rangers starting point guard against Adelaide on 23 January 2015 at Dandenong Stadium Rocci thrived with the additional court-time, scoring 13 points whilst also handling the ball superbly to have seven assists and no turnovers. Rocci was the subject of the WNBL Round 16 feature and commented “The last few weeks have been a good opportunity for me to play more, it was an unfortunate circumstance with Kath going down, for the team and her personally, she was in really good form so I guess I just had to grab the opportunity and have just been trying to bring what I can to the team. I was definitely nervous that first game being in the starting five, it was a big adjustment going from playing so little to playing so much, but I have got players around me who actually helped me through it. If I am stuck for a play I have always got someone to give me advise. Cappie’s actually been really good with letting me know how I am going or what I should be doing better.”

In relation to Rocci’s performances for the Rangers when called into the Rangers starting line-up in 2014/15 head coach Wright told dandenong.starcommunity.com.au late February 2015 “Aimie Clydesdale is a classic example of a kid who has done her time on the bench and waited for her opportunity and sucked as much knowledge out of everyone as she can and is now putting it to good use.”5

MacLeod returned to the Rangers starting line-up late in the regular season, however Rocci played significantly more court-time than she had been before MacLeod’s knee injury. Dandenong finished third on the ladder with 12 wins and 10 losses. In a sudden death semi final at Dandenong Stadium the Rangers were overrun in the second half and lost to Sydney 80-89 after Taylor suffered a game-ending ankle injury early in the third quarter. Clydesdale played all 23 games for the Jayco Rangers in 2014/15, averaging 4.6 points, 2.0 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 20 minutes per game.

Dandenong Rangers co-captain in 2015/16 and 2016/17

In March 2015 long-time Dandenong Rangers SEABL head coach Larissa Anderson was appointed the Jayco Rangers WNBL head coach for 2015/16. Anderson played 275 WNBL games between 1995 and 2008, starting and finishing her career with the Dandenong Rangers but spent most of her WNBL career playing for the Bulleen (now Melbourne) Boomers. At the time of her appointment as the Rangers WNBL coach Anderson had coached Dandenong to three SEABL championships, won in consecutive seasons from 2010 to 2012 with Rocci playing in the latter two championships, and had been named the SEABL coach of the year three times – 2004, 2010 and 2011. 

Shortly after Anderson’s appointment she stated an intention to recruit players that had represented the Dandenong Rangers in the WNBL previously, which was followed through on with the club recruiting five former Rangers players in Steph Blicavs, Sara Blicavs, Jacinta Kennedy, Amelia Todhunter and Alison Downie. The Jayco Rangers had a vastly different roster in 2015/16, with only one starter – Annalise Pickrel returning from the 2014/15 season.

In July 2015 Rocci told pakenham.starcommunity.com.au “Everything I’ve done this year has been a really good stepping stone towards a good WNBL season coming up, especially with Larissa (Anderson) being named coach – she’s my SEABL coach as well so I’m really able to start working with her now in preparation which is a real advantage to me. I’ve done my apprenticeship – you could call it – in the last four or five seasons at Dandenong and I’ve managed to learn a lot from the people I’ve played with like Kath (Macleod), Cappie (Pondexter) and Leilani (Mitchell) – so I think I’m ready. We’ve got a really young team so it’s going to be really exciting.”6

Rocci was named Jayco Dandenong Rangers co-captain for the 2015/16 WNBL season along with another player whose junior association was Dandenong – shooting guard Steph Blicavs. Whilst selecting a player in Rocci who hadn’t established herself as a regular starter and had only just turned 22 years of age as co-captain might have seemed a surprising selection externally it was a clear-cut one for the Rangers. Blicavs and Rocci who both grew up in Endeavour Hills were voted into the role of co-captain by their team-mates, Dandenong head-coach Larissa Anderson commented “That was unanimous and for me I looked at it and thought it was really special – the fact that both of them have grown up at the stadium pretty much, literally grown up at the stadium before domestic and under-12s. Whenever they started – at the age of seven or eight – they’ve grown up in this stadium and never played for anyone else in their junior careers and I think that’s wonderful and they’ll do a fantastic job.”7

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In October 2015 Rocci told WNBL Media “It’s my first season as a starter. I want to take a step up from last season with court time and contribute more to the team and use the experience I’ve been able to get in the past year and really lead the team on the court. Being point guard, that’s my job.”8 In her first season as the Jayco Rangers co-captain in 2015/16 Aimie was expected to be the team’s starting point guard, and she did start in the Rangers opening game against Canberra. However, things did not go to plan as Rocci suffered a knee injury early in the opening game against Canberra. Rocci required a minor operation to repair meniscus damage in her knee and ended up playing less than 15 minutes court-time in total during the first two months of the season. Upon her return to the Rangers line-up Rocci played as back-up point guard behind Amelia Todhunter. 

On 8 January 2016 Rocci had an equal game-high six assists from just 18 minutes and 19 seconds court-time in a 16 point win on the road against the Adelaide Lightning. In front of the biggest WNBL crowd of the 2015/16 season, 2,481 People at the State Basketball Centre Clydesdale scored a season-high 12 points in Dandenong’s five point victory over the Melbourne Boomers on Australia Day Eve.

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In each of her first seven games of the 2015/16 season Aimie played less than 20 minutes court-time with the knee injury being a major factor in the limited minutes, however in all her remaining nine games of the season she played more than 20 minutes game-time. Aimie averaged 18.8 minutes per game and her numbers in 2015/16 remained similar to the ones she posted in 2014/15, during the 2014/15 and 2015/16 season Rocci played a total of 39 games, averaging 4.5 points, 2.1 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game.

Throughout the 2016/17 WNBL season Rocci was the Jayco Rangers starting point guard with other members of the Rangers usual starting line-up being Steph and Sara Blicavs, Lauren Scherf and Ally Malott. Other members of the Rangers nine-player core rotation were guards Natalie Novosel and Amelia Todhunter along with forwards Jacinta Kennedy and Rosie Fadljevic.  

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In a 27 point victory against the Townsville Fire at home in Round 3 Rocci was very efficient in her 26 minutes and 41 seconds court-time, scoring 12 points to be one of four Rangers in double figures, and had an equal game-high six assists along with Steph Blicavs.

In late November 2016 Jayco Rangers point guard Rocci played her 100th WNBL game in a 13 point win against the Adelaide Lightning at Dandenong Stadium. Aimie was the only player to represent the Dandenong Rangers in all seven WNBL seasons from 2010/11 to 2016/17 and on Saturday November 26 became a rare player to play her first 100 WNBL games with the same club and progress from development player at the time of her debut to team co-captain for her first major games milestone.  

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Against the Perth Lynx in Round 10 Rocci started in blistering fashion to score seven points in the opening term to help set up a six point Rangers lead at quarter time. Rocci finished the game with 15 points, four assists and three rebounds, shooting at a superb 66% from the field in the Rangers 92-71 victory.

The Jayco Rangers finished second on the ladder at the end of the 2016/17 season with 15 wins and nine losses and defeated Perth Lynx two games to one in a semi final series to progress to the Grand Final. Sydney Uni Flames defeated the Dandenong Rangers two games to nil in the grand final series to win the WNBL championship.

Rocci played 29 games for the Jayco Dandenong Rangers in 2016/17 and averaged 7.9 points, 2.7 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game to set new career-highs in all three categories. Rocci also set new career-highs for steals, blocks and three-pointers made in a season. Aimie’s confidence grew throughout the 2016/17 season, and she improved her three-point shot. In 90 WNBL games from 2010/11 to 2015/16 Aimie made a total of 16 three-pointers equating to one every 5.6 games. In 2016/17 Rocci made 27 three-pointers per season at an average of 0.93 three-pointers made per game. Rocci’s greatest strengths during the 2016/17 season were her speed, ability to drive to the basket and leadership. 

SEABL career with the Dandenong Rangers

During the first seven seasons of Rocci’s WNBL career she represented the Dandenong Rangers in basketball all-year round, playing for the Rangers in the South Eastern Australian Basketball League (SEABL) in between WNBL seasons. Rocci made her SEABL debut with the Rangers in 2011 and increased her scoring output from 3.6 points per game in her debut season to 10.1 points per game in 2013.

Aimie was a member of a Dandenong Rangers team that is widely regarded as the greatest women’s SEABL team of all-time. Rocci played in four SEABL championships with the Rangers – 2011, 2012, 2015 & 2016, however Dandenong’s dominance started before this with the club also winning the 2010 title, meaning that from 2010 to 2016 the Rangers won an unprecedented five SEABL championships in seven seasons.

Rocci had a career best SEABL season in 2016, averaging 15.1 points, 2.8 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game to earn selection in the All-SEABL team and was also captain of the Championship winning Rangers. In three consecutive seasons with the Rangers from 2015 to 2017 Rocci averaged more than 13.0 points per game in each season.

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The South East Australian Basketball League (SEABL) was disbanded after the 2018 season and NBL1 was established.

Representing Australia

Rocci represented Australia at the World University games in July 2015, playing all seven games and averaged 8.9 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game. In an interview with Basketball Australia in July 2015 Aimie commented “I just came back from the World Uni games in South Korea, it was actually a bit different for me, I came in always being a point guard for every team I’ve ever played for and I actually played the two man that whole tournament so I got to know myself more as a player, the different things that I can do and be a bit more versatile, it was good for my experience and really build on it for WNBL.”

Aimie represented Australia’s senior women’s team, the Opals in a three-game series against Japan in July 2015. Game one of the series was on her home court, Dandenong Stadium where she had played hundreds of games, at just 21 years of age Aimie got to swap the green and gold of the Dandenong Rangers for the green and gold of the Australian Opals.

After playing all three games for the Opals in the series against Japan Rocci told dandenong.starcommunity.com.au “It was a great experience – something that I was really happy to be a part of. Got to play my debut game for the Opals on my home court, so it was really amazing. It was a real honour – the Opals don’t play in Australia very often, so I was really lucky to get that opportunity and the home crowd gave me a big welcome… I was really happy to be a part of it.”9

At the 2017 World University Games held in Taipei in August Rocci was a member of the Emerging Opals team. Despite suffering a knee injury in Australia’s opening game of the tournament Rocci continued to play the remainder of the tournament with a swollen knee and was a member of the Emerging Opals team that won a gold medal, defeating Japan 85-78.

2017/18 and 2018/19 WNBL seasons with Adelaide Lightning

In April 2017 Rocci signed  a two season deal with Adelaide Lightning for the 2017/18 and 2018/19 WNBL seasons. On the decision to join Adelaide Lightning Rocci told botinagy.com “Dandenong was my second home and I love those girls. It was truly humbling to be captain at such a young age (too). I’ve played my juniors, SEABL and WNBL at Dandenong. No, it’s certainly not a decision I’ve taken lightly. It’s been really stressful. But I think it’s a good time in my career to do it.”10

Adelaide Lightning coach Chris Lucas commented in late April 2017 “We couldn’t be happier. Aimie is the point guard we needed and she’ll bring stability to the group too. I did a work-out with her today and I’m really pleased and excited by the progress she should make with us over the next couple of years.”11

At the 2017 World University games Rocci represented the Emerging Opals and was coached by Adelaide Lightning head coach Chris Lucas. However due to a knee injury suffered in the opening game of the tournament Rocci missed Adelaide’s first four games of the 2017/18 WNBL season and made her club debut for the Lightning on 25 October in a home game at Titanium Security Arena against the University of Canberra Capitals.

On the day of making her return from a knee injury and club debut for Adelaide Lightning Rocci told WNBL Media on 25 October 2017“I had a hole in my articular cartilage and my meniscus that I had repaired two years ago was playing up and had frayed. The boys at Pushing Performance have been putting me through a lot of cardio to keep me fit so we’ll see how that goes tonight. I’m very excited. I would say I’m a little bit nervous as well. It’s been about eight weeks since I played my last game so I’m pretty keen to get out there.”12

Rocci played the last 17 games of the 2017/18 season and was one of six players for Adelaide Lightning that averaged more than 25 minutes per game during the season along with current Flyers teammate Abby Bishop, combo guard Nicole Seekamp, shooting guards Natalie Novosel and Lauren Nicholson and forward Colleen Planeta. Canadian import centre Ruth Davis (nee Hamblin) averaged 17.5 minutes per game.

In Round 9 at Brydens Stadium against Sydney Uni Flames Rocci had 17 points, five assists and two steals.

After suffering an Anterior Cruciate Ligament injury in Round 10 Novosel required a knee reconstruction which forced her to miss the rest of the season.

Against the Sydney Uni Flames in a 97-104 overtime loss on the road in Round 12 Rocci was extremely efficient, scoring a team-high 28 points, making 12 of 14 field goal attempts at an accuracy of 85.6% and had five assists.

During 2017/18 Rocci averaged 9.9 points, 2.8 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 29.4 minutes court-time per game for Adelaide. Rocci ranked third at Adelaide for assists per game, fourth for minutes played and fifth for scoring. Of the players that played at least three WNBL games Rocci ranked 12th in the league for assists per game, teammates Seekamp and Novosel ranked third and fifth respectively.  

Four Adelaide Lightning players that averaged more than 7.5 points per game in 2017/18 returned to the club in 2018/19 with Rocci being joined in this category by Seekamp, Planeta and Nicholson. Rocci’s long-term Rangers team-mate Steph Blicavs joined her at the Lightning in 2018/19 and the club recruited American import front-court duo Nia Coffey and Kia Alexander. With the arrival of Blicavs together with improvement from Nicholson, Rocci played less court-time in 2018/19 than in 2017/18. Due to suffering a concussion in Round 8 against the Dandenong Rangers Rocci missed three games.

Adelaide finished the 2018/19 WNBL regular season in third position on the ladder with a record of 13 wins and eight losses. Adelaide defeated Melbourne Boomers two games to nil in a semi final series.

The Capitals defeated Adelaide 88-67 in game one of the Grand Final series. Adelaide won a thrilling game 2 74-73 after a Nicole Seekamp field goal at the end of the fourth quarter was controversially counted. Adelaide led 15-8 half-way through the first quarter in game 3, however Canberra gained the lead late in the first half and went on to defeat Adelaide 93-73. Rocci played 23 games for Adelaide in 2018/19, averaging5.6 points, 1.4 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game.

NBL1

In 2019 a new league, NBL1 commenced and was the premier winter basketball league in Southern Australia. Rocci played 20 games for the Dandenong Rangers during the 2019 NBL1 season, averaging 15.5 points, 4.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game.

NBL1 expanded for the 2020 season with the original NBL1 league rebranded as NBL1 South, NBL1 North and NBL1 Central conferences were established. In 2022 each of the five mainland states in Australia will have an NBL1 conference, comprised of Victoria – NBL1 South, Queensland – NBL1 North, South Australia – NBL1 Central, Western Australia – NBL1 West and New South Wales – NBL1 East.  

Rocci had signed to play with the Dandenong Rangers in the 2020 NBL1 South season, however due to COVID-19 restrictions and the closure of indoor sports stadiums the 2020 NBL1 South season was cancelled.

During the 2021 NBL1 South season Rocci played for the Geelong Supercats alongside Sara and Steph Blicavs. Aimie played the first five games of the season but injured her elbow in Round 4. Rocci made her return in late July but only played two games before the season was paused due to COVID-19 and ultimately the remainder of the NBL1 South season was cancelled. Rocci played seven games for Geelong Supercats during the 2021 NBL1 South season and averaged 14.1 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 34 minutes and 4 seconds court-time per game.

2019/20 to 2021/22 WNBL seasons with the Southside Flyers

Rocci returned to the WNBL’s Dandenong based club for the 2019/20 WNBL season. In July 2019 the Dandenong Rangers WNBL license was transferred from the Dandenong Basketball Association to Gerry Ryan. In 1975 Ryan founded Jayco who were the naming rights sponsor of the Dandenong Rangers WNBL team from 1997 to 2019. The Southside Flyers play their home games at Dandenong Stadium and respect the history of the Dandenong Rangers. After the announcement of the license transfer and the establishment of the Southside Flyers Ryan commented “The Southside name reflects our commitment to create a team with support from the beachside suburbs of Melbourne and the Mornington Peninsula through to the Dandenong Ranges, Gippsland and beyond. The Flyers hopefully will describe the style of play and success of the team within the WNBL. Our vision is to significantly broaden the support for the new team and to get the whole basketball community involved. The name Southside Flyers reflects this vision.”13

Cheryl Chambers was appointed as the inaugural head coach of the Jayco Southside Flyers. Chambers commenced a second stint as an assistant coach of the Australian Opals in May 2017 and had two stints as a WNBL head coach previously – with the Bulleen (now Melbourne) Boomers for eight seasons from 2001/02 to 2008/09 and with the Sydney Uni Flames for three seasons from 2016/17 to 2018/19 with the Flames winning the WNBL Championship in 2016/17 after defeating Dandenong 2-0 in the Grand Final series.

The Southside Flyers regular starting line-up throughout the 2019/20 season was Leilani Mitchell and Bec Cole in the backcourt along with Sara Blicavs, Jenna O’Hea and American import Mercedes Russell in the front-court. Rocci was the Southside Flyers sixth woman and other members of the nine-player core rotation were Anneli Maley, Kiera Rowe and Louella Tomlinson. 

Throughout her career Rocci has been adept at making three-pointers at the end of quarters or when the shot clock is about to expire and she made one such shot at a crucial stage of Southside’s Round 2 game at Dandenong Stadium against Perth Lynx. With five minutes and 24 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter Southside trailed Perth 70-74. Rocci scored five of the next seven points in the game, making a three-pointer and a two-point jump shot to reduce the margin to one point with three minutes and 47 seconds remaining. With the Flyers trailing by one point, 24 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter and the shot clock about to expire Rocci made a skilful catch and shoot three-pointer from well beyond the arc to give the Flyers a two point lead, 86-84. The game went to overtime and in the extra period Southside Flyers outscored Perth Lynx 13-9 to win 97-93. Rocci finished the game with 13 points, made five of nine field goals at an accuracy of 55% and was even more accurate from long-range, making three of five three-pointers.

In Round 13 the Southside Flyers defeated the Melbourne Boomers 77-73 in overtime at the State Basketball Centre on 12 January, however the win came at a cost. Flyers captain O’Hea broke her wrist when she and Boomers forward/centre Ezi Magbegor met solidly when they both dove after a loose-ball. O’Hea played out the game but was expected to miss 10 to 12 weeks which would cause her to miss the remainder of the WNBL season. With O’Hea out injured Rocci started for the Flyers.

The Southside Flyers recorded 17 wins and four losses during the 2019/20 season to finish on top of the ladder, two wins ahead of the University of Canberra Capitals and Melbourne Boomers who finished second and third respectively, followed by the Adelaide Lightning in fourth position on 12 wins. 

The Flyers won game 1 of their semi final series against Adelaide at home 68-65. In the Southside Flyers semi final game 2 victory against Adelaide Lightning at Titanium Security Arena Rocci reached double figures for the third time in 2019/20 with a season-high 18 points including making four of seven three-pointers to play a pivotal role in Southside progressing to the Grand Final with a 82-79 victory. In the game 2 victory all five Flyers starters scored at least 12 points.

University of Canberra Capitals were the Flyers Grand Final opponent and had won the 2018/19 WNBL championship. The Capitals won the 2019/20 regular season split against Southside 2-1 with the away side winning all three games.

Southside captain O’Hea returned from injury for the Grand Final series and after starting game one on the bench replaced Rocci in the starting line-up for game 2. Very little separated the Flyers and the Capitals during the Grand Final series, the Flyers held the lead in both games of the Grand Final series at a stage in the last four minutes, however in the dying stages the Capitals were more composed and shot the ball more efficiently to win game 1 82-80 at Dandenong Stadium and game 2 71-68 at the AIS Arena on 4 March. Rocci ranked fourth at the Flyers for assists and sixth for scoring, steals and minutes played during 2019/20.

Due to the impact of COVID-19 the 2020 WNBL season had a very different structure to recent seasons and imports weren’t eligible to play in the league. All eight WNBL clubs were located in North Queensland for the duration of the 2020 WNBL season which was played at three locations, Townsville, Cairns and Mackay. The regular season was condensed to five rounds commencing 11 November and each team played 13 regular season games.

Although it was more difficult for fans to attend games in 2020 due to the season being played in hubs in North Queensland the WNBL had an increased television presence and there was less competition from other sports for the attention of viewers. All 52 games during the 2020 WNBL season were broadcast on Kayo, 10 games including the Grand Final were shown on free to air network ABC and 21 games including all four finals were telecast on Foxtel.

Appearing on episode 1 of Sayin’ it with Sara, hosted by Southside forward Sara Blicavs on 17 August 2020 Rocci commented “Of my 10 years in the WNBL I think my season at Southside was probably the most professional that I have ever experienced, right from the top, our owners Gerry and Val (Ryan) they’re awesome, all the way through to the coaches, to the girls. I think just the people you are surrounded by are awesome and that is what I’m looking forward to most (in the 2020 season).”

During the Sayin’ it with Sara episode Rocci spoke about game-day rituals, saying “I just have the most extensive warm-up ever, like I can be first there but I will be last on the court for sure.” Sara said “Do you want to explain to people the importance of warming-up cos you are the warm-up queen.” Rocci responded “I probably take it to a new extreme, I don’t know if you have to warm-up as much as I do. Just activation, both of us would know, with your knee’s it is important to really get your muscles going otherwise you just feel it all in your bones and your joints. So warm-up, I don’t know, kids just jump on the court but not us.”

On Sayin’ it with Sara Rocci commented about playing with a knee injury in 2019/20 and what she wanted to bring in the 2020 season, saying “Leading into finals last season I had an injection in my knee and it kind of turned my world upside down, I had no pain, I was able to move a lot better so my plan is for my knee to be good again this season and I will bring more defensive energy and be disruptive on defense like I know I used to be and I kind of lost that for a little while there, but that is really what I want to bring this season.”

Five of the six Flyers players that averaged more than 13 minutes per game during the 2019/20 season suited up for the Flyers again in 2020 with players in this category being Rocci, Cole, O’Hea, Blicavs and Mitchell. American centre Mercedes Russell was unable to return due to being an import. 

Southside’s recruits for the 2020 WNBL season included Australian Opals centre Liz Cambage, and two veterans returning to the WNBL after not playing during 2019/20 in forward Rachel Jarry and shooting guard Steph Blicavs. Cambage and Jarry are both two-time Olympians, having played for the Opals at the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games. Cambage played 10 games for the Jayco Rangers during her 2007/08 debut WNBL season whilst Jarry played for the Rangers in 2018/19 before having a season off in 2019/20. After having her son Arlow in October 2019 Steph Blicavs made her WNBL return in 2020 and continued her long history with the Dandenong based WNBL team, having won the Rangers MVP award four times in eight seasons with the club.

Throughout the 2020 WNBL season the Southside Flyers had 10 players that played every game they were available for including eight players who averaged more than 16 minutes per game with starters Mitchell, Cole, O’Hea, Sara Blicavs and Cambage all averaging between 23 and 29 minutes per game whilst a trio of experienced players in Rocci, Steph Blicavs and Jarry averaged between 16 and 21.5 minutes per game. Bec Pizzey and Monique Conti played all 15 games and averaged 7.5 and 6.6 minutes per game respectively.

At the start of the 2020 WNBL season the Flyers were the favourites to win the championship. In their first six games Southside had one loss to each of the teams considered to be their biggest rivals for the title, losing to the Melbourne Boomers 72-89 in their second game of the season and were defeated by the University of Canberra Capitals 72-95 in their first game of Round 3.

Against Townsville Fire on 28 November Rocci scored nine points, made three of four field goal attempts at an accuracy of 75%, had four assists and two steals in a 94-70 Southside Flyers victory at Cairns Pop-Up Arena.

In Southside Flyers following game Rocci in 18 minutes and 13 seconds court-time scored 12 points and didn’t miss a field-goal attempt, making all four three-pointers and also made four assists in the Flyers 110-79 victory against Adelaide Lightning at Cairns Pop-Up Arena on 29 November.

During the Southside Flyers penultimate game of the regular season they fought back from a nine point deficit against the Sydney Uni Flames with under three minutes remaining to win 81-77 at Townsville Stadium however captain O’Hea suffered a knee injury in the final minute of the game and had to be substituted out.

Due to her knee injury O’Hea was expected to miss the rest of the 2020 WNBL season, as happened late in the 2019/20 season Rocci was brought into the Flyers starting line-up in place of her injured captain. 

The Southside Flyers finished their regular season with a 101-82 victory against the University of Canberra Capitals on 13 December at Townsville Stadium. In the starting line-up Rocci scored 13 points, made five of eight field goal attempts at an accuracy of 62%, made all three shots from beyond the arc and had six assists. 

Southside won their last seven games of the regular season to finish the 2020 season on top of the ladder with a record of 11 wins and two losses, two games ahead of the teams that finished second to fourth – Townsville Fire, Melbourne Boomers and University of Canberra Capitals.

During the Southside Flyers 106-93 semi final victory against Townsville Fire at Townsville Stadium on Wednesday 16 December Rocci scored 12 points and had six assists for the Flyers in exactly 30 minutes court-time.

On Friday December 18 Townsville won a thrilling preliminary final against the Melbourne Boomers 65-62 to progress to the Grand Final against the Southside Flyers. For the second season in a row Southside Flyers captain O’Hea was able to recover quicker than expected from a late season injury to play in the WNBL Grand Final, as with game one of the 2019/20 Grand Final O’Hea started on the bench and Rocci remained in the starting line-up.

In the Grand Final on 20 December at Townsville Stadium the Southside Flyers led 48-46 at half-time and were able to gain the ascendancy in the second half to have a 99-82 victory and win the WNBL championship. Rocci played 33 minutes and five seconds court-time – ranked second for the Flyers behind Mitchell who scored 31 points and won the Rachel Sporn Medal as Grand Final MVP. It was the club’s fourth WNBL Championship, having previously won titles as the Jayco Dandenong Rangers in 2003/04, 2004/05 and 2011/12. Three members of the 2020 Championship winning team had also played in the 2011/12 Championship – Rocci, O’Hea, and Steph Blicavs. Each member of this trio was a starter in one of the Grand Final victories and commenced the other Grand Final victory on the bench.

During the 2020 WNBL season Rocci played all 15 games for the Southside Flyers and averaged 6.1 points, 1.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.1 steals per game. Rocci had a field goal accuracy of 50%, ranked third at the Flyers for assists, fourth for steals, fifth for three-pointers made and sixth for scoring and minutes played. During the regular season Rocci ranked eighth in the WNBL with 3.9 assists per game.

In April 2021 Aimie married Maddy Rocci’s older brother Kristian. On Aimie joining the Rocci family and now being her sister-in-law Maddy told NBL1.com.au “I’m so glad to have her in the family. She’s such a great person to talk to about lots of things like basketball and everyday life. It’s great to not only have her on the basketball side but also the family side. It’s amazing to be able to call her my sister.”14 The Rocci sister-in laws are now teammates with Maddy having joined the Southside Flyers in June 2021.   

After completing a Bachelor of Education at Monash University Aimie has worked as a teacher since 2019. In February 2021 Rocci commenced a combined role as a teacher and basketball coach at Western Heights College in Geelong. In an article Staff in the Spotlight: Aimie Clydesdale published in August 2021 Aimie spoke about combining being a professional basketball player with being a teacher, commenting “Typically I spend half the year as a full-time athlete, and the other half playing semi-professionally and working as a teacher. I feel incredibly grateful for the experiences, relationships, and life lessons that professional sport has given me over the years.”15

Later in the article Aimie was asked “How long have you been a teacher and what motivated you originally to pursue this pathway?” Aimie responded “When I first left school I started a degree in Nursing & Paramedics. I loved helping others, however these occupations didn’t fit in with sport due to their shift nature. So, while I was working as a professional athlete, I decided to complete my double degree in Science and Secondary Education. My motivation was that I still wanted to be in a career that helped others, and this way, I could combine that with my passion for sport. I graduated in 2018, I then worked in the Rowville Sports Academy for a year or so before moving to Western Heights College to be a part of their new Specialist Basketball Program and The Academy Program.”16

After signing with the Southside Flyers for the 2021/22 WNBL season Aimie Rocci told wnbl.basketball “I have really enjoyed being part of the Flyers team since day one and it is amazing how, in just two years, we have developed a real family feeling. There is no questioning the work ethic of the team, importantly we have the balance right and we have fun, ensuring it is enjoyable for everyone.”

“A Grand Final in the first season and then a Championship has set high standards which is why we play the game, to be the best we can. I am looking forward to helping the Flyers maintain the standards and the challenges that will be part of the upcoming season, it will be exciting.”17

Five of the eight Southside Flyers players that averaged more than 15 minutes court-time per game in 2020 have returned in 2021/22. The Southside players in this category are Rocci, O’Hea, Sara Blicavs, Cole, and Jarry who have more than 1,000 games WNBL experience between them.

Against Bendigo Spirit on 4 December at Dandenong Stadium in the opening game of the WNBL season the Southside Flyers starting line-up was Maddy Rocci and Cole in the back-court along with O’Hea, Blicavs and Abby Bishop in the front-court. Other members of the Flyers 10 player main roster are Aimie Rocci, Jarry, Kristy Wallace, Kate Gaze and Emilee Harmon.  

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 players on the Flyers 2021/22 roster – Maddy Rocci, Cole, Blicavs and O’Hea were selected in an All-WNBL team in the past two completed seasons whilst another player on the Flyers 2021/22 roster, Bishop won the WNBL’s Most Valuable Player Award in 2014/15.

On Saturday 11 December Aimie Rocci played her 200th WNBL game against the Melbourne Boomers at Melbourne Sports Centre Parkville. Before the Southside Flyers home game at Dandenong Stadium against the Boomers on 18 December there was a presentation recognising Rocci reaching 200 WNBL games, and teammate Bishop playing 250 games. Rocci became the fourth player on the Southside Flyers 2021/22 roster to reach 200 WNBL games, joining O’Hea (289), Bishop (251) and Blicavs (233) in this category. Southside Flyers forward Sara Blicavs missed the home game on 18 December due to a back injury and Rocci started for the Flyers.

After Round 3 of the 2021/22 WNBL season the Southside Flyers have a record of one win and two losses, having defeated Bendigo in Round 1 and lost to the Melbourne Boomers in Rounds 2 and 3. Aimie Rocci ranks second at Southside for assists behind sister in law Maddy, third for steals and sixth for minutes played. At this very early stage of the 2021/22 WNBL season and with Perth Lynx yet to commence their season Southside Flyers point guards Aimie and Maddy Rocci both rank in the WNBL’s top 10 for assists per game. Maddy ranks second with 5.2 assists per game and Aimie ranks equal sixth with 3.9 assists per game.   

Epilogue

Aimie Rocci commenced her basketball career as a junior with the Dandenong Basketball Association at Dandenong Stadium and progressed through the pathway to represent the Dandenong Rangers at junior level as well in the SEABL and WNBL. In seven WNBL seasons with the Jayco Dandenong Rangers from 2010/11 to 2016/17 Rocci progressed from being a development player to starting point guard and club co-captain. At SEABL level Rocci played in four championships with the Dandenong Rangers including one as captain in 2016.

In 2017/18 and 2018/19 Rocci played in the WNBL for the Adelaide Lightning and ranked 12th in the WNBL for assists per game in her first season with the club.

Rocci returned to Dandenong in 2019/20 and is in her third consecutive season with the Southside Flyers. In 2020 Rocci set a new career-high for assists per game to rank eighth in the WNBL in this category.

After being a junior in the stands watching the Dandenong Rangers win back to back WNBL championships in 2003/04 and 2004/05 Rocci progressed through the pathway to be a member of the clubs next two WNBL championships, as a development player with the Dandenong Rangers in 2011/12 and later in her career as the Southside Flyers sixth woman in 2020.

With her speed, leadership defense and passing ability Aimie Rocci has performed an important role for her team throughout WNBL her career, either as a starter or off the bench and it was a magnificent achievement by Rocci to play her 200th WNBL game earlier this month.

 

Article and photographs by Dean Andrews

Twitter – @DeanAndrews7777

References

1 https://wnbl.basketball/southside/news/aimie-sticking-to-a-good-thing-at-the-flyers/

2 https://www.medibank.com.au/bemagazine/post/exercise/aimie-clydesdale-one-for-the-team/

3 http://www.smh.com.au/sport/basketball/dandenong-rangers-guard-aimee-clydesdale-seizes-starting-chance-20150214-13esc8.html

4 http://www.smh.com.au/sport/basketball/dandenong-rangers-guard-aimee-clydesdale-seizes-starting-chance-20150214-13esc8.html

5 https://dandenong.starcommunity.com.au/journal/2015-02-23/time-on-the-bench-turns-to-opal/

6 https://pakenham.starcommunity.com.au/gazette/2015-07-06/rangers-smart-move/

http://dandenong.starcommunity.com.au/journal/2015-10-08/rangers-ready-to-excite/

8 http://wnbl.com.au/player-profile-round-2-aimie-clydesdale/

9 https://dandenong.starcommunity.com.au/journal/2015-08-02/clydesdale-hits-her-stride/

10 http://www.botinagy.com/blog/clydesdale-to-run-lightning-horses/

11 http://www.botinagy.com/blog/clydesdale-to-run-lightning-horses/

12 https://wnbl.basketball/adelaide/news/clydesdale-debuts-planeta-plays-aussie/

13 http://wnbl.basketball/blog/news/southside-flyers-a-new-look-team-in-the-wnbl/

14 https://nbl1.com.au/news/rocci-focused-on-being-a-spartans-leader-while-chasing-olympics-berth/

15 https://theacademy.com.au/staff-in-the-spotlight-aimie-clydesdale/

16 https://theacademy.com.au/staff-in-the-spotlight-aimie-clydesdale/

17 https://wnbl.basketball/southside/news/aimie-sticking-to-a-good-thing-at-the-flyers/

Milestones and Misses

Milestones and Misses publishes articles to celebrate the achievements of sportspeople, mainly in the Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) and Australian Rules Football (AFL and AFLW). In sport as with life in general it is common that milestones are only achieved after overcoming adversity, so whilst the articles on the Milestones and Misses website celebrate sportspeople achieving milestones they also cover the misses along the journey such as a player having minimal game-time or spending a prolonged period on the sidelines due to injury. The aim of the articles is to enable readers to gain a greater appreciation of the journey sportspeople have had during their career.

A link to Milestones and Misses homepage is below:

https://milestonesandmisses.com/

The Milestones and Misseswebsite was set up in December 2015. During 2020 and 2021 articles have been published on the following sportspeople:

WNBL

Aimie Rocci

Abby Bishop

Lindsay Allen

Tessa Lavey

Ezi Magbegor

Maddison Rocci

Steph Talbot

Zitina Aokuso

Leilani Mitchell

Cayla George

Maddie Garrick

Sara Blicavs

Bec Cole

NBL

Nathan Sobey

AFL

Sam Walsh

Jack Steele

Luke Jackson

Harry McKay

Seb Ross

Nicky Winmar

Jayden Short

Clayton Oliver

Lenny Hayes

Tim Membrey

Rowan Marshall

AFLW

Georgia Patrikios

Alyce Parker

Tyla Hanks

Tyanna Smith

Tarni White

Caitlin Greiser

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