JCU Townsville Fire player profiles and preview of the 2022/23 Cygnett WNBL season

Four players that ranked in the top six at JCU Townsville Fire for points per game in 2021/22 – Lauren Nicholson, Steph Reid, Zitina Aokuso and Courtney Woods have each signed with the club for the next two seasons until the end of the 2023/24 season. In Shannon Seebohm’s second season as head coach of Townsville in the 2020 hub season the club made the WNBL Grand Final and he was named Coach of the Year. Townsville have secured Seebohm as their head coach until the end of the 2023/24 season.

Centre Lara McSpadden is the fifth member from Townsville’s 2021/22 main roster that has signed with the club for the 2022/23 season. Two players were recruited by the Fire from rival WNBL clubs in the off-season, Mikaela Ruef and Morgan Yaeger. Forward/centre Ruef commenced her WNBL career for Sydney Flames in 2014/15 with Seebohm as head coach and is playing her sixth WNBL season in 2022/23 having averaged more than 7.0 rebounds per game in all five WNBL seasons. As a development player guard Yaeger was a member of Sydney’s core rotation in 2021/22 and gets her first opportunity on a main roster of a WNBL club with Townsville in 2022/23.

Townsville have recruited two imports with WNBA experience, American forward/centre Tianna Hawkins and British/American guard/forward Karlie Samuelson. Hawkins has played over 250 regular season WNBA games and was a member of the Washington Mystix team that won the 2019 WNBA Championship. Samuelson has played in the WNBA, five seasons in Europe and has represented Great Britain. On 26 August Townsville signed New Zealand guard Krystal Leger-Walker, finalising their 10 player main roster for the 2022/23 WNBL season. Leger-Walker has represented New Zealand and earlier this year played in the inaugural Tauihi Basketball Aotearo season in New Zealand.

In the lead-up to JCU Townsville Fire commencing their 2022/23 Cygnett WNBL season on 6 November at home against the UC Capitals this article includes:

  • A brief look back at JCU Townville Fire’s 2021/22 WNBL season
  • A preview of Townsville’s 2022/23 Cygnett WNBL season
  • Detailed player profiles for all 10 members of JCU Townville Fire’s main roster for the 2022/23 season, brief profiles for the three development players and a profile for head coach Seebohm.

JCU Townsville Fire’s 2021/22 season

Wins                      7

Losses                   10

Finished               Sixth

Townsville won six of their first 10 games of the 2021/22 WNBL season to be in playoff contention half-way through February. The highlight during this time was fighting back from a 20 point deficit on the road against eventual champions Deakin Melbourne Boomers to record a two point victory, led by co-captain Nicholson with 22 points.

Townsville Fire players and staff post-game after a fight-back victory against Melbourne Boomers at the Melbourne Sports Centres Parkville on 22 January 2022

A trio of players were starters for Townsville in every game they were available for during the 2021/22 season – shooting guard Nicholson, import point guard Sug Sutton and import forward Monique Billings. JCU Townsville Fire were hard hit by injuries in the back half of the season with Nicholson (ankle injury) and Sutton (back injury) both playing their final game for the season on 19 February whilst Billings (knee injury) made her last appearance for the season in the following game on 25 February. This resulted in Townsville being undermanned late in the season as in the last seven games of the season after February 12 this staring trio only played a total of six games between them comprised of three games for Billings, two games for Nicholson and one game for Sutton.

After losing six consecutive games from 17 February to 18 March Townsville finished their season with a 76-69 victory at the Townsville Entertainment Centre against grand finalist Perth Lynx with Reid and Aokuso setting individual season-highs for scoring (23 points) and rebounds (14) respectively.

The upside to Townsville being undermanned late in the season was that two players – Reid and Woods thrived with increased opportunities. Woods was elevated into Townsville’s starting line-up for the last five games of the season and thrived to average 18.2 points per game in this period and led the Fire’s scoring four times. In the last eight games of the season Reid excelled, averaging 15.7 points and 7.1 assists per game. Reid was rewarded for her breakout 2021/22 WNBL season by winning Townsville’s MVP Award followed by an Australian Opals debut in late May. 

JCU Townsville Fire 2022/23 main roster

Returning:           Zitina Aokuso, Lara McSpadden, Lauren Nicholson, Steph Reid and Courtney Woods

Arrivals:               Tianna Hawkins (Washington Mystics – WNBA), Krystal Leger-Walker (Northern Kāhu – Tauihi Basketball Aotearo league in New Zealand), Karlie Samuelson (Perfumerias Avenida – Liga Femenina de Baloncesto in Spain), Mikaela Ruef (UC Capitals – WNBL) and Morgan Yaeger (Sydney Flames – WNBL)

Departed:           Monique Billings, Micaela Cocks, Mia Murray (Melbourne Boomers – WNBL), Nadeen Payne and Sug Sutton

The five players from Townsville’s 2021/22 roster that aren’t returning for the 2022/23 Cygnett WNBL season all averaged more than 19.0 minutes per game in 2021/22. Monique Billings led Townsville with 15.6 points and 1.9 steals per game and ranked second for rebounds behind Aokuso. Point guard Sug Sutton averaged 4.1 assists per game, ranked second at Townsville behind Reid. Mia Murray and Micaela Cocks played all 17 games for Townsville in 2022/23 and were both members of Townsville’s three WNBL championship winning teams in 2014/15, 2015/16 and 2017/18. Murray has joined WNBL rivals, the Melbourne Boomers. Nadeen Payne played 14 games for Townsville in 2021/22 and is taking a break from basketball during the 2022/23 season.

Player                                      Position                     Date of birth             Number

Predicted starters:        

Steph Reid                              Guard                          22/07/1996                  3

Lauren Nicholson                    Guard                          26/03/1993                  1

Karlie Samuelson*                  Guard/Forward           10/05/1995                  44

Tianna Hawkins*                    Forward/Centre           02/03/1991                  21

Zitina Aokuso                          Forward/ Centre          23/11/1998                  15

Main roster members:  

Krystal Leger-Walker               Guard                          29/09/1997                  4

Morgan Yaeger                       Guard                          18/04/1998                  24

Courtney Woods                     Guard                          24/03/1997                  7

Mikaela Ruef                          Forward/ Centre          20/10/1990                  33

Lara McSpadden                    Centre                         02/04/1999                  14

*= Import

Development Players:

Aliza Fabbro                            Guard                          19/08/2001                  23

Tia Hay                                   Guard                          12/07/1997                  11

Nes’eya Parker-Williams        Forward                       29/08/2001                  32

Player profiles on all 10 members of JCU Townsville Fire’s main roster and the three development players for the 2022/23 season are included later in this article.

Coaches

Shannon Seebohm                          Head Coach

Marcus Wong                                   Assistant Coach

Hayden Zasadny                               Assistant Coach

Paul Foster                                        Technical/Video Analyst Co-ordinator

A detailed profile on Townsville head coach Seebohm is included later in this article.

Preview of JCU Townsville Fire’s 2022/23 Cygnett WNBL season

Shannon Seebohm enters his fourth season as Townsville’s head coach, having commenced the role in 2019/20. Five players from Townsville’s 2020 WNBL team are playing their third consecutive season as teammates at the Fire – guards Lauren Nicholson, Steph Reid and Courtney Woods along with front-court duo Zitina Aokuso and Lara McSpadden. This continuity provides stability and familiarity for the organisation as a whole and Seebohm as coach.

Townsville have a total of seven players that played in the WNBL during 2021/22 and averaged at least 10 minutes per game, with the Fire’s five returning main roster players being joined in this category by forward/centre Mikaela Ruef and guard Morgan Yaeger who were recruited in the off-season from the UC Capitals and Sydney Flames respectively.

Two imports, forward/centre Tianna Hawkins and guard/forward Karlie Samuelson join Townsville for the 2022/23 season and both have experience playing in the WNBA and Europe. The Fire’s main roster was completed with the signature of New Zealand guard Krystal Leger-Walker who played for Northern Kāhu in the inaugural 2022 Tauihi Basketball Aotearo season and has represented New Zealand.

Whilst Townsville have an experienced 10 player main roster for the 2022/23 season with the youngest players being 23 year front-court duo Aokuso and McSpaden the Fire are one of only two WNBL clubs along with Perth Lynx that don’t have multiple players with 100 games WNBL experience. Nicholson (122 games) is the only Townsville player that has played 100 WNBL games, however Ruef only needs seven more games to reach this milestone.

Eight of the 10 players on Townsville’s 2022/23 main roster played college basketball in the United States of America, Nicholson, Reid and Woods along with all five off-season recruits – Hawkins, Leger-Walker, Samuelson, Ruef and Yaeger. Samuelson and Ruef both played their entire college careers at Stanford University and were teammates in 2013/14 when Ruef was a senior and Samuelson was a freshman. Five Townsville players have played for their nation at senior level in the past 14 months – Aokuso, Nicholson and Reid (All for Australia) along with Leger-Walker (New Zealand) and Samuelson (Great Britain).

During the off-season Townville head coach Seebohm had extensive discussions with the five main roster players Townsville recruited for the 2022/23 season. On 16 September 2022 Seebohm told WNBL Media “I’m really excited we’ve got a very good group and we should be able to compete with the best teams in the league. Obviously there’s the on court style of play and introducing new systems and being able to execute offence and defence but the biggest thing is their personalities and getting people to buy into the team and what’s best for everybody.”1

During the 2021/22 WNBL season minutes were spread more evenly at Townsville than at other clubs in the league, with only two Fire players averaging at least 27.0 minutes per game – 2020 club MVP winner Nicholson (31.4 minutes) and 2021/22 club MVP winner Reid (30.1). Among players that played at least three games in the 2021/22 WNBL season 35 players played at least 27.0 minutes at an average of 4.4 players per club. Six clubs had at least four players average 27.0 minutes per game, the only other exception was the Canberra Capitals with three players in this category.

At Townsville Nicholson and Reid have excelled at both ends of the court. In 2020 Nicholson averaged 18.9 points per game – ranked second in the league, earnt selection in the All-WNBL First team and finished third in both the league’s Most Valuable Player Award and the DPOTY Award. During a break-out 2021/22 season Reid ranked fourth in the league with 4.9 assists per game and was nominated for the WNBL’s Defensive Player of the Year and Sixth Women of the Year awards. Reid started 10 of Townsville’s 17 games in 2021/22 and with her performances has earnt the opportunity to be the Fire’s starting point guard alongside shooting guard Nicholson. 

American import forward/centre Hawkins grew up in Washington, played high school and college basketball there and has played seven of her nine WNBA seasons with the Washington Mystix. Hawkins had the best WNBA regular season of her career in 2019 with Washington and was a member of the Mystix team that won the club’s first ever WNBA Championship in 2019. During a 257 game WNBL career Hawkins has a field goal accuracy of 45.7%. 31 year old Hawkins will be Townsville’s starting power forward or centre. Since making her WNBA debut in 2013 Hawkins has missed only one WNBA season, when she was pregnant with son Emanuel in 2015.

There are two contenders for the starting power forward or centre spot alongside Hawkins, Aokuso or Ruef. Aokuso and Ruef both ranked in the WNBL’s top 12 for rebounds per game in 2021/22 and were the only players in the league’s top dozen for this category that averaged less than 25.0 minutes court-time per game. Aokuso started 14 of 17 games for Townsville in 2021/22 whilst Ruef started nine of the 12 games she played for the Capitals. I think Aokuso is more likely to get the starting position to commence the season.

During the 2021/22 season Townsville made 5.9 three-pointers per game, ranked last in the league and were ranked equal sixth for three-point accuracy with 29.8%. Being more accurate from the field has been a focus of Townsville’s for the 2022/23 season. Import guard/forward Samuelson has started at international level for Great Britain, is an excellent three-point shooter and had an accuracy of 44.3% behind the arc during her college career with Stanford. Another recruit, Yaeger was a proficient shooter for Sydney during the 2021/22 WNBL season, making 16 of 32 three-pointers at an accuracy of 50% and had an accuracy of 48.1% from the field. 

During the inaugural Tauihi Basketball Aotearo season earlier this year Leger-Walker playing for Northern Kāhu ranked in the league’s top five for both assists and steals per game. At the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup Leger-Walker averaged 4.0 assists per game – ranked 10th overall at the tournament.

After playing limited minutes early in the 2021/22 WNBL season Woods relished the opportunity as a starter for Townsville late in the season to be Townsville’s leading scorer in four consecutive games. During the 2022 NBL1 North season Woods playing for Townsville Flames, averaging 23.3 points per game – ranked fifth in the conference.

In three of Townsville’s last four games McSpadden played more than 20 minutes court-time, in one of these games McSpadden scores seven points and took 11 rebounds against Southside and in the final game she scored 11 points against Perth. During the 2022 NBL1 North season with the Rockhampton Cyclones McSpadden averaged 10.8 rebounds per game – ranked sixth in the conference.

During the off-season Seebohm was head coach of Townsville Flames in NBL1 North which featured two Fire players in the starting line-up, Reid and Woods as well as Fire development player Fabbro off the bench. The Flames won the NBL1 North Championship with Reid winning the Grand Final Most Valuable Player Award. Three Townsville Fire players were selected in the All-Star Five for the NBL1 Conference – Ruef playing for Logan Thunder and Reid in NBL1 North. Playing for Sutherland Sharks Nicholson was selected in the NBL1 East All-Star five and was named Defensive Player of the Year for the conference.

Two of Townsville’s three Development Players are 21 years old and have WNBL experience – Aliza Fabbro and Nes’eya Parker-Williams. Guard, Fabbro has been a development player for Townsville Fire from 2019/20, played eight WNBL games in 2021/22 and won Townsville’s Coaches Award. In the off-season with Townsville Flames in NBL1 North Fabbro was teammates with Reid and Woods and was coached by Seebohm. Forward, Parker-Williams has played in the WNBL with Perth Lynx previously, including 20 games in 2019/20. Late in the 2022 NBL1 West season Parker-Williams playing for Joondalup Wolves reached 100 state league games. 24 year old guard Tia Hay played College Basketball in the United States of America. Playing for Santa Clara University in 2018/19 Hay was selected in the All-West Coast Conference Second team. In 2022 Hay played 19 games for Ipswich Force in NBL1 North.

After playing shortened seasons in 2020 and 2021/22 due to COVID-19 the WNBL season returns to its usual length with each club playing 21 games during the 2022/23 regular season. All 84 games during the 16 round Cygnett WNBL regular season will be broadcast on television. A Wednesday game each round will be broadcast by ESPN and 68 games will be shown on Nine’s free streaming service 9 Now

Townsville Fire are hosting their Annual Community day at the Townsville Entertainment Centre on Saturday 29 October at the Townsville Entertainment Centre from 11am to 2pm. The JCU Townsville Fire commence their 2022/23 WNBL season with a home game against Ruef’s former team, the UC Capitals starting at 3.00pm on Sunday November 6. During the regular season Townsville will play 11 home games at the Townsville Entertainment Centre and 10 games on the road. Townsville host their first four games of the season and in Round 8 have a home New Year’s Eve match against Melbourne Boomers. In Round 14 Townsville play two home games against Victorian clubs, hosting Melbourne Boomers on Wednesday 15 February and Bendigo Spirit three days later on Saturday 18 February.    

Depth will be a strength of Townsville’s throughout the 2022/23 Cygnett WNBL season. Five players on their roster averaged more than 7.5 points per game in 2021/22 – Nicholson (12.6 points per game), Reid (12.0), Ruef (9.6), Aokuso (8.7) and Woods (7.6). Yaeger scored more than 15 points in her last two games of the 2021/22 season and McSpadden scored 11 points in Townsville’s last game of the season. In the off-season Townsville recruited three overseas players that will be making their WNBL debuts, imports Hawkins and Samuelson along with New Zealand point guard Leger-Walker.

More detail on Townsville’s 10 main roster players, three development players and head coach Shannon Seebohm are provided in the profiles section below.

Player profiles for main roster players in alphabetical order of surname

Zitina Aokuso

#15                                                        Position: Forward/Centre                

Date of birth 23 November 1998          Height 194cm                   

Junior Club                                       South West Metro Pirates (Queensland)                                         

WNBL debut: 2017/18    WNBL games played: 69 (All with Townsville Fire)    

Nationality                                          Australian

In the feature image for this article Zitina Aokuso shooting a jump-shot for Townsville Fire against Melbourne Boomers at the State Basketball Centre on 25 February 2022

Zitina Aokuso was born in Penrith, New South Wales and is from a large Samoan family, being the second youngest of eight children. Growing up Zitina’s primary sport to play was volleyball, she commenced her junior basketball career at around 15 years of age with her high school team at Runcorn High School in Brisbane, Queensland.

Aokuso rapidly progressed through the basketball ranks and attended the Basketball Australia Centre of Excellence in Canberra and played for the BA CoE in the South East Australian Basketball League (SEABL) in 2016 and 2017. A video of Aokuso at 17 years of age slam dunking at training in January 2016 went viral.

As a junior Aokuso represented Australia at several tournaments including at the 2016 under 18 Oceania Championships where she was a member of the Australian Gems gold medal winning team and was named the MVP of the Gold Medal game against New Zealand. At the 2017 Under 19 World Cup Aokuso was a member of the Gems team that finished sixth.

Aokuso made her WNBL debut at 18 years of age with Townsville Fire in their championship winning 2017/18 season. After playing limited game-time in her debut season Aokuso impressed with her athleticism as a member of Townsville’s core rotation and averaged 9.5 points and 5.6 rebounds per game as a power forward/centre off the bench in 2018/19.

Zitina Aokuso taking a rebound Townsville Fire against Dandenong Rangers at Dandenong Stadium on 13 January 2019

In April 2019 Aokuso attended her first ever training camp with the senior Australian women’s basketball team – the Opals on the Gold Coast. After an impressive NBL1 season for the Geelong Supercats in 2019 averaging 15.9 points and 8.6 rebounds per game Aokuso was well placed for the 2019/20 WNBL season with the Townsville Fire, however three weeks before the season commenced she injured her left anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and required a knee reconstruction which ruled her out for the season.

Despite the 2020 WNBL season being condensed Aokuso was rewarded for her diligence during her rehabilitation from her knee injury to play all 16 games for Townsville and was efficient during her time on court. 194 centimetre tall Aokuso averaged 9.6 points, 5.5 rebounds and 20.5 minutes per game in 2020, ranked in the WNBL’s top 10 for field goal accuracy and top 20 for rebounds per game to contribute to Townsville making the Grand Final. Aokuso polled 19 votes to win the WNBL’s 2020 Sixth Woman of the Year Award by two votes from Kelsey Griffin. The award was voted on by each club’s captain and coach with each voter casting votes for the top three players in the category.

After the 2020 WNBL season Milestones and Misses published an article comprehensively covering Aokuso’s basketball career to that point. A link to this article is below:

At the 2021 FIBA Women’s Asia Cup held in Amman, Jordan from 27 September to 3 October 2021 Aokuso made her Australian Opals debut and was a member of the Opals starting line-up for all six games alongside Townsville teammate Nicholson. At the tournament Aokuso ranked fourth for the bronze medal winning Australian Opals with 4.8 rebounds per game. On 5 October 2021 Seebohm spoke to 7 News Townsville about Aokuso’s experience of representing the Opals at the 2021 Asia Cup, commenting “Z I think had some really great moments and she showed flashes of what I think everyone knows she is capable of. It is rare to have players of her size be able to do the things she can do.” Aokuso was selected to attend a 13 player Australian Opals camp held in Sydney in May 2022. Due to illness Aokuso was a late withdrawal from the camp and didn’t play in Australia’s three game series against Japan in late May.

During the 2021/22 WNBL season Aokuso played all 17 games for Townsville including 14 as a starter and averaged 8.7 points, 7.6 rebounds, 0.7 blocked shots and 24.7 minutes per game. Aokuso ranked 12th in the WNBL for rebounds per game and equal 10th for blocked shots – leading Townsville in both categories.

Zitina Aokuso about to receive a pass from Lauren Nicholson in Townsville Fire’s game against Southside Flyers at Dandenong Stadium on 23 December 2021

During the past two WNBL off-seasons Aokuso played in the NBL1 South conference, representing the Melbourne Tigers in 2021 and the Ballarat Miners in 2022, averaging 17.4 points, 8.9 rebounds and 1.2 blocked shots (ranked ninth in the conference) per game in the latter season.

After making her WNBL debut with Townsville in 2017/18 Aokuso is the current longest serving player at the Fire and will have her sixth consecutive season on the club’s roster in 2022/23, 23 year-old Zitina signed a two-year contract extension with the club until the end of the 2023/24 season. 

Zitina Aokuso playing for Townsville Fire against Melbourne Boomers at the State Basketball Centre on 25 February 2022

WNBL Achievements:           WNBL Sixth Woman of the Year 2020

                                             WNBL Championship 2017/2018 (with Townsville Fire)

Tianna Hawkins

#21                                                     Position: Forward/Centre                

DOB  2 March 1991                Height 191cm                   

Junior Club                                         Hillcrest Community Center, Washington, USA                                                                       

Making WNBL debut in 2022/23

Nationality                                          American

After Tianna Hawkins signed with Townsville Fire for the 2022/23 WNBL season head coach Seebohm told wnbl.basketball Having played 9 seasons in the WNBA, Tianna brings a lot of skill and experience to our team. She is a great shooter, rebounder and has the versatility to play both the 4 and the 5 spots in our system. She’s a great pick and roll defender and adds a significant amount of depth to our front court. Everyone I have spoken with regarding her speaks very highly of her character, work ethic and quality as a teammate. We’re extremely excited to have Tianna joining us for the upcoming season!’2

Hawkins was born in Washington DC, United States of America. At 12 years of age Tianna and her twin sister Tierra commenced their junior basketball careers with the Hillcrest Community Center in Oxon Hill.

From 2009/10 to 2012/13 Hawkins played 136 games of College basketball for University of Maryland in Washington. In 2012 Hawkins ranked “No. 1 in NCAA with FG percentage of 62.3.”3 As a senior Hawkins played 34 games, averaging 18.0 points and 9.7 rebounds per game to earn selection in the 2012/13 All-Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) First team.

At the 2013 WNBA Draft Hawkins was selected by Seattle Storm with pick 6 overall. Hawkins made her WNBA debut with Seattle in 2013, playing 33 regular season games. On 14 April 2014 Tianna was traded from Seattle to Washington Mystix. After playing 34 regular season games for Washington in 2014 Hawkins had a son Emmanuel in June 2015.

From 2016 to 2022 Hawkins played seven consecutive WNBA seasons, including six seasons for Washington, the only exception was playing for Atlanta in 2021. Hawkins was born in Washington, played high school basketball and college basketball in Washington and has spent the majority of her WNBA career with the Washington Mystix. In 2019 Hawkins was a member of the team that won Washington’s first ever WNBA Championship. During the 2019 regular season Hawkins averaged a career-high 9.5 points and an equal career-high 4.2 rebounds per game for the Mystix.

In addition to playing 257 regular season WNBA games Hawkins has vast experience playing internationally, having played in Hungary for Sopran Basket, in China for Henan Yichuan and in South Korea for Asan Woori Bank Wibee.

Hawkins played in the inaugural Athletes Unlimited season in the USA during January and February 2022 and excelled to lead the league in rebounds, rank second in points scored and finish first on the players leader-board with 6,836 ranking points. Two guards that have played in the WNBL previously ranked in the top 10 – Natasha Cloud (2nd) and Courtney Williams (9th). Hawkins and Cloud were teammates at University of Maryland for the 2010/11 season and have been teammates at the Washington Mystix for six seasons including the 2019 WNBA Championship winning season. Cloud played in the WNBL as an import for Townsville Fire in the 2016/17 season.

On returning to play basketball in 2016 after having her son Emanuel, Hawkins told auprosports.com.au in February 2022 “It took a year and a half for me to get back to my pre-baby weight. When I was pregnant people counted me out. They told me my basketball career was over and that there was no way I would be able to play and have a son. But I told myself that I was going to make it work.”4 Hawkins has certainly succeeded in making it work and had her son Emanuel with her during the 2020 WNBA bubble season in Florida. During the 2022/23 WNBL season Emanuel will be in Townsville and attending school.

Krystal Leger-Walker

#4                                                           Position: Guard                

DOB  29 September 1997       Height 175cm                                                 

Making WNBL debut in 2022/23

Nationality                                          New Zealand

On 26 August 2022 Townsville Fire announced that they had signed Krystal Leger-Walker to fill the final spot on the club’s main roster for the 2022/23 WNBL season. Townsville head coach Seebohm told wnbl.basketball “I am very excited about the addition of Krystal to our team. Coming to the Fire after a successful career in the PAC12 at Washington State as well as stints as the starting point guard for the NZ national team, she has a lot of experience playing at a high level and has shown the composure and toughness that is required in order to help a team win games. Krystal is a pass first guard with good court vision and loves to play defence, with the ability to guard both back court positions. I really enjoyed speaking with her during the recruiting process and believe she will be a great team person that our fans will love to watch play.”5

Krystal Leger-Walker grew up in Waikato, New Zealand, her mother Leanne Walker represented the New Zealand Tall Ferns at the 2000 and 2004 Olympic Games. Krystal had a decorated junior basketball career and at the New Zealand Basketball Awards in both 2015 and 2016 she won the McGloughlin Trophy for Female Junior Player of the Year. “Krystal was awarded Most Valuable Player at the 2015 Secondary School National Championships and again at the Under 19 Nationals.”6

From 2016/17 to 2018/19 Leger-Walker played three seasons of college basketball in the United States of America for Northern Colorado University, playing 90 games including 87 as a starter. Leger-Walker was a member of the Northern Colorado Bears team that made their first ever appearance at the NCAA tournament in 2018.

Krystal transferred to Washington State University in 2019/20 but was unable to play college basketball in that season due to NCAA transfer rules. Krystal and younger sister Charlisse each played a total of 54 games as starting guards for Washington State across the 2020/21 and 2021/22 seasons. At Washington State Krystal averaged 8.7 points and a team-high 4.3 assists per game. 

Krystal is a member of New Zealand’s senior women’s basketball team, the Tall Ferns, following in the footsteps of her mother Leanne who is a current assistant coach of the Tall Ferns. At the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup Krystal played five games for New Zealand alongside younger sister Charlisse and averaged 5.0 points and a team-high 4.0 assists per game. In a semi final qualification game Krystal started for the Tall Fern’s against an Australian Opals team that had two Townsville Fire players in the starting line-up, Nicholson and Aokuso. Leger-Walker excelled against the Opals, scoring 12 points, took four rebounds and had an equal game-high six assists. New Zealand finished fifth out of eight teams at the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup and Krystal ranked 10th overall for assists per game.

During 2022 Leger-Walker played in New Zealand for Northern Kāhu in the inaugural Tauihi Basketball Aotearo season and was teammates with fellow New Zealand representative Micaela Cocks who played a club record 240 WNBL games for Townsville Fire from 2011/12 to 2019/20 and 2021/22. Cocks played in all three of Townsville’s WNBL Championships in 2014/15, 2015/16 winning the Rachel Sporn medal as Grand Final MVP and 2017/18. Leger-Walker played 14 games for Northern Kāhu in 2022 and averaged 8.9 points, 4.1 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 2.4 steals per game. Northern Kāhu won 10 of their 12 regular season games to finish on top of the ladder and were defeated in the Grand Final by Tokomanawa. Leger-Walker ranked third in the league for assists per game and fourth for steals.

Lara McSpadden

#14                                                    Position: Centre                

DOB  2 April 1999                             Height 193cm                   

Junior Club                                       Newcastle Hunters (New South Wales)                                         

WNBL debut: 2016/17    WNBL games played: 70     

Nationality                                        Australian

Lara McSpadden’s junior basketball club was the Newcastle Hunters in New South Wales, she has also represented the Hunters at senior level in the Waratah League including in 2019 when current Townsville head coach Seebohm was the head coach.

McSpadden was a member of the Australian Sapphires team coached by Seebohm that won a gold medal at the 2016 Under-17 FIBA World Championships held in Zaragoza, Spain from 22 June to 2 July. McSpadden represented the Australian Gems at the 2017 Under 19 FIBA World Cup.

In the middle of 2019 McSpadden was a member of the Emerging Opals team coached by Seebohm at the 2019 World University Games. The Emerging Opals were undefeated throughout their six games at the tournament, defeating the United States of America in the final 80-72 to win the gold medal.

At 17 years of age McSpadden made her WNBL debut in 2016/17 with the Sydney Uni Flames and in her debut season was a member of the club’s WNBL Championship winning team alongside current Townsville teammate Nicholson. During her first two WNBL seasons with Sydney McSpadden played limited minutes and a total of nine games. During 2018/19 McSpadden was a member of the Flames core rotation, playing 21 games, averaging 4.7 points and 4.0 rebounds per game and shot the ball at 49.4% from the field.

Lara McSpadden playing for Sydney Flames against Dandenong Rangers at Dandenong Stadium on 19 October 2018

After playing four seasons for Sydney Uni Flames McSpadden joined Townsville for the 2020 season and was a member of the team that made the WNBL Grand Final. McSpadden played seven of Townsville’s first 11 games of the 2021/22 WNBL season, playing less than 12 minutes court-time in each game. McSpadden played Townsville’s last six games of the season and was given increased opportunities, playing more than 12 minutes court-time in five games. Against the Southside Flyers on 13 March McSpadden scored seven points, took an equal game-high 11 rebounds, made two steals and blocked an equal game-high two shots in 20 minutes and nine seconds court-time. In Townsville’s final game of the season McSpadden scored a season-high 11 points against Perth Lynx.  

Lara McSpadden playing for Townsville Fire against Melbourne Boomers at the State Basketball Centre on 25 February 2022

Playing for the Rockhampton Cyclones during the 2022 NBL1 North season McSpadden played 19 games and averaged 16.1 points and 10.8 rebounds per game – ranked sixth in the conference.

McSpadden has played six WNBL seasons and at 23 years of age is the youngest member of Townsville’s main roster for the Cygnett WNBL 2022/23 season.

WNBL Achievements:           WNBL Championship 2016/2017 (with Sydney Uni Flames)

Lauren Nicholson

#1                                                      Position: Guard                

DOB  26 March 1993              Height 183cm                   

Junior Club                                       Sutherland Sharks (New South Wales)                                         

WNBL debut: 2010/11    WNBL games played: 122       

Nationality                                        Australian

Lauren Nicholson commenced her junior basketball career with the Sutherland Sharks in New South Wales and progressed to represent NSW at Australian Junior Championships. Nicholson represented Australia at under-age level at several tournaments including the 2010 FIBA Under 17 World Championships held in France. At 17 years of age Nicholson made her WNBL debut with the Sydney Flames in 2010/11, playing limited court-time in seven games.

From 2012/13 to 2015/16 Nicholson played college basketball for St Mary’s Gaels who have a strong history of Australian’s representing the college including Australian Boomers Patty Mills and Matthew Dellavedova. During a four-season college career with St Mary’s Nicholson played 110 games including 74 starts and averaged 12.5 points, 2.9 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 26.7 minutes court-time per game. Nicholson was named in the All-West Coast Conference First-team in 2014/15 and 2015/16.

Nicholson returned to the WNBL with the Sydney Uni Flames in 2016/17 and playing off the bench was a member of the Flames Championship winning team coached by Cheryl Chambers. 

Lauren Nicholson playing for Sydney Uni Flames against Melbourne Boomers at the State Basketball Centre on 5 February 2017

In three seasons with Adelaide Lightning Nicholson improved her scoring output from 8.0 points per game in 2017/18 to 14.2 points per game in 2019/20. Nicholson became renowned as one of the best defenders in the WNBL, this was officially recognised when she won the WNBL’s Robyn Maher Defensive Player of the Year Award in 2018/19.

When Townsville announced that Nicholson had signed as a marquee player with the Fire for the 2020 WNBL season Townsville head coach Seebohm commented “I believe Lauren is one of the most talented guards in the WNBL, her competitiveness and defensive instinct set her apart from some of the other guards in the league and I feel she is going to have a breakout season offensively within our system here at the Fire.”7

Lauren Nicholson playing defense for Adelaide Lightning against Dandenong Rangers at Traralgon Basketball Stadium on 24 November 2018

Nicholson had set a high benchmark throughout her career before joining Townsville, however Seebohm’s comments proved to be accurate with Lauren taking her game to another stratosphere during the 2020 season. Nicholson ranked second in the WNBL with 18.9 points per game and also ranked in the league’s top 10 for minutes played, free-throws made and steals, leading Townsville in all four categories. Nicholson shot the ball at 48.3% from the field, having an accuracy of more than 46% for the fourth season in her WNBL career. Nicholson was recognised for her incredible 2020 season, 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 to play a critical role in Townsville making the 2020 Grand Final.

Nicholson was a member of the Australian Opals bronze medal team at the 2019 FIBA Women’s Asia Cup held in India and played five of the Opals six games. At the2021 FIBA Women’s Asia Cup held in Jordan Nicholson started for the Opals in all six games alongside Aokuso, ranked second for the bronze medal winning Opals for minutes played and sixth for scoring. Nicholson played for the Opals in a three game series against Japan held in New South Wales in May 2022 but missed out on selection for the 2022 FIBA World Cup.

In her second consecutive season with Townsville Fire Nicholson suffered a season ending ankle injury in the third quarter of a road game against the University of Canberra Capitals on 19 February 2022. Nicholson played 12 games for Townsville in 2021/22 and averaged 12.6 points, 2.8 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.3 steals and 31.6 minutes court-time per game. Nicholson led Townsville for minutes court-time per game, ranked second for scoring at Townsville behind Billings and ranked third for assists and steals. Nicholson averaged more than 12.5 points per game for the fourth consecutive WNBL season.

Lauren Nicholson playing for Townsville Fire against Melbourne Boomers at the Melbourne Sports Centres Parkville on 22 January 2022

Nicholson has had a decorated career at state league level including winning the 2018 South East Australian Basketball League (SEABL) regular season MVP playing for the Launceston Tornadoes and winning the 2019 NBL1 Grand Final MVP for a dominant 36 point, 10 rebound and six assist performance for the Kilsyth Cobras in their victory against the Geelong Supercats.

In 2022 Nicholson returned to represent her junior club Sutherland Sharks at senior level in the inaugural NBL1 East season and averaged 25.0 points, 6.4 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 2.7 steals per game whilst shooting the ball at 51.0% from the field in 19 games. Nicholson ranked third in NBL1 East for scoring, second for assists and sixth for steals. Nicholson was selected in the 2022 NBL1 East All Star Five and won the league’s Defensive Player of the Year Award.  

Townsville Fire announced on 22 March 2022 that Nicholson had signed with the club for two seasons until the end of the 2023/24 WNBL season. On the decision to sign with Townsville Nicholson told WNBL Media “I wouldn’t play for any other team in the WNBL, I love it too much here, but I did have a thought of going over to Europe. But as I’m getting older I’ve realised how much I love Australia and I love calling Townsville home now so I really wanted to stay. I love Townsville, it’s a great community here. We have a core group of players that have come back for the last couple of years. I think that’s really important in making a successful team and hopefully some of these girls will stay on as well for next season.”8 Later in the WNBL off-season three members of Townsville’s core group followed in Nicholson’s footsteps and signed contracts with Townsville until the end of the 2023/24 two season – Aokuso, Reid and Woods.

Lauren Nicholson playing for Townsville Fire against Melbourne Boomers at the Melbourne Sports Centres Parkville on 22 January 2022

WNBL Achievements:           All-WNBL First team 2020

Robyn Maher Defensive Player of the Year 2018/19

                                              WNBL Championship 2016/2017 (with Sydney Uni Flames)

Steph Reid

#3                                            Position: Guard                

DOB  22 July 1996              Height 168cm                   

Junior Club                         Frankston Blues (Victoria)                                                                  

WNBL debut: 2018/19       WNBL games played: 40      

Steph Reid grew up on the Mornington Peninsula in Mount Eliza, Victoria, started playing basketball at five years of age with the Frankston Blues, progressed through the entire junior pathway at Frankston and later represented the club at senior level. Although Reid regularly made junior Vic Metro squads of 25 players she never made the final Vic Metro team and was told she was too small and wasn’t athletic enough.

From 2014/15 to 2017/18 Reid spent four seasons playing College basketball in the USA with University of Buffalo. After Reid started the first two games of her college career on the bench she was elevated to the role of starting point guard in her third game in mid-January 2015 and retained this role for the remaining 114 games of her college career. In overtime of the Mid-American Conference championship game in March 2016 Reid made a banked buzzer-beating two point field goal to break a tie and secure University of Buffalo a 73-71 win over Michigan and Buffalo’s first ever MAC championship in dramatic fashion. During her college career with University of Buffalo Reid averaged 10.5 points, 3.2 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game, she ended her career as Buffalo’s all-time leader in assists.   

After graduating from The University of Buffalo Reid returned to the Frankston Blues and represented the club at senior level in the South East Australian Basketball League (SEABL) in 2018 and in the NBL1 during the league’s inaugural season in 2019. In an NBL1 game for the Frankston Blues in May 2019 Reid set a new league record, scoring 50 points against Launceston Tornadoes in a home game, making 19 of 25 field goal attempts at an accuracy of 76% and was even more impressive from long range, making seven of eight three-pointers at an accuracy of 87.5%. 

Reid played a total of just seven games in her first two WNBL seasons comprised of four games for the Dandenong Rangers in 2018/19 and three games for the Southside Flyers in 2019/20. A quad injury kept Steph on the sidelines for five weeks during the latter season.

Steph Reid shooting a free-throw for Southside Flyers against Melbourne Boomers at the State Basketball Centre on 5 October 2019

Reid was a member of Townsville Fire’s core rotation in 2020 and played a valuable role as a back-up point guard for a Townsville team that made the Grand Final. Throughout 2020 Reid was an efficient shooter, having a field goal accuracy of 47.9% from the field, 46.7% for three-pointers and 89.5% for free-throws. Depth was one of Townsville’s greatest strengths in 2020, Reid finished third in the WNBL’s Gatorade Sixth Woman of the Year Award, teammate Aokuso won the award.  

During Townsville’s first nine games of the 2021/22 season Reid only played over 30 minutes court-time once. In the second half of the season Reid was given more responsibility, playing over 30 minutes in each of the Fire’s last eight games of the season, Steph averaged 7.1 assists per game and had at least seven assists in a game six times during this period. Reid relished the increased opportunity to be one of the revelations of the 2021/22 WNBL season, averaging 12.0 points, 4.9 assists, 1.4 steals and 30.1 minutes per game – ranked second at the Fire behind Nicholson. Reid ranked fourth in the league for assists per game and in the top 20 for steals and free throws made. Reid won Townsville’s 2021/22 MVP Award and the ‘Club Person of the Year’ award. Reid’s breakout 2021/22 season was also recognised with a fifth placed finish in the WNBL’s Robyn Maher Defensive Player of the Year Award.

Steph Reid playing for Townsville Fire against Melbourne Boomers at the State Basketball Centre on 25 February 2022

In two WNBL seasons for the Townsville Fire in 2020 and 2021/22 Reid finished in the top four of the WNBL’s sixth Woman of the Year Award. Free throw shooting has been a strength of Reid’s, making 17 of 19 attempts at an accuracy of 89.5% in 2020, Steph was even more accurate last season, making 34 of 36 free-throws at an accuracy of 94.4% – ranked third in the league amongst players that had at least 10 free-throws.

Steph Reid playing for Townsville Fire against Melbourne Boomers at the State Basketball Centre on 25 February 2022

In April 2022 Reid was named in the Opals extended 21 player squad for the 2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup. Reid made her Opals debut during a three-game friendly series against Japan held in New South Wales in late May but missed out on selection for the 2022 FIBA World Cup.

After Reid’s Opals debut in May 2022 Milestones and Misses published an article comprehensively covering her basketball career to that point. A link to this article is below:

During the 2022 NBL1 North season Reid played 22 games for the Townsville Flames coached by Shannon Seebohm, her teammates included 2022/23 Fire trio Nicholson, Woods and development player Fabbro. Reid averaged 22.0 points, 4.3 rebounds, 8.5 assists and 2.3 steals per game in 2022 and led the conference for assists per game and ranked ninth for scoring and steals. Reid was selected in the 2022 NBL1 North All-Star Five. Townsville Flames defeated the previously undefeated Logan Thunder two games to nil in the 2022 NBL1 North Grand Final to win the Championship. Reid won the Grand Final MVP Award after averaging 24.5 points and 9.5 assists per game in the Grand Final series. At the NBL1 National Finals held at the State Basketball Centre in Wantirna, Victoria from 9 to 11 September Townsville Flames won two of their three games.

Steph Reid playing for Townsville Flames against Albury Wodonga Bandits at the State Basketball Centre on 10 September 2022 in the NBL1 National Finals

On 22 July 2022 Reid extended her contract with Townsville Fire for an additional season until the end of the 2023/24 season. Fire head coach Seebohm told wnbl.basketball “She is someone that came in here, not having played a-lot in the WNBl, she came in here in 2020 and thrived in our program, since day one she has had a fantastic work ethic and has grown all areas of her game in the past two years. I couldn’t be more excited to know Reid will be part of the club going forward. Having Reid part of the next chapter for the club, embracing her teammates and the community will help us to build the roster and reach our goals for the future.”9

Mikaela Ruef

#14                                                  Position: Forward/Centre                

DOB  20 October 1990       Height 190cm                   

WNBL debut: 2014/15    WNBL games played: 93      

Nationality                                       Naturalised Australian, was born in America

Mikaela Ruef was born and grew up in Dayton, Ohio, United States of America. From 2009/10 to 2013/14 Ruef played 133 games of College basketball for Stanford University including 65 as a starter. Ruef played three games for Stanford in 2011/12 but then suffered a season-ending foot injury. During 2013/14 Ruef was teammates at Stanford with current Townsville team-mate Samuelson and averaged 7.1 points and 9.3 rebounds per game, setting new career-highs in both categories. Stanford made the NCAA Final Four four times in Ruef’s five seasons including a runner-up finish in 2009/10. 

Ruef commenced her WNBL career as an American import with Seebohm as her head coach at the Sydney Uni Flames in 2014/15 and will be coached again by Seebohm in 2022/23 at Townsville. In both the 2015/16 WNBL season with Adelaide Lightning and 2016/17 season with the UC Capitals Ruef averaged a double-double. In each of her first three WNBL seasons Ruef ranked in the league’s top five for rebounds per game, being fifth in 2014/15 (7.9 rebounds per game), second in 2015/16 (11.8) and first in 2016/17 (11.0).

Mikaela Ruef shooting a free-throw for UC Capitals against Melbourne Boomers at the State Basketball Centre on 17 December 2016

From 2015 to 2017 Ruef played in the South East Australian Basketball League (SEABL), averaging more than 15.0 points per game and 12.5 rebounds per game in all three seasons. Playing for the Launceston Tornadoes in 2015 Ruef earned selection in the All-SEABL team and was named the Defensive Player of the Year.

Mikaela Ruef playing defense for the UC Capitals against Dandenong Rangers at Dandenong Stadium on 6 November 2016

During 2017/18 playing for Toulouse in France Ruef ruptured her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). In her return season to basketball after the knee injury Ruef was exceptional for Logan Thunder in the 2019 Queensland Basketball League season, leading the QBL with 19.6 rebounds per game and won the league’s Most Valuable Player Award. In 2020 Ruef was selected in the 2020 All-Queensland State League Women’s team and was a member of the Logan Thunder team that won the Queensland State League Championship.

For the 2019/20 WNBL season Ruef signed with the Canberra Capitals but needed to become a permanent Australian resident to play games as the club had already signed two imports – Kia Nurse and Olivia Epoupa. Ruef trained with the Capitals throughout the season but didn’t gain Australian permanent residency in time to play during the 2019/20 season and left late in the season to play in France for Charnay.  The UC Capitals won the 2019/20 WNBL Championship, making it back- to-back titles. 

After becoming a permanent Australian resident Ruef played the 2020 and 2021/22 WNBL seasons with the University of Canberra Capitals. In 2021/22 Ruef averaged 9.6 points, 8.0 rebounds and 22.9 minutes per game. Ruef ranked 10th in the league for rebounds per game and was the only player in the top 10 that averaged less than 27 minutes per game.

Mikaela Ruef playing for the UC Capitals against Perth Lynx at Selkirk Stadium on 19 January 2022

The Queensland conference of NBL1, named NBL1 North commenced in 2021, replacing the Queensland State League. Playing for Logan Thunder during the 2021 NBL1 season Ruef averaged 18.4 points and 17.4 rebounds per game to earn selection in the NBL1 North Women’s All-Star Five. Ruef was a member of the Logan Thunder team that won the 2021 NBL1 North Grand Final series against Southern District Spartans two games to nil. 

During the 2022 NBL1 North season Ruef played 23 games for Logan Thunder, averaging 23.0 points, 20.1 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 2.3 steals per game. Ruef led the conference for rebounds per game, ranked sixth in scoring, seventh for steals, 11th in assists and was selected in the 2022 NBL1 North All-Star Five. Logan were undefeated during the regular season, winning all 19 games. In the Grand Final series Logan were defeated by Townsville Flames two games to nil.

Townsville Fire announced on 9 June that Ruef had signed with the club for the 2022/23 WNBL season. Townsville head coach Seebohm told WNBL Media “I am thrilled to add someone of Mikaela’s calibre to our group. Having coached her previously when she first came out to Australia, I knew that she was someone who would add a lot to our group on and off the floor with her leadership and winning mentality. Everyone knows how great of a rebounder she is but I think her unique skill set, versatility and ability to not only score but make her team mates better with her passing will be a huge asset to us this season.”10

During the 14 June 2022 episode of the NBL1 Show Ruef commented on joining Townsville Fire for the 2022/23 season, saying “My first year playing in the league I played with Shannon down in Sydney and I really liked him as a coach. When he spoke to me this off-season I was a free-agent and I just really wanted the opportunity to play with him again. Lauren Nicholson is a friend of mine, I am really excited to go up there and play for Shannon again and play with Nicholson because I think she’s a great person, great competitor, and I think it will be a lot of fun.”

Karlie Samuelson

#44                                                  Position: Guard/Forward                

DOB  10 May 1995              Height 183cm                                                                              

Making WNBL debut in 2022/23

Nationality                                          American/British

After Townsville Fire announced on 29 June that Karlie Samuelson had signed with the club for the 2022/23 season Townsville head coach Seebohm told wnbl.basketball “Karlie is a fantastic shooter and very tough defensive guard. She has played in some of the best leagues in the world, having played in the WNBA as well as the Euro-league over the past few years. She understands what it takes to win and will bring all her experience and a professional approach to our team.”11

Karlie Samuelson is from a sporting family, mum Karen played for the England Netball team and her American dad Jon played basketball professionally in England where he met Karen. Karlie was born and grew up in California and is a middle child, having an older sister Bonnie and younger sister Katie Lou. The Samuelson sisters played a lot of sport when they were growing up and were really competitive when playing basketball against each other in the backyard.  

Karlie as a freshman joined older sister Bonnie on the College Basketball team at Stanford University in 2013/14, current Townsville teammate Ruef was playing her senior season at Stanford and Bonnie was a junior. Karlie and Bonnie were teammates at Stanford in 2013/14 and 2014/15, in the earlier season Stanford made the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament and were defeated by eventual champions Connecticut. Younger sister Katie Lou joined the University of Connecticut college basketball team in 2015/16 for her freshman season. As a senior Karlie was a member of the 2016/17 Stanford team that lost in the Final Four to Washington. During her college career Karlie played 134 games for Stanford including 88 starts, averaging 8.7 points, 2.7 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game and had an accuracy of 44.3% for three-pointers. During her senior 2016/17 season Samuelson had a 3-point field goal percentage of 48.5% to rank “Second in the nation in 3-point field goal percentage, a mark good for second in school single-season history and fourth in Pac-12 history.”12

Karlie Samuelson has played 42 regular season WNBA games including 20 for the Los Angeles Sparks in her debut 2018 season. Katie Lou made her WNBA debut with Chicago in 2019. On 4 June 2021 Karlie signed a hardship contract with the LA Sparks. A month later Karlie and Katie Lou played against each other for the first time in their college and WNBA careers when the LA Sparks hosted Seattle Storm on 4 July. After Karlie was waived by the LA Sparks on 22 August she signed with the Seattle Storm the following day, becoming teammates with Katie Lou. Late in the 2021 WNBA season Karlie and Katie Lou played three games as teammates for Seattle. Karlie’s “first points with Seattle came off a layup off a great feed from sister Katie Lou Samuelson against Chicago on Aug. 29.”13

From 2017/18 to 2021/22 Karlie played five seasons in Europe comprised of one season in Italy, one season in Belgium and three consecutive seasons from 2019/20 to 2021/22 with Perfumerias Avenida in Spain. Katie Lou joined Karlie at Avenida in 2020/21 and the sisters were members of the Avenida team that won back-to-back Spanish Championships in 2020/21 and 2021/22. For EuroLeague games Karlie ranked third in scoring per game at Perfumerias Avenida in 2021/22 with 9.6 points per game, behind Kahleah Copper and Katie Lou.

Using her mother Karen’s nationality Karlie chose to represent Great Britain internationally whilst Katie Lou has represented USA. Karlie has represented Great Britain at several tournaments including the 2021 FIBA Women’s EuroBasket Qualifiers where she played three games and averaged 12.7 points, 6.0 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 2.3 steals per game. Samuelson started both of  Great Britain’s games in the November 2021 window of the 2023 EuroBasket Qualifiers and scored a team-high 14 points against Greece in Manchester on 11 November.

After arriving in Australia and joining Townsville Fire Samuelson spoke about the impact Ruef had on her decision to join the Fire, commenting to 7News Townsville on 5 October “I love Mik, she is such a smart player so when she said that she loves playing for Shannon I was like yeah, absolutely.”

Courtney Woods

#7                                                    Position: Guard                

DOB  24 March 1997              Height 183cm                   

Junior State                                     Queensland                                                                  

WNBL debut: 2020                         WNBL games played: 30 (All with Townsville Fire)      

Courtney Woods grew up in Brisbane and started playing basketball at around six years of age. Woods played basketball for Queensland at several junior National Championships. Courtney’s mum Dana played College basketball at the University of Idaho in the 1980’s.

Woods played five seasons of college basketball for Northern Illinois University in the Mid-American Conference (MAC) from 2015/16 to 2019/20. After having 11 starts in 30 games as a freshman in 2015/16 Woods started all 100 games that she played for the Huskies in her last four seasons at the University. After playing seven games in 2018/19 Woods suffered a knee injury which ended her season. In four consecutive seasons from 2016/17 to 2019/20 Woods averaged over 16.5 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. At Northern Illinois University Woods played 130 games including 111 starts, averaging 17.0 points, 5.9 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game during her career. Woods was selected in the 2019/20 All-MAC First team and finished her college career as Northern Illinois’ all-time leader for three-pointers made (323) and games played.

After completing college Woods returned to her home state of Queensland and during a debut WNBL season was a member of the 2020 Townsville Fire team coached by Seebohm that made the Grand Final. In 2020 Woods impressed with her shooting accuracy of 56.9% from the field, 51.6% for three-pointers and 85.7% for free-throws. Woods ranked in the league’s top 10 for both field goal and three-point accuracy.

During the 2020 and 2021 NBL1 North seasons Woods played a total of 18 games for the Northside Wizards and averaged 22.6 points and 6.8 rebounds per game.

In Townsville’s first eight games of the 2021/22 WNBL season Woods only played more than 10 minutes once but was given more responsibility in the second half of the season to play more than 10 minutes in the Fire’s last nine games of the season. With Townsville missing three of their starters due to injury late in the season Woods made the most of her elevation into the Fire’s starting line-up to be Townsville’s leading scorer in four consecutive games from 25 February to 18 March, scoring at least 18 points in all four games. In the last game of this sequence Woods registered a double-double comprised of 19 points and 11 rebounds in a home game against the Perth Lynx at Townsville Entertainment Centre. In 2021/22 Woods averaged 7.6 points, 3.4 rebounds and 17.6 minutes court-time per game. At Townsville Fire’s 2021/22 end of season presentation night Woods won two awards, the ‘Commitment to Excellence’ award and the ‘Players Player’ award.

Courtney Woods shooting for Townsville Fire against Melbourne Boomers at the State Basketball Centre on 25 February 2022

On 29 April 2022 Townsville Fire announced that Woods had signed a two year contract with the club until the end of the 2023/24 WNBL season. Townsville General Manager Sam Pascoe told WNBL Media “Courtney brings passion and excitement to the game; she is also remaining in Townsville for the off-season and will head up the clubs School Program, she has immersed herself in the community and truly understands the importance of the club, our fans and members.”14

Courtney Woods playing for Townsville Fire against Melbourne Boomers at the State Basketball Centre on 25 February 2022

As well as being coached by Seebohm at Townsville Fire Woods is also coached by Seebohm at the Townsville Flames in NBL1 North where Reid and Fire development player Aliza Fabbro are also teammates. During the 2022 NBL1 North season Woods played 23 games for Townsville Flames, averaging 23.3 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game. Woods ranked fifth in the conference for points per game and was a member of the Flames team that won the 2022 NBL1 North Grand Final and two of their three games at the NBL1 National Finals.

Courtney Woods shooting a free-throw for Townsville Flames against Albury Wodonga Bandits at the State Basketball Centre on 10 February 2022

Morgan Yaeger

#24                                           Position: Guard                

DOB  18 April 1998              Height 175cm                   

Junior Club                        Forestville Eagles (South Australia)     

WNBL debut: 2020                   WNBL games played: 23    

Guard, Morgan Yaeger will have her first season on the main roster of a WNBL club in 2022/23 with the Townsville Fire, having been a development player for the past two seasons, with Adelaide Lightning in 2020 and Sydney Flames in 2021/22. On joining Townsville Yaeger told WNBL Media I couldn’t be more excited and honoured that I’m signing with Townsville for my first official WNBL contract. I’m so thankful for the opportunity and can’t wait to get up there and get to work with my coaches and teammates.”15

Morgan Yaeger grew up in South Australia and played her junior basketball with the Forestville Eagles. Yaeger represented Australia at several junior tournaments including the FIBA 2014 Women’s under 17 World Championships in the Czech Republic, the Australian Sapphires finished fifth.

In 2016/17 Yaeger played college basketball for University of Oregon who compete in the Pac-12 conference in the United States of America. Yaeger played 33 games in her freshman season. In her 2017/18 sophomore season Yaeger was unable to play due to a back injury. Yaeger made her return from injury in 2018/19 and although still impacted by her back injury played a total of 43 games over the next two seasons before graduating at the end of the 2019/20 season. During her college career with the Oregon Ducks Yaeger played 76 games, all off the bench and averaged 1.7 points and 8.8 minutes per game.

Oregon won three consecutive Pac-12 Regular season championships from 2018 to 2020 and were conference tournament champions in 2018 and 2020. At the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament Oregon made the Elite Eight in 2017 and 2018 and progressed to the Final Four in 2019. Due to COVID-19 the 2020 NCAA Tournament was cancelled. Three of Yaeger’s Oregon Ducks teammates went on to be selected in the first eight picks overall at the 2020 WNBA Draft – Sabrina Ionescu (pick 1), Satou Sabbaly (pick 2) and Ruthy Hebard (pick 8).  

During the 2015/16 WNBL season Yaeger was a development player with Adelaide Lightning but didn’t play any games. After completing college at the University of Oregon Yaeger returned to the Lightning as a development player for the 2020 hub season. In 2020 Yaeger made her WNBL debut, playing nine games for Adelaide, averaging 1.7 points and 7.1 minutes per game. 

Playing for the Southern Tigers in NBL1 Central Yaeger had an outstanding 2021 season, averaging 17.2 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game. Yaeger was a member of the Southern Tigers team that won the NBL1 Central Championship and was rewarded for her superb individual season with selection in the conference’s All-Star Five.

As a development player for the Sydney Uni Flames in 2021/22 Yaeger played 14 games including three starts and played more than 10 minutes in a game 11 times. Yaeger scored more than 10 points in a game four times and finished the season strongly to score at least 16 points in her last two games of the season. Against Perth on 16 March Yaeger scored a season-high 18 points at 77.8% from the field and followed this up in Sydney’s last game with 16 points against Bendigo. In these two Sydney home games at Brydens Stadium Yaeger was extremely damaging from long range, making a total of eight three-pointers from 11 attempts at an accuracy of 72.7%. During the 2021/22 season Yaeger averaged 4.9 points and 16.6 minutes per game. Guard, Yaeger had a field goal accuracy of 48.1% during the 2021/22 WNBL season, ranked 11th in the league amongst players that had at least 10 field goal attempts for the season. Yaeger was even more impressive behind the arc, making 16 of 32 three-pointers at an accuracy of 50% – ranked equal second in the league amongst players that attempted at least five three-pointers.

Morgan Yaeger playing for Sydney Flames against Melbourne Boomers at the State Basketball Centre on 20 February 2022

During the 2022 NBL1 Central season Yaeger played 15 games for the Southern Tigers, averaging 20.4 points, 6.3 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game. Yaeger scored at least 27 points in a game six times and ranked fourth in the league for points and assists per game.

After Townsville Fire announced on 12 July 2022 that Yaegeer had signed with the club for the 2022/23 WNBL season head coach Seebohm told wnbl.basketball “Morgan is going to be a great addition to our program. She possesses a unique skill set and will be able to play both the point guard and shooting guard positions for us. She’s an extremely hard worker and someone who will suit our style of play with her ability to shoot at a high level as well as create off the dribble for her teammates. She’s an exciting prospect who is ready for a big season here in Townsville.”16

Player profiles for Development Players

Aliza Fabbro

#23                                               Position: Guard                     

DOB  19 August 2001              Height 172cm                               

Aliza Fabbro grew up in Burdekin, Queensland and was a member of the Townsville Fire’s Academy and Development Program before progressing to be a Development Player for the WNBL club from  2019/20 to the current 2022/23 season. Fabbro made her WNBL debut with Townsville Fire in 2020 and played eight games for the club in 2021/22. Against the Southside Flyers on 13 March 2022 Fabbro scored five points and took four rebounds. At Townsville Fire’s 2021/22 Awards Fabbro won the Coaches Award and commented “I’m shocked, I was like oh my god! I’ve just had such a great group of girls around me all the time that I’ve been in a space where I can grow, learn and develop.”17

Aliza Fabbro about to receive a pass playing for Townsville Fire against Melbourne Boomers at the State Basketball Centre on 25 February 2022

During the 2022 NBL1 North season Fabbro played for the Townsville Flames and there was a strong Townsville Fire connection with Seebohm the head coach and fellow Fire guards Reid and Woods being starters for the Flames. Fabbro was a member of the Townsville Flames team that won the 2022 NBL1 North Championship and during the season averaged 6.4 points in 15 minutes and 51 seconds court-time in 14 games for the Flames.

Aliza Fabbro playing defense for Townsville Flames against Albury Wodonga Bandits at the State Basketball Centre on 10 September 2022

Tia Hay

#11                                        Position: Guard                     

DOB  12 July 1998                 Height 171cm                                 

Tia Hay grew up in Melbourne, Victoria. After doing most of her schooling in Melbourne Hay moved to California where she completed high school at St Francis High School. In 2016 Hay was a member of the St Francis High School team that won the California state championship and was named the team’s Most Valuable Player.

During 2016/17 and 2017/18 Hay excelled playing as a point guard for Salt Lake Community College in the National Junior Collegiate Athletic Association (NJCAA). In both seasons for Salt Lake Community College Hay was named to the NJCAA All-American First Team, in 2017/18 Hay was also named Conference Player of the Year.

Hay transferred to Santa Clara University for the 2018/19 season. Hay played 57 games including 54 starts in two seasons playing for the Santa Clara Broncos, averaging 13.9 points, 3.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.7 steals per game. In 2018/19 Hay was selected in the All-West Coast Conference Second team.

Back in Australia Hay has played in an NBL1 conference for the past two seasons. In 2021 Hay played for the Kilsyth Cobras in NBL1 South in Victoria. As a result of social distancing rules in place due to o COVID-19 the NBL1 South season was only partially completed, Hay played seven games for the Cobras. During the 2022 NBL1 North season Hay played 19 games for Ipswich Force in Queensland and averaged 17.4 points, 4.1 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 1.6 steals per game.

Nes’eya Parker-Williams

#32                                            Position: Forward                  

DOB  29 August 2001      Height 187cm      

Nes’eya Parker-Williams was born in Albany, Western Australia and grew up in the state’s capital city Perth. Parker-Williams played at senior level for the Perth Redbacks in the WA state league.        

During 2019 forward Parker-Williams was a member of the Apunipima Australian Indigenous Basketball All Stars Women’s that were undefeated at the 2019 International Indigenous and Cultural Basketball Tournament.

In 2017/18 Parker-Williams was a development player for WNBL club Perth Lynx. During the 2019/20 WNBL regular season Parker-Williams played 20 games for Perth Lynx and averaged 1.8 points, 1.4 rebounds and 7.6 minutes per game.

During the 2021 and 2022 NBL1 West seasons Parker-Williams played for Joondalup Wolves, her head coach in the latter season was Marcus Wong who has been appointed an assistant coach by Townsville Fire for the 2022/23 season. In 2022 Parker-Williams played 22 games for the Wolves and averaged 16.1 points, 9.3 rebounds and 2.7 steals per game. Nes’eya ranked 13th in the conference for rebounds per game and equal fourth for steals. On 19 August 2022 Parker-Williams played her 100th state league game and celebrated the occasion with a double-double comprised of 20 points and 16 rebounds in Joondalup’s 81-70 victory over Mandurah Magic.

Head coaches profile – Shannon Seebohm

Shannon Seebohm will be in his fourth season as Townsville Fire’s head coach in 2022/23 and sixth season overall as a WNBL head coach, having previously coached Sydney Flames in 2014/15 and 2015/16.

On 10 December 2020 Seebohm extended his contract as head coach of Townsville Fire for two years until the end of the 2023/24 season. Townsville Fire General Manager Sam Pascoe told WNBL Media “We have secured someone we believe is the best WNBL coach in the country on a long-term deal, someone who has shown time and again his genuine desire to be a strong part of the Townsville community through his work in our school and youth engagement programs. Watching Shannon work day-to-day, and what he does in his player development and preparation, and the strong relationship he has with his players is testament to his drive and commitment to the program and reinforces everything that the Fire program stands for.”18

Shannon Seebohm instructing Townsville Fire players during a time-out against Melbourne Boomers at the State Basketball Centre on 25 February 2022

Shannon Seebohm grew up in Millicent, South Australia and as a junior received a basketball scholarship to attend the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS). At the 2007 FIBA Under 19 Men’s World Championship held in Serbia Seebohm represented the Australian team, his teammates included Patty Mills, Chris Goulding and Daniel Johnson. Australia finished fifth at the tournament and Seebohm playing as a guard ranked third for his nation in minutes played and fifth in scoring.

At 19 years of age Seebohm made his NBL debut with Melbourne based club South Dragons in 2007/08, the Dragons head coach was current Sydney Flames head coach Shane Heal. During a Shannon Seebohm ABC Feature television interview in November 2014 during the WNBL season Seebohm commented “Played in the national league with the South Dragons in the NBL but during my rookie year suffered a health issue where I had a cardiac arrest at training and needed to be resuscitated and woke up in hospital. That essentially ended my playing career very early at 19. Since then I have worked my way into coaching.” Seebohm played three NBL games for South Dragons before being forced to retire due to his health issue.    

For three seasons from 2011/12 to 2013/14 Seebohm was an assistant coach with the Sydney Kings in the NBL, in the latter two seasons Heal was the Kings head coach.

Seebohm was appointed as the head coach of the Sydney Flames at 26 years of age for the 2014/15 season. Sydney finished fourth at the end of the regular season with 11 wins and 11 losses. Sydney had a nine point road semi final victory against Dandenong Rangers. In a preliminary final home side Bendigo defeated Sydney by eight points. The Sydney Flames 2014/15 team included Katie Ebzery, Leilani Mitchell and current Townsville player Ruef. Seebohm won the WNBL’s Coach of the Year Award in his first season as head coach of Sydney. In 2015/16 Sydney had 13 wins and 11 losses and finished fifth, two wins out of the finals.       

After the 2015/16 season Seebohm resigned from his role as Sydney Flames head coach. From 2017 to 2019 Seebohm was the Newcastle Basketball Association’s Head of Coaching and Head Coach of the Association’s Waratah League Women’s team.

Seebohm was the head coach of Australian junior women’s teams at several international tournaments including the Australian Sapphires team that created history at the 2016 Under-17 FIBA World Championships held in Zaragoza, Spain by achieving Australia’s best ever result at the tournament and won the gold medal. Current Townsville player Lara McSpadden was a member of the Sapphires gold medal winning team. Seebohm has also been head coach of the Australian Women’s university team, the Emerging Opals, including at the 2019 World University Games where the Emerging Opals were undefeated in six games, had an 80-72 victory in the final against USA and won the gold medal. 

On 14 June 2019 Townsville Fire announced that the club had appointed Seebohm as their head coach for three WNBL seasons from 2019/20 to 2021/22. The vacancy opened up at Townsville after Claudia Brassard resigned in May 2019 as the head coach of the Townsville Fire. The catalyst for Brassard’s decision was a change in her work commitments with the Townsville City Council. 

When Seebohm was appointed as Townsville’s head coach in June 2019 most free-agents had already signed with clubs and much of Townsville’s roster for the 2019/20 season had already been determined. Three weeks before the 2019/20 season commenced forward/centre Aokuso ruptured the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee, required a knee reconstruction and missed the entire season. Townsville missed the finals in 2019/20.

In 2020 and later seasons Seebohm was have a greater involvement in player recruitment, making it  easier for him to implement the playing style he wanted. Four of the players that joined Townsville for the 2020 WNBL season were Nicholson, Reid, Woods and McSpadden. This quartet along with Aokuso are entering their third season as Townsville teammates in 2022/23. Townsville had nine wins and four losses during the 2020 regular season to finish second on the ladder and progressed to the Grand Final where they were defeated by Southside Flyers. Seebohm was named the WNBL’s 2020 Coach of the Year, winning the award for the second time in his career.

Late in the 2020 WNBL season Seebohm extended his contract as head coach of Townsville Fire for two years until the end of the 2023/24 season. Seebohm told wnbl.basketball “I am delighted to be able to extend my time with the Fire. From the very first moment they have welcomed me and my family into the community with open arms, and it’s great to know that we will be here for at least the next three years. The club itself provides an incredible environment for everyone to excel, including myself as coach, and I thank the Board, Management and Organisation for the faith they have shown in me. I’m looking forward to continuing my work both with the Fire and among the Townsville basketball community more broadly as we focus on the development of local talent.”19

Seebohm has been an assistant coach of the Australian Opals, including for the Opals three game series against Japan held in New Souths in late May 2022. In the series against Japan Reid made her Opals debut and Nicholson was also a member of the team.

Townsville won six of their first 10 games of the 2021/22 WNBL season, but were undermanned late in the season, being without three of their starters, Nicholson, Billings and Sutton. Townsville finished the season in sixth place with seven wins and 10 losses. Highlights were victories against both of last season’s Grand Finalists, Melbourne Boomers on the road on 22 January and a home win against Perth Lynx in Fire’s final game of the season on 20 March. Reid and Woods thrived with increased playing time as the season progressed with Reid ranking fourth in the league for assists per game and Woods being Townsville’s leading scorer in four of the five games she started at the end of the season.

Shannon Seebohm talking with Megan Hustwaite post-game after Townsville Fire defeated Melbourne Boomers at Melbourne Sports Centres Parkville on 22 January 2022

players during a time-out against Melbourne Boomers at the State Basketball Centre on 25 February 2022

In the off-season Seebohm coached a Townsville Flames team in NBL1 North which included three players from Townsville Fire’s 2021/22 roster in the starting line-up – Reid, Woods, Mia Murray. Other starters for the Flames in the second half of the season were 2020 Australian Olympian Alanna Smith and Shannon’s wife Jamiee Seebohm (nee Kennedy). Jaimee played 151 WNBL games from 2006/07 to 2013/14, representing the AIS and Sydney Flames. Townsville Fire development player Fabbro was a member of the Flames core rotation.

Townsville Flames had 16 wins and three losses during the 2022 NBL1 North regular season, three games behind minor premiers Logan Thunder who won all 19 games and one game behind second placed Southern District Spartans. Townsville Flames won the Grand Final series against Logan Thunder two games to nil to win the NBL1 North Championship with Reid winning the Grand Final MVP. At the NBL1 National Finals held at the State Basketball Centre in Wantirna, Victoria Townsville Flames won two of their three games. Three members of the Flames NBL1 North Championship winning team are playing for the Fire in 2022/23, Reid, Woods and Fabbro.    

Shannon Seebohm instructing Townsville Fire players against Albury Wodonga Bandits at the State Basketball Centre on 10 September 2022

On being coached by Seebohm for the Townsville Fire in the WNBL and Townsville Flames in NBL1 North Courtney Woods told the NBL1 Show during their 23 August 2022 episode “Shannon would easily be my favourite coach I have ever played for. The way he just believes in you. I just think Shannon 100% wants the best for all of his players, on and off the court and that’s pretty rare so I think that is the reason so many people want to play for him, so many people want to stay in the off-season. He’s just a really special coach, not only what he does on the court, but off-the court, who he is as a coach and as a man and as a friend is really rare so it is definitely something people want to stay close to.”

WNBL Achievements:           WNBL Coach of the Year 2014/15 (with Sydney Flames), 2020 (with Townsville Fire)

Article and photographs by Dean Andrews

Twitter – @DeanAndrews7777

References

1 https://wnbl.basketball/townsville/news/who-to-fire-up-for-this-season/

2 https://wnbl.basketball/townsville/news/fire-welcome-wnba-champion-tianna-hawkins/

3 https://umterps.com/sports/womens-basketball/roster/tianna-hawkins/5002

4 https://auprosports.com/read/tianna-hawkins-mystics-basketball-journey-leads-back-home-dc/

5 https://wnbl.basketball/townsville/news/fire-sign-kiwi-talent-krystal-leger-walker/

6 https://www.collegesportmedia.co.nz/basketball/archives/05-2016

7 https://wnbl.basketball/townsville/news/nicholson-heading-north/

8 I wouldnt play for any other team in the WNBL – Townsville Fire

9 https://wnbl.basketball/townsville/news/a-birthday-extension-for-reid/

10 https://wnbl.basketball/townsville/news/ruef-heading-to-fire/

11 FIRE SIGN INTERNATIONAL TALENT: KARLIE SAMUELSON – Townsville Fire (wnbl.basketball)

12 https://gostanford.com/sports/womens-basketball/roster/karlie-samuelson/10329

13 https://www.wnba.com/player/karlie-samuelson/

14 https://wnbl.basketball/townsville/news/woods-returns-on-multi-year-deal/

15 FIRE SIGN YOUNG TALENT MORGAN YAEGER – Townsville Fire (wnbl.basketball)

16 FIRE SIGN YOUNG TALENT MORGAN YAEGER – Townsville Fire (wnbl.basketball)

17 https://wnbl.basketball/townsville/news/double-delight-for-fire-mvp-steph-reid/

18 https://wnbl.basketball/townsville/news/jcu-townsville-fire-extend-head-coach-shannon-seebohm-until-end-of-2024-season/

19 https://wnbl.basketball/townsville/news/jcu-townsville-fire-extend-head-coach-shannon-seebohm-until-end-of-2024-season/

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 and WNBL category is below:

https://milestonesandmisses.com/

https://milestonesandmisses.com/category/wnbl/

The Milestones and Misses website was set up in December 2015. From 2020 onwards articles have been published on the following sportspeople:

WNBL

Penny Taylor

Rachel Jarry

Steph Reid

Kristy Wallace

Anneli Maley

Lindsay Allen

Jade Melbourne

Maddison Rocci

Cayla George

Kelly Wilson

Steph Talbot

Bec Cole

Aimie Rocci

Abby Bishop

Tessa Lavey

Ezi Magbegor

Zitina Aokuso

Leilani Mitchell

Maddie Garrick

Sara Blicavs

NBL

Nathan Sobey

AFLW

Ashleigh Riddell

Hayley Miller

Darcy Vescio

Tessa Lavey

Georgia Patrikios

Alyce Parker

Tyla Hanks

Tyanna Smith

Tarni White

Caitlin Greiser

AFL

Lance ‘Buddy’ Franklin

Nicky Winmar

Sam Walsh

Jack Steele

Luke Jackson

Harry McKay

Seb Ross

Jayden Short

Clayton Oliver

Lenny Hayes

Tim Membrey

Rowan Marshall

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