The Sydney Flames 2021/22 joint Most Valuable Player award winners Keely Froling and Shyla Heal are both suiting up for the club again in 2022/23 after each ranking in the league’s top dozen for points per game in 2021/22. Only one other player from Sydney’s 2021/22 roster is playing for the club again in 2022/23, guard/forward Kiera Rowe who was one of six players in the league nominated for the WNBL’s 2021/22 Robyn Maher Defensive Player of the Year.
Forward Kalani Purcell won the Flames 2021/22 Defensive Player of the Year Award, finished up in the league’s DPOTY award and had signed to play with Sydney for 2022/23 but has withdrawn from the squad for the season due to personal reasons.
For the 2022/23 Cygnett WNBL season Sydney have signed two American imports, guard/forward Jocelyn Willoughby and centre Hannah Sjerven. In the off-season Sydney have recruited a trio of players that were named in their NBL1 Conference’s 2022 All-Star Five – Tiana Mangakahia (NBL1 North), Vanessa Panousis (NBL1 East) and Emma Clarke (NBL1 West). The Flames also recruited NBL1 North duo Madelyn Allen and Steph Bairstow.
This article includes:
- A brief look back at the Sydney Flames 2021/22 WNBL season
- A preview of Sydney’s 2022/23 Cygnett WNBL season
- Detailed profiles on all 10 members of the Sydney Flames main roster and head coach Shane Heal.
Sydney Flames 2021/22 season review
Finished regular season in eighth place
The combination of a high turnover of imports and injuries resulted in the Sydney Flames being undermanned for most of the 2021/22 WNBL season. Due to injury the first two imports that Sydney signed played one game between them. Before the season commenced American forward Leonna Odom was ruled out for an extended period due to an Achilles injury and as a result didn’t join the Flames for the 2021/22 season. In Sydney’s opening game of the season American import guard Stephanie Watts scored an equal game-high 16 points. At training Watts tore her anterior cruciate ligament in her knee which ended her season before Sydney’s second game. American import guard Chelsea Dungee was released by the Flames after three games. Sydney signed American import Rennia Davis who averaged 12 points and seven rebounds in three games for the Flames. On 28 January 2022 it was announced that the “Flames have granted a release for American import Rennia Davis after being bought out by a team in the Israeli WBL.”1 Against the UC Capitals on 28 January Flames co-captain Mansfield suffered a calf injury which ended her season. In seven games as a starting guard Mansfield averaged a team-high 4.3 assists per game. In Sydney’s 17 game regular season their imports and Mansfield played a total of 14 games between them.
Among players that played at least five games for the season Sydney had two of the top 10 scorers in the league, co-captain Keely Froling ranked sixth in the league with 16.3 points per game and guard Shyla Heal ranked 10th in the league with 15.6 points per game. The only other player that played more than three games and averaged more than 7.5 points per game was Mansfield with 13.0 points per game in seven games. The Flames had two of the six nominees for the WNBL’s 2021/22 Robyn Maher Defensive Player of the Year – Kalani Purcell and Kiera Rowe. Purcell led the league with 2.9 steals per game and ranked fifth in the league with 9.4 rebounds per game.
After winning only one of their first 12 games of the season Sydney won responded strongly to win three consecutive games. One of the highlights of Sydney’s challenging season was the play and leadership of co-captain Keely Froling. In the first game of the three game winning streak Froling scored 30 points and took 22 rebounds to inspire a young Flames outfit missing Shyla Heal to defeat eventual Grand Finalist Perth Lynx 66-63 on the road at Bendat Basketball Centre.
Sydney lost their last two games of the 2021/22 WNBL season and finished on the bottom of the ladder with four wins and 13 losses. Froling and Heal were joint winners of the Sydney Flames Most Valuable Player (MVP) award.
Sydney Flames 2022/23 main roster
Returning: Keely Froling, Shyla Heal, Kiera Rowe
Arrivals: Madelyn Allen (Southern Districts Spartans – NBL1 North), Steph Bairstow (South West Metro Pirates – NBL1 North), Emma Clarke (Perth Lynx – WNBL), Tiana Mangakahia (Northside Wizards – NBL1 North), Vanessa Panousis (Sutherland Sharks – NBL1 East), Hannah Sjerven (Minnesota Lynx – WNBA), Jocelyn Wiloughby (New York Liberty – WNBA)
Departed: Rennia Davis (Landerneau – France), Chelsea Dungee (Troy University as an Assistant Coach), Lauren Mansfield (Adelaide Lightning – WNBL), Funda Nakkasoglu, Bec Pizzey (University of Canberra Capitals – WNBL), Kalani Purcell, Stephanie Watts
For various reasons a trio of American imports left the Flames during the 2021/22 season with Watts injuring the anterior cruciate ligament in her knee, Dungee being released by Sydney and Davis being bought out by a team in Israel. Mansfield and Pizzey join rival WNBL clubs Adelaide Lightning and University of Canberra Capitals respectively. Purcell had signed with Sydney for 2022/23 but was a late withdrawal for personal reasons.
Player Position Date of birth
Shyla Heal Guard 19/09/2001
Tiana Mangakahia Guard 21/04/1995
Vanessa Panousis Guard 23/02/1995
Madelyn Allen Guard 15/11/1994
Jocelyn Willoughby* Guard/Forward 25/03/1998
Kiera Rowe Guard/Forward 09/01/1999
Keely Froling Forward 31/01/1996
Emma Clarke Forward 18/03/2000
Steph Bairstow Forward 10/10/1994
Hannah Sjerven* Centre 11/06/1998
Detailed player profiles on all 10 members of the Sydney Flames main roster for the 2022/23 Cygnett WNBL season are included later in this article.
India Bowyer Guard 16/04/2003
Jade Crawshaw Forward 12/08/2004
Emma Donnelly Forward 20/02/2005
Lilly Rotunno Guard 25/01/2000
Shane Heal Head Coach
Shelley Gorman Assistant Coach
Rachel Maenpaa Assistant Coach
A profile on Sydney Flames Head Coach Heal is included later in this article.
Preview of the Sydney Flames 2022/23 Cygnett WNBL season
On 1 August 2022 the Sydney Flames announced that the club was being rebranded with several changes taking place including the club playing the majority of their games for the 2022/23 WNBL season at the Quaycentre and the club colours changing from navy and gold to silver and black.
Hoops Capital Pty Ltd own the Sydney Flames and 2021/22 NBL Champions Sydney Kings. Hoops Capital Pty Ltd Co-Owner and Chairman Paul Smith told WNBL Media “We have an incredible opportunity to bring about change for women in the sport of basketball in NSW. To do so, we have to commit to continually evolve, developing new and innovative strategies for the Sydney Flames to lead the way. Our new brand design and venue for the majority of our games are just the first of many steps we are taking. But this is Sydney and building a winning program remains the central plank of success in a competitive and strong WNBL, a revamped roster put together by Head Coach Shane Heal will give us the best chance of success on court.”2
Only four players from Sydney’s 2022/23 WNBL roster played in the league last season, with Froling, Heal and Rowe all returning from the 2021/22 roster and Emma Clarke being recruited from Perth Lynx. Sydney’s seven WNBL rivals all have more continuity with their 2022/23 roster and more players that played in the league last season.
One of the challenges for Sydney Flames Head Coach Shane Heal was to get the team to gel together. Pre-season signs were good with Sydney winning three of their four pre-season games including defeating the two teams that have won the past two WNBL Championships – Melbourne Boomers and Southside Flyers. Shane Heal told wnbl.basketball “There’s plenty of positive takeaways from the two wins, such as we’re a good defensive team and we’re the fittest team in the league but we are getting too far ahead of ourselves, as it’s just the pre-season. Much like us, both teams were missing players but you can only beat who’s in front of us and it showed not just ourselves but the league what we’re capable of. The challenge is now to continue to get better each time we step on the court, as we’ve set a high bar of where we want to get to as a group.”3
With a starting line-up of Tiana Mangakahia, Shyla Heal, Jocelyn Willoughbly, Keely Froling and Hannah Sjerven during the 2022/23 Cygnett WNBL season Sydney will have a more balanced offense than 2021/22 when they were very reliant on Heal and Froling.
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.
Sydney’s 10 home games in 2022/23 are comprised of six games at the Quaycentre and four double-headers at Qudos Bank Arena with the Sydney Kings. After having a Round 1 bye Sydney Flames commence their 2022/23 Cygnett WNBL season with a road game tonight 12 November against Bendigo Spirit at Red Energy Arena. After a Round 3 road double against Perth and Adelaide, followed by a Round 4 road game against Southside the Flames play their first home game of the season in Round 4 on 4 December against Bendigo at Qudos Bank Arena in a double header with the Sydney Kings. From 15 to 29 January the Flames play four consecutive home games.
Player profiles for Sydney Flames main roster players in alphabetical order of surname
#11 Position: Guard
DOB 15 November 1994 Height 178cm
Junior Club South West Metro Pirates (Queensland)
Will make WNBL debut in 2022/23
On 18 August 2022 the Sydney Flames announced that they had signed mature-age recruit Madelyn Allen (nee Willey) for the 2022/23 WNBL season. Allen turns 28 years of age on 15 November, three days after Sydney’s opening game of the WNBL season and will be making her WNBL debut.
Sydney Flames Head Coach Shane Heal told WNBL Media “I have watched Maddy play since her junior representative days – she brings a lethal three-point shot, a level of poise and decision making that we value in the team. Maddy is a tough defender that can play multiple positions and her leadership will be an asset to us coming off the bench. We scouted players from all over the country and took our time to find the best player available and also the best person for this role. I’m really confident that Maddy has her best basketball in front of her.”4
Madelyn Allen played junior basketball for South West Metro Pirates in Queensland. Allen played junior representative basketball for Queensland at Australian Junior Championships.
During the 2021 and 2022 NBL1 North seasons Allen was teammates with Kalani Purcell at Southern Districts Spartans. In the first week of the 2021 NBL1 North Finals guard Allen scored 22 points at a field goal accuracy of 67%, took eight rebounds, made five assists and three steals in the Spartans 108-83 victory against the Northside Wizards on 28 August.
In six games for the Southern Districts Spartans during the 2022 NBL1 North season Allen scored more than 22 points in a game. On 30 July at South Pine Sports Complex against the Northside Wizards Allen scored 30 points at a field goal accuracy of 61.1%, made six of 10 three-pointers, took six rebounds, made a game-high eight assists and a team-high two steals in a 93-81 victory. Two of the Northside Wizard guards – Shyla Heal and Tiana Mangakahia were both on Sydney’s roster for the 2022/23 WNBL season. Allen played 21 games as a starter for Southern Districts Spartans during the 2022 NBL1 North season and averaged 17.3 points, 4.9 rebounds, 6.7 assists and 2.3 steals per game. Allen ranked fifth in NBL1 North for assists per game. The Southern District Spartans were the NBL1 Wildcard series winners and competed at the NBL1 National Finals from September 9 to 11 at the State Basketball Centre in Wantirna, Victoria.
After signing with the Sydney Flames for the 2022/23 WNBL season Allen told wnbl.basketball “At the age of 28, I thought my time had come and gone to play at a WNBL level, so to be presented this opportunity is extremely exciting. It all came about after my Spartans played against Shyla and Tiana in NBL1 and I played pretty well. Fast forward a couple of days, Shane and I spoke on the phone and it snowballed very quickly.”5
#14 Position: Forward
DOB 10 October 1994 Height 188cm
Junior Club Brisbane Capitals (Queensland)
WNBL debut: 2011/12 WNBL games played: 24
Steph Bairstow was a late addition to the Sydney Flames main roster for the 2022/23 Cygnett WNBL season after Kalani Purcell withdrew from the team for the season due to personal reasons.
Steph Bairstow played junior basketball with the Brisbane Capitals and represented Queensland South at the Australian Junior Championships in the Under 16s in 2009 and as a member of the bronze medal winning team in the under 18s in 2011.
As a teenager Bairstow had a scholarship with the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra. At 17 years of age Bairstow made her WNBL debut with the AIS in 2011/12 and played 10 games for the season. At the 2012 FIBA Women’s Under 18 3×3 World Championship held in Madrid, Spain Bairstow played for the Australian girls team and the Australian mixed teams, current Australian Opal Kristy Wallace was a teammate on both teams. The Australian girls team had seven wins and one loss during the tournament. After being defeated by USA in the semi final the Australian girls had a 16-14 victory against Italy to win the bronze medal. The Australian mixed team finished sixth.
Bairstow played her freshman season of College basketball for Utah State in 2012/13. Bairstow scored a season-high 10 points in a home victory against Idaho State on 31 January 2013. After starting five of 32 games in her freshman 2012/13 season Bairstow started played all 31 games for Utah State in 2013/14 including 18 as a starter. In the Mountain West Tournament against Colorado State on 11 March Bairstow made nine of 14 field goal attempts at a field goal accuracy of 69.2%, scored a career-high 19 points and took five rebounds. During 2014/15 Bairstow played Utah States first seven games of the season including four as a starter but then left the college due to personal reasons. Bairstow played 69 games for Utah Start including 27 as a starter and averaged 4.9 points and 3.4 rebounds per game.
After returning to Australia Bairstow played in the South East Australian Basketball League (SEABL) for the Bendigo Braves in 2015 and the Brisbane Lady Spartans in 2016.
For the 2015/16 WNBL season Bairstow signed with the SEQ Stars, current Sydney Flames Head Coach Shane Heal was the Head Coach of the Stars. Due to injury Bairstow was unable to play for the SEQ Stars.
Bairstow played for the University of Canberra Capitals during the 2016/17 WNBL season. Throughout the season Bairstow played limited game-time, playing 14 games and averaged 0.5 points, 0.9 rebounds and 6.3 minutes per game.
From 2017 onwards Bairstow has represented the South West Metro Pirates at state league level in both the Queensland Basketball League (QBL) and NBL1. Against Ipswich Force in an NBL1 North game on 11 July at JBS Stadium Bairstow scored a team-high 17 points and took six rebounds. For the South West Metro Pirates during the 2022 NBL1 season Bairstow played 18 games and averaged 13.2 points, 7.2 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game.
#7 Position: Forward
DOB 18 March 2000 Height 185cm
Junior Club Perry Lakes (WA)
WNBL debut: 2020 WNBL games played: 28
The Sydney Flames announced on 26 May 2022 that Emma Clarke had signed with the next for two seasons. Sydney Head Coach Shane Heal told WNBL Media “I’m excited to work with Emma. I believe she is ready to take her game to the next level and I’m looking forward to helping her develop into an elite player. Emma can have an impact in many ways in offence and defence. She can shoot the ball and I see room for her to take her game to a whole different level. She has good size for a wing and she will fit perfectly into our defensive structures.”6
Emma Clarke played junior basketball for Perry Lakes Hawks in Western Australia and progressed to play for WA at several Australian Junior Championships. Clarke had a scholarship at the Basketball Australia Centre of Excellence in 2017. At the 2017 FIBA Under 17 Women’s Oceania Championship held in Guam from July 10-15 Clarke was a member of the Australian Sapphires team alongside current Sydney Flames teammate Shyla Heal. Clarke scored at least 19 points in each of her first four games of the tournament. In a semi final against Guam Clarke scored a game-high 28 points shooting at 68.8% from the field, made four of five three-pointers at an accuracy of 80%, took nine rebounds, made a game-high seven assists and a game-high five steals in the Sapphires victory. The Australian Sapphires defeated New Zealand 81-60 in the final to win the gold medal. Clarke averaged 18.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 3.0 steals and 21.4 minutes per game. Clarke ranked third at the 2017 FIBA Under 17 Women’s Oceania Championship for assists, fourth in points per game, seventh in rebounds and was recognised for her brilliant all-round performance with selection in the tournament’s All-Star Five.
As a freshman Clarke played 30 games for University of Colorado during 2018/19 in the Division 1 Pac 12 Conference. After having two starts in her freshman season Clarke was promoted into the starting line-up for her sophomore season with Colorado in 2019/20. Clarke scored at least 14 points in a game seven times in 2019/20 including four consecutive games which concluded with a game-high 21 points at a field goal accuracy of 61.5%, made five of eight three-pointers and took five rebounds in a home game against Denver in a 96-70 victory on 19 December. In two seasons for the Colorado Buffaloes Clarke played 60 games including 31 starts and averaged 7.2 points, 3.9 rebounds and 22.1 minutes per game.
At 20 years of age Clarke made her WNBL debut with Perth Lynx during the 2020 hub season in Queensland. Clarke played all 13 games for the Perth Lynx in the 2020 and averaged 4.2 points, 3.1 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 16.6 minutes per game.
During the 2021 NBL1 West season Clarke played seven games for Lakeside Lightning and scored more than 19 points in a game three times including a season-high 23 points shooting at 50% from the field, six rebounds and two assists against Eastern Suns on 22 July.
Clarke played her second WNBL season for Perth Lynx in 2021/22 but with imports returning to the league had significantly less playing opportunities. Against the University of Canberra Capitals on 19 January Clarke scored eight points at a field goal accuracy of 75% and made two of three three-pointers in seven minutes and 42 seconds court time. Clarke played 15 games for Perth during the 2021/22 WNBL season and averaged 1.3 points, 0.8 rebounds and 5.7 minutes per game.
Emma Clarke playing for the Perth Lynx against the Melbourne Boomers at Gippsland Regional Indoor Sports Stadium (GRISS), Traralgon on 6 February 2022
In 2022 Clarke represented her junior club, the Perry Lake Hawks at senior level in the 2022 NBL1 West season. Clarke scored at least 20 points in a game 15 times and registered 11 double-doubles. In an elimination final on 20 August Clarke scored a game-high 28 points, took a team-high 16 rebounds, had three assists and an equal game-high three blocked shots in a 65-75 loss to Cockburn Cougars. In the 2022 NBL1 West season Clarke played 20 games for Perry Lakes Hawks and averaged 22.5 points, 10.2 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.3 blocked shots per game. Clarke ranked third in NBL1 West in scoring per game, seventh for rebounds, fourth for blocked shots and was selected in the NBL1 West All-Star Five.
Reflecting on playing in the WNBL with Perth Lynx and looking forward to the next chapter with the Sydney Flames Clarke told wnbl.basketball “It was awesome getting to train and play with the likes of Jackie Young and Marina Mabrey. Now I’m really excited with the opportunity to play under Shane and develop my game to the next level. I can’t wait. I definitely bring three-point shooting and mid range shooting, but defence is an area I want to grow and I want to become a lockdown defender guarding the Steph Talbots and Tess Madgens of the competition.”7
During the 2022/23 WNBL pre-season Clarke sustained a knee injury. Due to the injury Clarke will miss Sydney’s opening game of the season against Bendigo on 12 November and is likely to make her return in Round 3.
#21 Position: Forward
DOB 31 January 1996 Height 188cm
Junior Club Townsville (Queensland)
WNBL debut: 2012/13 WNBL games played: 129
During the 2021/22 WNBL season Keely Froling played her first season with Sydney Flames and was the club’s co-captain and a joint winner of the club’s Most Valuable Player Award along with Shyla Heal. The Flames announced on 30 April 2022 that Froling had signed with the club for the 2022/23 season. Sydney Head coach Shane Heal told wnbl.basketball “Keely is part of our foundations at the Flames. Her improvement over last season was immense as was her leadership over a tough season that including lots of challenges thrown our way. Keely will once again play a critical leadership role as we look to build our roster for next season. We make no secret of aiming to making the playoffs for the first time in six years and seriously compete for a championship. We now have a quality core group of local players to build with in my second year at the Flames. I can’t wait to work with Keely again next season.”8
Keely Froling was born and raised in Townsville, Queensland and is from a family with a very strong basketball pedigree. Mum Jenny played in the WNBL and Dad Shane played in the NBL. Keely’s twin sister Alicia plays in the WNBL for the Bendigo Spirit both of her brothers Harry and Sam play in the NBL.
Keely made her WNBL debut as a development player with Townsville Fire in 2012/13 and played two seasons of College basketball at Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas, Texas alongside twin sister Alicia. Keely played 49 games for SMU including 18 starts. Due to a knee injury suffered late in the 2014/15 season Froling spent time on the sidelines early in the 2015/16 season.
From 2016/17 to 2020 Froling spent five seasons in the WNBL with the University of Canberra Capitals and played 108 games during this time. In the 2019/20 and 2020 WNBL seasons Froling averaged more than 9.0 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. Froling was a member of the Capitals team that won back to back WNBL Championships in 2018/19 and 2019/20.
Keely Froling playing for University of Canberra Capitals against Bendigo Spirit at the State Basketball Centre on 25 November 2017
Froling has played in many 3×3 tournaments from 2018 onwards including representing Australia at international tournaments. In 2019 Froling was a member of the Spectres iAthletic team that won NBL Pro Hustle tournaments in Darwin and Melbourne. Froling has represented Australian 3×3 teams at several international tournaments including the bronze medal Australian team at the 2018 FIBA 3×3 Asia Cup and finishing fourth at the 2019 FIBA 3×3 World Cup.
At the 2021 FIBA Women’s Asia Cup held in Jordan Froling was a member of the Opals bronze medal winning team alongside current Sydney Flames teammate Tiana Mangakahia. Keely played all six games for Australia and averaged 9.8 points, 5.3 rebounds and 18.9 minutes per game to rank third for the Opals in scoring, third for rebounds and fifth for minutes played.
Froling joined the Brydens Sydney Uni Flames for the 2021/22 WNBL season and in her first season with the club was named co-captain along with guard Lauren Mansfield. Froling scored more than 17 points in a game eight times including seven of her last eight games of the season. On 12 February against Townsville Froling scored a game-high and season-high 31 points at a field goal accuracy of 46.2% and took nine rebounds. Against Perth Lynx on 5 March Froling played the full 40 minutes and inspired a Flames team missing Shyla Heal to a 66-63 road victory against the Lynx at the Bendat Basketball Centre. Against Perth Froling scored 30 points and took a game-high 22 rebounds comprised of seven offensive and 15 defensive rebounds.
In 2021/22 Froling had the best season of her WNBL career, averaging 4.5 free-throws made per game (2nd in the WNBL), 16.3 points (6th in the WNBL) 8.5 rebounds (7th in the WNBL) and 32.7 minutes (7th in the WNBL). Froling was a joint winner of the Sydney Uni Flames 2021/22 MVP Award along with point guard Shyla Heal.
Keely Froling shooting a free-throw for Sydney Uni Flames against Melbourne Boomers at the State Basketball Centre on 25 February 2022
Playing for the Launceston Tornadoes during the 2022 NBL1 South season Froling scored at least 28 points in 14 of 24 games including three consecutive games in late July/early August where she scored at least 35 points and took at least 15 rebounds in each game. In the first game of this sequence against Ballarat on the road at Selkirk Stadium on 24 July Froling scored 35 points and took 25 rebounds to set game-highs in both categories.
During the 2022 NBL1 South season for Launceston Tornadoes Froling averaged 28.6 points, 13.9 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 2.0 steals and 0.6 blocked shots per game. Froling recorded double-doubles in 21 of her 24 games for Launceston and in two other games fell one rebound short of reaching this benchmark. Keely Froling won two of the three NBL1 South Women’s regular season statistical Awards, winning the awards for leading scorer (29.6 points per game) and leading rebounder (14.2 rebounds per game). Eltham Wildcats forward Anneli Maley averaged 19.5 rebounds per game but due to only playing eight games for the season didn’t qualify for the leading rebounder Award. Keely was selected in the 2022 NBL1 South Women’s All-Star Five and was joined in the team by her sister Alicia who won the conference’s MVP award.
The week after the NBL1 South season concluded an article was published on Milestones and Misses celebrating the 2022 NBL1 South Conference Women’s Award Winners. More detail is provided on Keely’s phenomenal 2022 NBL1 season in this article.
Keely Froling playing for Launceston Tornadoes in an NBL1 South preliminary final against Ringwood Hawks at The Rings on 28 August 2022
The Sydney Flames announced on 18 October 2022 that Froling had been appointed the club’s captain for the 2022/23 Cygnett WNBL season. Keely is joined in Sydney’s four player leadership group by Vanessa Panousis, Jocelyn Willoughby and Kalani Purcell. Froling told WNBL Media “With such a young group, I know I have quite a big task in front of me to lead but I know everyone is behind me 100 per cent. I learnt a lot from doing the job alongside Lauren last season, as we faced a lot of adversity as a group, which will no doubt put me in a stronger position this season, in terms of staying poised on the court and keeping the group together as one cohesive unit. It’s a huge honour and one I’m going to give my all, as this club has a really special and rich history.”9
WNBL Achievements: WNBL Championship 2018/19, 2019/20 (both with University of Canberra Capitals)
#4 Position: Guard
DOB 19 September 2001 Height 168cm
Junior Association Northern Suburbs (New South Wales)
WNBL debut: 2015/16 WNBL games played: 76
During the 2022/23 Cygnett WNBL season Shyla Heal is in the second season of a three-year deal with the Sydney Flames. After Shyla signed with the Flames her dad and Sydney Head Coach Shane Heal told WNBL Media on 30 April 2021 “I’m extremely happy to have Shyla joining the Flames. Her work ethic and mindset will only enhance the culture we are trying to create in our first year. She has shown she can be one of the best point-guards in the country and having her as a key part of our team will help bring out the best in our players.”10
At just 21 years of age Shyla Heal already has five seasons WNBL experience, having made her debut at 14 years of age in 2015/16 with the SEQ Stars where she was coached by dad Shane who played for the Australian Boomers at four consecutive Olympic Games from 1992 to 2004. Shyla played 11 games with the Perth Lynx in 2018/19 and across her first two WNBL seasons played limited game-time.
Point guard Heal excelled at under-age level for Australia with a highlight being selection in the All-Star five at the 2018 FIBA Under 17 World Cup in Belarus after averaging 16.0 points – ranked second overall at the tournament, 5.7 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game. Heal played a pivotal role in the Australian Sapphires winning the bronze medal and scored an equal game-high 16 points in the bronze medal game against Hungary.
With the Bendigo Spirit in 2019/20 Heal averaged 12.1 points and 4.0 rebounds per game and increased this output playing for the Townsville Fire in 2019/20 to average 16.7 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 3.4 assists per game, contributing to Townsville making the Grand Final. Heal was selected in the 2020 All-WNBL Second Team and also won the Betty Watson Australian Youth Player of the Year Award.
At the 2021 WNBA Draft Chicago Sky selected Shyla with pick eight and she played four regular season games with the club before being traded in June 2021 to the Dallas Wings who immediately waived her.
During the 2021/22 WNBL season Shyla played for the Sydney Uni Flames and was again coached by her dad Shane. Against the Melbourne Boomers on 22 December 2021 Heal scored a game-high 29 points, made four of eight three-pointers at an accuracy of 50%, took eight rebounds and made four assists. On 26 February against Adelaide Lightning Heal scored a game-high 24 points shooting at 52.6% from the field, took seven rebounds and made a team-high five assists.
For the Sydney Flames in 2021/22 Heal played 14 games and averaged 15.6 points, 4.4 rebounds, a WNBL career-high 4.3 assists and 1.3 steals per game. Shyla ranked 10th in the league for scoring per game and seventh for assists. Heal was a joint winner of the Sydney Uni Flames 2021/22 MVP Award along with fellow Opals squad member Keely Froling and finished runner up in the WNBL’s 2021/22 Betty Watson Youth Player of the Year Award behind Ezi Magbegor.
Shyla Heal playing for Sydney Uni Flames against Melbourne Boomers at the State Basketball Centre on 20 February 2022
At the 2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup Qualifying Tournament held in Belgrade, Serbia in February 2022 Heal represented the Australian Opals, playing all three games at the tournament. Shyla also played all three of the Opals games against Japan in New South Wales in late May 2022.
During the 2022 NBL1 North season Heal played for Northside Wizards alongside current Sydney Flames teammate Tiana Mangakahia. Heal scored at least 28 points in a game four times. Against Rip City on 7 May at South Pine Sports Complex Heal registered a double-double comprised of 33 points and 10 rebounds to set team-highs in both categories and also made four assists and had two steals in the Wizards 91-79 victory. Heal played 15 games for Northside Wizards in the 2022 NBL1 North season and averaged 19.4 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game. Heal won the 2022 NBL1 North Women’s Youth Player of the Year award.
WNBL Achievements: All-WNBL Second Team 2020
Betty Watson Australian Youth Player of the Year 2020
#5 Position: Guard
DOB 21 April 1995 Height 166cm
Junior Club Southern Districts (Queensland)
WNBL debut: 2011/12
The Sydney Flames announced on 21 May 2022 that they had signed guard Tiana Mangakahia for the next two WNBL seasons. Sydney Head Coach Shane Heal told WNBL Media “She has the ability to become an elite defender which fits our style of play. Tiana has been through many challenges, and I know she has plenty of upside from here. I have known Tiana personally since under 12s and I look forward to her being part of our team as we look to take a huge step forward next season. She makes us very potent in offence and defence with our local back court pairing with Shyla. Tiana can be a real game changer and I’m sure our fans will love watching her play.”11
Tiana Mangakahia grew up in Queensland and played junior basketball for Southern Districts. At 16 years of age Mangakahia made her WNBL debut with the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) in 2011/12, played 15 games and averaged 0.9 points, 1.7 rebounds and 1.1 assists per game.
Mangakahia was a member of the Australian Gems that won a bronze medal at the 2013 FIBA Under 19 World Championship for Women alongside current Sydney Flames player Vanessa Panousis. Tiana played in the WNBL for Townsville Fire in 2013/14.
In 2015/16 and 2016/17 Tiana Mangakahia attended Hutchinson Community College in Kansas, United States of America and trained with the women’s college basketball team but was “ineligible for game action.”12
Mangakahia made an exceptional start to her college career with Syracuse University in 2017/18, having double-doubles in nine of her first 11 games, reaching double figures for points and assists in these games. Against Vanderbilt on the road in her fifth college game Mangakahia scored 11 points and had 17 assists in an 84-78 victory, breaking Syracuse’s record for most assists in a single game. In an 81-70 overtime win at home against Stony Brook on 3 December Mangakahia scored 29 points and had 11 assists to set game-highs in both categories and also took four rebounds and had a game-high three steals. At home on 4 January 2018 against Georgia Tech Mangakahia scored a college-record 44 points shooting at 52.2% from the field and had eight assists.
During 2017/18 Mangakahia played 31 games for Syracuse University including 30 as a starter and averaged 17.5 points, 3.8 rebounds and 9.8 assists and 2.5 steals per game. Mangakahia was named on the All-ACC First Team and “led the nation in assists (304) and assists per game (9.8) en route to setting program and Atlantic Coast Conference records.”13
At the start of the 2018/19 season Mangakahia registered a triple double comprised of 34 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in a 90-77 victory against North Carolina. During a road game against Florida State on 28 February 2019 Mangakahia scored an equal career-high 44 points, took five rebounds, had eight assists and three steals.
In 2018/19 Mangakahia played 34 games for Syracuse University, all as a starter and averaged 16.9 points, 4.9 rebounds, 8.4 assists and 2.2 steals per game. Mangakahia was named in the All-ACC First Team, All-ACC Tournament Team and the Syracuse female Athlete of the Year.
In April 2019 Mangakahia was named in the Australian Opals squad. On 18 June 2019 Mangakahia was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer. Mangakahia remained in Syracuse with her parents and five brothers taking turns to stay with her as she underwent chemotherapy treatment.
Just under a year after her initial breast cancer diagnosis Mangakahia returned to training with Syracuse. After missing the entire 2019/20 season Mangakahia made her college basketball return in a road game against Stony Brook on 29 November 2020. In an article written by Amanda Shalala and published on abc.net.au on 30 October 2022 Mangakahia commented “Coming back to basketball, it was so hard. It was probably a lot mentally harder than going through (treatment). When I came back, my game wasn’t the same, I wasn’t as fit, I was still on medication.”14
In a home game for Syracuse against North Carolina on 19 January Mangakahia scored 19 points, making three of five three-pointers at an accuracy of 60% and had a season-high 13 assists in an 88-76 victory. During 2020/21 Mangakahia played 20 games for Syracuse as a starter and averaged 11.4 points, 3.1 rebounds, 7.3 assists and 1.5 steals per game.
During an incredible college career with Syracuse University Mangakahia played 85 games including 84 as a starter and averaged 15.8 points, 4.1 rebounds, 8.7 assists and 2.2 steals per game. Mangakahia ranks first on Syracuse’s all-time list for career assists and became the fastest player in Syracuse history to reach 1,000 career points.
After completing college at Syracuse University Mangakahia returned to her home state of Queensland and played for the Northside Wizards in the 2021 NBL1 North season. Against USC Rip City on 3 July 2021 Mangakahia scored a game-high 33 points, took five rebounds, had a game-high six assists and a game-high five steals in a Wizards 86-75 victory. During the 2021 NBL1 North season Mangakahia played 11 games for Northside and averaged 20.7 points, 4.6 rebounds, 5.7 assists and 2.0 steals per game.
At the 2021 Women’s FIBA Asia Cup Mangakahia was a member of the Australian Opals team that won the bronze medal. Mangakahia played four of the Opals six games and averaged 3.3 points, 1.3 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 7.3 minutes per game.
In 2021/22 Mangakahia played for Dynamo Moscow in Russia. Tiana registered four double-doubles reaching double figures for points and assists in this quartet of games. In her penultimate game of the season on 30 January 2022 Mangakahia scored 15 points, had 13 assists, six rebounds and three steals. Mangakahia played 16 games for Dynamo Moscow and averaged 14.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, 7.3 assists and 1.5 steals per game.
Mangakahia played alongside current Sydney Flames teammate Shyla Heal during the 2022 NBL1 North season, forming a dynamic duo in the Northside Wizards backcourt. Mangakahia scored at least 34 points in game eight times including four consecutive games from 28 May to 18 June. Tiana commenced this four game sequence with a game-high 39 points a team-high 10 rebounds and a team-high five assists on 28 May against Southern District Spartans on 28 May. On June 18 against Ipswich Force Mangakahia scored a game-high and season-high 45 points shooting at 53.9% from the field took five rebounds, made three assists and five steals. Against Mackay Meteorettes in a road game at Mackay Basketball Stadium on 16 July Mangakahia filled up the stat sheet with 34 points shooting at 53.6% from the field, took six rebounds a game-high 14 assists and had a game-highs and season-highs nine steals in a Wizards 107-77 victory.
During an exceptional 2022 NBL1 North season with the Northside Wizards Mangakahia played 20 games and averaged 28.0 points, 6.7 rebounds, 7.6 assists and 4.2 steals per game. Mangakahia led NBL1 North in scoring and steals per game and ranked second for assists. Mangakahia was named in the 2022 NBL1 North Women’s All-Star Five and also won the conference’s Most Valuable Player award.
After being named the NBL1 North Most Valuable Player for 2022 Mangakahia told WNBL Media “Winning this award means so much to me, especially considering everything I’ve gone through over the past few years. This season was honestly the first year I sort of felt like my old self and how I used to play. Once our season wraps up, I’m really keen to return to the WNBL with the Flames and showcase my game to this league. I’m particularly excited to learn from Shane [Heal], as I know there’s plenty of areas I need to work on and am confident he can help me become the best player I can be.”15
#9 Position: Guard
DOB 23 February 1995 Height 170cm
Junior Club Sydney Comets (New South Wales)
WNBL debut: 2017/18 WNBL games played: 42
On 15 July 2022 the Sydney Flames announced that Vanessa Panousis had signed with the club for the 2022/23 season. Panousis will be playing her second WNBl season, having played for Adelaide in 2017/18 and the Sydney Flames in 2018/19. After signing with the Flames for 2022/23 Panousis told WNBL Media “I’m really grateful for the opportunity to play with the Flames again and play in front of family and friends. Playing overseas during COVID was a tough experience. Obviously getting to play and learn under Shane (Flames coach Shane Heal), was a big attraction. He has a high basketball IQ and is a legend of Australian basketball so to be able to be coached by him was a major factor. We have a young, fiery team and last season I think they were just unlucky with a rotation of imports. With some of the players we’ve got back and some of the players that have been signed there is a lot to be excited about.”16
Vanessa Panousis grew up in Sydney and at 17 years of age was a development player for the Sydney Flames in 2012/13. At the 2011 FIBA Under 16 Oceania Championship for Women Panousis was a member of the Australian team that won the gold medal. Panousis was the captain of the Australian Sapphires team that finished fifth at the 2012 FIBA Under 17 Women’s World Championship for Women. Panousis was a member of the Australian Gems that won a bronze medal at the 2013 FIBA Under 19 World Championship for Women alongside current Sydney Flames player Tiana Mangakahia.
From 2013/14 to 2016/17 Panousis played four seasons of college basketball for Virginia Tech. During her sophomore 2014/15 season Panousis was named in the ACC All-Tournament Second Team. During her college career with Virginia Tech Panousis played 127 games and averaged 10.9 points, 2.7 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game.
During the 2017/18 WNBL season Panousis was a member of Adelaide Lightning’s core rotation. Panousis played all 21 games for Adelaide in 2017/18 and averaged 3.1 points, 0.8 rebounds, 0.8 assists and 10.6 minutes per game.
Six seasons after being a development player for the Sydney Flames in 2012/13 Panousis returned to the club and was one of only four players to play all 21 games for the Flames in 2018/19. Panousis averaged 5.0 points, 1.7 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 18.1 minutes per game. Panousis made 22 of 63 three-pointers at an accuracy of 34.9% to rank fourth at the Flames for three-pointers made.
Panousis played 20 games for the Eltham Wildcats during the 2019 NBL1 South season and averaged 12.2 points, 3.6 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game.
In 2020/21 Panousis played 14 games for PAS Giannina in Greece and averaged 14.0 points, 3.8 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game.
During the 2021/22 NBL1 East season Panousis played for Sutherland Sharks and was teammates with Lauren Nicholson. Panousis had at least six assists in a game 10 times and scored at least 18 points in a game 11 times. Against Norths Bears on 16 July Panousis scored a game-high 29 points, made five of 12 three-pointers at an accuracy of 41.7%, took eight rebounds, made a game-high nine assists and two steals. In the Sharks next game on 23 July against Manly Warringah Panousis scored an equal team-high 33 points along with Nicholson, shot at 64.7% from the field and was even more damaging from long-range, making nine of 13 three-pointers at an accuracy of 69.2%. Panousis also took seven rebounds and made three assists in Sutherland’s 94-76 victory.
Sutherland had 16 wins and four losses during the 2022 NBL1 East regular season to finish second on the ladder, one game behind the Albury Wodonga Bandits. Sutherland played Albury Wodonga in the Grand Final. NBL1 East Women’s All-Star Five team was comprised completely of players from the two Grand Final teams with Sutherland Sharks duo Panousis and Nicholson being selected along with Bandits trio Lauren Jackson, Unique Thompson and Ai Yamada. In the Grand Final Sutherland lost to Albury 72-85. Panousis played 20 games for the Sutherland Sharks in 2022 and averaged 17.2 points, 5.1 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 1.6 steals per game and ranked fourth in the conference for assists per game.
After Panousis signed with the Sydney Flames for the 2022/23 season Head Coach Shane Heal told wnbl.basketball “She brings international experience and the ability to shoot the three. Vanessa will play both guard positions and her leadership will be crucial coming off the bench. It’s nice to have a Sydney junior and her play in the NBL1 has been impressive.”17
#10 Position: Guard/Forward
DOB 9 January 1999 Height 183cm
Junior Club Bulleen (Victoria)
WNBL debut: 2017/18 WNBL games played: 86
Kiera Rowe commenced her junior basketball career with Bulleen and played representative basketball for Victoria and played on six consecutive championship winning teams.
At the under 17 World Championships held in Spain during June and July 2016 Rowe was a member of the Australian Sapphires team that won a gold medal at the under 17 World Championships held in Spain during June and July 2016. Kiera played all six games at the World Championships, ranking fifth for the Sapphires for points and rebounds per game and fourth for minutes played. Rowe also represented the Australian Gems at the under 19 World Championships in 2017
At 16 years of age Kiera Rowe made her WNBL with the Dandenong Rangers in the opening game of the 2017/18 against the Melbourne Boomers. Rowe played limited game-time during the first six rounds. A season ending knee injury to Rangers forward Sara Blicavs in Round 6 resulted in Kiera spending more time on court. Rowe started several games for the Rangers in the second half of the season. In a Round 12 road game against the Bendigo Spirit Rowe scored four points, had two rebounds, two assists and one steal. Rowe played 14 games for the Rangers in 2017/18 and finished third in the WNBL’s Betty Watson Rookie of the Year Award.
From 2017/18 to 2019/20 Rowe played a total of 57 games for the WNBL’s Dandenong based club with the Dandenong Rangers being rebranded as the Southside Flyers in July 2019. The Southside Flyers finished on top the ladder at the end of the 2019/20 regular season and were beaten in the Grand Final series by University of Canberra Capitals two games to nil. In 2019/20 Rowe made 10 three-pointers at an accuracy of 31.3%.
Rowe joined the Sydney Flames for the 2020 season and played 12 games for the club, averaging 2.5 points, 1.4 rebounds, 0.8 assists and 13.7 minutes per game.
Against Perth Lynx on 16 March 2022 Rowe made four of six field goals at an accuracy of 66.7%, three of five three-pointers, scored an equal season-high 11 points and took five rebounds. During the 2021/22 WNBL season Rowe played all 17 games for Sydney Flames including 15 as a starter and averaged 4.5 points, 2.4 rebounds and 24.5 minutes court-time per game. Rowe was one of the six nominees in the WNBL’s 2021/22 Robyn Maher Defensive Player of the Year award along with teammate Purcell.
For Knox Raiders in an NBL1 game against Waverley Falcons at the State Basketball Centre on 30 April 2022 Rowe made eight of 10 field goal attempts at an accuracy of 80%, made five of seven three-pointers, scored an equal game-high 22 points, took five rebounds and made two assists. During the 2022 NBL1 South season with Knox Rowe averaged 7.5 points, 3.4 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.0 steals per game.
#34 Position: Centre
DOB 11 June 1998 Height 191cm
Junior Club (USA)
Will make WNBL debut in 2022/23
The Sydney Flames announce on 17 June 2022 that they had signed Hannah Sjerven for the 2022/23 WNBL season. Sydney Head Coach Shane Heal told WNBL Media “We are excited to announce Hannah as one of our two imports this season. She is a very tough and mobile five that will fit our style of play. Hannah plays with a high IQ and she will be a perfect fit with Keely and Kalani in the front court. Her ability to play out of the pick and roll in both offence and defence will make our team better. We pride ourselves on being a great defensive team and Hannah certainly helps bolster that.”18
As a freshman Sjerven played College basketball for New Mexico in 2016/17. In 15 games for New Mexico Sjerven played limited minutes, only playing more than five minutes in a game five times. Against Northern N.M. on 29 January Sjerven registered a double-double comprised of 14 points and 11 rebounds in 22 minutes court-time. Sjerven averaged 2.7 points per game shooting at 55.2% from the field, 2.0 rebounds, 0.7 blocked shots and 6.8 minutes per game.
Sjerven transferred to South Dakota but had to sit out the 2017/18 college season due to NCAA Transfer rules. The South Dakota Coyotes compete in the Summit League. Playing as a centre off the bench for South Dakota in 2018/19 Sjerven made a significant impact to average 11.8 points, a team-high 5.9 rebounds, 1.4 steals, a team-high 1.9 blocked shots and 18.2 minutes per game Sjerven started one of her 35 games for the season and was named the Summit League’s sixth women of the year. South Dakota Coyotes lost to South Dakota State in the Championship game of the Summit League Tournament and Sjerven was named on the 2017/18 Summit League All-Tournament team. South Dakota Coyotes who had a record of 28 wins and seven losses during the 2017/18 season
During 2019/20 Sjerven played 32 games including 31 as a starter for South Dakota Coyotes who had a record of 30 wins and two losses during the season. In a home game against Creighton on 4 December 2019 Sjerven made nine of 15 field goals at an accuracy of 60%, scored a career-high 28 points, took nine rebounds and blocked five shots. Sjerven led the Coyotes in 2019/20 with 7.3 rebounds and 2.0 blocked shots per game and ranked first in the Summit League with a field goal accuracy of 58.1%. The Coyotes lost to South Dakota State in the championship game of the Summit League Tournament and were defeated in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The Coyotes won the Summit League Tournament, defeating South Dakota State 63-58 in the final. Sjerven was named on the Summit League All-Tournament team for the second season in a row and received the additional accolade of being named the Tournament Most Valuable Player. Sjerven was named on the 2019/20 All-Summit League team and was also named the Summit League’s Defensive Player of the Year.
In a 2020/21 road game against Bradley on 17 December Sjerven made 11 of 16 field goal attempts at an accuracy of 68.8%, scored 31 points, took 21 rebounds and blocked four shots. South Dakota Coyotes had 19 wins and six losses during 2020 ranked second behind South Dakota State. The South Dakota Coyotes defeated Omaha 66-43 in the Championship game of the Summit League Tournament and Sjerven was named in the Summit League All-Tournament team for the third consecutive season. As South Dakota Coyotes starting centre Sjerven excelled in 2020/21 to average 17.1 points, 9.8 rebounds and 2.2 blocked shots per game. In the Summit League Sjerven ranked first for rebounds and blocked shots and second for scoring and blocked shots and was named in the All-Summit League team and named the Summit League’s Defensive Player of the Year.
At home against Wichita State on 4 December 2021 Sjerven made 11 of 17 field goal attempts at an accuracy of 64.7% and scored a career-high 35 points. Sjerven scored 20 points and took 14 rebounds in the Coyotes final regular season game of 2021/22 against Western Illinois to help the Coyotes win the Summit league regular season title. The Coyotes won the Summit League Tournament, defeating South Dakota State 56-45 in the final, Sjerven was named in the Summit League All-Tournament team. South Dakota had a record of 29 wins and six losses in 2021/22 and made it to the sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament where they were lost to Michigan 49-52. Sjerven led the Coyotes in scoring in all three of their NCAA Tournament games. In the Summit League Sjerven ranked first for total rebounds, second in blocked shots and third for total points and field goal accuracy and was named in the All-Summit League team and named the Summit League’s Defensive Player of the Year.
During four seasons playing for South Dakota Coyotes from 2018/19 to 2021/22 Sjerven played 126 games including 92 as a starter and averaged 13.9 points, 7.5 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1.5 steals, 1.9 blocked shots and 22.2 minutes court-time per game. Throughout her college career Sjerven shot the ball proficiently from the field to have a field goal accuracy of 54.5%. During a decorated college career with the Coyotes Sjerven was named Summit League All-Tournament team in all four seasons and in three consecutive seasons from 2019/20 to 2021/22 was named as the Summit League’s Defensive Player of the Year and was also selected in the All-Summit League team which highlights the excellent level of performance that she consistently delivered. Sjerven features on several all-time top 10 career lists for the South Dakota Coyotes, ranking first for blocked shots, third for rebounds and sixth in scoring.
At the 2022 WNBA Draft Minnesota Lynx selected Sjerven with pick 28. After playing two pre-season games for Minnesota Sjerven was waived on 3 May. Sjerven returned to the Lynx on a hardship contract on 13 May and played three WNBA games for the club.
After signing with the Sydney Flames for the 2022/23 WNBL season Sjerven told wnbl.basketball “Sydney is somewhere I’ve always wanted to go, so to be able to come there and play for a high-level basketball team is exciting. When the idea of playing in the WNBL came up I actually spoke to a few of the Dallas Wings girls who had played in the league and I know it’s a highly competitive league with some of the best competition you can get. I’m really excited for that and to have Shane Heal as my coach to develop under him. I have length and speed, am good with my back to the basket, but I want to become more versatile with perimeter shooting. In my last year of college I become a better three-point shooter. But I’m coming to Australia to provide the Flames with whatever I can to help them win.”19
#13 Position: Guard/Forward
DOB 25 March 1998 Height 183cm
Will make WNBL debut in 2022/23
The Sydney Flames announced on 1 July 2022 that Jocelyn Willoughby had signed with the club for the 2022/23 season. Flames Head Coach Shane Heal told WNBL Media “She is an incredible talent and dominated the college scene. Jocelyn brings a great allround game and her athleticism will fit our style of play in both offence and defence. Her ability to hit the three in the WNBA has been elite. She will be really good fit between our small guards and mobile bigs. I think Jocelyn is ready to show she is one of the best imports in the WNBL after knocking back European offers to play in Sydney. Flames fans will be excited when they see her hit the court.”20
Playing college basketball as a freshman for University of Virginia Cavaliers Willoughby started all 33 games she played in 2016/17 and averaged 9.8 points and a team-high 6.2 rebounds to earn selection on All-Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Freshmen Team.
After averaging more than 9.5 points and 5.0 rebounds per game in 2017/18 Willoughby averaged 14.8 points and 8.2 rebounds per game in 2018/19 to lead the Cavaliers in scoring and rebounding. In the Florida Sunshine Classic Willoughby scored 23 points in a victory against South Florida and was selected in Sunshine Classic All-Tournament Team.
Against Bucknell on 5 November 2019 Willoughby made nine of 15 field goals at an accuracy of 60%, made all three-pointers, scored 31 points, took 11 rebounds, made three assists and three steals. On 30 November against James Madison Willoughby scored 28 points, took 16 rebounds and made three assists. During the 2019/20 season Willoughby played 30 games for Virginia and averaged 19.2 points, 7.7 rebounds per game and shot 45.1% from the field and 41.6% for three-pointers. Willoughby was selected in the 2019/20 All-ACC First Team.
At the 2020 WNBA Draft Phoenix Mercury selected Willoughby with pick 10. Later on draft night Willoughby was traded to New York Liberty. Willoughby made her WNBA debut at 22 years of age for New York Liberty against Seattle on 25 July. Against the Los Angles Sparks on 8 September Willoughby made seven of eight field goal attempts at an accuracy of 87.5%, made five of five three-pointers and scored 21 points.
In a pre-season scrimmage on 3 May 2021 Willoughby suffered a torn Achilles tendon which kept her on the sidelines for the entire WNBA season.
Against Connecticut in her first game of the 2022 WNBA season Willoughby scored 13 points and took five rebounds on 7 May. Willoughby played more than 12 minutes in each of her first four games of the season but from mid-May to mid-July missed two months of basketball due to a quadriceps injury. Willoughby made her return on 19 July and played less than 12 minutes court-time in each of her last seven games of the season. Willoughby has played a total of 33 games including nine starts for New York Liberty. During her WNBA career Willoughby has averaged 4.8 points, 2.2 rebounds and 15.3 minutes per game.
After Willoughby signed with Sydney Flames for the 2022/23 WNBL season she commented to wnbl.basketball “I’ve always heard great things about the WNBL … namely that it’s a highly competitive league, a great place to develop between WNBA seasons, and that Australia is a great place to live I’m excited to experience it for myself. I take great pride in stopping my opponents and believe that my defensive aggressiveness will be a strength and asset for the Flames. Offensively, I am a big guard with a physical presence. My size and versatility will be a strength, as I am good at getting downhill to score and/or create for others. I am also very confident in stretching the floor and shooting the three.”21
Head Coach – Shane Heal
The 2022/23 Cygnett WNBL season is Shane Heal’s second consecutive season as Head Coach of the Sydney Flames. On 16 March the Sydney Flames announced that they had signed Shane Heal as their Head Coach for three seasons. Sydney Flames Owner Paul Smith told WNBL Media “When you think Sydney basketball Shane Heal is usually a name that is part of the equation. Welcoming Shane back into the Kings-Flames family only reinforces our commitment to tapping into the talent around us. Shane has a long, impressive history with representing Sydney, and it is a return in many respects with both the Kings and Flames now both sitting together under a single ownership structure. Not only does he have great experience to lead the Flames on the court, but he is well equipped to help us develop them off of it. He has a great understanding of NSW basketball through his own elite coaching programs and having had two daughters come through the systems.”22
Shane Heal played 440 games as a guard in an NBL career from 1988 to 2009 and averaged 20.4 points, 2.9 rebounds and 6.1 assists per game. Heal won the NBL’s Rookie of the Year award in 1988 and after averaging a league-high 8.3 assists per game in 1990 won the league’s Most Improved Player award. In 2003 Heal was a member of the Sydney Kings NBL Championship winning team.
Heal represented the Australian Boomers at four consecutive Olympic Games from 1992 to 2004 including being captain of the Boomers at the 2004 Athens Olympics. Heal won the Gaze Medal awarded to the Australian International Player of the Year in 1997 and 2004.
In addition to playing for Australia and in the NBL Heal also played in several overseas leagues including in the NBA for Minnesota in 1996/97 and San Antonio in 2003/04.
From 2006 to 2008 Heal was a player-coach of the South Dragons in the NBL. On 24 February Heal was appointed Head Coach of the Sydney Kings for the remainder of the season and remained the Kings coach until the end of the 2013/14 season.
During the 2014 New Zealand NBL season Heal weas Head Coach of the Championship winning Wellington Saints.
In 2015/16 Heal was the Head Coach of WNBL club SEQ Stars in their only WNBL season. Shane’s daughter Shyla made her WNBL debut with SEQ. The Stars went into liquidation late in the season and Heal was replaced as Head Coach.
For three seasons from 2018 to 2020 Heal coached the Sutherland Sharks women’s team in the Warratah League. The Sharks made the Grand Final in 2018.
In the second season of a three-season deal Heal is aiming for the Sydney Flames to play up-tempo basketball and strong defense during the 2022/23 Cygnett WNBL season.
Article and photographs by Dean Andrews
Twitter – @DeanAndrews7777
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:
The Milestones and Misses website was set up in December 2015. From 2020 onwards articles have been published on the following sportspeople:
Lance ‘Buddy’ Franklin