The 2020/21 WNBL season is set to kick off in its North Queensland hub tomorrow. Basketball expert Hayley Wildes brings us her team-by-team season preview.
If you’re a fan of women’s hoops, strap in because you’re in for an absolute treat with the WNBL season set to tip off on Wednesday.
Due to COVID-19, this season will be very different. All games will be played in a North Queensland hub in a condensed and jam-packed season that will last six weeks. Furthermore, there will be no imports, disappointing, yes—but it just means even more of our tremendous Australian talent will be on show, including an array of Opal superstars.
Ahead of opening night which will see Adelaide take on reigning champions, Canberra and Perth facing Townsville, let’s take a look at how all eight teams are shaping up in what will be a season like no other.
The Adelaide Lightning have undergone a massive roster overhaul and head into the 2020 WNBL season with plenty of question marks. The major talking point is who will step up in the absence of Alanna Smith.
Smith – the rising Australian star who just completed her second season in the WNBA with the Phoenix Mercury – was recently ruled out for the WNBL season due to an ankle injury.
There’s no doubt that Smith was going to be the focal point for Adelaide, so without her the likes of star veteran Louella Tomlinson and the returning former rookie of the year winner Alex Wilson, will need to be at their best for the Lightning to challenge the best teams in the league.
The Bendigo Spirit will be looking to surprise this season, having quietly put together a strong core of young talent and veterans with plenty of experience.
Tessa Lavey, Carley Ernst and Amelia Todhunter have all been around the WNBL for years and know what it takes at this level. They will be invaluable contributors to the Spirit, both on and off the court, with a young group of players beside them.
Georgia Pineau and Alicia Froling, 23 and 24-years-old respectively, are two players to keep an eye on. They will play extended minutes due to the league having no imports this season, and the condensed schedule, which may result in teams resting players for games with quick turnarounds.
Canberra will be aiming for a Championship three-peat this season and are still a very real threat to achieve this. Having brought back the bulk of their roster from last season, the Capitals have chemistry, Championship pedigree and star power.
Despite stars Kia Nurse and Olivia Epoupa not returning because of the no-import rule, Canberra will still strike fear into the opposition. With veterans Kelsey Griffin and Marianna Tolo at the centre of everything Canberra does, they also have bright stars coming through, led by Maddison Rocci and Keely Froling, both of whom seem destined for future success in the WNBL.
Write them off at your peril.
Ezi. Ezi. Ezi.
If you’re looking for a player that is going to lead the next generation of Australian Opals basketball, look no further than Ezi Magbegor.
After an exciting WNBA rookie season that resulted in a Championship win with the Seattle Storm, Magbegor has returned to the Boomers and looks set to put the league on notice.
The versatile forward can do it all – coupled with the veteran experience of Cayla George, Tess Madgen and Maddie Garrick, Melbourne will be looking to make some noise in 2020.
With a line-up littered with Opals representatives, look for the Boomers to pick apart opposition defences with a controlled offence.
The Perth Lynx have a new head coach for 2020 and were just dealt a bit of a blow a week out from tip off.
Sharpshooter Sami Whitcomb has made the call to sit out the WNBL season to be with wife Kate Malpass ahead of the birth of their first child. Whitcomb is one of the best pure shooters in the world and played a key role in Seattle Storm’s WNBA Championship earlier this year, before heading home prior to the Finals to be with Kate.
Whitcomb will be missed with the pressure falling to reigning Club MVP Katie Ebzery to carry a huge load for the Lynx in the rapid-fire 2020 season. Ebzery leads from the front with her consistent play on both ends of the court. Whatever her team needs, Ebzery delivers.
Sydney Uni Flames
Sydney Uni may not boast a bona fide star, but if you think that means they don’t have major upside, you’re mistaken.
Crucially, the Flames retained rising star Lauren Scherf who, after an extremely encouraging 2019/20 season, will need to take another step forward for Sydney Uni to battle against the best of the best.
Scherf has been joined by Nat Burton, Funda Nakkasoglu and Kiera Rowe, all of whom will play major minutes for the Flames. Burton, a veteran Opal who has played all over the globe, will be called upon to lead the team from the front, while Nakkasoglu – a deadly three-point threat – returns to Australia after a dominant college career and one season playing professionally in Turkey.
To say the Southside Flyers have loaded up for a title tilt would be an understatement. After making it to the big dance last season, Southside isn’t messing around in 2020 and have added incredible talent to what was already an exceptional roster.
Bec Cole, Leilani Mitchell, Jenna O’Hea and Sara Blicavs have all returned in hopes of going one better, and while those four are all stars in their own right, the addition of Liz Cambage (arguably the most dominant player in the world) is impossible to top.
That starting five is simply outrageous.
Opposition coaches will have sleepless nights thinking about how they can slow down the Flyers. With threats all over the court, if you try to double or triple team Cambage in the paint, you’ll be allowing those waiting on the wings to attack with open lanes.
Townsville is a team you’ll want to be keeping tabs on! The Fire have made plenty of off-season changes and as a result will be an exciting team to watch.
They’ve got the most exciting player in the league under 20 years of age in Shyla Heal, who is looking ready to come into her own with a starting spot. Heal is a speedy guard who doesn’t back down, and with the underrated acquisition of Lauren Nicholson, Townsville’s backcourt will be up for the fight.
Added into the mix is another young gun, Zitina Aokuso. After missing the entirety of last season due to an ACL injury, Aokuso is now fully recovered and will cause some headaches for the opposition.
The WNBL tips off Wednesday the 11th of November with every game broadcast live split across the ABC, Kayo and Fox Sports. Check here for the full fixture and broadcast guide.
For full WNBL rosters to find your favourite players find the team lists here on the WNBL website.