COMING BACK TO THE CAPITAL
Following a successful WNBL20 campaign where the University of Canberra Capitals claimed a second consecutive Chemist Warehouse WNBL Championship title, Head Coach Paul Goriss has his sights set on a threepeat.
Goriss, who was named the WNBL20 Coach of the Year, has managed to lock in the majority of his Championship winning players as part of the 2020-21 roster. The Capitals welcome back six members from last season alongside Mikaela Ruef, who assisted the team behind the scenes whilst awaiting residency approvals.
“There is a reason why we’re coming off a Championship or in our case back to backs and it’s because of the amazing chemistry in our playing group. The plan always was to try and lock away as many of the playing group as we could, and quite possibly keep everybody,” explains Goriss
“I’m really grateful that everybody was willing to come back and play for Canberra again.”
With imports ineligible for WNBL21, the Capitals lose two of their top performing internationals; Olivia Epoupa, well known by fans as the “French Burglar” who last season led the league in steals and then took home the Rachel Sporn Grand Final MVP award and Kia Nurse, who in 2019-20 led the league in points and was named the Suzy Batkovic season MVP.
For Goriss it was critical during the recruitment process for 2020-21 to not only fill those two vacancies but identify athletes and people who would fit in alongside the current playing group.
“Knowing that our two imports we had last year, Olivia Epoupa and Kia Nurse would not be returning, we understood that we needed to fill a position in the point guard and the three spot,” explains Goriss.
“I think that chemistry has played a big part in us winning the last two championships. We’ve had great talent, but we’ve also had great chemistry with all of our playing group, so it was trying to find the right people that would slot in. Then when free agency opened, we looked into the shortlist and away we went.”
Eager to see the return of powerhouse co-captains, Kelsey Griffin and Marianna Tolo to the Capitals this year, Goriss praises the duo on their professionalism, consistency and competitive drive.
“It’s massive to have them return. I can’t underestimate what they bring on and off the court. People get to see the on-court production that they have, but it’s the behind the scenes and their leadership and work ethic that blows me away.
“You couldn’t ask for two greater people. Their competitiveness and how they go about everything from strength and conditioning, to nutrition and how they look after their bodies, everything that they do is just top-notch. I’m blown away that I get to coach those two for another year.
“I’m really lucky that I get to coach them and not coach against them,” he jokes.
Joining the Capitals this season is 23-year old Talia Tupaea and 34-year old league veteran Brittany Smart.
Both Tupaea and Smart have made the transition from playing with NSW side, the Brydens Sydney Uni Flames in WNBL20, to the reigning champs in the ACT.
“Looking at our roster I felt we needed some veteran presence in and around the guard spots. We signed Thalia [Tupaea], who has been playing WNBL since she was about 15, so she was probably considered a veteran by the time she turned 21,” explains Goriss.
“I felt we also needed a bit more of an older head around some of the young ones which Brittany [Smart] brings. She’s been around the League for a long-time and understands what it takes.
“When you coach games you take notice of who is competitive, how athletes play and how good of a teammate they are on the court. I thought Brittany [Smart] would fit our group because she’s such a blue-collar worker. She’s going to fit our chemistry, culture and work ethic superbly.”
Currently training in Canberra with Griffin, Tolo, Keely Froling and Abby Cubillo, Goriss notes that Alex Delaney is presently competing in the Waratah League whilst Gemma Potter and Smart are holed up in Melbourne respecting COVID-19 restrictions.
Lastly, Ruef and 2020 Chemist Warehouse Opals squad member Maddison Rocci, are playing in the Queensland Basketball League.
Proud of Rocci’s Opals squad achievement, Goriss compliments her efforts over the past year as she joins fellow Capitals’ teammates Griffin and Tolo in training towards next year’s Tokyo Olympics.
“I’m super excited for Maddi [Rocci], she’s done the work and put in a lot of time especially in the last 12 months.
“She’ll have a bigger role with us this year, and with how she’s currently playing in the Queensland Basketball League, her numbers are off the charts and that’s just reward for the work she’s done in the off-season after WNBL.
“Realistically, for a young athlete that’s three years into playing in the League, I think it’s a great acknowledgement for her as she’s done the work.”
Check out UC Capitals 2020-21 WNBL Roster at the Free Agency Tracker.