Flames WNBL20 Season Wrap: the highs, the lows and key takeaways

February 5, 2020 | Sydney Flames news

21 games. 840 minutes. Countless magical memories.

There was never a dull moment for the Brydens Sydney Uni Flames who experienced everything from elation to frustration during the 2019/20 WNBL season.

Seven wins earned a respectable sixth-placed finish as the team adjusted to a different style under new coach Katrina Hibbert, learning together with a group of fresh teammates after a solid off-season recruitment drive.

A late-season injury crisis didn’t do their efforts on the court justice in the win column, but this is no time for excuses, rather a chance to reflect on what was, what could have been and what’s next for the Flames.



A season to remember: Alice Kunek

One word – superstar. Kunek, a late addition in the off-season, was the fire in the engine room over the course of the year as she led from the front with her phenomenal scoring abilities that were on many occasions the difference between winning and losing. Despite being injured for the last month of action, the talented forward top-scored the team with 322 points, averaging 18.9 points per game. Fingers crossed she earns a much-deserved Olympic qualification when the 3×3 Australian team fight for a spot in Tokyo 2020 in March without their go-to weapon.


The Scoring Express from the US

An injection of American firepower saw Sydney Uni rise to new heights this season as Colleen Planeta and Jess Kuster lit up the floor time and time again. For Planeta, it was her fourth year in the league, while Kuster found her feet quickly in her debut WNBL season. The pair combined for a mouth-watering 492 points, with Planeta averaging 15.7 per game and Kuster recording 13.0 per game to be ranked the second and third-highest scorers. Kuster’s efficiency must be worth highlighting, with the 27-year-old shooting an incredible 53.1% from the field and 40.7% from behind the arc. To put that in perspective, reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo boasts a 55.1% field goal percentage.


Farewell, captain!

The farewell of a club great is never a high, but this is a chance to celebrate one of the great WNBL careers. The veteran guard enjoyed 12 seasons in the WNBL across four clubs, amassing 213 games and almost 2000 points, finishing with a career average 40.9% from the floor and a lethal 38.9% from three. Graham has been a valuable member to the organisation, from winning the championship 2016-17 to helping lead the team through a difficult 2018-19, honoured with the captaincy in 2019/20 in her fourth and final season with the Flames. She bowed out in style in her final game, scoring 11 points in the final four minutes of the first quarter, lifting the crowd to their feet.



Passing on the mantle

As we say goodbye to one legend, two more are in the production line as young guns Kitty Henderson and Alana Goodchild got a taste of the top league. Henderson was picked up as a Flames development player earlier this year and elevated into the playing squad, eventually playing four games as she learnt the tricks of the trade from the bench this season. Goodchild, a gifted 16-year-old prospect, was included on the bench for the Flames’ second last home game against Melbourne Boomers and is progressing up the ranks at rapid pace in the same year she earned selection in the under 16s Australian junior team. The future looks bright!



Down on troops

Every sports team deals with injuries, it’s simply unavoidable, but this was an injury crisis of its own. It goes way back to round one when guard Britt Smart went down with a calf injury, only managing to play the last seven games of the season. Her shooting strengths were sorely missed and that was evident upon her return where she averaged 9.6 points per game and recorded three consecutive games scoring over 18 points.

Come the second half of the season, it only went from bad to worse as Colleen Planeta (ACL), Tahlia Tupea (knee) and Alice Kunek (elbow) all joined the casualty ward with serious injuries.

As the Flames were finding momentum on a winning two-game road trip against Bendigo and ladder leaders Southside Flyers, Planeta’s season came crashing down with a devastating ACL injury that is a tough pill to swallow in her late career.

Then, while destroying the opposition in a 30-point masterclass, Kunek fell as the last victim to a painful elbow injury that had serious implications for not only her Flames season, but also her Olympic aspirations.

Despite the issues going on in the X-ray room, Sydney Uni showed class and resilience to send off captain Sarah Graham a winner in their final home game and end the season on a high.


No finals for a second year in a row

Having endured a slow start to the year, Sydney Uni managed to rally a few crucial wins together and in mid-December, finals were back on the cards and were a realistic goal in sight. But, in the midst of THAT injury crisis that was the major talking point of the backend of the season, the Flames lost six of their last seven games to finish in sixth in a top-heavy competition that featured four dominant teams. Still, it was a major improvement on their previous last-placed campaign, where the club managed to conjure up just two wins. We look to go even higher up in 2020/21!



Areas for improvement

They are the statistics we don’t want to see, but need to address in order to make in-roads next season. The Flames finished the 2019/20 WNBL season last in points scored (73.8 per game), last in rebounds (38 per game) and again at the bottom in assists (15.4 per game). But it was their high field goal percentage that kept this team roaring, finishing third (43%) from the field and third (47.9%) in two-point attempts. And they were just as clinical at the free-throw line, again finishing on the podium in third (77.2%).


Success in the stands

Enough of the on-court discussion, let’s talk about the fans! This season saw an influx of supporters rolling through the gates, creating an atmosphere like no other and making Brydens Stadium a daunting place for the opposition. The Flames thoroughly enjoyed the engagement with the crowd, with plenty of in-game activations that were fun for everyone. And don’t forget the countless giveaways! Fans got to walk home with everything from Audiotechnica headphones to Bertochhi hams and Chemist Warehouse vouchers. It’s our way of saying thank you for an amazing season!