Snell Adds Flames MVP To Collection Of Awards
By Lachy France
Basketball legend Belinda Snell’s illustrious career came to an end with yet another award to add to her vast collection, picking up the Brydens Sydney Uni Flames Most Valuable Player at the team’s end-of-season presentation.
The undoubted leader of the team even prior to the loss of several senior squad members to injury, Snell averaged 11.9 points and 5.4 rebounds per contest to sit among the leaders in the team for both categories whilst also finishing with 96 assists, more than double the number any other player on the team dished out, once again exhibiting the all-round skill set that has made the 2006 World Championship gold medalist one of the all-time legends of the game not only in Australia, but worldwide.
Young star Tahlia Tupaea picked up the Coaches’ Award after starting all 15 games in which she appeared and averaging 13.7 points and 3 assists per game. The Minnesota Lynx draft pick also routinely demonstrated why she is one of the toughest backcourt players in the league to guard, going to the charity stripe almost six times per game as opposition teams found stopping the point guard without fouling almost impossible at times. Third-year centre
Lara McSpadden picked up the Most Improved Player award following a solid season in which the Newcastle product stepped up in the absence of Alex Bunton due to injury. McSpadden averaged 4.6 points and 3.7 rebounds in just 13.4 minutes per game to provide vital support off the bench in a team that struggled with injuries all season.
Like Snell’s brilliant career, all good things must come to an end, and so it is with a recent period of success for Brydens Sydney Uni Flames. Myriad injuries put paid to any hope the team had of making a run to the playoffs in 2018/19, with the Flames able to cobble together just two wins after opening the season on a ten-game losing streak.
Despite losing Asia Taylor, Katie-Rae Ebzery, Jennifer Hamson, and Carly Boag from 2017/18’s semi-final roster, the team was able to retool by bringing onboard Opals centre Alex Bunton, QBL MVP Amanda Johnson, and former Melbourne Boomers star Brittany Smart alongside a fairly familiar returning core including, among others, Alex Wilson, Tahlia Tupaea, Belinda Snell, and Shanae Greaves. Also joining the side were Vanessa Panousis who returned after five years away, and development player Maddie O’Hehir, elevated to a full roster spot.
A first-up loss to a star-studded UC Capitals lineup was by no means cause for alarm, but as the losses and injuries piled up, it became apparent that 2018/19 could very well be tough going for the Flames.
Snell, Tupaea, and Bunton each spent time on the sidelines in the early stages of the season, leaving many to wonder how many of the team’s 10 consecutive losses to start the season could have been otherwise avoided, particularly with 4 of those defeats coming by five or fewer points. However, that tenth loss coincided with the loss of star shooting guard Alex Wilson to a season-ending knee injury, putting paid to any slim hopes the side may have had of making the finals.
However, the Flames would pick up their only two wins of the season in the space of three games as a demolition of Bendigo at home followed by a thriller on the road at Melbourne provided a flicker of hope for the remainder of the season. Unfortunately, with Bunton and Wilson out for the season, and Smart, Tupaea and Sarah Graham each spending time on the sideline during the latter stages, a severely weakened roster was unable to pick up another win as the Flames finished with a 2-19 record, the worst season in the club’s history.
However, that is not to say that the campaign was without positives. The emergence of Maddie O’Hehir as a legitimate WNBL player justified her elevation to the roster after two seasons with the Sydney Uni Sparks, whilst the season also saw development players Kimberley Hodge and Maddy Norris make their debuts for the club.
The season also saw former college player Alex Delaney create a bit of history by making her debut for the same club that her mother, Flames legend Gail Henderson, had starred for during the team’s glory days during the 90s. Lara McSpadden continued to emerge as a solid WNBL player in what was clearly the best of her three seasons in the league to this point, whilst late in the season the club saw Alex Bunton, Alex Wilson, and Tahlia Tupaea named to the Opals squad for the 2019 season as the national team looks to qualify for the Olympics.
2018/19 also saw the mastermind of much of the team’s recent success, head coach Cheryl Chambers, announce that this would be her final season with the club as she returns to Melbourne for family reasons.
In her three seasons with the Flames, Chambers led the Flames to the 2016/17 WNBL Championship before backing up with a semi-final appearance the following season, whilst also picking up the WNBL Coach of the Year award in 2016/17 as the club picked up its first title in 16 years.
Chambers’ positive effect on the club has been profound despite the unfortunate way the 2018/19 season panned out, leaving behind an outstanding team culture that will no doubt assist whoever is next tasked with leading the team in their transition into the role.