WNBL 2021-2022 Season Preview
The WNBL is going into its 42nd consecutive season and the 2021/2022 season looks to be a revamped competition after a Hub season in Queensland. With no imports due to COVID restrictions, the WNBL had an all-Aussie season and gave the WNBL a well-deserved spotlight.
The 2021/2022 season will have every game broadcasted for the second season in a row, after breaking viewership records last season.
This season acts as the perfect audition for the 2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup in Sydney, home to the Bryden Sydney Uni Flames.
The Flames have many Opals hopefuls going into the World Cup, like WNBA 8th overall pick Shyla Heal and co-captain Keely Froling.
Opals legend and Basketball Hall of Fame inductee Lauren Jackson said this WNBL season will be a great platform to show what they have for the Opals squad. “Women’s basketball continues to grow each year with interest at an all-time high and more people playing our sport than ever before,” Jackson told News.com.
“As we head towards a FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup in Sydney next year, the WNBL will continue to grow and showcase the best talent in the country.”
The league has a collection of Opals talent, with nine of the twelve from the Opals Olympic Tokyo team playing this season: Steph Talbot (Adelaide Lightning), Alanna Smith (Adelaide Lightning), Jenna O’Hea (Southside Flyers), Cayla George, Tess Magden and Ezi Magbegor (Melbourne Boomers). Leilani Mitchell (Bendigo Spirit), Tessa Lavey (Bendigo Spirit) and Sara Blicavs (Southside Flyers).
With the season starting on December 4th, the WNBL has a big season ahead of them with lots of questions to be answered. Who will win MVP? Who will be the best import? And can the Southside Flyers repeat as champions?
Last season: 5-8, sixth in the regular season.
WNBL Titles: 5 (1994, 1995, 1996, 1998, 2008)
Home court: The Lights Community and Sports Centre
Head coach: Chris Lucas
Notable roster changes: Addition of Alanna Smith (Phoenix Mercury), Kylee Shook (New York Liberty) and Kiana Williams (Seattle Storm)
Projected starters: Kylee Shook , Alanna Smith, Steph Talbot, Abbey Wehrung, Kiana Williams.
The Adelaide Lighting have a major signing to integrate this season. Alanna Smith is coming off a trip to the WNBA Finals with Phoenix Mercury under coach Sandy Brondello, she also was apart of the Opals’ Olympic Tokyo team with Brondello as coach too.
She will share the court with 2020 WNBL MVP and Tokyo Opal Steph Talbot. Talbot is coming off a successful season with the Seattle Storm and comes into the season trying to get the Lighting into the Finals and go back-to-back as MVP.
Their import Kiana Williams played with Talbot with the Storm. The Lighting have a lot of chemistry spilt between their key pieces so the challenge will be putting that all together, as well as have a productive enough bench.
MEGAN HUSTWAITE SAYS
I believe [Steph Talbot] can repeat as MVP. It was a huge effort by her to win the MVP given Adelaide didn’t win as many games as they would have hoped. But bringing an Opal, an Olympian and WNBA player, like Alanna Smith into the lineup will really help Steph Talbot which is exciting. A fit Alanna Smith? I mean, she could be an MVP, so the Lightning could possibly have back-to-back MVP winners.
Last season: 0-13, eighth in the regular season.
WNBL Titles: 2 (2013, 2014)
Home court: Bendigo Stadium
Head coach: Tracy York
Notable roster changes: Addition of Maddie Garrick (Melbourne Boomers), Anneli Maley (Sydney Uni Flames) and Leilani Mitchell (Southside Flyers).
Projected starters: Maddie Garrick, Megan McKay, Anneli Maley, Leilani Mitchell, Tessa Lavey.
The Bendigo Spirit can only go up from last season. They didn’t win a single game in the 2020 Hub season and they have clearly recruited to make sure they don’t repeat as wooden spoons.
Their biggest signing is 2020 WNBL Grand Final MVP and long-time Opal Leilani Mitchell. Mitchell’s experience and leadership will undoubtedly change the culture and expectations around the Lightings’ season. Adelaide also added another Opal Maddie Garrick, more recently involved in the 3×3 tournaments but still has all the experience and talent to help the Spirit turn around this season. Lastly is rebounding machine Anneli Maley, regularly grabbing 20+ rebounds in the WNBL and NBL1.
With all of this extra talent and experience the Spirit seemingly have the roster to turn around a more competitive season.
MEGAN HUSTWAITE SAYS
For a team that didn’t win a game in the hub season, there’s been real anticipation around Bendigo since free agency opened because they made the first move in securing Leilani Mitchell. It’s really exciting, what Bendigo have put together not just those big names that they’ve recruited, including [Maddie] Garrick. Who comes back to the club as having previously been a championship player. But I think all those recruits are exciting in their own way, and then the Spirit have got some great young local talent coming off the bench. Which we got a good look at in the hub last season, and they’re going to be better for that experience.
Last season: 11-2, first in the regular season, Winners of the 2020 WNBL Grand Final
WNBL Titles: 4 (2004, 2005, 2012. 2020)
Home court: Dandenong Stadium
Head coach: Cheryl Chambers
Notable roster changes: Losing Liz Cambage (Las Vegas Aces) and WNBL Grand Final MVP Leilani Mitchell (Bendigo Spirit).
Projected starters: Sara Bilvacs, Abby Bishop, Rebecca Cole, Jenna O’Hea, Maddison Rocci.
The Southside Flyers might have the biggest adjustment to make this season. Last season they were by far the most stacked team last season headlined by Liz Cambage’s return to the WNBL. They also lose their Grand Final MVP Leilani Mitchell, which through a leadership point of view will be a hard role to fill. They still have Opals captain Jenna O’Hea and Rebecca Cole with Sara Blicavs to lean on so with coach Cheryl Chambers the Flyers will remain highly competitive.
MEGAN HUSTWAITE SAYS
You lose those two players [Leilani Mitchell and Liz Cambage], and in return you gain [Maddison] Rocci. One of the rising point guards in Australia women’s basketball and a seasoned pro, like Abby Bishop, you’ve done pretty well. They also brought in Kate Gaze, who I thought really showed her worth for Townsville and the hub. So, yeah, I’m really looking forward to seeing what the Flyers can do … they’ve had some key personnel changes and last season they won it in a sprint, and now they got to try and win in a marathon season.
Last season: 9-4, fourth in the regular season, lost in the Preliminary final.
WNBL Titles: 1 (2011)
Home court: Melbourne Sports Centres – Parkville
Head coach: Guy Molloy
Notable roster changes: Addition of Lindsay Allen (Indiana Fever) and Tiffany Mitchell (Indiana Fever). Loss of Maddie Garrick (Bendigo Spirit).
Projected starters: Lindsay Allen, Cayla George, Ezi Magbegor, Tess Madgen, Tiffany Mitchell.
The Boomers arguably had the best offseason. Coming off a successful finals run, they added two WNBA players and retained Opals Cayla George and Ezi Magbegor.
Coach Guy Molloy has to integrate two WNBA players into his system while giving Magbegor the touches she deserves too. Lindsay Allen is very familiar with the Boomers, going into her third season with the team. But Tiffany Mitchell (Allen’s teammate with the Fever) will be a high-level scorer who is new to the WNBL, Molloy has a coach’s dream, too much talent.
MEGAN HUSTWAITE SAYS
It’s certainly the best starting five in the league. You’ve got three Opals, Olympians from Tokyo and two of the best imports in the league this season. And that’s saying something because Boomers have had some sensational teams in recent years. They had Liz [Cambage] in a year where they made the Grand Final. The following year, they had a collection of Opals, so they’ve returned to the court where they won their last and only championship as the Boomers. And they are a very, very good chance of winning their second one.
Last season: 9-4, third in the regular season, lost in the Semi-finals.
WNBL Titles: 9 (2000, 2002, 2003, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2019, 2020)
Home court: National Convention Centre Canberra
Head coach: Paul Goriss
Notable roster changes: Addition of Brittney Skyes (Los Angeles Sparks). Loss of Marianna Tolo (Basket Landes – France)
Projected starters: Alex Bunton, Kelsey Griffin, Jade Melbourne, Kelly Wilson, Brittney Sykes.
The Canberra Capitals have some momentum going into this season. Coach Paul Goriss led the Opals in the FIBA Asia Cup to bronze medal, alongside caps young star Jade Melbourne. Melbourne led the U19 Gems to silver in the FIBA U19 Women’s World Cup early this year, while being selected to the All-Star Five team. The Caps are always competitive and with their import Brittney Sykes and bringing back Kelly Wilson, the Caps again look like a pain in the rest of the leagues’ backside.
MEGAN HUSTWAITE SAYS
The Caps are perennial finalists aren’t they? having won back-to-back championships and then made the finals last year. They’ve lost a huge amount of experience in [Marianna] Tolo, [Keely] Froling and [Maddison] Rocci. But they have scored a big coup in in welcoming back the game’s record holder Kelly Wilson and she’s one hell of a player. And when she plays alongside her great mate, Kelsey Griffin, all they do is have success.
Canberra are really excited about their import Brittany Sykes. She’s showed some really exciting glances at practice. And they’ve had a very good record with picking imports, with Kia Nurse being the first and only import to win the league MVP. And I reckon they’ve picked another winner in Sykes.
Last season: 9-4, second in the regular season, WNBL Grand Final runners up.
WNBL Titles: (2015, 2016, 2018)
Home court: Townsville Entertainment Centre
Head coach: Shannon Seebohm
Notable roster changes: Addition of Monique Billings (Atlanta Dream) and Sug Sutton (Washington Mystics). Loss of Shyla Heal (Sydney Uni Flames).
Projected starters: Zitina Aokuso, Monique Billings, Nadeen Payne, Lauren Nicholson, Sug Sutton.
The Townsville Fire made big signings this offseason but kept the core intact that got them in the Grand Final last season. Heal may be gone but they kept team MVP Lauren Nicolson, Sixth Women of the Year Zitina Aokuso and rising star Stephanie Reid while last season’s Coach of the Year Shannon Seebohm still steers the ship. Sug Sutton will bring the up-tempo guard role that Heal brought last season and Monique Billings is a big with great touch. So Seebohm will have plenty of options offensively.
MEGAN HUSTWAITE SAYS
Yeah, well, they’ve obviously lost [Shyla] Heal, which is a huge loss for the runners up. But I think Steph Reid is ready to take her WNBL career to a new level. And they get back their former captain and triple championship player in the Micaela Cocks, who’s got a wealth of WNBL and international experience. And then you add them to really quality imports, particularly Billings, She’s a superstar. And I think she’ll be fantastic for Townsville, and she’ll really fit into what Shannon [Seebohm] does, how he coaches and the style of play we can expect from the Fire. And I’ve always got big hopes for any team coached by Seebohm, So I think the Fire will be back up there in the top four.
Last season: 4-9, seventh in the regular season.
WNBL Titles: 1 (1992)
Home court: Bendat Basketball Centre
Head Coach: Ryan Petrik
Notable roster changes: Addition of Jackie Young (Las Vegas Aces) and Lauren Schref (Sydney Uni Flames). Loss of Katie Rae Ebzery (retirement).
Projected starters: Darcee Garbin, Marina Mabrey, Lauren Schref, Alex Sharp, Jackie Young.
The Perth Lynx have added one major signing this season. WNBA 2019 1st overall pick Jackie Young, projected by many of the best import this season and possibly MVP. The Lynx also added Lauren Schref, coming off a solid bronze medal campaign in the FIBA Asia Cup.
The Lynx don’t have a scheduled game until January 2nd due to Western Australia border restrictions, but with the wealth of talent they have collated over the offseason they may still be the title favourites.
MEGAN HUSTWAITE SAYS
This will be the first time in a long time they’ve gone into a season probably is the title favourites. They’ve got two the absolute elite imports with Jackie young being number one WNBA draft pick in 2019 and gold medalist in Tokyo with the 3×3 team and coming off a finals series with [Las Vegas] Aces as well in the WNBA, and Marina Mabry as well. So they sign those two up pretty early in the pace. And that’s kind of when the excitement really started to build.
We saw what [Darcee] Garbin was able to produce, returned to her home state last season for Perth in the hub. And then they’ve got some really good depth. So, I think when you’ve got someone like Alex Sharp and the 2021 She’s had, and when she probably comes off the bench in that team, so I think that’s a good indication of where Perth are at.
Sydney Uni Flames
Last season: 5-8, fifth in the regular season.
WNBL Titles: 4 (1993, 1997, 2001, 2017)
Home court: Brydens Stadium
Head coach: Shane Heal
Notable roster changes: Addition of Shyla Heal (Chicago Sky), Stephanie Watts (Chicago Sky) and Chelsea Dungee (Dallas Wings). Loss of Lauren Schref (Perth Lynx) and Anneli Maley (Bendigo Spirit).
Projected starters: Chelsea Dungee, Keely Froling, Shyla Heal, Lauren Mansfield, Stephanie Watts.
The Bryden Sydney Uni Flames have a young, run and gun roster this season. The WNBL’s Youth Player of the Year last season Shyla Heal headlines the Flames this season, alongside two of her top 10 draft picks in the WNBA 2021 draft in Stephanie Watts and Chelsea Dungee.
Under Australian basketball legend Shane Heal, the Flames have built their roster around speed and firepower from range with Keely Froling being the anchor on both ends. Losing Anneli Maley will hurt the total rebounding count each game and Lauren Schref is a solid veteran who has been a strong defender and cultural presence in each team she plays in.
MEGAN HUSTWAITE SAYS
I think there’s a real buzz around the Flames. I’m really excited to see, the kind of basketball not only the Flames play under Shane Hill and the kind of basketball I’ve seen his teams play, you know, in the WNBL, previously with the SEQ [South East Queensland] Stars, but also in the NBL, and in New Zealand. We know the kind of basketball that Shane likes his teams to play and I think he’s recruited accordingly around that they’re going to be fast, run and gun and exciting.
So, I think that’s going to suit Shyla to a tee. So, I’m really excited to see what else she can add to what was really a perfect individual season in 2020. And I think Keely Froling after a couple of really solid years of success at Canberra and then the international year she’s had with 3×3 and the Asia Cup, she could have a breakout season if that’s even possible for a player her calibre.
I think it’s a credit to Sydney that they’ve got three of the most exciting young prospects in world basketball, with three top 10 WNBA draft picks from 2020. I think that’s a feather in the cap for the Sydney Flames and also for the WNBL for attracting that kind of talent.
This season you can watch the WNBL through Foxtel, Kayo and ABC.