In the genteel surrounds of Old Parliament House, the WNBL launched its 40th season. The Evening Game was there to soak up the occasion and quiz some of the competition’s key players on the upcoming campaign.
Defending champions start as favourites
With Kia Nurse, Marianna Tolo and reigning MVP Kelsey Griffin all back on board, the University of Canberra Capitals’ squad retains plenty of its championship lustre heading into #WNBL20.
By the time last year’s finals rolled around, the Capitals were less a team with momentum than a basketballing avalanche, but there was still a genuinely challenging moment for them after losing game two of the finals. The match saw them endure one of the most dramatic and heartbreaking defeats in a WNBL decider. Coach Paul Goriss gives an insight into how they picked themselves up after it.
“It wasn’t so much the physical fatigue, it was more mental fatigue,” he explains. “I won’t hide the fact that it took us a full day to get over the hurt and pain of that loss. But I think that’s what drove us in game three. We wanted to make amends.”
Nicole Seekamp’s last-second game-winner forced the first finals game three in WNBL history, but the setback had a silver lining for Gorris’ team. “It gave us the opportunity to come back home and win it in front of our home crowd, which was really important to us.”
Goriss believes every WNBL team have improved their squad since last year but that his team is well-equipped despite losing two of the league’s all-time great point guards in Leilani Mitchell and Kelly Wilson. “There’s not a replacement for those two, but it’s about getting the next best player we can,” he says.
“Their experience and knowledge of the league is a huge loss but we’ve got Olivia Epoupa coming in and she’s played in big games in Europe and for France in the Olympics and World Championships.”
Point guard ✅ Welcome Olivia Epoupa, French National Player, to the UC Caps for #WNBL20!
Diminuitive point guard Tessa Lavey inspired baffled laughter through the grand Old Parliament House members’ room when she revealed the Spirit had been playing “the murder game” on a recent pre-season road trip.
“It’s really fun,” she told The Evening Game, outlining the rules, which see players draw either a V (for victim) or an M (for murderer) out of a hat and then plot to figure out the assigned killer.
On-court, the Spirit promise to be just as fun, if a little less murder-y. The whippet-like Lavey is made for up-tempo basketball and says she opted for a return to Bendigo partly for the run and gun offence new coach Tracy York plans to implement.
“We’re going to try to lead from our defence, make sure we get in the lanes, make teams do something different and then just run,” Lavey says. Expect full-court presses and fast-break points galore.
Small-ball line-ups are also likely to be part of the M.O, with Lavey likening their new offence to the multiple-guard groups York oversaw as assistant coach of the Adelaide 36ers.
She anticipates playing long minutes alongside Kelly Wilson. “I think we’ll play a lot of swing one-two, where whoever gets the ball runs the play and vice versa.” It looms as an, ahem, killer backcourt pairing.
Lauren Scherf has switched from the Capitals to the University of Sydney Flames, a transfer that should instantly improve the latter’s rebounding and second chance points tallies. These were two areas where they struggled mightily last season after the injury-enforced absence of Alex Bunton.
The Flames have a new coach (Katrina Hibbert) and a new look without retired leader Belinda Snell, but Scherf says they still have some of the DNA of the side that romped emphatically to a championship in 2016/17.
“There’s still a few girls there and they’re very hard-working and passionate, so it’s a good environment. ‘Froggy’ (Hibbert) brings a lot of energy and a good atmosphere to the team, so I think if we have a good spirit, we can really do well.”
Standing at 196cm (6”4), Scherf could be pigeonholed as an interior player, but she’s seen the recent trend towards more and more three-pointers reshape the game and doesn’t mind it one bit.
“I do love to shoot a three myself,” she laughs. “(Bigs) being able to spread the floor, it’s changing the game. It’s making this league and the international game ten times better.”