Following Australia's recent silver medal at the women's world cup, spirits were high for the launch of the WNBL, the national women's basketball league.
Basketball Australia Chair Ned Coten told reporters “our sport has gone to another level” in recent years. The women’s game has recently returned to free-to-air television and picked up a naming rights sponsor in Chemist Warehouse.
This resurgence has also been highlighted by the success of the national team, the Opals, who Coten described as “well and truly back” as an elite international force.
Eight members of that team will play in the upcoming 2018/19 WNBL season, which begins this Friday 12 October.
— SBS Sport (@SBSSport) October 8, 2018
The last year for Suzy Batkovic, a “miraculous player”
One of the central narratives this season will be the final campaign of Suzy Batkovic, who has won six MVP awards. Her retirement will likely provide a rich well of motivation for her team, the defending champion JCU Townsville Fire.
Dandenong Rangers star Sara Blicavs told The CEO Magazine that Batkovic’s record MVP haul had been an incredible feat.
“She’s been a miraculous player and someone that I love watching play.
“I love seeing those people who go out of the game and still, years later, their names are held so high. Suzy is going to be like that.”
University of Canberra Capitals centre Marianna Tolo, a veteran of many low-post battles with Batkovic, said Batkovic’s award haul is especially impressive given she had also enjoyed extensive success overseas.
“It’s something very special and that has to be admired no matter what sport you’re playing. It’s amazing and it speaks to the calibre of Suzy that she has been able to play at that high level for so long.”
Marianna Tolo (left) is tackled by Sara Blicavs at the WNBL season launch
Stars returning to action
Blicavs’ injury-enforced absence sunk Dandenong’s hopes last season. She describes herself as “still a little bit injured” but says she has returned to doing lay-ups and is participating more in training. The end of a frustrating and lengthy stint on the sidelines and in rehab rooms is in sight.
“If it was up to me, I would be playing,” Blicavs says. “But I have to trust my physios and it’s just about being patient now. I’m getting better every day.”
Tolo will also miss the start of the season with an anterior cruciate ligament tear but told The CEO Magazine she is now at the “pointy end” of recovery and is within six weeks of playing again.
One of the major off-season moves saw Steph Blicavs, a valuable two-way player and the sister-in-law of Sara Blicavs, move from Dandenong to the Adelaide Lightning. “I can’t wait to (play) her,” Blicavs says. “Steph and I have a great relationship on and off the court. We’re so competitive with each other but we do it in such a fun manner.”
Some of the WNBL’s stars at the season launch at Luna Park
Sara Blicavs, Marianna Tolo and a Maddie Garrick cameo
Tolo’s Capitals team is a stacked squad, with all-WNBL level talent in two-time MVP Kelsey Griffin, Canadian star Kia Nurse and ice-cool point guard Leilani Mitchell.
They also bring in Kristy Wallace, one of the best young backcourt talents to emerge in years. “Kristy has amazing ball-handling skills,” Tolo says. “I hate individuals with her because she’s dribbling a million times better and here I am, big and fumbling the ball. But I’m really excited to play with her, she’s a very smart player.”
Some observers believe the University of Canberra Capitals will have the best team once everyone returns from injury but Tolo shied away from the favourites tag.
“I still see us as an underdog because of the success of teams like Townsville and Sydney,” she said.
“It’s hard to beat the kind of chemistry that those teams have where we have a newer kind of roster and our challenge is going to be trying to fit everyone together. Melbourne will also have that challenge, they have some great names but they have to figure out how everyone is going to fit in.”
— SBS Sport (@SBSSport) October 8, 2018
While discussing the teams to beat with Blicavs, Melbourne Boomers guard Maddie Garrick cheekily pops up to throw her own team’s name into the mix.
“Melbourne are a stacked team,” Blicavs laughs. “But teams are recruiting really well and the level of imports is great for the WNBL. Adelaide and Townsville are tough, Canberra, Sydney, Perth, Bendigo, we’re tough…it could really be anyone.”
Image credits: Chemist Warehouse WNBL. Photos by Narelle Spangher