The Brydens Sydney Uni Flames have had a remarkable season full of triumphs and tribulations.
Upon the season commencing in October, the team looked set for a tough road ahead with the competition and quality of teams in the WNBL better than ever before. The squad assembled under the direction of a new coach in Shannon Seebohm, an exceptional NBL player in his own right. It was his first year leading a professional team however and there might have been criticism about how the Flames would perform with two unknown imports joining a relatively young roster.
Six rounds into the season the team could not have been doing better. They had a record of 5 – 1 and were sitting at the top of the ladder. Sydney Uni produced a great style of team basketball borne from tough full court defensive pressure which coach Seebohm built into the culture at Brydens Stadium.
Leading into the second half of the season, the team saw some setbacks. Veteran Rohanee Cox broke her nose and was sidelined for several weeks in the lead up to Christmas, and later the team’s leading rebounder Mikaela Ruef also suffered a hand injury meaning she missed the last couple of rounds in the lead up to finals. The momentum swung out of Sydney’s favour, however credit to the team, the younger players lifted in the absence of some key contributors. Casey Samuels and Tahlia Tupaea provided a spark off the bench. Meanwhile Co-captain Katie Ebzery and Leilani Mitchell found amazing form which saw them carry the torch.
These setbacks saw the team teetering in and out of the top four for the better part of the season; this led to a do or die final round game last weekend. The Flames needed to win against ladder leaders Townsville in order to secure their position in the top four and ensure a finals berth; the Flames did not disappoint.
In a crowded Brydens Stadium, the Flames were commanding, finding their early season form, taking an authoritative 13 point lead over the Fire at the major break. A shaky final half by the home side saw the opposition team bridge the gap; however the Flames managed to cling on to the game in a nail biting 2 point win to keep their finals dream alive.
With nothing to lose, the Sydney team has flown under the radar and now has an opportunity to shake things up in the WNBL semi-finals this weekend. The team will travel to Melbourne to compete against the Dandenong Rangers who finished third on the ladder.
The Rangers have a team full of household names, namely Australian superstar Penny Taylor who averaged 20.2 points per game and 6.5 rebounds for the season. She will need to be contained if the Flames are to have a chance at advancing in the play offs. An athletic player at 6ft 2, she will be a tough defensive match up for one of the Flames bigs. Another offensive force the Flames will need to be aware of is WNBA star Cappie Pondexter who has found great form averaging 16.5 points and 4.1 assists this year.
For the Flames, it’s the back court duo of Leilani Mitchell and Katie Ebzery who will need to be on point over the weekend. Mitchell will be playing her former team which is likely to give added motivation to the star that averaged 12.8 points per game. It’s not just her own scoring which makes the teams point guard so dominant. Mitchell’s passing has been the best in the league this season; she averaged 5.9 assists per game, higher than any other player. A benefactor of her brilliant play this season has been Ebzery, the team’s leading scoring commanding 16.9 points per game for the Flames. Kathleen McLeod and Cappie Pondexter of Dandenong are likely to get the tough assignment of matching up on these two.
Despite the team looking their best this season when their guards light up, the Flames are lucky to have a number of other solid contributors who get involved due to the sides great team offense. In last week’s game, every player to hit the court scored points. This demonstrates the depth of the squad and their toughness to guard.
The Flames have pieced together two wins in a row and will be feeling good entering the game as underdogs, while Dandenong has suffered three losses leading into the finals. Whatever the outcome on Saturday, Sydney has shown that they are an exciting side with unlimited potential. They are a team on the rise that will only continue to impress in the future with a young core group and coach.