Brydens Sydney Uni Flames clinched the 2016-17 Women’s National Basketball League title with a clean sweep of the best-of-three grand final series.

The Flames accounted for the Dandenong Rangers 91-81 in the first game of the grand final series at Brydens Stadium, Sydney University Sport and Fitness Centre, on March 11, and wrapped up the title with a 75-62 result in the second game, played at Dandenong Stadium on Friday night.

The win broke a 16-year drought for the Flames, who last won the title in 2001.

Australian Opals point guard Leilani Mitchell (15) and former Opals representative Belinda Snell (15) led the scoring for the winners, with Tahlia Tupaea and import Asia Taylor each chipping in with 11-point contributions.

Stephanie Cumming once again led the scoring for the Rangers with 17, while Aimie Clydesdale (13) and Sara Blicavs (10) helped to keep the Rangers in contention.

While the players celebrated the win, it was also a triumph for Flames coach Cheryl Chambers in her first year at the helm.

After dropping their first two games of the season, Chambers might have feared for the worst but she remained positive.

“I remember dragging my tail and trying to keep the girls upbeat,” she said. “But I looked around and realised we had a special group. Even (in the) early days we realised we had a bit of everything and some great personalities.”

Prior to the start of the grand final series, Chambers was named WNBL Coach of the Year, while Mitchell and Taylor were selected in the WNBL All-Star Five.

They proved to be poignant selections. Building on a stand-out 2015-16 season, Mitchell earned her spot as starting point guard in the All Star Five for the second year in a row.

As league leader with most minutes played, she led Flames’ powerful offence in the 2016-17 season.

“It’s always a great achievement to be selected in the All-Star Five,” she said. “In a league full of talented players it really is an honour. To have two of the five selected from the Sydney Uni Flames speaks volumes for how successful our team has been this season.”

Mitchell topped off a stand-out season by being awarded the Rachael Sporn Medal as the MVP in the grand final series.

Taylor averaged 16.5 points a game during the season proper, shooting at 46 per cent from the field, along with eight rebounds and 2.7 assists per game.  “This has been an amazing season and I was honoured to be picked in the All Star Five,” she said.

Since the WNBL started in 1981, the then Sydney Flames have won the title twice: a 65-64 heart-stopper over Perth Breakers in 1993, and a 61-56 result over Adelaide Lightning for the 1997 crown after finishing runners-up in 1996. The Flames also finished runners-up in 1998, 2001-02 and 2002-03.

Sydney University Sport took over the franchise in 2003 and the bridesmaid tag continued with runners-up results in 2003-04, 2004-05, 2006-07 and 2007-08.

The Flames finished third in 2009-10, fifth in 2011-12, seventh in 2012-13, sixth in 2014-15 and third in 2015-16.

This season saw them clinch the minor premiership on the back of a 10-game winning streak. They then earnt a grand final berth with back-to-back wins over JCU Townsville Fire in the best-of-three semi-final series.


Basketball: Women’s National Basketball League – Grand Final (Best of three)

Game 1: Brydens Sydney Uni Flames 91 (Alex Wilson 22, Leilani Mitchell 15, Jennifer Hamson 15, Leilani Mitchell 15, Asia Taylor 15 Lauren Nicholson 9, Tahlia Tupaea 8, Belinda Snell 7) defeated Dandenong Rangers 82 (Sara Blicavs 25, Stephanie Cumming 16, Natalie Novosel 14, Ally Malott 8) at Brydens Stadium, Sydney University Sport and Fitness Centre, on Saturday.

Game 2: Brydens Sydney Uni Flames 75 (Leilani Mitchell 15, Belinda Snell 15, Tahlia Tupaea 11, Asia Taylor 11) defeated Dandenong Rangers  62 (Stephanie Cumming 17, A Clydesdale 13, Sara Blicavs 10) at Dandenong Stadium, Melbourne on Friday.