The 2018 Women’s Basketball Championship (WBC) will begin in just four weeks time when the opening tournament of the season gets underway in Tauranga.
This year sees the introduction of a new multi-tier system, which will consist of three categories for the 2018 WBC.
Tier one will be made up of eight teams, and will represent the elite level of competition. Teams in tier one will not only be playing for the national title, but also their place in the 2019 WBC where only six teams can qualify for the top flight competition.
The tier one teams are: Alloyfold Canterbury Wildcats, Auckland Dream, Harbour Breeze, Otago Gold Rush, Power Chill Waikato Country Cannons, Tauranga City Coasters, Taranaki Thunder and the Waikato Wizards.
Holders Alloyfold Canterbury Wildcats are aiming for a three-peat having won the title in 2016 and again in 2017. With former Tall Fern Shea Crotty returning, and the Wildcats retaining the core of their squad from the last two seasons they will remain the team to beat.
“We are focused on the new season and just because you won one year it doesn’t mean you are going to win again. We need to work hard and do all the right things and if we get a good outcome that will be great,” said Wildcats coach Lori McDaniel.
The other South Island team in tier one is Otago Gold Rush. The 2015 champions have been boosted by the announcement that head coach Todd Marshall is returning to the fold after stating he was stepping down at the end of last season. Basketball Otago General Manager Justin Ludlow was delighted to announce Marshall’s reappointment, “With the new and exciting format of the WBC it was important we had the most experienced coach available to lead the Gold Rush into the new era of women’s basketball in this country which culminates in the finals being hosted in Dunedin in July.”
Expect seasoned campaigners Bronwyn Kjestrup and Natalie Smith to be suiting up again for the Gold Rush.
Two current members of the Tall Ferns team at the Commonwealth Games will be major contributors to their teams when the new season begins.
16 year-old Charlisse Leger-Walker, the youngest player ever to put on a New Zealand senior team singlet will be a key player for the Waikato Wizards. Despite her tender years Leger-Walker was the leading scorer and rebounder during the 2017 WBC regular season. The international guard will be hoping the Wizards can go one better than their second place finish in 2016. Kaylee Smiler was also prominent last season averaging 18.0 points per game during the play-offs.
The other New Zealand based player in the Tall Ferns Commonwealth Games squad is Harbour Breeze forward Deena Franklin. The power forward was a member of the 2014 championship winning Breeze squad and will be hoping to help the team back onto the podium in 2018. Helping her along will be Morgan Ili who last year completed her scholarship at Oregon Tech. Ili will be an important cog in the Breeze guard rotation along with New Zealand age group reps Tayla Dalton and Jordyn Maddix.
Across town the Auckland will have the experienced coaching tandem of Tall Ferns assistant Aik Ho and Tania Hunter at the helm, playing under the new moniker of Auckland Dream. Luye Murphy, now working for Auckland Basketball, joins the Dream from Capital Swish to add to the guard stocks that also boast the experienced Amanda Buck and Stevee Theyers.
Tauranga City Coasters have a new coach with Tony Webster taking over the reins from long-standing mentor Rachel Gwerder. Webster inherits a largely familiar squad that includes the Rogers sisters Cairyn Marie and Briarley, forward Makayla Daysh and experienced guard Courtney Wilson. Daysh was hugely influential in 2017, she averaged 21 points and 14 rebounds per game during the play-offs – form that earned her selection for the New Zealand Premier team.
Taranaki Thunder, under coach Angelo Hill, finished runners-up last season and with New Zealand age group players Courtney Keech and Isabelle Cooke returning the Thunder can be expected to make some rumblings again in 2018.
The Power Chill Waikato Country Cannons made a good showing last year, finishing fourth in their first season in the competition. Donna Fermanis earned All-Star Five honours and was well supported by guard Freda Riwai. Expect both players to feature strongly in the upcoming campaign.
Tier two will be made up of four teams and they will play two full rounds over the tournament weekends in May and July.
North Canterbury, new to the competition, will have Esra McGoldrick and Charlotte Whittaker leading their efforts.
Nelson Sparks return after missing the 2017 campaign with veteran Kat Jones a key part of their squad.
Rotorua Lady Vols will be looking to challenge for the tier two title in 2018 and earn promotion in to the top tier.
Taitokerau Northland will be hoping their 2017 leading scorer Te Arani Daniels will return and can display similar form in the upcoming campaign.