The Women’s Basketball Championship (WBC) Finals Tournament will be played at Cowles Stadium, Christchurch from tomorrow 6 July to Saturday 8 July.
Whilst regular season champions Alloyfold Canterbury Wildcats, with home advantage, will start as favourites there is a distinct feeling that any of the six teams competing for the Championship are capable of winning the 2017 title.
The six teams are divided into two pools of three with the top two finishers in each progressing to the semi-final.
Section A is made up of Site Weld Otago Goldrush, Taranaki Thunder and hosts Alloyfold Canterbury Wildcats.
2015 champions Otago Goldrush have had a settled side for a few seasons and if the experienced Janet Main, Soraya Umaga-Jensen, Natalie Smith and the team’s leading scorer Nicole Ruske (13.4ppg) fire they are a tough proposition for any opponent.
Canterbury have lost just one game this season, a surprise home defeat against Harbour Breeze. That defeat will have shaken any complacency out of the defending champions. American forward Ashley Gayle missed the last game due to injury and coach Lori McDaniel will be hoping one of her key players is fit for action.
Canterbury is blessed with great depth and, in addition to Gayle, have a host of experienced performers in Courtney Hamblin, Fran Edmondson, Darcy Rose and Haylee Gray to lead its title defence.
Taranaki Thunder made the semi-finals last year and will be hoping to at least replicate that achievement this time around. Those chances have improved with the recent addition of American Lyndi Laborn to compliment the likes of Jess Tuki, Isabelle Cook and Courtney Keech.
Laborn demonstrated her capability recently with 27 points and 13 rebounds against Capital Swish.
“I have tried for two years to get Lyndi to play here,” said Taranaki coach Angelo Hill.
“I was an assistant coach at the University of Texas at San Antonio in 2013 (Laborn’s senior year) and since then she has played in Germany. She is a versatile post player who can face up and shoot the ball.
“She is a great teammate and it’s a chance for the younger players to see a professional player and how she goes about playing.”
Coach Hill is optimistic about his team’s chances.
“The rest of the teams in the top six are very good. Canterbury has shown that they are the team to beat. But any team can produce an upset and cause the tournament to go in another direction.
“Otago plays very well as a team and must be considered a threat. The other side of the draw is anyone’s guess. It will be a great tournament to be part of.”
Hill is also delighted with the way his young players have progressed.
“It has been great watching Isabelle Cook and Simone Cook grow this year. This is the first year playing at the WBC level and they have both performed very well and do not seem to get rattled too much.”
Section B features Capital Swish, Waikato Country Cannons and 2016 finalists Waikato Wizards.
Waikato Country has had a very successful first season in the WBC losing just two games in the regular season. With an experienced core group that includes Breana Jones, Freda Rewai, Chelsea Savage and Corban Metekingi, they can be expected to mount a serious challenge this week.
2016 Tall Fern Sariah Penese sits second on the WBC scoring list averaging 18 points a game for Capital Swish.
Leah Mafua (14.5 points and 5.6 rebounds per game) and Grace Simi Vaofusi (8.0ppg) have also been in good form this season.
Well coached by Nixon Penese, Capital will be keen to overcome one or both Waikato teams and claim a place in Friday’s semi-final draw.
Unfortunately Waikato Wizards will be without the competitions leading scorer and rebounder. Charlisse Leger-Walker is averaging 21.2 points and 9.8 rebounds this season, but international duty beckons for the 15 year-old guard. She will be heading to Guam on Friday with the New Zealand Under 18 team for the Fiba Oceania Championships.
Without Leger-Walker much of the backcourt workload will fall on the talented duo of Alyssa Hirawani and Stirling Pitman. Also experienced forward Miriam Stevens is having another good season as is fellow forward Kelcy Ballantyne.
Coach Leanne Walker is proud of the Wizards 9-1 record.
“It is a pretty young team but I’m really pleased with the progress they are making. I think, more than anything, I’m happy with the way they just stay in the game, they don’t worry about the last play, they just focus on the next thing.
“I like the intensity in the team and the youngsters are stepping up to the mark. In saying that, the likes of Miriam and Kelcy are good experienced defensive anchors for us and along with Tash (Lenden) they set a good platform for us. It’s good for the youngsters to have that platform to work from. The experienced players provide intensity, defensive hustle and positive talk for the team which is a big help.”
Coach Walker believes it is an even competition this year.
“Our first goal was to make the top six and that is ticked off. The team has come along well and, although we will have a couple of players missing, they know our systems and just need to remain hungry and intense, but more importantly they just have to work for each other.
“It is really open, any of the top six can win it and it will be just a case of who can bring their A-game on the day,” Walker added.
The Plate competition is wide open and all five teams will fancy their chances of lifting the trophy on Saturday.
Auckland Lady Rangers will hope to have Kezia Kelly available to join Stevie Theyers and Shauna Povey in the backcourt.
Rotorua Lady Vols have been well served by Matngiroa Flavell, Awatea Leach and Pareunuora Pene this season and the trio will be keen to impress again this week.
Tauranga City Coasters boast two of the leading scorers in the competition in their lineup. Briarley Rogers 15.9 points per game and Maka Daysh 16.8 points per outing.
With Daysh also leading Tauranga City’s rebounding count at 6.0 boards per game, her inside presence has troubled all teams this season and it will be no different this week.
Te Tai Tokerau Phoenix travel south with the form of Jeannie Cameron, Truly Harding and Leylanni Camerona-Tana, all of which will be key to their success.
A number of teams have been affected by international call-ups but none more heavily than Harbour Breeze. Deena Franklin, Georgia Agnew and Zara Jillings have all headed off with the Tall Ferns leaving Harbour dependent on the efforts of Georgia Perrott-Hunt, Shanee Kiriau and Anna Lacey.
WBC Standings at end of regular season:
9-1 Alloyfold Canterbury Wildcats
9-1 Waikato Wizards
8-2 Waikato Country Cannons
7-3 Site Weld Otago Goldrush
6-4 Taranaki Thunder
5-5 Capital Swish
5-5 Harbour Breeze
3-7 Auckland Lady Rangers
2-8 Tauranga City Coasters
1-9 Rotorua Lady Vols
0-10 Te Tai Tokerau Phoenix
To check out the draw, stats, livestreamed games go HERE.
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