A thrilling conclusion to the 2018 SEABL season saw the Nunawading Spectres steal first place, while the Bendigo Lady Braves made history by going through the season undefeated with a 20-0 record.
With the top 8 positions for the finals all set, the award winners have been announced too. Melbourne Tigers guard Tom Wilson was named MVP, while Launceston Tornadoes star Lauren Nicholson earned the women's equivalent to cap off a stellar season.
Nunawading took care of business against the Bendigo Braves at the Graveyard, and when a depleted Kilsyth Cobras were upset 104-89 on the road to Albury-Wodonga, the Spectres found themselves elevated into first place at the conclusion of the regular season.
Coach of the Year Dave Biwer will be hoping to get his full Spectres squad back for this weeks' finals, while the Cobras have a multitude of players set to return also, including Defensive Player of the Year Owen Odigie.
Yet the hottest team heading into the 2018 finals is the Hobart Chargers, riding a 7 game winning streak to move up into third position. All-SEABL First Team recipients Tre Nichols and Craig Moller have formed a potent one-two punch for the Tasmanian side.
Reigning champion Mount Gambier's run towards a finals berth to an end at the hands of Sandringham in their final game of the season. The Pioneers just could not get things going against the Sabres, and for the first time in a long while, Mount Gambier will not be playing finals in 2018.
Geelong won four of their last 5 games to finish strongly to secure fifth place behind Ballarat. The Miners have enjoyed a very good year, with Melbourne United guard Peter Hooley earning All-SEABL First Team selection. Ballarat enjoyed six players averaging double figures in scoring, and with that kind of spread they could enjoy a deep finals run. Geelong are a veteran savvy team with Nathan Herbert at the helm, and both Victorian country sides could pose trouble for the top 3 teams if given an opportunity.
Bendigo and North West Tasmania limped into the finals with last round losses. Bendigo were outclassed by the Spectres and have now lost two of their last 3 games, while the Mason Brag-led Tall Timbers have suffered the same fate, albeit losing their last two.
Bendigo completed one of the great SEABL seasons ever, going through the 2018 SEABL season with an unblemished record after a convincing win against third placed Nunawading on Saturday evening at the Graveyard.
Despite trailing at the end of the first quarter, the Lady Braves pulled away from the Spectres to complete their perfect regular season. Nadeen Payne piled on 22 points with 8 rebounds and 4 assists, while Kelly Wilson went close to a triple double after compiling 7 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists, as the Lady Braves responded to every challenged by one of their closest rivals this season.
Kelly Wilson | Credit: crossoverphotography.com
Payne and Wilson have been the driving force behind a very deep and talented Bendigo roster, with both earning All-SEABL First Team selection, while the latter also earned the Golden Hands Award for her brilliant year. Yet Bendigo are far from a two-women side, boasting the likes of Gabe Richards, Ashleigh Karaitiana, Kara Tessari and Bianca Dufelmeier to name just the standouts. Under the guidance of Coach of the Year Megan Moody, became the competition benchmark, and now have every other team in the top 8 aiming to inflict a first loss of the season at a time when wins matter the most.
In between Bendigo and Marena Whittle's Nunawading is Kilsyth, who guaranteed themselves second place after dismantling Albury-Wodonga up on the border. The Cobras will be looking forward to welcoming back Steph Blicavs into their line-up for the finals after having been on tour overseas with the Opals, and may well be the side with the best credentials and talent to challenge the Lady Braves in the 2018 finals.
Launceston finished in fourth and enter their playoff campaign on the back of three quality wins, including against Diamond Valley (5th), Melbourne Tigers (6th) and Hobart in the found round to relegate them to ninth. The Tornadoes starting 5 is as good as anyone's, lead by league MVP Lauren Nicholson who has enjoyed her best SEABL season to date. She led the league in scoring with 25 points and 8.8 rebounds per game, securing 122 votes from the referees and coaches to earn the accolade.
Diamond Valley enter the finals having won 7 of their last 8 games, their loss coming at the hands of the Tornadoes. As a new team, they have come together nicely, with the twin-towers of Lauren Scherf and Ezi Magbegor dominating the paint. Melbourne back-court duo of Bec Cole and Monique Conti have powered the Tigers into sixth position, with their run home boasting a road win over the Spectres.
Sandringham held onto seventh place despite dropping their last two at home after having upset Kilsyth. Rachel Jarry and Jasmine Simmons have been outstanding for the Sabres, a side that has shown they can beat anyone when they are clicking.
Rounding out the top 8 are Geelong who finished off the season strongly, with 3 wins out of their last 4 games, with their loss against the juggernaut that has been Bendigo. The Supercats showed their experience in managing to qualify for the finals, and have wins against Diamond Valley and Kilsyth in the bag this season.
2018 Award Winners
MVP: Tom Wilson (Melbourne Tigers) and Lauren Nicholson (Launceston Tornadoes)
Coach of the Year: David Biwer (Nunadawing Spectres) and Megan Moody (Bendigo Braves)
Defensive Player of the Year: Owen Odigie (Kilsyth Cobras) and Louella Tomlinson (Melbourne Tigers)
Australian Youth Player of the Year: Tom Wilson (Melbourne Tigers) and Ezi Magbegor (Diamond Valley Eagles)
All-SEABL First Team: Tre Nichols (Hobart Chargers), Peter Hooley (Ballarat Miners), Craig Moller (Hobart Chargers), Tom Wilson (Melbourne Tigers) and Ray Turner (Bendigo Braves)
Lauren Nicholson (Launceston Tornadoes), Nadeen Payne (Bendigo Braves), Lauren Scherf (Diamond Valley Eagles) and Kelly Wilson (Bendigo Braves).
All-SEABL Second Team: Isaac Turner (Kilsyth Cobras), Jeremy Kendle (Bendigo Braves), Mason Bragg (NW Tasmania Thunder), Tom Wright (Nunawading Spectres) and Daniel Trist (Frankston Blues)
Bec Cole (Melbourne Tigers), Keely Froling (Canberra Capitals), Emilee Harmon (Albury/Wodonga Lady Bandits), Rachel Jarry (Sandringham Sabres) and Alex Wilson (Launceston Tornadoes)
Leading Scorers: Tre Nichols (Hobart Chargers) and Lauren Nicholson (Launceston Tornades)
Leading Rebounders: Lauren Scherf (Diamond Valley Eagles) and Craig Moller (Hobart Chargers)
Golden Hands: Lucas Barker (Dandenong Rangers) and Kelly Wilson (Bendigo Braves)
Club of the Year: Nunawading Spectres