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Lauren Nicholson: The two-way star is now a two-time WNBL Champion
Now a two-time WNBL Champion, Lauren Nicholson was vital in Townsville's dominant run to the glory and solidified herself as one of the best guards in the country.
The Townsville Fire and Lauren Nicholson have been a match made in heaven since the star Australian guard joined the club in 2020. Since then, the Fire have competed in two Grand Finals, including winning the 2023 WNBL Championship last month and Nicholson has been front and centre through it all.
Image credit: Michelle Couling Photography
A defensive dynamo who is just as deadly on the offensive end with her three-point shooting and ability to drive to the bucket, Nicholson could sense in pre-season that the squad assembled in Townsville was capable of doing great things.
“In the preseason I felt really confident that we were going to go deep into the season, just with who Shannon [Seebohm] had recruited and the type of people that they were, just really great people,” Nicholson said.
“I think any great team has to have a few early losses, probably bad losses. I know the last loss we had was against Adelaide in Adelaide and that one really, really hurt and I felt like from that point on, it could’ve gone one way or the other.
“We got the next win in Canberra and from then on we just found some form and you could really feel that with every win something a little more special was on its way.”
Nicholson’s two-way play makes her one of the best guards in the country and while she’s stifling on the defensive end, her efficiency on offence was off the charts in season 2022/23. Averaging just over 15 points per game while shooting 50% from beyond the arc and 47% overall form the field, Nicholson made defences pay at every opportunity.
As the wins piled up and Townsville answered every challenge from rivals, it became apparent to onlookers that the Fire was the team to beat and they would leave no doubt about their credentials as they reeled off 16 wins in a row on their way to the Championship.
For Nicholson, who won the 2017 WNBL Championship with the Sydney Uni Flames, she could sense the similarities between the two Championship-winning campaigns as the Flames won their final 12 games of that season to claim the trophy.
“It honestly felt the same and I do fully believe that you can feel when you're going win a championship” she said.
“I think with Townsville in 2020 we knew that we had a chance, but I didn't quite feel the same way as I did when I played in Sydney and this time. I just had no doubt in my mind that we were going to win it, which was pretty cool.”
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Defeating Southside in the Grand Final was a bit of payback for that 2020 Grand Final loss and Nicholson knew the drive and desire of her squad was where it needed to be in that series.
“I think there’s always a bit of hunger to get one back on Southside,” she said.
“They're a really great team and they have been for a lot of years. We definitely wanted it really badly and I'm glad it was a three-game series this time too, I think that makes it far more exciting.”
Speaking of the Championship-clinching Game 2 in Melbourne, Nicholson enjoyed the physicality of the game and the way the referees let both teams battle it out with everything on the line.
“I think that was the most physical game I played all year,” she said. “It was cool though, I thought the refs did a good job in that game of letting things go on both ends, and I like playing like that, especially in finals basketball, it makes it way more competitive.”
Physicality and defensive grit has become synonymous with Nicholson, highlighted by her being named WNBL Defensive Player of the Year in 2019, and playing alongside Steph Reid in the backcourt is enough to give opposition guards nightmares.
The duo formed one of the best backcourts in the league and their ability to get the job done on both ends of the court was vital to Townsville’s success.
“We spoke about what we could bring on the defensive end a lot. I mean Steph does most of the work, I'm not going to lie – she gets after it, gets after the other team's point guard,” she said with a laugh.
“I'm hoping that playing against both of us is difficult for other teams and we definitely try to make it as difficult as possible. We do have more of a focus on that end and let the offence come from that.”
With Nicholson and Reid making life hell for opposing guards, the addition of Shyla Heal with seven games to play in the regular season only added to more fuel to the fire. Nicholson spoke about the intense trainings and fierce battles as the star-studded Townsville team made each other better.
“Practices all year were so hard, I feel like they were harder than the games, especially with Shyla coming in, she would match up on Steph every day and that was tough for both of them,” she said.
“For Karlie [Samuelson] and I, we had Courtney [Woods] as well and I feel like she's just this secret weapon that we've had in Townsville for a while now and she's come up big in a lot of games when we’ve needed her to step up. She’s tough in training too!”
Image credit: Michelle Couling Photography
With coach Shannon Seebohm – 2023 WNBL Coach of the Year – leading the way, Townsville locked in on defence and let it flow on offence. Outscoring their opponents by an average of 15 points per game over their 16-game winning streak, the Fire were simply unstoppable. Nicholson spoke about what Seebohm brings to the table as coach.
“Initially, the reason I moved to Townsville was to play for him,” she said.
“I knew how good he was and how good he was going to continue to be. He's honestly just the smartest basketball coach I've ever played for and just a really great person too. He does a good job with all players just making them feel like they're a part of it.
“There are still some things that I feel like I can get so much better at, which is cool and I think playing under Shannon has really made me realise that. There's just so much to learn and I feel like I've learnt more about basketball in the last three years than my whole life, which is crazy to think being 30.”
Having played in the WNBL for a number of years, Nicholson understands the league better than most and she believes the league is building momentum towards bigger and better things.
“I felt it more so this season than I ever have,” she said.
“I think there's been a lot more exposure of our sport – even though I do think there's a long way to go – but everywhere we played had people coming to watch and a lot more kids coming to watch, which was really cool to see.
“I know in Townsville it was the most attended year that we've ever had, which was awesome. I just hope it continues, I hope next season there’s more and more as well.”
The Townsville faithful is something else and seeing a large contingent of orange in the stands at Game 2 in Melbourne as the Fire claimed the Championship proved that point. When the squad arrived home, the city welcomed them with a parade. It was a moment to savour.
“We had a parade through the town and it was so great,” she said.
“It was a paint the town orange parade and there were so many people that came out to support us dressed in orange and it was just really awesome, especially being in a town like Townsville.
“The whole community gets behind the Fire one hundred per cent of the time, whether things are going well or if they're not going so well, they're all really invested.”
With a hectic schedule, Nicholson soaked in the Championship celebrations but focus quickly shifts as the world of basketball never stops. Having attended Opals camp in Canberra this past week, Nicholson hopes to one day make an Opals squad for a major tournament, and there’s no doubt her WNBL season did no harm to those chances.
“I've told myself I can only control what I can control, and I just want to continue to have good seasons and then hopefully one day I’ll crack into a major tournament at some point,” she said.
“Until then, I'll just keep trying to have good seasons and do well at the camps.”
Next up for Nicholson is the NBL1 East season, where she’ll be playing for the Sutherland Sharks. The NBL1 gives her the opportunity to refine her game in preparation for another WNBL season.
“I love playing for the Sharks and playing in my hometown,” she said.
“I just love playing alongside young girls that when I was coming through, they were just babies, so it’s pretty cool. I want to have a good season there but also be able to take some time and have a bit of a break, just do some one-on-one training, work on some things that I need to and get ready again for the WNBL.
“It’s just the perfect place for me to be able to do that.”
This story has been supported by the WNBL. Visit their official website wnbl.basketball for all the latest news, fixtures and to book tickets.