SEABL 2015: Women's preview

With the 2015 season just a few days away, The Pick and Roll’s SEABL experts, Grant Richardson and Tom Harrison, have cast their eye over the league and made their predictions for what promises to be another hotly contested year of competition.

East Conference

Conference Champions

Ballarat- The battle for the top of the East Conference should be extremely tight and in such a close race, a side like Ballarat could surprise. They have lost Steph Cumming, the league’s second best scorer from 2014, but added three pivotal pieces in Olivia Thompson, Shanae Greaves and Jess May. If she is not already, Thompson will soon be a superstar of the competition while she has previous experience with Greaves and May, having played with them for the Melbourne Boomers. That could come in handy early in the year as Ballarat might get a jump on other sides that require some time to gel.

Dandenong- This team just keeps on performing year after year, having reached the playoffs an incredible six years in a row and taking out the major prize in three of those years. It will be hard for any team to knock this experienced roster off top spot, they know what it takes to win and are willing to put in the work to get them there. Once again, the Rangers have retained their list (other then Lauren Scherf) to push for seven straight finals appearances. This team has tasted success and will not stop until they lift that trophy once again.

Outside Chance

Nunawading- The Spectres boasted one of the deepest rosters last season with youngsters Alanna Smith and Hanna Zavecz shining off the bench. Without those two as well as Rebecca Allen, Nunawading will be in a dogfight for a top four position this year. The signing of Nicole Romeo is a big tick but it is tough to see where their offence will come from besides her and Bec Cole. The Spectres have missed the playoffs just once since 2008 and can never be discounted but they could face unheralded challenges this time around.

Brisbane- The champions from last season will be looking for a repeat but it will be tough without Olivia Thompson. They have brought in a replacement to cover the major loss, with Emma McDonald joining for the 2015 season while their deep roster will be led by Peta Sinclair at the helm and Sarah Graham on the court. Although the East Conference will be a tight race, no one can rule out the reigning champions.

Making Up The Numbers

Albury/Wodonga- To say the Lady Bandits have had a horror run over the past three years would be an understatement, with their regular season record sitting at 5-71. With two of their top four scorers from last year in Lauren Angel and Sophie Kleeman departing, their fortunes for 2015 are almost entirely dependant on their imports. Kristina Baltic is a talent in the post but will arrive late while Alison Bouman will anchor a defence in dire need of a rim protector. Reaching the finals does not need to be an aim for this side but they do need to remain consistently competitive throughout the year.

Players to Watch

Olivia Thompson- She was a standout performer during the 2014 season, winning the Championship and Youth Player of the Year award while finishing in the top ten for points and rebounds. Her stature has only grown since, thanks to a successful stint with the Melbourne Boomers during the SEABL off-season. With a tank that allows her to play 30-35 minutes every night and an almost un-guardable post-game, Thompson could truly take over the competition this year.

Sara Blicavs- With the loss of Candice Rogers and Kate Willey, Geelong’s success rides almost entirely on the shoulders of Blicavs. She led the Lady Supercats in scoring last year and showed promise with the Bendigo Spirit during the off-season. However, she will need to not only dominate the scoreboard but the rebounds as well if Geelong are going to contend in 2015 and although it isn’t beyond Blicavs’ ability, her performance will be a point of emphasis this season.

Kristina Baltic- The Bandits have pulled off a massive off-season signing, bringing in 23 year old Serbian, Kristina Baltic. Coach Michael Brookens sought out the best possible player from overseas and playing the power forward position, she will fit in nicely with the rest of her team. Coming off a Serbian League Finals MVP, Baltic looks to be a dominant force but will make the trip over to Australia once she has completed her time in the French league.

South Conference

Conference Champions

Hobart- The Lady Chargers have maintained the majority of the same list that took them to the Championship Game last season but the absence of Cayla Francis leaves a big hole. After starting 2014 with a 6-5 record, Francis arrived and helped them win 14 of their final 17 games. Kathleen Scheer and Izzy Chilcott are still one of the most dominant front court pairings in the league though while the inclusion of Amy Kame will bolster their back court scoring. Kame has also previously played with Chilcott and Klara Wischer which could give Hobart a jump on their rivals early in the year.

Kilsyth- The Lady Cobras will be looking to take advantage of their diverse list as they have a great mix of offensive and defensive players. Although the loss of Louella Tomlinson will hurt their rim protection, they have brought in the imposing 190cm forward Cassie Sant. Chantella Perera has returned after a stint in Bendigo and will help them with some solid scoring performances alongside Steph Cumming. These few changes mean it might take time for the team to come together but we will know if they are serious contenders after they take on Dandenong and Frankston in the first two rounds.

Outside Chance

Bendigo- The Lady Braves have made the playoffs for an incredible nine straight seasons and reached the Conference Final last year but have been hit very hard in the off-season with a number of quality players departing. From the frontcourt, Bendigo lost Lauren King, LaSondra Barrett and Alex Bunton while the backcourt was also affected with the loss of Chantella Perera and Heather Oliver. Not all the news is bad for the team, with former Lady Brave Kelly Wilson returning from Knox. The new look team will once again be aiming for the finals and although it may be tough with an almost completely new roster, you can never discount Bendigo.

Frankston- Almost 75% of Frankston’s points last season came from just three players- Nicole Romeo, Maddie Garrick and Kelly Bowen. While this proved mostly successful through the regular season, the Lady Blues were bundled out of the playoffs in straight sets. Their side looks a lot more balanced this year with Patrice McKenzie coming in for Romeo. Although they will miss her production, Garrick was the 2014 league MVP and can cover Romeo’s scoring input while McKenzie will help them defensively as well as take the focus away from Bowen who should get easier looks closer to the basket.

Making Up the Numbers

Canberra- For such a young side, the Capitals showed great fight all through last season and were rewarded with two wins from their final three matches. They have added experience with Jess Bibby, a veteran of the WNBL as well as the Australian national team. With her running the point, Canberra should show a lot more poise on court but the season will still be a tough slog. Their main goals will be to improve on last year’s 4-20 record and to pick up a win on the road.

Players to Watch

Kelly Wilson- Having played for Knox for the past three seasons, Wilson will re-join her former club Bendigo where she won the 2009 league MVP averaging an amazing 26 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists. Wilson does have both WNBL and national team commitments that could interrupt her season so the Bendigo faithful shouldn’t miss any chance they get to see her in action.

Stacia Robertson- Robertson is the final piece in the Bendigo roster, coming from High Point University in the United States. She will be a fantastic frontcourt option for the team as she not only scores but knows where to find the rebounds. In her first professional league, Robertson will be looking to make a big impression and spring board her career from there.

Emilee Harmon and Mikaela Ruef- Despite missing the finals for a fourth straight year, Launceston showed significant improvement in 2014 and a Harmon, Ruef front court is an intimidating prospect for 2015. Harmon (188cm) averaged 20 points and 11 rebounds last year while Ruef (190cm) has already starred for Ohio State and Stanford in the USA while contributing 10 points and 8 boards in the WNBL. Expect the offensive glass to be dominated by these two all season as Launceston receive a glutton of second chance points.