WNBL: 16 years later, Flames get their fairytale ending
In 2001, Belinda Snell helped the Sydney Panthers win the elusive WNBL Championship as a young 20-year-old. 16 years later, Sydney, the team yet to win a Championship since ’01 and the victims of 6 Grand Final losses, rewrote history on Friday night and became the 2016/17 WNBL Champions, led by their captain Belinda Snell.
Game 2 of the Grand Final series saw both teams close in defensively after allowing both sides to score far too many points in Game 1.
Dandenong came out with a purpose, with captain Aimie Clydesdale setting the tone with some big shots. Steph Cumming provided the intensity on both ends and also made some big, momentum-shifting plays.
However a rebounding storm was about to take Dandenong’s hopes for a championship from them, with huge efforts on the boards from Belinda Snell, Jennifer Hamson, Lauren Nicholson and Tahlia Tupaea giving Sydney far more opportunities.
The Grand Final MVP was awarded to Leilani Mitchell, who’s slick skills and damaging shooting saw her control the game with ease. Mitchell was the cause of Dandenong’s woes, with her ability to get through the on-ball screens giving her the freedom to find open players or open shots for herself. Mitchell finished up on 15 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists for Game 2.
The inspiration however, was all in Belinda Snell’s performance. She continued to knock down her big shots, but her intensity on the boards and her defensive plays were brilliant and it proved how much of a leader she is to the Flames. Snell finished on 15 points, 11 rebounds, 2 assists and 4 steals.
Lauren Nicholson was exciting off the bench, her aggression being a real factor in her 7 points and 7 rebounds total.
Jennifer Hamson continued to find a way inside and used her height especially towards the end of the match. Hamson finished on 9 points and 8 rebounds.
Despite being in foul trouble, Asia Taylor remained aggressive and hungry for the ball throughout. Finishing up on 11 points and 5 rebounds, Taylor has sure made a mark in the WNBL this entire season.
There were good efforts across the board for Dandenong too and they certainly have a bright future ahead of them being quite a young team, but they gave Sydney too many opportunities in the second half and as we’ve seen all season, give the Flames an inch and they’ll find a way to win.
Sara Blicavs found some rhythm and finished on 10 points and 6 rebounds. But the other major story of the night was that this was Jacinta Kennedy’s final game for her career, and whilst it wasn’t a fairytale ending she or her teammates would of been hoping for her, it won’t detract from her imprint on Australian basketball.
Kennedy began her career with the Rangers back in 1998, and throughout her long journey she’s pulled in 3 WNBL Championships, a WNBL Grand Final MVP Award in 2005 and made in the WNBL’S All-Star Five on two occasions in 2004, and ’06. She represented Australia at the 2001 World Championships for Junior Women, and at the 2006 Commonwealth Games held in Melbourne where the Opals won a Gold medal.
The Championship is a massive credit to Sydney’s off-season work, in getting the right fit of players together and also, securing a new head coach in Cheryl Chambers. Chambers has done a terrific job for the Sydney Flames this year, and we’ve heard so many times this season how her players just love playing for her.
Speaking to News Corp after the game, Chambers was elated with pride: “What a super group, what a super result. It’s a very special moment for all of them. They have been a pleasure to coach, a pleasure to be involved in.”
Want to re-watch the Flames make history? Catch the entire Game 2 here: