Sara Blicavs flying into the new WNBL season
As we dive into the WNBL’s monumental 40th season, Sara Blicavs is at the forefront and raring to go for league newcomers Southside Flyers.
Fresh off the back of a bronze medal at the FIBA Asia Cup and a huge season with the Geelong Supercats in the inaugural NBL1 season, you would never have guessed she was confined to the sidelines with a debilitating injury not that long ago.
Having gone down to an horrific ACL injury in November 2017, the damage can only be described as catastrophic for anyone, let alone a professional basketballer whose livelihood depends on it.
In chatting with The Pick and Roll, she couldn’t have imagined the roller coaster she would ride as a result of her injury, but fast forward nearly two years, and she’s back in the elite of Australian women’s basketball and primed for the new season ahead with a richer outlook on life.
“I’m feeling physically quite good, consistently playing and training again every day has been really good,” explained Blicavs. “Still a tiny bit awkward in some little areas, but I’m constantly learning how to play basketball again every day.
“I’m really looking after myself now, not just the rehab but taking care after training and playing, icing properly, those extra little things. Mum and Dad also gave me some great insight into taking care of your body as they’ve had their own injuries as well.”
A terrific season both individually and collectively with the Geelong Supercats saw Blicavs recalled into the Opals squad for the FIBA Asia Cup held in India. The reintroduction to the rigours of international basketball was a shock to the system, but she boldly embraced the challenge and the country she found herself in.
“I was so lucky to have faith from the coaches to be called back into the squad, it was really intense basketball,” she added. “Playing against Asian teams is really fast paced but being back in the environment was such a great experience.
“India was very different but a beautiful place. There are some huge differences to what we know here in Australia. The traffic is crazy, the population in Bengalore is one third of Australia crammed into one city. There was definitely some culture shock, but it’s a great place and a real eye opener – makes you appreciate home.”
Blicavs’ return to the international stage yielded a bronze medal and was this week included in the extended squad of 19 for the FIBA Asia-Oceania Pre-Olympic Qualifiers in November. While Australia’s hope of gold weren’t meant to be at the Asia Cup, Blicavs is thrilled to be back in with the best of Australian basketballers. She revealed that she’s taking her new approach to basketball into a season that represents a fresh chance with a new yet familiar team.
During the offseason, the former Dandenong Rangers underwent wholesale changes to form the newly minted Southside Flyers for the WNBL 2019/20 season. They will pay homage to their predecessors by basing their operations and games at Dandenong Stadium.
Having a longstanding history herself at Dandenong as part of the Rangers, Blicavs expressed her absolute delight with the changeover, both aesthetically and operationally, and can’t wait to sink her teeth into the new season with the Flyers franchise.
“It’s been a huge change, with Gerry Ryan having taken ownership of the club. He’s not just invested in us, but he’s very supportive of women’s sport and the whole set up feels very professional. The stadium has been redone, it’s absolutely unreal. I think teal is very pretty!”
As much as the club may have progressed in recent times, the full squad experienced limited time together in the weeks leading up to the season opener. Blicavs and Jenna O’Hea spent time playing with the Opals, Lelani Mitchell and Mercedes Russell finished off their WNBA campaigns, and Bec Cole flaunted her talents at the Aurora Games and the 3×3 Women’s Series in Tokyo.
Despite the interrupted preparations, Blicavs reveals her enjoyment playing under new head coach Cheryl Chambers. The former WNBL star has hit the ground running at the helm, and Blicavs has found Chambers’ approach refreshing leading up to their opening game
“Every team takes their culture very seriously, but the actual environment is very easy going and relaxed. Cheryl has been a coach for a long time and she’s very inspiring in her approach. She gets straight to the point and she doesn’t have to yell to get things across.
“We’ve got a very unique squad. Cheryl has recruited a group of players that have different outlooks on life and do different things outside of basketball, so it’s nice to have a really diverse blend. I’m calling it early; with the squad we have we’ll be in the conversation for a championship, so get on board!”
Considering the patchy preseason, the Southside Flyers rallied together almost seamlessly in their first game of the season against an injury depleted Townsville Fire. Having an abundance of options at almost every position, Southside shared the workload effortlessly and got off to a flying start by taking a promising 81-72 victory.
Blicavs poured in 13 points, 3 rebounds and 1 assist, including a treble of very composed three pointers to give the Flyers some big swings of momentum early in the game. She confesses the high intensity nature of her game can get the better of her at times, having recorded 5 turnovers, but remains adamant that it won’t be a continuing trend.
“Sometimes I can get sucked into the intensity of a game and play a bit erratically. One of my biggest takeaways from playing with the Opals this year was to take my time and breathe when I get the ball, and just take a moment to assess every option on the court.
“I don’t have huge expectations ahead of this season. I know it’s a little cliche, but it’s true when I say my focus is to keep improving every day, playing consistently and taking what comes to me naturally. My injury obviously changed my whole approach but it’s all been for the better.”
Aside from the adjustments to her game and approach to her training, one of Blicavs’ biggest changes has come away from the court with the recent arrival of her baby nephew.
On Friday October 4, her brother Kris and his wife Stephanie (nee Cumming) welcomed Arlo into the world, and Sara has fallen in love with the latest addition to the Blicavs household. Arlo is born into a family of sporting royalty, with professional athletes in his grandparents Karen [WNBL, Opals] and Andris [Boomers], uncle Mark Blicavs [Geelong Cats, AFL], Aunty Sara [Southside, Opals] and parents Kris [Sunbury Jets, Big V] and Steph [Adelaide, Opals].
“I’ve never been clucky when it comes to kids, but Arlo has changed everything. He’s my whole world and I see so much of Kris in that boy. They just give you a whole other perspective that there’s so much more to life, I love him to bits.
“He’s just had his week old birthday, and he’s got a little Southside jersey on the way.”
Blicavs’ year has continually been on the upward trend, but she will no doubt be buoyed by the culmination of a bronze medal at the FIBA Asia Cup, a first win with the Flyers and the birth of nephew Arlo in the space of just under a month. It’s undoubtedly a special time for a unique player, who still has plenty of success to achieve in her already colourful career.
Blicavs and the Flyers will next take on the Perth Lynx at Dandenong Basketball Stadium this Thursday night, with the live stream available via the WNBL website.