2017 Women's SBL season preview

THE 2017 Women's SBL season is shaping up as an exciting one with the majority of teams stocking up with one or two restricted players and with some of the best local talent that has been in the league in a long time.

The season all gets underway this Friday night and to get prepared for that, we've got a full rundown on how the teams are shaping up and how championship-winning coach Vlad Alava and the SBL's man about town Matt Cecins see the season shaping up.

Click here for all your Women's SBL news throughout the season

COCKBURN COUGARS
Coach: John Triscari
Last year: 9-13 (lost quarter finals)
In: Kersten Mitchell (restricted), Steph Jones, Lauren Gandini, Brianna Moyes, Lizel Buckley
Out: Candace Williams, Cherridy Thornton

EXPERT COMMENTS
VLAD ALAVA
Like last year, a lot will depend on how good the imports are this year. Securing Steph Jones back in Cougar colours certainly helps address the size issues they had last season as will the reputed signing of a genuine import big. Brianna Moyes is a tidy get, she is a dynamic PG who is very good at state league level and addresses the depth in their back court. Lizel Buckley’s return helps- she has always been serviceable as a player over the years. Losing stats-stuffer Candace Williams will mean more players will need to assume responsibility in all areas of the court.

MATT CECINS
The Cougars are stacked with experienced guards this season, however there is a distinct lack of height. John Triscari has signed talented players such as Mitchell, Moyes and Buckley, but how quickly they gel together as a team will be decisive. Cockburn scraped into the playoffs last season and will have to fight tooth and nail again to make the postseason in 2017.

EAST PERTH EAGLES
Coach: Narelle Henry
Last year: 2-20 (11th)
In: Abbey Duinker (restricted), Kaylee Kilpatrick (restricted), Eryn Fisher, Brianna Fisher
Out: Gemma Houghton

EXPERT COMMENTS
VLAD ALAVA
Very hard to get excited about the Eagles this year. Same players as has been over recent years and a lack of proven performers joining the club makes it difficult even for the most passionate of fans to get excited about this year. Adding the Fisher girls adds some youth but there is only so much you can expect from teenagers in your squad. Unless they are stashing away some key signings to spring on the opposition, Eagles will continue to struggle in 2017.

MATT CECINS
Having two restricted players this season will be of great benefit to East Perth, as they statistically had the worst offense in 2016, averaging a paltry 56.9ppg. The addition of Abbey Duinker and Kaylee Kilpatrick will provide instant scoring punch and much needed help on the offensive glass. The Eagles will continue to improve under the coaching of Narelle Henry and they may surprise a few teams this season.

JOONDALUP WOLVES
Grand final heartache a motivator for Lady Wolfpack 
Coach: Craig Friday
Last year: 19-3 (runner-up)
In: Kelli Hayward
Out: Amy Kidner

EXPERT COMMENTS
VLAD ALAVA
The Wolfpack are my early season favourites this year. They have retained all bar one of their key players and while losing Amy Kidner will be a significant loss, in speaking with Coach Craig Friday at the SBL Blitz, he is quite content that they have the personnel to push for 2017. The addition of Kelli Hayward will add more steel, maturity and on-court smarts on a team that already oozes plenty. This year I expect young Chelsea Belcher to continue to blossom as a legitimate SBL player.

MATT CECINS
After finishing as the regular season champions, the understrength Wolves line-up took the Willetton Tigers to the very last play of 2016, and only just fell short. Amy Kidner is a huge loss for a club that prides itself on hard-nosed defending and taking care of the basketball. Joondalup has retained the majority of their core group and welcome the return of WNBL talent Kelli Hayward. Joondalup are one of the frontrunners again this season, have the league's best coach, and will be hungry to win a title that was so agonizingly close last year.

KALAMUNDA EASTERN SUNS
New coach Knowles turns Suns onto up-tempo game style 
Coach: Tom Knowles
Last year: 9-13 (9th)
In: Devanny King (restricted), Jennie Rintala (restricted), Rachel Brooks, Chanah Crugnale, Jewel Williams
Out: Stacey Barr, Carley Mijovic, Sabrina Jeridore

EXPERT COMMENTS
VLAD ALAVA
Replacing Barr and Mijovic with King and Rintala will leave some feeling slightly short changed. However, the Suns have recruited two solid athletes who are proven in the SBL. Rintala will be interesting to watch to see how effective and improved her game has developed since she was last in the league. King held her own without being outstanding last year and she will benefit from knowing and being familiar with the league this time around.

They played a very young squad during the Blitz and it’s clear that there are more players to come in to the team than just the kids that hit the floor earlier this month. The Suns will be the team outside the top four that you don’t want to play. On their night, they will beat more fancied teams. However, I have reservations about their overall depth but it will be good to see how Coach Tom Knowles and his staff guide their team this season.

MATT CECINS
The Suns led the league in three-point attempts and makes last year, but head coach Tom Knowles will have to restructure the game style and the philosophy after the departures of Mijovic, Barr and Jeridore. Tahlia Fejo is one of the most exciting signings in the off-season. Fejo has spent valuable time within the Perth Lynx setup, and was an All-Star in the South Australian Premier League in 2016. Devanny King and Jennie Rintala will deliver solid scoring punch and rebounding for the Suns.

LAKESIDE LIGHTNING
Mansfield backs smaller Lightning to have big impact 
Coach: Craig Mansfield
Last year: 11-11 (lost quarter finals)
In: Sydnee Fipps (restricted), Samantha Roscoe, Paris Duffield
Out: Devanny King, Courtney Byrnes

EXPERT COMMENTS
VLAD ALAVA
Already have heard rave reviews about the new import in Bibra Lake and the addition of former Senators junior Sam Roscoe will ensure that Lakeside have both an inside and outside presence. Roscoe is returning to Australia after four years of Division 1 College at North Dakota University. I expect her to be a dominant force who should not only do well in the SBL but also play WNBL (where remains to be seen).

The loss of local junior and fringe WNBL squad member Courtney Byrnes will mean a significant role will become available to someone new in the squad. Byrnes has been a key player the last few years and her move to SEABL will present Coach Mansfield with the challenge of finding an equally capable if not better option in the back court.

Another team that will rely on its stars and main rotation heavily but in Mansfield’s second season, I’m sure they will be a more potent threat in the competition than they were last year.

MATT CECINS
Until Ash Grant returns the Lightning will need to rely on their speed and ‘small ball’ execution. Reigning MVP Ali Schwagmeyer will again take her game to new heights, after playing through injury last season and still producing standout performances. The departure of Courtney Byrnes will be hard to cover, however Craig Mansfield and the Lightning will be a tough proposition for most teams, and they will continue to improve as the season wears on.

MANDURAH MAGIC
Magic women ready to take next step in 2017 
Coach: Randy Miegel
Last year: 12-10 (lost semi finals)
In: Nici Gilday (restricted), Carly Boag (restricted), Sarah Apostolou
Out: Annette Davis, Adijat Adams

EXPERT COMMENTS
VLAD ALAVA
Last year’s imports have moved on and been replaced by Nici Gilday and Australian Carly Boag. Coach Miegel has done well to keep the main cohort and with the addition of Boag and Gilday, all he will desire is some good health and a chance to keep his stars on the floor. Boag, a former scoring machine in the QBL, comes to Mandurah after several seasons with the Sydney Uni Flames in the WNBL. A star on the rise, she will provide the Magic with more scoring punch to support Milo and size to help B Klasztorny inside. The signing of Gilday will help off-set the backcourt responsibility on Milo while a healthy E Klasztorny rounds off a very nice rotation.

I expect the Mandurah Magic to turn heads this year.

MATT CECINS
The Magic scored the bulk of their points in the paint last season from put-backs, and replacing Adams and Davis will be no easy task. New signing Nici Gilday is set to take the league by storm, keep an eye on her performances each week. If the Klasztorny sisters and Casey Mihovilovich remain fit and healthy the Magic will compete again this season.

PERRY LAKES HAWKS
No playing return as 'Doccy' puts full faith in Lady Hawks 
Coach: Deanna Smith
Last year: 15-7 (lost semi finals)
In: Nat Burton (restricted), Gabby O'Sullivan, Danika Pisconeri, Janique Kautsky
Out: Deanna Smith

EXPERT COMMENTS
VLAD ALAVA
The Hawks have certainly recruited well with the return of Nat Burton and adding Gabby O’Sullivan to their line-up. Their roster automatically got better with the addition of those two names although one does think that they might be slightly top-heavy with Emily Burton, Sarah Donovan, Danika Pisconeri all genuine bigs in this league. However, each presents different strengths that will allow Coach Doccy versatility in how they play. Gabby O’Sullivan has the potential to be the recruit of the year after completing her stint in college and on the back of AFLW season, where we can expect her to be in prime fitness.

The biggest out, also has the potential to be the biggest in. The real question being, when will Coach Doccy’s player registration be processed in the SBL GM’s office.

MATT CECINS
Deanna Smith takes over the reigns as a non-playing coach after a decorated playing career. The Hawks lacked offensive rebounding last year and the additions of Nat Burton and Danika Pisconeri will assistance their cause. Perry Lakes has an exciting group of guards in 2017. Jeffers, O’Sullivan, Anthony and young gun Mia Satie will be competing for starting positions. Toni Edmondson is one of the premier athletes in the WSBL, and she will play a crucial role in the title aspirations of the Hawks.

PERTH REDBACKS
No excuses for Redbacks women heading into 2017 
Coach: Keith Horwood
Last year: 10-12 (lost quarter finals)
In: Emilee Harmon (restricted), Gabby Clayton
Out: Gabby O'Sullivan, Ash Gilmore

EXPERT COMMENTS
VLAD ALAVA
Harmon is a legitimate state league star who comes across from SEABL with some impressive numbers. She is dynamic post player who no doubt will impact the SBL in a massive way. She easily offsets the loss of Ashley Gilmore who was serviceable in her return to the SBL after few years of retirement.

Gabby Clayton’s return helps cover Gabby O’Sullivan’s move to the Hawks and she no doubt compliments the backcourt rotation of Mercer, Jones and Donovan.

Will be interesting to see how the loss of Gilmore and addition of Harmon affects Lisa Wallbutton’s overall production this year. She has been down statistically the last two years but I anticipate a more productive season in 2017.

MATT CECINS
Emilee Harmon and Gabby Clayton are exciting additions to the Perth roster this season. Harmon provides an inside scoring presence and Clayton adds much needed speed to the backcourt. The Redbacks are loaded with three point scorers, however their perimeter defense has much room for improvement. Perth were the most foul prone team in 2016, and Keith Horwood will need his starters to stay out of foul trouble, particularly in the frontcourt if they are to make a run at the title in 2017.

ROCKINGHAM FLAMES
Flames restock to go again despite loss of mass star power 
Coach: Ryan Petrik
Last year: 18-4 (lost semi finals)
In: Chastity Reed (restricted), Chelsea Armstrong, Dena English
Out: Sami Whitcomb, Darcee Garbin, Ifunanya Ibekwe, Talisia Bourne, Lizel Buckley

EXPERT COMMENTS
VLAD ALAVA
The loss of Whitcomb and Garbin and to a lesser extent Ibekwe (only because injury didn't allow her to get continuity last year) must be akin to almost thinking rebuild. To put it plainly, that is a whole lot of talent lost. Last season was somewhat of an anomaly in failing to see the Flames reach the Big Dance. Coach Petrik will be hoping that new addition Chastity Reed is cut from the same cloth in productivity as his previous imports in Whitcomb, Ibekwe and even as far back Emma Cannon. She will need to be that and more if the Flames are going to be in the mix this year, especially if they do not pick up a second and equally impressive import. Armstrong and English are decent role players but I feel they just need more quality than what they have- maybe I’ve just been spoilt the last few years.

When you lose the calibre of players that Rockingham have, the easy statement to make is that it will be lean times compared to previous years at the Mike Barnett Centre. However, I’m sure the team will have no issue being the chaser and going about it this time without targets on their backs.

MATT CECINS
Sami Whitcomb is one of the three greatest players to ever play in the WSBL and her absence will be immense. I think the departure of Darcee Garbin will have an equal if not greater impact to the make up and chemistry of the Flames team. Ryan Petrik has signed Dena English who is a versatile scorer and she will suit the Flames style of play. Rockingham retained a solid core group of veterans who know how to win, and despite not being automatic championship contenders this season they will be extremely competitive.

SOUTH WEST SLAMMERS
New Slammers coach daunted yet excited heading into 2017 
Coach: Peter Harper
Last year: 2-20 (wooden spoon)
In: Brittany Hodges (restricted), Tori Dugan, Kate Fielding
Out: Dena English, Brittany Gliddon, Rebecca Preston

EXPERT COMMENTS
VLAD ALAVA
The Slammers had a tough season last year finishing up with the wooden spoon after a season relying on just local girls who were often (and not through lack of effort), out of their depth last season. In 2017, they have secured the services of Hodges, an import big who looks like she is not afraid to mix it up in the contest. However, it won’t be without its challenges with significant turnover of personnel- Brittany Gliddon and Rebecca Preston not suiting up this year along with the move of Dena English up the Forrest Highway to Rockingham. It will also be interesting to see the effect the new recruits have on the game of last season’s standout performer Courtney Bayliss.

New coach Peter Harper will be in for a baptism of fire this year and while expectations outside the team will be low, at least the addition of the experienced Kate Fielding and import Hodges can only help what is a young but talented line-up. The Slammers roster is filled with plenty of talented but unproven youth outside of the south west in the SBL. As is always the case, the challenge is not only to swim with the big fish outside of the south west, but survive in the SBL ocean.

MATT CECINS
New coach Peter Harper has some highly talented younger players coming through the SBL ranks. His first focus will be the tightening of the Slammers defense, as five WSBL teams posted season highs against the South West last year. Courtney Bayliss will shoulder a lot of the scoring workload and Tori Dugan is a great signing at the point guard position. Brittany Hodges will have high expectations placed on her, and she will need to produce on both ends of the floor along with Kate Fielding if the Slammers are to have a successful year.

STIRLING SENATORS
First full session gives Clarke glimpse into Senators potential 
Coach: Glenn Clarke
Last year: 8-14 (10th)
In: Kisha Lee (restricted), Jasmine Martin (restricted), Caitlyn Jones
Out: Kara van Dyke, Chelsea Armstrong, Brianna Fisher, Eryn Fisher

EXPERT COMMENTS
VLAD ALAVA
The Stirling Senators have picked up the services of Kisha Lee, a Lynx squad member and a name familiar to those of us who follow other state leagues around the country. Lee has spent time in Queensland and Victoria in previous years and has always produced attractive stat lines. If she continues with trend in the SBL, the Senators have picked up a nice little gem.

Jasmine Martine ran around the SBL Blitz and will no doubt be better for the run and the few weeks of team training and familiarity with her hew team mates since. It was hard to make any grounding on what she will be like in watching her play, but this is not uncommon of imports during the early season Blitz.

On a local junior front, it was good to see Caitlyn Jones out and about in the Blitz and she displays plenty of promise despite being still eligible for Under 18 basketball. Jones possesses plenty of speed, is solidly fundamentally and has the potential to be a future star.

MATT CECINS
Glenn Clarke has added more poise and experience to a line-up that committed the most turnovers last season. Jasmine Martin will pose a threat to opposing guards, and Kisha Lee is an experienced veteran who has won titles in Austria and England. Caitlyn Jones will be a candidate for the Most Improved Player Award, keep an eye on her rise throughout the season. Amber Land is back and she is one of the most consistent frontcourt players in the WSBL.

WILLETTON TIGERS
Tigers reload in attempt to go back-to-back 
Coach: Simon Parker
Last year: 17-5 (champions)
In: Jessica Hootmann (restricted), Stacey Barr, Gemma Houghton, Shannon Johnson
Out: Louella Tomlinson, Ebony Antonio, Paris Duffield

EXPERT COMMENTS
VLAD ALAVA
The early talk of Sami Whitcomb moving to the Willetton and her subsequent move to the WNBA must be like ripping a prized toy out of baby’s hand on Christmas morning. The defending champions were mooted to have secured the services of one of the country’s leading players only to bid her adieu and good luck as she chases her WNBA dream. While no one can begrudge her of that of course, it will still go down as the big “what might have been” in SBL folklore.

Instead, Coach Parker will now have to settle with Jessica Hootmann and Stacey Barr to help offset the loss of Louella Tomlinson and Ebony Antonio. While import Hootmann is a bit of an unknown to yours truly, an opposition coach openly shared with me that they were in the running for Hootmann’s services. It’s not often that untried imports are chased by two clubs in the one season. That’s good enough for me to suggest that she might know a thing or two about the game. Barr was handy for the Suns last year and joining the defending premiers will only enhance her playmaking abilities and performances as she plays on a deeper roster.

The defending Champions will present a big case for back to back premierships.

MATT CECINS
The low block intimidation and shot blocking of Louella Tomlinson will be missing, as is Ebony Antonio, who is one of the better two-way players in the WSBL. The Tigers will still have tall timber under the basket with Jessica Hootmann, Harper, Lobb and Johnson. Stacey Barr is an unbelievable signing for the defending champions, as they now have a legitimate three-point threat. Kate Malpass is one of the most versatile players in the league and will lead from the front again for Willetton. The Tigers are a massive chance to go back-to-back.

HOW THE EXPERTS SEE IT
VLAD ALAVA
Joondalup Wolves
Willetton Tigers
Mandurah Magic
Perry Lakes Hawks
Perth Redbacks
Lakeside Lightning
Rockingham Flames
Stirling Senators
Cockburn Cougars
Kalamunda Eastern Suns
South West Slammers
East Perth Eagles

Champions: Joondalup Wolves
Wooden spoon: East Perth Eagles
MVP: Harmon (Redbacks) or Wischer (Wolves)
Most Improved: Gabby O’Sullivan

MATT CECINS
Joondalup Wolves
Willetton Tigers
Perry Lakes Hawks
Lakeside Lightning
Mandurah Magic
Perth Redbacks
Rockingham Flames
Cockburn Cougars
Stirling Senators
Kalamunda Eastern Suns
East Perth Eagles
South West Slammers

Champions: Joondalup Wolves
Wooden spoon: South West Slammers
MVP: Ali Schwagmeyer
Most Improved: Mia Satie
What to watch for: A shift in power within the WSBL. The Flames have been the benchmark for the last couple of seasons, but with a great blend of star veterans and promising younger players, the Wolves are set for a spell at the top of the WSBL tree.




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