2017 Waratah Championship Preview

With a host of changes across the league and the inclusion of Australian basketball legends Suzy Batkovic and Belinda Snell, it is an exciting time for the Waratah Championship League. We run through all 9 teams and break down their chances.

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Bankstown Bruins

Last Season: 9th (0-16)
Major Arrivals: Jaydene Barnes, Adrianne Bywater, Ellie Gleeson (Comets), Briana Maimone, Casey Samuels, Rhiaan Te-Hira (Comets)
Departures: Kelly Wells (Mandurah SBL)

Last year’s winless season looks to be simply an aberration as the Bruins welcome back four members of their 2015 championship winning side that sat out the 2016 season. Briana Maimone returns as player-coach, and Casey Samuels, Jaydene Barnes, and Adrianne Bywater also make their way back to the Bruins following a year out. Former Comets guards Rhiaan Te-Hira and Ellie Gleeson have made the cross-town switch, but Kelly Wells will not return after moving to Perth. This Bruins side is not quite at the level of their championship-winning 2015 side, but will certainly have more of an impact than last season’s team. The Bruins also welcome back Racheal Cadee, who was forced to sit out the 2016 through injury. Things appear to be falling into place for the Bruins in 2017, and Bankstown will certainly be a team to keep an eye on this year.

Hills Hornets

Last Season: 8th (3-13)
Major Arrivals: Brittany Ridlen (Norths)
Departures: None

Little change for Hills going into the 2017 season, and as such it could be another struggle for the Hornets after finishing last season with just three wins. Former Norths player Brittany Ridlen will suit up for Hills this year, but young star Sherrie Calleia may be called away on several occasions to play SEABL for Sydney Uni Sparks this season. However, with many young players on the Hills roster now with a season of Championship level basketball under their belts, there could yet be improvement from the Hornets in 2017.

Hornsby Spiders

Last Season: 3rd (10-6), Semi-Finalists
Major Arrivals: Alicia Poto, Rachel Maenpaa, Natalie Hurst (Hatay BSB, Turkish TKBL)
Departures: Tristan Black (Norths), Abi Curtin (University of Denver), Jaimee Kennedy (Norths), Muffi Loader (Portland State University), Kate Seebohm (Norths)

The Hornsby roster resembles Swiss cheese to a degree, with former coach Shannon Seebohm making the move to Norths and taking Jaimee Kennedy, Kate Seebohm, and Tristan Black with him. Furthermore, Muffi Loader and Abi Curtin have made the move to college, depriving the Spiders of two of their young stars. However, all is not lost for Hornsby. The side returns the likes of Sydney Uni Flames guard Sarah Graham and former Flame Darneka Rowe, whilst also adding Olympian Alicia Poto and former Opal Natalie Hurst as well as former SEABL forward Rachel Maenpaa. Depth may be an issue for the Spiders with several young players making the step up, but the talent and experience is there for a Hornsby side looking to go a couple of steps better than last year’s heartbreaking semi-final loss.

Illawarra Hawks

Last Season: 2nd (12-4), Lost Grand Final
Major Arrivals: None
Departures: Courtney Dean, Renae Garlepp, Rachel Lisch, Katina Mandylaris

Despite handing champions Newcastle their only defeat of the season, and reaching the grand final last year, it shapes to be a lean year for Illawarra, who have lost four of their core players. Courtney Dean, Renae Garlepp, Rachel Lisch, and Katina Mandylaris were responsible for over half of the team’s points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks, but none of these players will return in 2017. Whilst Sydney Uni Flames guard Lauren Sparks and starting forward Olivia White return, the remainder of the side is comprised mostly of Youth League players. This may turn out to be more of a development season for Illawarra, who will find it a struggle to have a real impact on the competition this year. However, with several Illawarra players returning from college after the 2017/18 season, keeping the side together in preparation for next year may be a stroke of genius.

Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles

Last Season: 5th (8-8)
Major Arrivals: Belinda Snell (Sydney Uni Flames WNBL), Candice Trevenna
Departures: None

Although Manly were out of the finals running with a few weeks to play in 2016, a late season run saw the Sea Eagles finish in fifth with a solid .500 record. This season, the Sea Eagles welcome Australian basketball stalwart Belinda Snell to the side, but the Sydney Uni Flames star’s impact will be limited as she will also be assistant coaching the Sydney Uni Sparks SEABL side. However, in a side that finished just out of the finals last season, perhaps that limited impact can be enough to sneak Manly into the postseason. Candice Trevenna also returns to the Sea Eagles after a season out and will be a big inclusion for a Manly side chasing a finals berth, especially given the team returns its entire starting lineup from 2016.

Newcastle Hunters

Last Season: 1st (15-1), Champions
Major Arrivals: Suzy Batkovic (Townsville Fire WNBL), Cherub Lum (University of British Columbia, Canada)
Departures: Sophie Kleeman, Razzearne Muir (Norths), Susi Walmsley (Sydney Uni Sparks SEABL), Megan Johnson (University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley)

Newcastle rode roughshod over the competition in 2016, dropping just one game on their way to the championship. The Hunters have lost a few players from that side, including all star point guard Sophie Kleeman, and Susi Walmsley, who will play SEABL for the new Sydney Uni side this season. However, those losses have been offset by the signing of easily the biggest name in the competition, with five-time WNBL MVP Suzy Batkovic linking up with her hometown club following the WNBL season. Slowing Batkovic down will be key for any team thinking of defeating the Hunters in 2017, as Newcastle gear up to defend their title. On paper it appears that they may not do it quite as comfortably as last season, but with Batkovic on the court, anything could happen. The Hunters also welcome a new import to the club, with former University of British Columbia guard Cherub Lum making the move across the Pacific. Expect Newcastle to be among the top teams again in their chase to repeat as champions.

Norths Bears

Last Season: 6th (8-8)
Major Arrivals: Tristan Black (Hornsby), Bree Delaney (Comets), Jaimee Kennedy (Hornsby), Kate Seebohm (Hornsby), Razzearne Muir (Newcastle)
Departures: Kristen Barnes, Kate Hewett, Kristen Vrcelj (University of California, San Diego)

Norths somehow crumbled to miss the finals in 2016 after a solid start to the season, but if they miss out this year, it will almost be beyond belief. Kathryn Rendell returns after missing the back end of last season on student exchange, whilst a bevy of Hornsby players have made the short trip down the Pacific Highway to join the red and black. Under 17 World Championship winning coach Shannon Seebohm will be on the sideline for the Bears, with Jaimee Kennedy, Kate Seebohm, and Tristan Black following the former Sydney Uni Flames coach to Crows Nest. Bree Delaney has also linked up with the Bears, but will leave the team to begin her college career at Fresno State shortly before the conclusion of Waratah League. With only a couple of player departures, Norths are almost certainties to clinch a semi-final spot, and a title isn’t completely out of the question.

Sutherland Sharks

Last Season: 4th (10-6), Semi-Finalists
Major Arrivals: Shyla Heal
Departures: Jacki Nicholson, Lauren Nicholson (Launceston Tornadoes SEABL)

Lauren Nicholson may be gone, but Sutherland are still a team with a solid roster that can make an impact on the league this season. Whilst the former Saint Mary’s star and current Sydney Uni Flames squad member certainly got the team over the line in the regular season to earn the team a finals berth, Sutherland certainly had a solid mid-table roster before her midseason arrival. Nicholson’s sister Jacki has also chosen not to return for the Sharks, who are also sweating on the return of star forward Taylor Mathers – the American is available to play for Sutherland again this season, but has not yet made a decision as to whether she will suit up for the Sharks. If Mathers does make a return, things will look a lot better for Sutherland. As it currently stands though, the Sharks will have to fire on all cylinders every week to reach the playoffs.

Sydney Comets

Last Season: 7th (6-10)
Major Arrivals: Megan Cantellano (Lake Region Community College)
Departures: Bree Delaney (Norths), Ellie Gleeson (Comets), Rhiaan Te-Hira (Comets)

Bree Delaney, Rhiaan Te-Hira, and Ellie Gleeson may be gone from the Comets’ roster, but with the return of Sarah Davidson following a season-ending injury early in the 2016 campaign, things might not be as bad as they appear for the inner-city club. Finals may again be out of reach, but the Comets can certainly upset the apple-cart and ruin other teams’ postseason hopes, as they have proven time and again in recent seasons. Megan Cantellano returns after two seasons at junior college which unfortunately ended with a knee injury that has kept her out of basketball for 12 months, and it will certainly be interesting to see how she does on her return to Comets. The Alexandria-based side also have plenty of young players coming through who may surprise a couple of teams throughout the season.

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