Flyer of a week: Opals announcement sits nicely for Southside

Five Southside players will represent Australia at the 2022 FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup. (Photo: Southside Flyers/Twitter)

After notching up their first WNBL22 win with a spirited victory over Bendigo, the good news keeps rolling for reigning champions the Southside Flyers.

Five Flyers who took to the court on Saturday will be representing Australia in September’s FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup.

Sara Blicavs, Jenna O’Hea, Rebecca Cole, Kristy Wallace and Maddison Rocci were all named in a squad combined of both Opals mainstays and fresh faces.

It will be a mixture of the players that wore the green and gold at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, as well as those that recently won bronze at the FIBA Women’s Asia Cup in Jordan.

Blicavs and Opals captain O’Hea were key members of the squad that reached the quarter-final before going down to eventual gold medallists the USA.

Both were also major parts of the Flyers’ 94-83 first week win. O’Hea was handy under the rim on defence, picking up four boards and a block while shooting 16 points at 58 per cent.

Blicavs meanwhile top-scored as a dominant presence on court, finishing with 27 points at 58 per cent along with 11 rebounds. The 28-year-old drew more fouls than anyone, hitting five of her eight free throw attempts.

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Rocci and Wallace have been given strong shows of faith, only having made their national debuts last year and at the Asia Cup respectively.

Star point guard Rocci was named the UC Capitals’ Most Valuable Player Award in WNBL20 and was named in the All-WNBL Second Team, but is still yet to show her best on the international stage.

Her scoring got off to a slow start against the Spirit, hitting just one free throw and missing all three of her field goal attempts.

But it was Rocci’s keen eye across the court that once again set her apart, finishing with eight assists and picking up five rebounds to go along with it.

Wallace didn’t get too much of a chance with her 14 minutes off the bench, with plenty of options for guards to rotate through including Cole (28 minutes), Rocci (25 minutes), Aimie Rocci (21 minutes) and Kate Gaze (16 minutes).

She did still manage three rebounds and a steal, a solid defensive presence that didn’t set the world on fire.

Cole was another scoring star, dropping 24 at a team high 66 per cent, constantly a reliable outlet for a bucket.

After getting to show off the trophy at home, the Flyers head up the M1 to Parkville to take on crosstown rivals the Melbourne Boomers for the first time in WNBL22.

The best of the rest

The WNBL has once again proved itself to be a strong basketball pathway, with 21 of the 24 named players competing in WNBL22.

Just Bec Allen, Sami Whitcomb and Marianna Tolo are playing their basketball elsewhere. Allen most recently played in Spain and the USA, while Whitcomb and Tolo are currently signed with ESB Villeneuve-d’Ascq and Basket Landes in France respectively.

Southside was the most represented WNBL side with five players, but the club has a few others hot on its heels.

The Perth Lynx, Melbourne Boomers, and Adelaide Lightning all have three players in the Opals World Cup squad. The Bendigo Spirit, Sydney Uni Flames and Townsville Fire have two, and the UC Capitals one.

Coach Sandy Brondello will have the best Australian talent to choose from and plenty of time to watch them ply their trade for the next four and a half months.

“Basketball in Australia continues to grow at a rapid pace, with more girls playing at the elite level than ever before,” Basketball Australia chairman John Carey said.

“The future is exciting for women’s basketball, we wish Sandy and the squad all the best for their preparations.”

With Australia hosting its first Women’s World Cup since 1994 and last claiming gold in 2006, it provides a prime opportunity for the mix of youth and experience to have another crack at it.

A number of WNBL teams recruited WNBA talent this off-season, giving the prospective Opals the best chance to improve rapidly before September.

It’s giving the coach plenty of reason for expectations to be high.

“I am really excited about the talent we have in Australian basketball and the squad that we as coaches have put together for 2022 is a great mix of experience and youth,” Brondello said.

“I was particularly excited by some of the performances from the younger players in the Asia Cup post the Olympics who were given a taste of international basketball and there will be opportunities for those who work hard and make the most of their opportunities throughout the upcoming WNBL competition.

“I remember like yesterday how special it was to play in a World Cup on home soil.  We look forward to having the same support as we had in 1994 to help us get back on the podium.

“Our goal over the next 300 days is to continue to grow, develop and be better as individuals and as group so we can achieve this goal.”

Full Opals squad:

Rebecca Allen
Zitina Aokuso
Sara Blicavs
Rebecca Cole
Keely Froling
Darcee Garbin
Cayla George
Shyla Heal
Tessa Lavey
Eziyoda Magbegor
Tess Madgen
Jade Melbourne
Leilani Mitchell
Lauren Nicholson
Jenna O’Hea
Maddison Rocci
Lauren Scherf
Alex Sharp
Alanna Smith
Stephanie Talbot

Marianna Tolo
Kristy Wallace
Abbey Wehrung
Sami Whitcomb

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About Alex Catalano 310 Articles
Alex is a studying journalist from Melbourne with an obsession for all things Aussie rules, and a commitment to providing equal coverage and recognition to women's sport. A sport all-rounder, Alex reports on Aussie rules, football, basketball, netball, cricket and esports.

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