The Bendigo Spirit made it seven years without featuring in the WNBL finals this season. However, there were signs to suggest that they will only go up in 2022/23, with the retention of key players, the potential return of Leilani Mitchell and the rise of Anneli Maley.
Finishing position: 5th (seven wins, nine losses)
Languishing on the bottom of the ladder for nearly the entire season, the Bendigo Spirit lost every game last season. They largely lacked an aggressive scoring option and solved this over the offseason by recruiting former Southside Flyers guard and reigning Grand Final MVP Leilani Mitchell.
Several players at the end of the last season left the Spirit, as Rebecca Tobin and Gabrielle Richards opted not to return for the 2021/22 season. Bendigo also lost Alicia Froling as the 26-year-old left and signed with the UC Capitals.
The loss of these key players affected the team’s chemistry and meant the new formation of the team needed to be worked out.
This season, an aspect of the Spirit’s game that would impress the Spirit fans would be the finish of the season. Bendigo won four of its last five games, defeating Southside, Melbourne and Sydney, the one game it lost was to the Flames by five points.
This shows their progression in being able to beat the lower-ranked teams in the Flames and Flyers but also being able to upset the Boomers who ended up winning the championship this season.
The Spirit also only got beaten by over 20 points twice in the season, showing that they were able to hang in against sides even if the outcome was a loss. They also managed to win two games against eventual finals teams, the Lightning and the Boomers.
The addition of Alex Wilson was a good move and she improved as the season progressed. She featured fifth for points scored among her Bendigo teammates, even though she played fewer games. In 12 games, the 26-year-old averaged 8.8 points and 2.6 assists per game.
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For a largely young side, Bendigo showed that it was one of the most competitive teams in the competition, consistently giving effort.
The Spirit lacked the depth on the bench that the top sides possessed, however, they never let that stop them hanging in every game. They won some tough matches against the eventual finalists and were on the end of some close wins with three wins by five points or less.
From a player standpoint, Anneli Maley was given free rein and license to play her natural game which paid dividends. She was a weapon for the Spirit playing on instinct and using her speed to her benefit.
Another player that was a highlight this season was Tessa Lavey who managed to juggle AFLW and WNBL duty for the Spirit and the Richmond Tigers.
The 29-year-old featured heavily averaging the most assists for the Spirit with nearly five per game and was among the best three-point shooters on the team, shooting 35.7 per cent.
Overall, the Spirit was mostly a young team with most of their roster under 25 years old. This means with many rookies in the squad, they will grow together and could have more upside in the next season or so.
The Spirit lacked one more big on their squad to truly trouble other teams, especially the top sides within the league. This could be an acquisition that they could look to go after in the offseason given they finished so close to the top four.
After getting Leilani Mitchell in over the offseason, Bendigo figured that its scoring woes would be solved. However, the 36-year-old had to step away four games into the season, due to pregnancy, and the Spirit were left short in this area again.
Bendigo will hopefully gain Mitchell’s services back within the next season, though a more even contribution from the rest of the team will help to fill this gap.
Finishing the season with the WNBL’s Most Valuable Player, Anneli Maley was an absolute force for the Spirit. In her fourth season in the WNBL and her first at the Spirit, Maley went back to back as the league’s leading rebounder and points scoring.
Maley’s form was epitomised by the fact that she had double-doubles in all 16 games except for one. She also averaged a double-double, averaging 19.8 points and 15.7 rebounds per game.
Her best performance of the season was against the UC Capitals, where she had 38 points and 20 rebounds.
The 23-year-old has been invited over to the United States where she is currently on the Chicago Sky’s training camp roster, fighting for a spot on the final roster.
Bendigo will be on the lookout for a new head coach after Tracy York resigned as head coach after three years with the Spirit.
After two impacted COVID seasons, border closures to her home in South Australia and long periods away from family played a big part in her decision to ask for an early release from her contract.
Depending on the vision of the next head coach, the team make-up could be different but if the coach is recruited from within the organisation, it could be largely the same.
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