02/03/2024

Having to endure venue relocation concerns and off-court drama, the UC Capitals road to the finals was dramatically cut short this season. (Image: @UCCapitals - Twitter; Design: Will Cuckson)

The UC Capitals were a force to be reckoned with on the court, but the cancellation of a semi-final against Perth saw them bowing out early in the season.

The University of Canberra Capitals had high expectations as they headed into a brand new WNBL season with a roster of stellar talent. But their quest for a 10th championship came to an abrupt end as COVID-19 forced them to withdraw from the semi-final series.

Snapshot:

Final ladder position: Third (11 wins, six losses)

The Capitals had high expectations placed on them following their 2020 season campaign, where they placed third after missing out on a spot in the grand final.

However, several departures from the side saw the Capitals enter a new season with familiar faces returning to the side to cover for the losses.

Keely Froling signed with the Sydney Uni Flames after five seasons with the side and Madison Rocci found a new home with the Southside Flyers, both were major losses for the Capitals. Meanwhile, Marianna Tolo and Ashley Taia both left to play in France and Sweden respectively.

Despite the loss of a couple of big names, Kelly Wilson returned to the side following her stint with the Bendigo Spirit, as to did Alicia Froling who signed on with the UC Capitals in the off-season.

The roster was also bolstered with the signing of American powerhouse Brittney Skyes, who came equipped with previous WNBA experience from the Atlanta Dream and Los Angeles Sparks.

American Brittney Skyes was a key part of the UC Capitals lineup this season. (Image: UC Capitals Twitter)

The Canberra Capitals kicked off the beginning of the regular campaign at Qudos Bank Arena, where they took on the Sydney Uni Flames and bagged the win by three points. New international import Skyes was unveiled in the first game of the season where she played 35 minutes, encompassed by 16 points, setting up what would be an impressive 2021/22 for the 28-year-old.

After cancellation of a game due to a COVID-19 outbreak that impacted squad selection, the UC Capitals endured their first loss of the season when they came up against the Adelaide Lightning in their first home game in 656 days.

The team faced a big hurdle as they were without their head coach Paul Gorris for five games as a suspension was handed down to him for an integrity breach. However, they pushed through to take out wins when they faced the Bendigo Spirit and Townsville Fire.

The cancellation of games saw them dealing with the added pressures from adapting to a rescheduled fixture, further giving the UC Capitals their second loss of the regular season against the Perth Lynx. This soured the momentous occasion for Kelly Wilson who after three cancellations was finally able to play her 400th WNBL game.

As Canberra progressed through the season, it began to make a comeback knocking off wins which saw it climb up the ladder. Despite falling against an in-form Melbourne Boomers side by 55 points, the UC Capitals still were in with a chance for championship contention, finishing third on the ladder.

A loss up against the Perth Lynx in the first semi-final game saw them handed a defeat. They were unable to get a top of the opposition 77-91. Unfortunately for the UC Capitals, they weren’t able to get vengeance in game two after several positive cases among the team forced the side to forfeit their spot and see them withdraw from the competition.

What Worked:

The Canberra Capitals were among the best for shooting accuracy ranking third for field goals percentage, shooting an average of 42.2 per cent per game. It was a strength that paid off for the team.

In the 11 games Canberra won, the margins consisted of double digits. The biggest winning margin from the Capitals was in their match-up against the Southside Flyers, where they toppled their opponents by 42 points.

The Capitals were among the best teams to score the ball, ranking second in the competition, just behind the Perth Lynx, for points per game with an average of 78.4.

Brittney Sykes was a standout for the side offensively. In 17 games she played in, Sykes delivered for the Capitals, averaging 16.1 points per game, the best on the team.

Alongside Sykes, Kelsey Griffin and Brittany Smart also contributed to the UC Capitals’ scores through their shooting abilities.

Griffin averaged 15.1 points and 8.1 rebounds per game across 15 games. Meanwhile, Smart’s performance on the court proved a benefit for the team as she averaged 10.8 points per game.

What didn’t:

Something that didn’t work in Canberra’s favour was personal fouls. It tied with the Sydney Uni Flames, averaging 15.9 fouls per game. The Capitals just trailed behind the Fire who sit at the top with an average of 16.2 fouls per game.

The UC Capitals ranked on the lower end for rebounds in comparison to the other teams. They ranked fifth, averaging 37.3 rebounds per game. This area is key for improvement for them as it cost them severely when they came up against some of the much stronger teams.

More WNBL News

WNBL 2021/22 Season Review: Bendigo Spirit

WNBL 2021/22 Season Review: Townsville Fire

WNBL 2021/22 Season Review: Southside Flyers

Club MVP:

It would be hard to disagree with the season that Brittney Sykes and Kelsey Griffin had this season. To no surprise was it to anyone that both players were named joint winners as their club’s most valuable player.

In Sykes’ first year with the Capitals, the seasoned guard had a season to remember, averaging 16.1 points, 4.8 rebounds, 5.1 assists, and 2.4 steals per game. She was also named the WNBL’s 2021/ 2022 Robyn Maher Defensive Player of the year and named all WNBL First Team in March.

Meanwhile, Griffin was also dynamic for Canberra as she showed poise on the court when it was really needed. She averaged 15.1 points, 8.1 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.5 steals per game.

Look ahead:

The UC Capitals look set to rebuild after a turbulent season, with Kristen Veal appointed as head coach.

Veal, who played 372 WNBL games and previously was the head coach of Basketball Australia’s Centre of Excellence woman’s program and takes over from Paul Gorris. Her appointment as head coach following the announcement that Gorris was taking up an assistant coach position with Atlanta Dream in the WNBA.

Set to join the new coach next season is Tahlia Tupaea, as she re-signed with the club for season 2022/23 for a third season with the Capitals.

Along with Tupaea’s signing, fans also have to look forward to the up and coming talent through the likes of Jade Melbourne and Abby Cubillo. The future looks bright as the UC Capitals continue to move past the unfortunate end of the season.

19-year-old Melbourne provided vital for the side this season as she managed an average of 9.3 points and 2.4 rebounds.

Melbourne was named as part of the Opals World Cup squad of 24 this year and recently was drafted to the Seattle Storm in the WNBA going pick three in this year’s WNBA draft.

With more development and time, there’s no doubt that the younger players of the team will take their game to the next level in the seasons to come. Combining that with the experience of more seasoned players in the team, it’s highly likely that this team will see championship successes in the near future.

Young gun Jade Melbourne continues to make her mark in the league. (Image: UC Capitals Twitter)

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