19/04/2024

The Bendigo Spirit will be looking to break their finals drought this season. (Image: Bendigo Spirit/Twitter; Design: Will Cuckson)

The Bendigo Spirit are hoping to break their WNBL finals drought this time around, having experienced seven consecutive seasons without a finals game played.

Last season:

Fifth (seven wins, nine losses)

Last season, the Spirit made progress, with the signs suggesting they will only get better in the 2022/23 season. 

A strong finish to the season would help the Spirit land in fifth position for the 2021/22 season. Bendigo would win four of its last five games, beating Southside, Melbourne and Sydney. The one game it would lose in this stretch was to the Flames by five points.

The Spirit showed a lot of promise and progression to beat the lower-ranked teams in the Flames and Flyers, while also challenging and upsetting the Boomers, who won the championship this past season.

The scoring production of the Spirit has been a struggle for multiple seasons, and it continued in the absence of Leilani Mitchell, who stepped away four games into the season due to pregnancy.

Biggest in:

Alicia Froling‘s return to the Bendigo Spirit is a massive boost to their forward depth.

Froling played with the UC Capitals in the 2021/22 season, and averaged 15 minutes of playing time, scoring two points per game on 45 per cent from the field, along with three rebounds a game.

With rim protection and the ability to put up high-quality shots on the inside, expect teams to have difficulty in guarding her in the paint. 

Froling can add pick-and-roll options on offence, play in transition, and hold down the interior defence. 

She has also added a catch and shoot three ball to her game, now adding spacing to any offensive system the Spirit run.

Biggest out:

Carly Boag returning to the Sydney Flames is a hit to the Spirit’s guard depth.

Averaging five points, three rebounds and one assist per game in 15 mins of play, Boag displayed her ability to play off the ball in a multitude of ways, and maximise her time when the ball was in her hands.

Boag has a promising catch and shoot three-point shot that allows her to be a role player and play off the ball when the team are running their half-court sets.

The Spirit will also miss her ability to run in transition and find open layups.

More WNBL Season Previews:

WNBL 2022/23 Season Preview: Southside Flyers

WNBL 2022/23 Season Preview: UC Capitals

WNBL 2022/23 Season Preview: Perth Lynx

Starting five:

The Inner Sanctum’s predicted starting five for the Bendigo Spirit. (Design: Will Cuckson)

Full squad 

Piper Dunlop, Alicia Froling, Kelsey Griffin, Tessa Lavey, Sophia Locandro, Anneli Maley, Cassidy Mclean, Megan McKay, Abbey Wehrung, Alex Wilson, Kelly Wilson, Dyani Anaview*, Aneta Bandilovska*, Erin Condron*, Ruby Porter*, Micah Simpson*

Ins: Alicia Froling (UC Capitals), Kelsey Griffin (UC Capitals), Sophia Locandro (UC Irvine/Waverley Falcons), Abbey Wehrung (Adelaide Lightning), Kelly Wilson (UC Capitals)

Outs: Maddie Garrick (Polisportiva Galli), Carly Boag (Sydney Flames), Mary Goulding, Alana Goodchild, Jennie Rintala

*development player

Fixture highlights:

Bendigo will start the season at home playing against the UC Capitals – who lost in the semi-finals in the previous season – and will also host finalists Perth Lynx in Round 1.

Adelaide Lightning placed fourth, one spot above the Spirit last season, and will be looking to prove they are a legitimate semi-finals team this time around.

The two sides will meet for the first time in Round 5 on Bendigo’s home court, in what is set to be a measuring stick game for both teams.

Embed from Getty Images

The Spirit will play champions, the Melbourne Boomers for the first time this season in Round 9, as their only game at home home across Rounds 9 and 10 combined.

The last month of the season will be a tough challenge, having to play the Boomers, Townsville Fire and Lynx on the road before returning for their final game at home in a rematch with the Fire.

What to expect:

Expect Bendigo to compete for every second of every game, showing their competitiveness and effort.

Last season, they were hanging in close in many games, and the Spirit will be able to compete against the best and win the matches they are supposed to win.

Reigning MVP Anneli Maley will have the team designed around her to allow a natural flow to the benefit of her creative scoring style of play as a central focus of their system. 

Although Maley averaged a double-double this past season of 19.8 points and 15.7 rebounds per game, her form and production will be tested this season with more experience on the team, and the league being more competitive than it has ever been.

With a lack of scoring options and point guard depth, the Spirit could struggle in key games where it comes down to whether teams can score points in a half-court set.

The last word:

With a change to the head coach and lots of player movement, the Bendigo Spirit should be in contention for a finals spot or miss out shortly again.

The loss of Leilani Mitchell and Carly Boag leaves the Spirit with questions to answer as the season develops about their scoring options and spacing on the court.

If Maley picks up right where she left off in her MVP season, the Spirit will blossom to being a finals squad assuming their effort and competitiveness stays consistent in their games.

Expect the Spirit to be around the fourth to sixth range in the standings.

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