After 50 games in six weeks in three northern Queensland cities, it comes down to it – the WNBL Grand Final between the Southside Flyers, led by Liz Cambage, and a Townsville Fire team, led by Shyla Heal , a sensation for teenagers.
And on paper, it looks like the anticipated final, given the teams finished first and second after completing the regular rounds last week, their campaigns in the most unusual of the seasons were unique.
The impact of COVID-19 meant the preseason almost non-existent for the league’s eight clubs, especially as Melbourne teams lived in the fourth phase of suspension for several months.
With permission, Southside was able to get together to practice at Dandenong Stadium, but at one point no contact was allowed.
Coach Cheryl Chambers said the road to a grand final was like no other in her 20+ years in the league as a player and then as a coach.
« It took a lot of time to bring team and individual things together, so it was really weird. «
« It helped us figure out who we are, what we stand for, how we want to be seen – all of those things you would normally do in meetings, some practice games, but we did it every other day while playing one Game, ”she said.
« We laughed a lot along the way, about some things that got mixed up and some that worked. It was a good trip, but a long one. «
Team bonding was important when every member of the Flyers travel group was away from home, family, friends, and work for eight weeks.
Last Monday, the Flyers players, coaches, and support staff, as well as some of their families who traveled to Queensland, enjoyed Christmas dinner in a Townsville park.
« Christmas is just around the corner and we have some people who haven’t seen families or their partners, but others have just arrived, » said Chambers.
« It was nice not to worry about anything else for the night, having fun with Santa, eating together and that is really important.
« It’s also important that you don’t do it every night, these things have to be special. We live together, see you on every corner. We have a little relaxed fun, but also a little time apart. «
The Fire is the story of the season that spans from the last to the Grand Final berth in just a few months under the newly crowned Coach of the Year, Shannon Seebohm.
Your run to the last game of the season may have surprised some, but not the club.
« I’m obviously very proud of the girls’ efforts, and that is exactly what we set out to do on the first day we met – to reach a grand final and win a championship, and now we have a chance to do that to do. » » Seebohm said after the fire defeated the Melbourne Boomers, 65-62, in Friday night’s preliminary final.
« Before the season started we were relegated to sixth place by some. Our girls have had this chip on their shoulders since we were together and all of them have a point to prove for one reason or another. I think we played like that, we played hard and we have to back up and do it all over again. «
Townsville only has two players left from the 2019-20 season. Seebohm carefully selects the players and people he would like to have on board to lead the club into the next chapter.
The recruitment of Star Guard Lauren Nicholson and Shyla Heal, Betty Watson’s Australian Youth Player of the Year, has been a feat.
« We are one of the youngest teams in the league and we had a lot of sales with the team last season, » said Seebohm.
« One of the biggest things we tried with our recruiting was to recruit really good people and then try to find the players we wanted and then fit the parts around them that turned out complement each other and I think we made it. » to do that.
« I don’t deserve too much credit. I think it’s the players and how they buy into the system and culture we are trying to implement.
So, in a season like no other, in a hub and with a tough game, what would it mean to win the 2020 championship?
« It would be special, not just for our small group, our staff and our families as they are part of every day, but also for all of our people at home, our club and our sponsors – people have so much Sacrificed so we can, ”Chambers said.
« It would be remembered forever because we never thought we’d be staying in Queensland for six weeks to win a championship. It will never happen again. «
With Townsville playing for much of the season, the Sunday fire will have a full, full-voice audience behind it.
« The girls worked extremely hard before this season and of course during the season, and we had to earn everything we got. It would be amazing to finish it off with a championship, ”said Seebohm.
« I spoke to (Townsville veteran) Mia Murray and retired Townsville players who have done it before and heard them say how amazing it is to compete in a championship in this building. We are very happy to have the opportunity now. «
The WNBL Grand Final between the Southside Flyers and Townsville Fire will be broadcast live on ABC TV and iView this afternoon from 3pm AEDT.
Megan Hustwaite has covered the WNBL for the past 12 seasons and is a member of the ABC commentary team.
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AEST = Australian Eastern Standard Time, 10 hours before GMT (Greenwich Mean Time)
National Women’s Basketball League, Liz Cambage, Townsville Fire, Grand Final
World News – AU – Liz Cambage and teen star Shyla Heal make an intriguing headline for the WNBL final
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