The NBA starts on Wednesday (AEDT) and after running the rule over the favourites, contenders and also-rans of the Western Confernece on Monday, we turn our focus to the Eastern Conference.
With nine wins and four losses, the University of Canberra Capitals ended the 2020 WNBL regular season in third place.
While the Capitals may have been disappointed to miss a top-two finish after losses to both the Southside Flyers and the Townsville Fire in the final games of the regular season, there is no doubt that this is a team that can win the three games needed to secure them a historic WNBL three-peat.
The Capitals’ first opposition will be the Melbourne Boomers this Wednesday evening and the team will be depending on several key players if they are to win and find themselves just one game away from the grand final.
One of those players is current co-captain Marianna Tolo who has been instrumental to the success of the Caps since she first joined the club in 2008/2009 season. While Tolo has been in and out of the WNBL season since then, the Capitals are the only club she has played for.
Part of what Tolo loves about the Capitals is the culture at the club and the diversity within the playing group.
“We are an exciting group and have a good mixture of old, young, big, small, fast and slow. “When I say slow, maybe that’s me,” said Tolo.
“We have a lot of different strengths which makes us hard to stop.
“We all know that we are here to do a job and we are all on the same page about making sure we get that job done.”
But for Tolo and the Capitals it isn’t just about playing their best basketball on the court, it is what happens away from the court that matters too. Perhaps more so.
“We want to show Australia what we are all about, how we carry ourselves and what positive role models we are,” said Tolo.
“That is one of the best things about us as sportswomen; we are great leaders and role models.
As part of this, Tolo and her teammates have been using their voices this WNBL season to support the ‘RISE UP’ campaign, an initiative launched by Basketball Australia and the Australian Opals earlier this year.
‘RISE UP’ is an acronym for Respect, Injustice, Standards, Equality, Unity, Peace and encourages all of us to take positive action to eradicate racism, discrimination, and injustice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and people of colour.
“It’s important that we are able to use our voices for good,” said Tolo.
“Not everyone has a voice unfortunately, so it is important that we have that platform and use it to make some change in places where change is needed.
“’Black Lives Matter’ was something we felt was really important in the Opals group and for the Caps, we have joined with Patty Mills ‘We Got You’ campaign so we can try and make every person in our community feel valued and feel like they have a role.”
For the Capitals, another element adding increased motivation this WNBL season and Finals series is the very real understanding of some of the sacrifices that players have made to compete.
From the Caps that includes the likes of Hannah Kaser who has taken time away from her full-time role to compete and Tolo’s co-captain Kelsey Griffin who has taken some of her marking with her into the hub.
“Everyone realises that unfortunately with women’s basketball, it isn’t full-time professional, so we have people in our squad who have lives away from basketball. Some women are losing money just by being here,” said Tolo.
“We all want to play for each other, and we all want to win for different reasons.
“It does make it extra special to get on the court and take care of business.”
Given that extra sacrifice, the chance for added exposure for the WNBL this year due to the new broadcast arrangements has been an important opportunity.
“It’s a big deal to get visibility for the WNBL and to have every game live-streamed, especially given we were away from our Capitals community in Canberra and across the country,” said Tolo.
“It is so good for basketball in Australia that we have this broadcast deal, followed by an Olympics next year and the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup in Australia in 2022.
“It’s a really exciting time and I want us to keep heading in the right direction so we can continue to get great visibility for our sport.
With just four teams left in the hunt for the WNBL Championship now, it really is anyone’s game. The Southside Flyers have been the favourites for most of the season but have been beaten throughout the year by remaining finalists like the Melbourne Boomers and the Capitals.
This sets up an exciting finish not just for the fans, but the players too.
“No one has a cheat code,” said Tolo.
“This is basketball. Teams can play and can win.
“It is a team sport and any team on a given night can beat anyone else. That is why it’s so important to come focused to every single game and remember that we have a job to do.”