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University of Canberra Capitals WNBL season preview

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6th December, 2021
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The University of Canberra Capitals won back-to-back WNBL titles in 2018/2019 and 2019-2020.

In the 2020 hub season, after finishing third at the end of the regular season, lost in the semi-final to the Melbourne Boomers.

Departures
Co-captain Marianna Tolo has been a mainstay of both the Opals and the University of Canberra Capitals. Tolo won four WNBL titles with the Capitals. Tolo has also played in France and the WNBA. Tolo’s presence in the key and experience will be sorely missed by the Capitals.

Maddi Rocci won two WNBL championships with the University of Canberra Capitals and won the Capitals’ 2020 MVP award. Rocci was top ten in scoring in the WNBL in 2020 for scoring, assists and steals. Rocci was also named in the Opals’ squad for the 2021 FIBA Women’s Asia Cup but had to withdraw through injury. Rocci has joined defending champions the Southside Flyers.

Keely Froling played five seasons with the Capitals including the back-to-back championships. Froling has played for the Australian 3×3 team and also played for the Opals at the 2021 FIBA Women’s Asia Cup, where she averaged 9.8 points and 5.3 rebounds per game. Froling has joined the Sydney Uni Flames this season and the Capitals will miss her reliable contributions.

NZ Tall Fern Ashley Taia is another player to represent her country at the 2021 FIBA Women’s Asia Cup. Taia has joined Swedish team Wetterbygden Sparks. Alex Delaney and Hannah Kaser will also not return for the Capitals.

Marianna Tolo of the Capitals

Marianna Tolo is a crucial departure. (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

Returning players
Kelsey Griffin has been a star of the WNBL since 2012 and doesn’t mind picking up an MVP award. Griffin was awarded the Most Valuable Player (MVP) at the Asia Cup in 2017, won two WNBL Championships at the Bendigo Spirit winning the grand final MVP on both occasions.

Griffin also won the WNBL MVP and grand final MVP for the Capitals in 2018-2019. Griffin is a winner and when you watch her at times it feels like she picks her team up on her back and carries them to victory.

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Tahlia Tupaea debuted for the Sydney Uni Flames as a 15-year-old. Tupaea is a former Australian Gems junior representative. Tupaea is a tenacious player. Tupaea was drafted by the Minnesota Lynx in the 2017 WNBA draft. Unfortunately, she has had a disrupted WNBL career thus far with knee and foot injuries and concussion hampering her.

During the off season, Tupaea played for Bankstown in the NSW Waratah League, winning the Waratah 1 Women’s MVP in a shortened season. Hopefully, for Tupaea and Capitals and basketball fans in general she is able to stay fit this season.

Brittany Smart returns for her second season at the Capitals after two seasons with the Sydney Uni Flames. Smart brings with her great experience having previously played with the Melbourne Boomers and also had stints in Belgium and Sweden. Watch for Smart to hurt the opposition from beyond the arc. In her first season at the Capitals, Smart shot at 35per cent from three-point land and 93per cent from the foul line.

Guard Jade Melbourne averaged eight points, two rebounds and two assists in her first season with the Capitals. Melbourne declined a full basketball scholarship with Arizona State to return to the Capitals. Melbourne averaged 12.6 points, five rebounds and 3.4 assists per game helping the Gems win a silver medal at 2021 Under 19s World Cup. Melbourne also made her Opals debut at the FIBA Women’s Asia Cup, where she averaged 3.2 points per game.

22-year-old Abby Cubillo will play her fourth season with the Capitals. Cubillo is the first player that was born and raised in the Northern Territory to play in the WNBL. Cubillo was the starting point guard for the Australian Sapphires when the Sapphires won gold at the 2016 Under 17 World Championships.

Cubillo also spent two years at the Australian Institute of Sport. Cubillo was awarded the Capital on the Rise award at the end of the 2019-2020 season. Cubillo was a member of the back-to-back Capitals championship teams.

Mikaela Ruef hails from Ohio and attended Stanford University. Whilst at Stanford, Ruef reached the NCAA Final Four in four of her five seasons. Ruef had one season stints at the Sydney Uni Flames and Adelaide Lightning before joining the Capitals. In between stints with the Capitals, she also played with Toulouse Metropole Basket in France. In August 2020, Ruef signed a two-year deal with the Capitals as a permanent Australian resident.

Gemma Potter returns to Canberra. Potter was a key contributor to the 2019-2020 championship team before suffering a leg injury that kept her out of the finals. Potter was forced to sit out the 2020 WNBL campaign to take up an athletic scholarship with the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). COVID-19 travel bans and a US High Court decision prevented her from taking up that opportunity. Potter playing at the Australian Under 20s Championships for Victoria suffered an ACL injury and will not be ready to play until early in 2022.

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(L-R) Maddison Rocci #9, Olivia Epoupa #0 and Kia Nurse #11 of the Capitals

(Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

Recruits
Los Angeles Sparks Brittney Sykes is one of the most exciting recruits for the WNBL 2021/2022 season. Sykes played for the University of Syracuse, where in her senior year she averaged 19 points and eight rebounds per game. Sykes was drafted at pick seven in the 2017 WNBA Draft by the Atlanta Dream. Sykes was runner-up in the 2017 WNBA Rookie of the Year. In the 2021 WNBA season, Sykes averaged 9.4 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game for the Sparks.

Kelly Wilson sat out the 2020 season due to the birth of her first child Teddy. Wilson has one four WNBL championships – two with the Bendigo Spirit, one with the Townsville Fire and one with the Capitals. Wilson’s most recent WNBL season was the 2019-2020 season with the Bendigo Spirit. Wilson is the WNBL record holder for the most games. Wilson will bring a truckload of experience and calmness to the Capitals.

When coach Paul Goriss asked how do I replace Keely Froling? His answer was a replace her with A(nother) Froling, Keely’s twin sister Alicia. Alicia, who was recruited from the Bendigo Spirit, played college ball with the Southern Methodist University Mustangs.

Froling was signed by the Spirit before the 2019-2020 season but unfortunately did not play due to a wrist injury. Froling was previously a development player with the Townsville Fire. Froling averaged 13 points and 13.78 rebounds per game playing for the Ballarat Rush in the 2021 NBL1 South season and won the club’s Robyn Maher MVP award.

Froling comes from the ultimate basketball family. Her mother Jenny won four WNBL championships and was awarded WNBL life membership. Her father Shane was a constant in the NBL in the late 1980s and 1990s. Brothers Harry and Sam have also played in the NBL.

It is great to see centre / forward Alex Bunton returning to the WNBL. Bunton called time on her basketball career after enduring 11 knee surgeries. Bunton returns after a two-year break from basketball, where she also became a mother, giving birth to her daughter Opal.

Bunton, who is still only 28, brings plenty of experience to the Capitals. Bunton has previously played with the Capitals, the AIS, Adelaide Lightning and Dandenong Rangers in the WNBL and in Russia with Dynamo Moscow. Bunton also won a silver medal for the Opals at the 2018 Women’s World Cup.

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Youngster Shaneice Swain has signed with the Capitals. Swain has attended Basketball Australia’s Centre of Excellence and won a silver medal for the Gems at the 2021 FIBA Under 19 World Cup. Swain averaged 8.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.8 assists during the tournament. Swain was born and raised in Cairns.

Casey Samuels, Bronte Corke and Abby Solway have signed as development players. Samuels was a member of the Capitals squad in 2012/2013 and won a Bronze Medal for Australia at the 2013 FIBA Under 19 World Championships. Samuels during the recent NBL1 North season averaged 18.61 points and 7.61 rebounds per game for the Gold Coast Rollers.

19-year-old Corke is a small forward who just finished an NBL1 West season with the Mandurah Magic. Corke averaged 7.22 points, 2.44 rebounds and 1.88 rebounds per game for the Magic.

Solway spent the 2020/2021 season playing in the USA with the South Georgia Technical College Lady Jets. Solway averaged seven points, 2.3 rebounds and 0.8 assists for the Lady Jets with season highs of 28 points and seven rebounds.

Prediction
The Capitals have lost some quality players in Tolo, Rocci and Keely Froling. The recruitment of Brittney Sykes should get Capitals fans excited.

The return of the experienced Wilson and Bunton will go a fair way to replacing Tolo and Rocci. The continued progression of Cubillo and Melbourne will also be important to the Capitals. Plus you can never write off a team that includes Kelsey Griffin.

Predicted finish: 4th

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