The JCU Townsville Fire will commence their title defence in a Grand Final replay against Perth on October 9 as they attempt to become the first Queensland team to secure a WNBL three-peat.
After claiming back-to-back titles, the Fire have undergone some fairly significant changes, none more so than the departure of two-time championship winning coach Chris Lucas, who has returned to Adelaide.
In his place, Lucas’ chief lieutenant, Claudia Brassard, has been appointed to the head role, with the Canadian Olympian becoming the Fire’s first former player and captain to coach the club.
Brassard will be ably assisted by Mark Wrobel, who clinched a gold medal with the Sapphires at the Under-17 World Championships during the off-season, and London Olympian Peter Crawford, who boasts close to 500 NBL games and a season working with the Adelaide Lightning.
2016/17 JCU Townsville Fire squad: Haylee Andrews*, Suzy Batkovic (c), Natasha Cloud, Micaela Cocks, Darcee Garbin, Mia Murray (vc), Chevannah Paalvast, Amy Kame, Kayla Standish, Kelly Wilson, Ainsley Walsh*, Jacqui Zelenka.
*Indicates development player.
The established core: After four consecutive Grand Final appearances, the Fire has built their program around an established core featuring Suzy Batkovic, Micaela Cocks and Mia Murray. Having won her fourth WNBL MVP in the past five seasons in 2015/16, Batkovic is the best player in the competition and is well supported by Cocks and Murray, who are both Rachael Sporn Medallists. Jacqui Zelenka is the fourth squad member to have played in both championships, while Darcee Garbin, Chevannah Paalvast and Ainsley Walsh return after tasting tile success last season.
Welcome to the fold: The Fire have bolstered their backcourt with the acquisition of American stars Natasha Cloud and Amy Kame. Expected to be two of the WNBL’s fiercest defenders, Cloud impressed during her sophomore WNBA season after averaging close to 25 minutes per game as a starter for Washington and marking some of the world’s best players including Maya Moore. Kame, on the other hand, was lighting up the SEABL competition for Nunawading and has been ultra-impressive since arriving in North Queensland.
Back to the future: The Fire appeared to be getting band back together over the off-season when they not only recruited Kelly Wilson, but Kayla Standish as well. After eight seasons with Bendigo, Wilson returns to Townsville for a second stint, while Standish commenced her WNBL career with the club and played in the losing 2012/13 and 2013/14 Grand Finals against the Spirit. Despite their time away, the pair have seamlessly returned to the two-time defending champions.
Young gun: Haylee Andrews became the youngest ever player to join the Fire during the off-season after the 16-year-old accepted a development role. A high-octane point guard, Andrews is expected to come along in leaps and bounds playing alongside Cocks, Cloud and Wilson, with championship-winning skipper Rachael McCully also on hand to mentor the rising star. A proficient scorer, Andrews was the leading point scorer at last year’s Under-16 Australian Junior Championships and will be looking to establish herself in the nation’s best program.
Season opener: The Fire will unveil their championship banner on Sunday, October 9 with a Grand Final re-match against Perth at Townsville Stadium. A tantalising showdown with Adelaide, under Lucas’ leadership, looms at home in round two.
Marquee fixture: The Fire are poised to host Melbourne at Townsville Stadium on New Year’s Eve in a WNBL blockbuster. An iconic basketball fixture within the city, the Fire are expecting a sell-out and plenty of Fireworks against the Boomers!
Join the Fire: The JCU Townsville Fire offer a range of membership options including a Distant Member for those who can’t attend games in 2016/17. To see full details, click here.