To say the 2021/2022 WNBL season for the Sydney Flames was in disarray is an understatement. The Flames, under now second year head coach Shane Heal, went through a whole roster turnover.
This season, Heal and his Flames are looking to jump up the ladder and make an impact on the league with new and returning talent from within Australia and the WNBA.
How they did last year
8th (four wins, 13 losses)
As the 2021/22 WNBL season progressed and while bringing in players such as Kalani Purcell, the team also lost talent like Lauren Scherf. The turbulence progressed throughout the season as guard Chelsea Dungee was released by Flames to which they signed Rennia Davis. After playing a few games, Davis was granted a release from Sydney and signed with a team in Israel.
The complete roster turnover from before the season to during the season quickly caught up to the Flames before they could even get a grip on the season.
Within the season, Flames lost the first five games of the season before a 83-72 win over the Spirit gave them their first win. A six-game losing streak followed before a three-game win streak, before ending the season by dropping the final two games. A lack of chemistry and imbalance in the discombobulated club resulted in a 4-13 finish for a bottom-placed finish in last year's WNBL.
Returning: Shyla Heal, Kalani Purcell, Kiera Rowe, Keely Froling
Ins: Tiana Mangakahia, Emma Clarke, Hannah Sjerven*, Jocelyn Willoughby, Vanessa Panousis, Indiah Bowyer (Amateur Player), Lilly Rottuno (Amateur Player), Maddy Allen.
Outs: Lauren Mansfield (Adelaide Lightning), Morgan Yaeger (Adelaide Lightning), Rebecca Pizzey (UC Capitals), Sherrie Calleia (UC Capitals), Emma Mahady, Chelsea Dungee, Rennia Davis, Funda Nakkasoglu, Katie Deeble (Wake Forest), Maria Blazejeweski, Chyra Evans (University of Michigan), Shaquille Shaw
The Flames' biggest strength this season is their presence in the post. Kalani Purcell and Keely Frolling both are athletics and versatile on the defensive boards and with offensive scoring efficiency. Froling led the Flames in scoring last season with 16.3 points per game while Purcell led in rebounds with 9.4 per game.
The addition of the New York Liberty's Jocelyn Willoughby, who is a proven threat at the forward position with the ability to play the three and the four positions with ease while also slipping into the five spot on occasion will contribute to the team's potential.
Overall efficiency is key to the Flames making a comeback in 2022/23. That starts with on court chemistry.
Last season, the team's chemistry was severely lacking and that's aside from the midseason roster turnover. It seemed like no one was able to come together as a team to succeed which showed on the court. If Heal's team is unable to gain chemistry on the court, their glaring weakness will continue to show around the league.
One player to look out for is Tiana Mangakahia. The former Syracuse University star returns to Australia after spending her first overseas season in Russia that was prematurely cut due to the war.
Mangakahia is a cancer survivor who defied odds to return to the court and succeed. Aside from her inspirational story, she is a scoring threat and a true point guard. In her Syracuse career, she finished off averaging 11.4 points and 8.7 assists.
She took the NBL1 by storm this season with the Northside Wizards. She averaged 20.7 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 5.7 assists per game, taking the league by storm. Mangakahia has the ability to be an anchor at point for this young Flames team and is definitely the rising player to keep an eye out for.
Prediction for 2022/23 WNBL season
This Flames team has a lot of young talent that is exciting. Sydney fans should be excited to see this energetic team play this season. Unfortunately, nothing about this roster screams anything but rebuild. I predict the Flames to once again bare the bottom of the ladder for 8th place.
The Sydney Flames begin their 2022/23 WNBL season against the Bendigo Spirit at Red Energy Arena on Saturday, November 12 from 7pm AEDT.