The Bendigo Spirit had a tough 2020 WNBL hub season, with a zero win season and 13 losses.
In the 2018-19 and 2019-2020 seasons, the Spirit finished seventh and hasn’t played a final since the 2014-15 season when they lost the grand final to Townsville Fire. The Spirit has definitely recruited talented players to try to turn the tide.
Congratulations to Carley Ernst, who became a mom by giving birth to her son Kylan in September. Ernst was the co-winner of the Spirit’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) 2020 award. Ernst has played for a number of WNBL teams including AIS, Dandenong Rangers, Canberra Capitals, Adelaide Lightning and Perth Lynx. His athleticism and experience will be missed.
2020 co-vice-captain Amelia Todhunter – who has played over 200 WNBL games for the Dandenong Rangers, Bulleen / Melbourne Boomers, West Coast Waves and Bendigo Spirit – won’t be returning either.
A member of one of the best families in Australian basketball history, Alicia Froling moved to the University of Canberra Capitals. In a sliding door moment, Froling arrives in Canberra as his sister Keely leaves the Capitals to join the Flames.
Young star Paige Price spent some time at the Indiana University Hoosiers before returning to Melbourne to announce that she had signed on to play AFLW with St Kilda.
Other players not returning to Spirit include NZ Tall Fern Chevannah Paalvast, Jennie Rintala, Shelby Britten and Georgia Pineau, who suffered an ACL injury during Spirit’s last practice match before the 2020 season.
Bendigo Spirit 2020 co-MVP Tessa Lavey returns to Spirit. In 2020, Lavey finished in the WNBL top ten in points scored (15.2 points per game) and finished third in the WNBL in average assists (5.9). Lavey won a championship with the Spirit in 2013-14. Lavey has also played in the WNBL for AIS, Canberra Capitals, Perth Lynx and Dandenong Rangers.
Lavey has represented the Opals at a number of competitions. Lavey played at the 2016 and 2020 Olympics. With the Opals, Lavey won silver (2018) and bronze (2014) at the FIBA World Cup and silver at the FIBA Women’s Asian Cup. 2017. Last season, Lavey also made his debut for the AFLW Richmond team.
Demi Skinner enjoyed an impressive WNBL debut season in 2019-20 with the Spirit averaging 21 minutes, 9.1 points and 3.5 rebounds per game. Skinner recorded a high of 26 points against the Townsville Fire. During the 2020 season, Skinner has averaged nearly seven points per game.
Skinner grew up in Port Lincoln, representing SA in the National Under-18 Championships and playing for the Gems in the Oceania Under-19 Championships. Prior to joining Spirit, Skinner played in the Queensland Basketball League with the Toowoomba Mountaineers. In 12 games in the 2021 NBL1 South for the Ringwood Hawks, Skinner averaged 9.75 points per game and 4.66 rebounds per game.
Mary Goulding made her WNBL debut for the Spirit in 2020. She was equal to the Spirit’s top scorer in consecutive games against the Townsville Fire. Goulding is originally from Rangiora in New Zealand. Goulding attended Fordham University in New York, where she was named MVP on a team that won the Atlantic 10 Championship.
Goulding led Fordham with a 47.9% shooting percentage and 39.8% three-point shooting percentage. Goulding also played for the NZ Tall Ferns. In the 2021 FIBA Women’s Asian Cup, Goulding averaged 8.6 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game.
Cassidy McLean averaged 3.1 points, 1.8 rebounds and one assist per game for the Spirit in 2018-19. McLean injured her knee while playing for her hometown, the Newcastle Hunters, in the Waratah Basketball League in 2019, which saw her miss the 2019-2020 WNBL season. McLean was able to return to Spirit roster for the 2020 WNBL hubs season. In the 2021 NBL1 South competition, McLean averaged 10.33 points per game, 4.93 rebounds per game and 2.80 assists per game for the Bendigo Braves.
Eighteen-year-old Piper Dunlop made her way through junior tracks in Bendigo. She has been a Junior Brave and has represented Victoria and Australia at the junior level on several occasions. Dunlop also played for the Braves in the 2019 NBL1 season.
Dunlop played for the Spirit during the 2020 hub season and went from being a practice player to a development player to a player with a full contract. Dunlop received the club’s Rising Star award in 2020. In the 2021 NBL1 South season, Dunlop averaged nine points and 6.6 rebounds per game for the Braves.
The first of the Spirit’s renowned recruits is Leilani Mitchell. Mitchell is at home shooting three points, but his distribution skills will be important to the Spirit’s offensive power. Mitchell is the only player to have won the WNBA’s Most Improved Player award twice.
Mitchell won the WNBL Championships in 2016-17 with the Sydney Uni Flames, in 2018-19 with the University of Canberra Capitals and in 2020 with the Southside Flyers. Mitchell won the MVP Grand Final for the Flames and Flyers. Mitchell was also the Flyers’ MVP in their debut season. Mitchell will be reunited with coach Tracy York, with whom she played at the Adelaide Lightning. Mitchell has been a mainstay of the Opals for several years.
Former Melbourne Boomers co-captain Maddie Garrick returns to Spirit after six seasons with the Boomers. Garrick is a member of Australia’s 3 × 3 squad and played for the Opals in the 2017 FIBA Women’s Asian Cup.
Garrick, a native of Shepparton, also previously played in the WNBL with AIS and was a member of two WNBL Championships during his previous stint with Bendigo. Garrick has always found himself at home behind the three-point line. Playing 3 × 3 helped her develop and gave her the confidence to head for the basket. Garrick was Spirit’s top scorer in two preseason games.
Anneli Maley brings energy and enthusiasm to any team she plays for. Within minutes for the Southside Flyers in 2019-20, she hit the boards when she had the chance. In 2019, playing with Diamond Valley in the NBL1 competition, Maley topped the league in rebounds and won the Young Player of the Year award.
Then, in the WNBL 2020 season, Maley played for the Sydney Uni Flames. She led the league in rebounds, averaging 12.1 rebounds per game. Maley also played college basketball for the University of Oregon Ducks. Maley is the daughter of former NBL star and current Executive Managing Director of Basketball Australia, Paul Maley.
Forward Megan McKay has had a decorated junior career, representing Western Australia on several occasions and was a member of the West Coast Waves development team. Like many Australians, McKay went to college at St Mary’s, where she was named to the First Team of the All-West Coast Conference. McKay played in the top German league with TSV 1880 Wasserburg where she averaged 16 points and eight rebounds per game before joining Townsville Fire in 2020.
McKay visibly impressed the Spirit with his performance against Bendigo. In one game against the Spirit, McKay dominated rebounds (14) and assists (five) for the Fire and in the other game against the Spirit was equal to the top scorer for the Fire with 18 points and had the most rebounds. equal with eight. In 2021, McKay averaged 15.05 points per game and 11.27 rebounds per game for the Perry Lakes Hawks in NBL1 West.
Forward Carly Boag was a member of the 2016-17 Sydney Uni Flames Championship winning squad. Carly played college basketball at Minot State University in North Dakota. Boag was named All-American in two of her four seasons. In 2014-15, Carly spent a season with Leon Tregor Basket 29 in France and also played for Espoo Basket Team in Finland. Boag played for the Sydney Uni Flames during the 2020 season.
Bella Stratford returned to Bendigo Spirit as a development player. Stratford was a developmental player for the Spirit in 2019-2020 and played for the Southern Tigers in NBL1 Central that year. Stratford is from Mount Gambier and has represented South Australia at the Under-16 and Under-18 level. Stratford spent last season playing college basketball for California State University.
The Spirit has also recruited Alana Goodchild from New South Wales as a development actor. Goodchild recently spent a season at the Basketball Australia Center of Excellence. Goodchild played for Spirit coach Tracy York on the Australian Under-15 team.
The Spirit also signed the Canadian international Katherine Plouffe. However, the two parties have agreed to go their separate ways due to Plouffe’s choice regarding COVID-19 vaccinations.
With the recruitment of Mitchell, Garrick, Maley and McKay, there will certainly be a significant improvement for the Spirit this season. Although I’m not sure the level of improvement is high enough to reach the final.
Expected arrival: sixth.