At the halfway mark Townsville Fire are a couple of games ahead in top spot and have to be considered the title favourites after two second place finishes to Bendigo Spirit.
The Spirit are right in the mix too but have suffered two disappointing losses at home to Melbourne Boomers and Sydney University Flames which have made it near impossible for them to overtake the Fire and keep home court advantage for the finals.
Sydney, Melbourne, Dandenong and Canberra all remain in the battle to round out the top four while West Coast Waves have shown some potential and Adelaide Lightning look a long way from truly being competitive.
As the league is now on pause, here is Downtown’s update on the player awards for the WNBL.
Most Valuable Player: Abby Bishop (Canberra Capitals)
It’s not just that Abby Bishop (pictured below) is the WNBL’s leading scorer and a leading rebounder but she has also had to become the leader and motivator for a Caps side who have failed to live up to expectations this term. Bishop has been the focus of opposition defences but still made big plays at both ends. With Lauren Jackson returning from injury, Bishop has said she expects her role will change but I think she has become a superstar in her own right and will power on from here.
Ones to watch: Past MVP winners Suzy Batkovic (Townsville Fire) and Penny Taylor (Dandenong Rangers) are working their way into the campaign and could make a serious challenge for this award should the Caps fall out of the finals race thus dull Bishop’s individual achievements. Tess Madgen (Melbourne Boomers) should also receive plenty of attention for her tireless efforts to start this season, especially as the Boomers had a torturous fixture up to Christmas.
Most Improved Player: Rebecca Cole (Melbourne Boomers)
Anyone who saw Cole play at the AIS will tell you she was set to be a star. Cole boasted court-speed, polished point guard skills and an ability to get steals. But bad knee injuries kept her off the court for over a year after her AIS time finished. After looking promising last campaign, this season Cole has burned averaging 13.3 points per game (2nd on team) playing in every game and meshing with Tess Madgen perfectly as they interchange between point guard and shooting guard.
Ones to watch: Olivia Thompson (Melbourne Boomers) has made the most of greater opportunities with the Boomers while also shown the ability to score regularly from the movements in the Boomers’ offence. Aimee Clydesdale (Dandenong Rangers) isn’t a stat-stuffer but her hard running and defence off the Rangers bench has been essential to the undermanned side in early matches. Clydesdale doesn’t get the long minutes to build up her points but the spark from her entry into the fray is a key part of the Rangers lineup. Sarah Graham (West Coast Waves) has also made the most of more responsibility and court time giving the Waves 12.2 points per game and adding more layups and floaters to have ever-reliable three-point shot.
6th woMan of the Year: Micaela Cocks (Townsville Fire)
Cocks is the player every coach would love to run off the bench. She powers into games and is both a threat on offence and a presence on defence. Despite coming off the bench for the Fire, Cocks is still averaging 9.1 points per game and is shooting 55 per cent from the field and 68 per cent from the three-point line. Depth is a huge reason for the Fire’s sustained success and Cocks is a major part of that bench strength.
Ones to watch: Tegan Cunningham continues to be a vital piece of Dandenong Rangers’ front line as she is playing exceptionally well as the team’s main bench forward, playing both small and power forward as needed. No power forward wants to guard Cunningham and she is hitting the boards hard as well. Deanna Smith from West Coast Waves is another player who has given her side a big boost offensively although one imagines she may be used as a starter should her great mid-season form continue in the new year.
Defensive Player of the Year: Louella Tomlinson (West Coast Waves)
Tomlinson has returned from Europe this season and stepped straight back into place as one of the WNBL’s premier shot blockers and interior forces. While Tomlinson has a slender frame, she continues to block shots from all parts of the court and is also pulling in 6.1 rebounds per game. The stat sheets don’t include changed or rushed shots and Tomlinson creates many of those as well.
Ones to watch: Suzy Batkovic is leading the league in rebounds and with Cayla Francis is making every shot in the key a difficult one. Rebecca Allen of Melbourne Boomers should also be in the discussion as she leads the league in steals, is pulling in six rebounds a game and continues to be one of the players’ opponents least want to see when they run down on offence.
Rookie of the Year: Abigail Wehrung (Canberra Capitals)
Wehrung has looked the goods in limited bench minutes for the Capitals with her steady control of the ball and a promising ability to get her shot. Wehrung showed her best form against West Coast Waves during two matches in November scoring a career high 13 points and 9 points in the other meeting.
Ones to watch: Lauren Scherf (Dandenong Rangers) will rocket up the charts if she can regain regular or even starters minutes now her high school studies have finished. A solid rebounder and surprisingly skilful centre, Scherf will only grow alongside pros like Penny Taylor and Cappie Pondexter.
Coach of the Year: Guy Molloy (Melbourne Boomers)
Given the Boomers lost Rachel Jarry on the verge of the season and didn’t have their import until two months into the campaign, it’s a special achievement for them to have a winning record after playing 15 games, the most in the WNBL up to Christmas. Molloy has kept his players on track, helped them create a “never say die” attitude and encouraged young stars like Tess Madgen, Rebecca Allen and Rebecca Cole to become stars. Now the challenge is for the Boomers to kickstart again in the New Year and keep up their wins.
Ones to watch: Chris Lucas from Townsville Fire has been superb and kept his super talented roster on the court and all buying in. The Fire’s record is outstanding and the way post-tandem Suzy Batkovic and Cayla Francis are playing together is a sight to behold. Kennedy Kereama from West Coast Waves also deserves praise for the turn-around the Waves have enjoyed so far with more wins that all of last season. The New Zealand national has encouraged his side to take their fitness and preparedness to the next level and made two savy signings in import Lindsey Moore and centre Louella Tomlinson who have performed at an elite level.