Before the start of the 2015/16 Wattle Valley WNBL season, take a look at how the JCU Townsville Fire are shaping up.
JCU Townsville Fire
Last Year: 17-5, Champions
Departed: Steph Cumming, Rosie Fadljevic, Jillian Harmon, Rachael McCully, Alex Wilson.
Returning: Suzy Batkovic, Micaela Cocks, Kate Gaze, Cayla George (nee Francis), Mia Murray (nee Newley), Jacqui Zelenka.
Newcomers: Cherie Gallagher, Darcee Garbin, Natalie Novosel, Chevannah Paalvast, Tamara Tatham, Ainsley Walsh.
The Fire can get their quest for back-to-back Championships off to the perfect start with three home games to begin the season. They will be hoping to be in a strong ladder position by the time February rolls around as four of their last five matches are on the road including a double-header against Melbourne and Bendigo on February 6-7.
Cayla George was one of the stars of the league last year and will have honed her skills with the Phoenix Mercury in the USA since then. She provides an intimidating presence under the rim alongside Suzy Batkovic while Chevannah Paalvast (New Zealand) and Tamara Tatham (Canada) will be keen to prove their worth in a Championship calibre-team.
The retirement of Rachael McCully, a 300+ game veteran who had led the Fire for the past seven years is a big loss and puts the pressure on Micaela Cocks and Kate Gaze. They will also lose ten points a game without Steph Cumming and will need to be prepared for the target that is on their back as defending Champs.
Watch out for…
Paalvast is a versatile player who has spent time at Monmouth University in the USA as well as representing her home country of New Zealand in this year’s Oceania Championship. She can stretch out and knock down three-pointers and her post-game is deadly while she will also benefit the Fire’s transition game. Paalvast will be a bit of an unknown factor coming into the season and might provide the spark the Fire need to stay ahead of the competition.
A couple of significant departures from last season have been covered by international players and the Fire’s front court should be one of the most dominant in the league with George and Batkovic. Speed could be an issue with a reliance on a few of their veterans to control the tempo of the match but there is no reason to believe this team will not be contending for a fourth straight Grand Final appearance.