A strong squad of 20 players has been named as the groundwork is laid for the June 3-14 World University Games in South Korea. The Australian women have performed strongly in recent years winning a gold medal in 2007, and bronze medals in 2005, 2009, 2011 and 2013.
Second only to the Olympics in terms of size, the Uni Games is open to players under 25 years of age and are seen as a vital pathway to the Opals for emerging stars.
After a great 2014 FIBA World Championship campaign that netted a bronze medal, several experienced Australian players who played at the last Uni Games were snatched by the WNBA. This has resulted in a shift in personnel, however coach Brendan Joyce is confident in the abilities of the assembled squad.
“We have a lot of youth but we have to create depth in the long term for the Opals so it is a great opportunity for our younger players to get some international experience,” he said.
Included in the squad are 15 WNBL players, representing seven teams. From the Bendigo Spirit, 100+ gamer Sara Blicavs, 2014 SEABL MVP Maddie Garrick and 22 year-old Tessa Lavey have all been named.
Dandenong Rangers also have three representatives in Alice Kunek (12.9 point average last WNBL season), 19 year-old Lauren Scherf and point guard Aimie Clydesdale. She will be joined by Adelaide Lightning’s Kerryn Harrington in the back court while teammates Alex Bunton and Carley Mijovic (both 196cm) will help the forward stocks.
From the Canberra Capitals, 2013 WNBL Rookie of the Year Steph Talbot has been named as well as her teammate from her days with SA Country, Olivia Thompson (Melbourne Boomers).
Casey Samuels showed signs of the scoring machine she can be for Sydney Flames last season while Darcee Garbin and Mikayla Pirini have the added bonus of chemistry from their time with the West Coast Waves.
Stephanie Bairstow, having been recently announced as joining SEQ Basketball, has already impressed coach Shane Heal.
Meantime, the squad also boasts Queensland’s Maddison Allen, Vanessa Panousis from Sydney and Victoria’s Alex Sheedy and Stephanie Collins.
Rounding out the list is Bec Cole, who will not travel to South Korea after suffering an ACL injury while playing in the SEABL. Her commitment to the program has been honoured despite the cruel timing of the injury.
Looking ahead to the World University Games, Joyce is expecting the tournament to provide a perfect opportunity his players.
“The biggest thing we want to get out of the Games is to expose the younger players to international competition and if European teams load up on some of their [Olympic calibre] players as they have in the past, it’s going to be a strong competition,” he admitted.
“On top of that, we are aiming to medal.”