It may be called the sweet sixteen in the NCAA, but here in the WNBL, Townsville Fire coach, Shannon Seebohm has the sweetest sixteen of them all. His team has won 16 games in a row to take out the 2022-23 WNBL Championship.
The Fire peaked at just the right time in the season, and despite suffering injuries to a few key players, they truly stepped up as a team and it was the combination of their depth and some stellar leadership that led them to being crowned champions.
Game 2 was nothing like Game 1, as the Southside Flyers showed serious grit, fighting for a chance to stay in championship contention. A hot from the start was veteran Abby Bishop who could not miss, she was the spark her team needed to apply pressure on the Townsville Fire. But where there was a Flyers score, there was a Fire score, as both teams went back and forth up and down the floor.
Steph Reid continued her role as a menace both offensively and defensively. On O, she tore the Flyers' defence apart, proving very difficult to stay in front of. Lanes would just open as the Flyers chose to prevent the three-point dish out. She put on a point guard clinic, her handles, her timing, and her finishes could not be faulted. On D, she was an absolute pest, showing zero fatigue, staying up in the grill of Maddy Rocci and Monique Conti, stopping both from getting anything easy. While it may not have always ended in a steal, it slowly chipped away at their confidence and momentum.
For the Flyers, it was Bec Cole who stepped up for her team, whether it be posting up smaller guards, hitting threes or making some incredible shots, it was a standout performance and helped the Flyers stay competitive. Ultimately, it wasn't enough. The scoring dried up, despite some punch from Nyadiew Puoch off the bench. The usual threats in Rocci, Kayla Thornton, and Sara Blicavs struggled and could not put up the numbers necessary to get the win.
The Fire was all class to clinch the title, momentum swayed in their favour towards the second half of the last quarter. Tianna Hawkins was yet again in excellent form, hitting some big shots, but just her consistency on offence was enough to help her team. It was also enough to earn her the Grand Final series MVP.
Overall, it was the type of grand final every fan likes to see, the momentum seesawed, and the winner wasn't clear until the last few minutes of the game. It was a physical contest, but it was teamwork, perseverance and pure skill that led to the Fire getting up. Coach Seebohm was voted Coach of the Year for a reason, his players' confidence, and composure on court a direct correlation of his behaviour. His assurance in his squad and their potential was evident in their strong home run to the regular season and into finals, weathering multiple injuries, they were consistent in their game plan and always played to their strengths -- no matter where that came from.
For the runners up, this was one comeback they couldn't make. An honourable effort from Cheryl Chambers and her team, considering the adversity they faced throughout the year. Their mental toughness showed in the second game, however, physical fatigue likely played a part in the end result.
It's safe to say that this has been one of the most competitive and entertaining seasons of WNBL yet. Difficult to pick a winner from the beginning and the top four saw plenty of upsets and change throughout the season, from top to bottom of the ladder, it was anybody's game to win. Congratulations to the Townsville Fire on winning the ones that count!