There’s a sense of nostalgia for WNBL players turning up to pre-season training in Townsville.
- Townsville Fire move to a new home – bringing the old Townsville Crocs stadium back to life
- WNBA imports Monique Billings and Sug Sutton join the roster of the 2020 grand finalists
- The women will play a full home and away fixture for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic
The 2020 grand finalists have moved to a new training venue and home court for the upcoming season.
It’ll be known as The Fire Pit, but diehard basketball fans will recognise the bleachers of the Townsville Entertainment Centre.
It was formerly The Swamp and home to the Townsville Crocs — the local men’s team which folded in 2016 due to financial troubles.
The women are hoping to breathe life back into the venue.
Nadeen Payne got butterflies walking back into the stadium where she used to watch games as a kid.
“I’m really excited for Townsville to see us in this arena and hopefully bring some spirit back into the Entertainment Centre,” Payne said.
WNBA imports join the side
The Fire will take to the court this season with an almost identical roster to the side that made the grand final in the condensed WNBL season in 2020.
The few changes include veteran Micaela Cocks returning after having her baby Hazel, and two WNBA imports.
Alecia “Sug” Sutton has arrived in north Queensland off the back of her impressive season with the Washington Mystics, who scouted the now 22-year-old from the University of Texas in last year’s WNBA draft.
Fire guard and Australian Opals player Lauren Nicholson says the import has already provided a boost to the entire Townsville squad.
“It just really raises the level of competition and having Sug here, just in the pre-season it’s already making us all a lot better,” Nicolson said.
Atlanta’s Monique Billings will also add to the calibre and size of the Fire’s line-up.
Standing at 1.95 metres, Billings has played for the Atlanta Dream in WNBA for the past four seasons.
“We’re looking forward to having her (Billings) as well, but same as all the other teams around the league, they have really high-quality imports, so it’s going to be a really tough season,” Nicolson said.
Forward Payne is also eagerly awaiting the arrival of the “big”, with Billings having delayed her trip to Australia due to personal reasons.
“It’ll be great to have another big. [We] love us bigs,” Payne said.
“I don’t think our league will be ready for her … the imports that we’re getting over the last couple of years have all been WNBA-calibre players and that only makes us better.”
Back on the road
The Fire arguably had the home crowd advantage all last season, with north Queensland hosting the entire WNBL fixture across Townsville, Cairns and Mackay due to COVID-19.
As opposed to 16 games in 39 days, this year the Fire — like all WNBL sides — will contest an 84-game regular season but have recovery time between matches, not to mention the luxury of a normal pre-season.
It is a relief for players like Nicholson, who has just returned from a tournament in Jordan with the Australian Opals.
“I think we have a lot more preparation [time] this year, as does every team,” Nicholson said.
“We all love being on the road … it’s a great time for the team to bond and get to know each other.”
Head coach Shannon Seebohm hopes his side can go one better this year, after going down 99-82 to the Southside Flyers in the grand final.
He said the team learned a lot from the condensed, hub-style season.
“I think the players enjoyed not having practice sessions and just playing games every other day,” Seebohm laughed.
But as a coach, Seebohm is happy to see the return of the full home-and-away fixture for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It [a full season] gives us the opportunity to develop players … and obviously just the challenge of going up against teams with a full week of preparation under our belt and theirs,” Seebohm said.
“And I think this is the best crop of import talent that our country’s ever had here on the women’s side, so the league’s going to be stocked full of talent.”
The Fire begin their 2021/22 season on the road facing the Adelaide Lightning on December 10.
They’ll play their first home match at The Fire Pit on December 18, with a grand final rematch against the Southside Flyers on December 23.