WNBL1: FocusHoops's Darren Paul's mid-season verdict

D1W is at the mid-season interval, though not without plenty of twists and turns along the way.

It's been a solid few months for Endeavour Ipswich Basketball, who top the standings at 10-1, also booking a place in next month's WNBL National Cup final in Manchester.

They'll face defending champs Thames Valley, before the season winds on towards April's Playoffs.

We caught up with regular WNBL contributor, FocusHoops' Darren Paul, to get his thoughts on all the events from the opening half of the season.

Best signing so far?

Hardly a shocking answer but it's got to be Harriet Welham. Picking up where she left off before playing in France, scoring for fun, drawing fouls and making a huge impact on the league.

She's the runaway leader in efficiency standings, averages over 25 points per game and is leading Ipswich in assists and rebounds. Welham isn’t just the obvious answer, she’s the right answer. And a massive headache for every team in the WNBL1.

Outside of Welham I think Judit Fritz is a fantastic signing for Brent and the WNBL more widely, as a perennial winner in the WBBL, a solid competitor and pro she’s a huge addition to not only her side, but the league more broadly.

Fritz’s impact has been immediate, leading the Bulls in points and assists and is amongst the league’s best in both categories.

Biggest surprise so far?

I'd have to go for Manchester Mystics.

The Mystics are a young squad and having been newly promoted this season are enjoying tremendous success in their first season back in WNBL D1.

With five wins under their belts in the first half of the season and already in the playoff places, I see no reason why they won’t be seriously challenging for a post season spot come the end of the campaign.

Mixing some excellent young talent, especially Irene Oboavwoduo, who is leading the side in efficiency, and veteran leadership in Rehana Khalil and the coaching of Rob Fairley, they’re a very solid outfit.

Manchester have shown us how dangerous they can be with a home victory over CoLA Southwark Pride and an early home win over Bristol, Mystics are my biggest, and most pleasant, surprise of the season so far.

A player to watch in 2024?

Welham, once again!

Leading in efficiency and points by a wide margin, her aggressive play, scoring touch and vision make her a fun player to watch. The impact she has on her team and the league overall means she’s an easy selection for this one.

For a sneaky second pick I'd go with Thames Valley's Chinwe Iwunze. She's a hard-working, hard-playing speedster with a good touch around the basket and is a blast to watch play. I'm excited to see more of her in 2024.

A team to watch in 2024?

Bristol Academy Flyers have had a difficult few seasons and looked set to continue that trend losing their first four games of 2023. After their slow start, the Flyers have picked up some big wins and are starting to remind the league just who they are.

Key to their success is the summer signing of Argentine International Mara Marchizotti, the excellent plus efficient play of Cristina Bigica and the ever-reliable Hannah Wallace. Veronic Iweanya was a huge factor in the success Bristol had last season and I’m hopeful to see her return to those heights in 2024.

Bristol face a challenging start to the new year, visiting their old rivals Anglia Ruskin at “The Bunker”. A win there will show us how serious Bristol are.

Your two teams to make the Playoff Final?

Ipswich - They’re not perfect and there are games I expect they could drop between now and the end of the season, but 10-1 at the break, almost 1,000 points scored and +303 points differential, they’re absolutely loaded offensively and are aggressive.

I expect them to see them in Manchester, but do expect their semi-final match-up to be tough whoever they play. It goes without saying Welham, who is a front runner for MVP, is a scoring and creative menace, but the buckets of Yaz Edwards and Liv Forster and the battling on the glass of Louisa Gibbins make them a tough match-up for every team in the league.

Thames Valley Cavaliers - TVC are a team with unfinished business in the WNBL playoffs, being upset in last year’s quarter-finals, having won the WNBL National Cup and finishing second in the standings.

I think the lessons learned from last spring, as well as their cup runs in the last two seasons will have better prepared them for post-season play in 2024. TVC will defend their Cup title in January, currently sit second in the standings, and despite losing one of their key defenders and team leaders in Faith Okwuosa in the off-season, they are a well coached side, full of talent and experience. 

Marrying speed, directness, length and strength, TVC are a side who can do it all on their given day and I expect more from them in the playoffs this spring.

Outside of the top-two, it wouldn’t shock me to see Brent make it all the way. Kenrick Liburd, Judit Fritz and Jess Davies are a heady trio - and that's without covering the rest of the talent at that ball club!


Main image credit - Luke Simcock