The WBBL Power Rankings are back. The 2021-22 season is already underway and it’s time to take a look through the 13 teams with a weekly update on their progress.
London Lions, Newcastle Eagles, Sheffield Hatters and Leicester Riders have taken the first steps towards the season’s first piece of silverware by reaching the semi-finals of the WBBL Cup.
These rankings are determined by several factors including both recent results and upcoming schedule and are just the opinion of the writer.
Latest results: WBBL Cup – Durham Palatinates 77-42 Caledonia Pride; Sheffield Hatters 94-53 Nottingham Wildcats; Cardiff Met Archers 77-70 Gloucester City Queens; London Lions 83-52 Essex Rebels; Caledonia Pride 50-84 Newcastle Eagles; Leicester Riders 57-48 Oaklands Wolves; Manchester Met Mystics 81-65 Nottingham Wildcats; Oaklands Wolves 52-72 Cardiff Met Archers; Sheffield Hatters 99-52 Manchester Met Mystics; London Lions 81-76 Sevenoaks Suns; Durham Palatinates 47-80 Newcastle Eagles; Gloucester City Queens 46-81 Leicester Riders; Oaklands Wolves 70-72 Gloucester City Queens; Leicester Riders 77-46 Cardiff Met Archers
[denotes position from previous week]
(league record followed by overall record in all comps.)
The history makers. London Lions are heading into the regular season of EuroCup – becoming the first British side to do so since Rhondda Rebels in 2007 – after they overcame Spanish side Gran Canaria over two legs. Mark Clark assembled a roster that certainly turned heads in the off-season, but more importantly has backed up the attention on the court so far with Holly Winterburn in particular starting strong.
The Lions started their domestic campaign with a routine 82-53 victory over Essex Rebels in the Cup before coming through a hard-fought battle to edge out Sevenoaks Suns for a five-point success. Cassie Breen capped the comeback victory with a huge go-ahead three late on as the Lions snapped up a semi-final spot.
Outlook: A tough schedule to open the season, but the Lions have the depth in talent to deal with such challenges. An anticipated debut for Jo Leedham-Warner still awaits as the GB star’s return to action is carefully managed.
Next game: v Caledonia Pride (A) – CH – 2nd October
There will be many teams that struggle to deal with just how good the Lions are this season, but Sevenoaks put in a reminder of just how good they are in their season opener. Reigning MVP Cat Carr was straight up to speed with a strong display for the Suns, who had established a double-digit advantage before going on to fall late on to end their Cup hopes.
Len Busch had high hopes about the signing of Frankie Wurtz and the American guard looked a dangerous threat on the offensive end with British forward Jamila Thompson also making a solid debut. The Suns take on Essex to complete the group phase of the Cup, which effectively becomes a preparation game before the sides meet in the league the following week.
Outlook: Never count out the Suns. They’ve had some key departures this summer but the combination of Carr and Busch will ensure their side are competing at the highest level, as shown in their season opener.
Next game: v Essex Rebels (H) – CUP – 2nd October
Back with a vengeance. The Hatters marked their WBBL return in style by sailing through to the semi-finals of the Cup with dominant back-to-back wins over Nottingham and Manchester. Georgia Gayle fired in 28 points in the opening rout of the Wildcats before a balanced attack saw Sheffield cruise past the Mystics in a showdown for top spot with a combined winning margin of 88 points.
American guard Becca Cardenas made a strong start and is now joined by compatriots Nyilah Jamison-Myers and Ariona Gill in the front-court to further bolster Sheffield’s roster as they turn their attention to the league this weekend when they host Durham on Saturday.
Outlook: The Hatters could be really fun to watch this season and they’ve certainly laid down a marker with their performances on the opening weekend. And, that’s before they’ve added two Americans into their lineup.
Next game: v Durham Palatinates (H) – CH – 2nd October
The Eagles made light work of their Cup group to move into the semi-finals with convincing wins over Caledonia and Durham with a showdown with Leicester up next. Having dealt with early injuries last season, they were dealt a blow as Courtney Clasen went down in the opener, but the Eagles have built a much deeper roster this season.
Newcastle would have been expected to come through the group, but won both games in Durham by 30+ points in convincing fashion with Ebony Horton firing in 31 points against the Palatinates in an impressive display.
Outlook: Chris Bunten has several talented Brits at his disposal that are ready to prove themselves in the WBBL; either upon their returns from the states or looking at increased roles following switches from WBBL rivals. The Eagles have the depth and all-round talent, even if they are missing the irreplaceable Alison Gorrell.
Next game: v Oaklands Wolves (H) – CH – 2nd October
Three wins from three. Just the start the Riders would have hoped for. The performances improved as the week went in on with a comprehensive win over Cardiff sealing their spot in the semi-finals to continue their title defence.
Leicester had to grind out an opening win against Oaklands, but had a double-double from Louise Rouse as they eased past Gloucester and then came out firing against the Archers with strong displays from Brooklynn McAlear-Fanus and Oceana Hamilton, in particular.
Outlook: The Riders obviously lost key players in Holly Winterburn and Azania Stewart but have made some key new signings. And, they have a new coach in Derrick Washington, who absolutely lives every play and covers every inch of the sidelines instructing his team.
Next game: v Oaklands Wolves (A) – CH – 28th April
Lions. Suns. Suns. Lions. Probably not the first four games of a season you would ask for, but a very good early test for Essex. Their season opener ended in a near 30-point loss away in London and they take on Sevenoaks in a ‘dead rubber’ to help prepare for upcoming league battles with the same opponents.
They have new signings to gel with the majority of last season’s roster coming back and will be able to get a good gauge of where they are at with their upcoming challenges before taking on the rest of the league.
Outlook: The Rebels were the surprise package of last season even if they did tail off in the second half of the campaign. And, having brought back their core with additional signings such as Claire Paxton and Tia Freeman to add crucial depth, the Rebels could well be competing for a place amongst the top four.
Next game: v Sevenoaks Suns (A) – CUP – 2nd October
Two from two on the opening weekend, but the Archers fell short of another Cup semi-final spot as they were beaten on the road against Leicester – a repeat of last season’s last four encounter. Cardiff fell 25-8 behind to the Riders in the first quarter and were unable to recover with 27 turnovers in the contest.
Stef Collins’ side began the season with a seven-point success at home to Gloucester behind a 16-point, 16-rebound double-double from Shannon Hatch before Argentine Mara Marchizotti dominated the glass against Oaklands with 21 boards in her side’s 20-point success.
Outlook: A promising start for the Archers and will expect to only get better with the arrival of American guard Lauren Saiki to facilitate the offence as a replacement for Robyn Lewis.
Next game: v Gloucester City Queens (A) – CH – 2nd October
A difficult weekend to gauge from the Mystics as they split their double-header in Sheffield with a good win against Nottingham followed by a crushing 47-point loss to the hosts. Georgia Jones and Rheanne Bailey carried the scoring load on the weekend with Dom Allen and Vanessa Akra back in the front-court this season.
Manchester also announced the return of former GB international Lauren Thomas-Johnson, who hit double figures in the win against the Wildcats. They are the only WBBL side not in action this weekend with an extra week to get ready for another clash with the Hatters to start their league campaign.
Outlook: The Mystics kept people guessing with their lineup with some gameday announcements, but they only had seven players available for their group decider with Sheffield with the awaited arrival of American Erika Williams to come.
Next game: v Sheffield Hatters (H) – CH – 9th October
The newest franchise to the WBBL picked up their first win at the third time of asking as their starting five logged heavy minutes across the Cup group phase. Marlee Ball led the way with 26 points against her former side Cardiff in a tough opening loss before the Queens were more comfortably beaten by Leicester.
With their Cup fate already decided, Gloucester battled on the road at Oaklands to secure a thrilling two-point triumph as Maura Fitzpatrick fired in 25 points and Claire Abbott impressed against her former team with the Queens now heading into a league debut against Cardiff at the weekend in their first home game.
A very close game throughout but The Queens come away with the win! 👑
🐺 Wolves- 70
👑 Queens- 72 pic.twitter.com/TnhyOfgaRt
— Gloucester City Queens (@GlosCityQueens) September 29, 2021
Outlook: That would have been somewhat of a huge relief to get that first win on the board. It’s obvious the Queens are lacking depth right now and hopefully get some positive news about the status of GB’s Melita Emanuel-Carr, who was a big summer signing for the club.
Next game: v Cardiff Met Archers (H) – CH – 2nd October
What a start for Lee Davie’s side as they enjoyed an emphatic win over Caledonia on the opening night. The hosts blew their opponents away in the third quarter and were led by Goretti Hurtado Barbeito’s 17 points with newcomer Victoria Natufe adding a double-double of 11 points and 13 rebounds.
The Palatinates then lost their group decider by 33 points against Newcastle as they were held to under 50 points in the contest. It remains to be seen which of the performances will be the norm for this season, but Durham only ran with eight players in a predominantly youthful roster and will be tested again.
Outlook: While it was a pleasing start to the campaign for the Palatinates, they could still struggle this season with a thin-looking roster as things stand. With that said, it’s a great opportunity for some young players to get extended minutes and make a name for themselves as well as players like Katie Bennett to really push on.
Next game: v Sheffield Hatters (A) – CH – 2nd October
Not the start to the season the Wildcats would have been hoping for as their Cup hopes were crushed with a heavy defeat to Sheffield on the opening night – trailing by as many as 49 in the contest. Nottingham produced an improved display against Manchester as they went down by 16 to drop their second game of the group.
Kennedy Nicholas had a big opening weekend with a combined 52 points and 34 rebounds with two dominant double-doubles. The Wildcats also had a 21-point showing from Natalie Charity against the Mystics with Brooklyn Pannell and Shaunay Edmonds watching on from the sidelines.
Outlook: Don’t get used to the Wildcats being this low in the rankings with their fortunes to change soon as they integrate their new look American back-court for the start of the league campaign.
Next game: v Leicester Riders (A) – CH – 2nd October
An 0-3 start for the Wolves as Lauren Milligan takes the reins as player-coach this season. The emphasis is very much on given their young players from the academy a chance and there have already been bright performances – notably from Kizzy Spence and Eva Karasaite – so far.
Oaklands hung tough with Leicester Riders in their opener as Greeta Uprus netted 18 points in an eventual nine-point loss before a heavier defeat to Cardiff followed. The Wolves hosted newcomers Gloucester City Queens in midweek and rallied late from a double-digit deficit, but came up short of picking up a first win.
Outlook: Oaklands will need their senior players to lead the way for their academy contingent, but opportunities will be there for the young crop to shine. Playoffs will be the goal.
Next game: v Newcastle Eagles (A) – CH – 2nd October
A tough start to the season for a very young Caledonia side as they were handed heavy defeats by both Durham and Newcastle in the Cup. Pride were undone by a 23-4 third period against the Palatinates and trailed 18-4 after 10 minutes against the Eagles with both quarters proving costly.
Sian Phillips – still only 21 – and French guard Maud Ranger look likely to carry much of the responsibility, but Pride will be looking for their crop of promising youngsters to seize their opportunity, especially with the departures of talented junior duo Ella Doherty and Polly Storie.
Outlook: It could be a tough season for Caledonia, but they have shown a fearlessness in recent years when going up against the top clubs. They will a team to watch to see how the young players develop at the highest level.
Next game: v London Lions (H) – CH – 2nd October
All fixtures subject to change and according to official release.
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Brad has been a writer for Hoopsfix since 2014 and has also had freelance roles at the BBL and with FIBA – working at two Women’s EuroBasket tournaments. Contact: [email protected]