As we face into a new Women’s Super League season, we look set for an incredible battle between familiar foes at the top of the table. The addition of Division One conquerors Maree will add more depth to the league. Here we take a look at each team and ask the big question facing each team going into the new league campaign.
Liffey Celtics (Last season – 1st)
The defending champions come into the season with a major target on their back after they took the League and Cup double last season. In fact, they were agonisingly close to the treble and had their American Briana Green not had a season ending injury just ahead of the Champions Trophy final, they may have achieved the remarkable feat. This year brings big changes in Kildare though as Mark Byrne steps away from the club as head coach and he is replaced by Laura Mullally.
Mullally, who is from the midlands, played college basketball in America and has also coached at collegiate level in the States. In her first year in the job she will be hoping for a big impact from American duo Kylee Smith and Darby Maggard. Maggard in particular comes with a glittering resume that saw her finish her college career at Belmont as the 5th all time three point shooter across the entire NCAA!
The fact that both Americans played college basketball together will surely help them to settle into Liffey even quicker. Liffey’s strength last year came from the combination of Americans and Irish and this year’s Irish contingent will be as strong as ever. Sorcha Tiernan fresh off her bronze medal win with the Ireland U20 women’s team is rapidly becoming the top guard in the country.
On the inside, Aine O’Connor was second in the country in rebounding last season and she should enter this year in confident mood after a strong summer with the Ireland Senior Women’s team. The big question facing Liffey Celtics is how they will respond to being the team with the target on their back, especially with a coach unfamiliar with the Super League.
Marble City Hawks (Last season – 9th)
Last season was a challenging one for Marble City Hawks as they managed just four wins out of 18 games in their debut season. The hope for Julian O’Keeffe’s team this season is that that year’s experience in the top flight will help them push forward this time around.
For the Hawks to have success, new American signing Cassidy Williams will need to be very productive. The 5’8 guard played Division I NCAA last season for Belmont where she was 17th in the Nation in three-point field goal percentage. Katie Fox will be in charge once more at the top of the key, but the loss of Kelly O’Hallahan will be a big gap for Hawks to fill.
Averaging just 54 points a game last year, Hawks struggled against the top teams and they will need to find a way to get regular scoring contributions from Elaine Kennington and the rest of the Irish core in order to be able to avoid relegation. The question for Marble City is where can they get regular scoring from outside of their American players?
Maxol WIT Wildcats (Last season – 6th)
With Irish legend Jillian Hayes on the sideline as head coach, there is a lot of excitement in Waterford for both the development of their senior core but also the potential step up of Abby Flynn. Flynn is a multi sport star who led the Irish team at the U18 European Championships. Her performances abroad and in the U18 National Cup last season have raised expectations and Flynn is more than capable of living up to the hype.
Hayes will be hoping for a big impact from new American signing Maria Palarino who is coming in fresh from a standout career at Saint Francis, where she scored over 1,000 career points. Last season, Wildcats ended the season with a 10-8 record that saw them in a log jam with the fourth best record. Hayes will be hoping to up their scoring average from 65 points if they are going to challenge the top group for silverware this season.
The question on people’s minds is if Abby Flynn steps up, how quickly she may be handed the reins to the team as she undoubtedly has the talent to lead the group. Wildcats are definitely ones to watch this year.
IT Carlow Basketball (Last season - 8th)
Last season Carlow ended up just outside the danger zone with a record of 5-13. American Àlyssa Velles has moved over from Wildcats and she will be hoping to form a strong partnership with fellow American, Kaitlyn Slagus. Slagus comes in with an impressive resume that saw her earn three All Patriot League honours while at Bucknell. Coach Martin Conroy will be concerned though as he looks to replace the production of two key Irish players who have moved on.
Kate O’Flaherty has signed with league champions Liffey Celtics and she will provide a sharp shooting option for them. Aoife Whelan is also out of the roster and in that duo there is a major gap in production for Carlow. Coach Conroy has signed local reinforcements but the lack of Super League experience could be an issue. The big question facing Carlow is do they have enough Super League experience amongst their Irish players to be able to survive the drop this season?
Singleton Supervalu Brunell (Last season – 4th)
Tim O’Halloran enters his second season in the coaching seat for Brunell. In his first year, the Cork side reached the cup final and finished 4th in the league. O’Halloran has brought in some exciting signings for the new year with Lithuanian guard Greta Tamasauskaite expected to be a big producer on Leeside.
Interestingly as Edel Thornton returns to Ireland (and will line out in Division One with Trinity Meteors) it is actually her former Quinnipiac college teammate who is lining up for Brunell as Aryn McClure joins the Cork outfit. McClure was a two time All-MAAC performer where she averaged double digits in points for Quinnipiac alongside Thornton. The return of star point guard, Tricia Byrne, is a major boost for Brunell as she has already proved herself as a strong guard in the league and her combination with McClure should be exciting to watch.
The loss of Linda Rubene will be felt immediately as she was a class act for Brunell last year. O’Halloran will have a different type of inside presence available though as Sinead O’Reilly makes her return to top level basketball and she will bring a high basketball IQ and physicality to the team. Disappointingly, Amy Murphy who has played a big role on the recent underage Irish successes has moved across town to Fr Mathews.
The big question facing Brunell this year is will they have enough size inside to be able to compete against the strongest teams?
Maree (Last season – promoted from Women’s Division One)
Maree absolutely dominated the National League Division One last year going undefeated in their maiden season. Clare Rockall leaving Glanmire to help support the growth of her home club was a major boost for the team in their debut year. Joining together with Dayna Finn, their backcourt was the envy of every team in the country. Head coach Joe Shields recruited cleverly and Fiona Scally returned to such prominence that she earned a call up to the Ireland Senior Women’s team.
This season comes a new challenge in the Super League though as with the new step up, comes new advantages and one major disadvantage. Starting with the disadvantage is the loss of Dayna Finn for the season. Finn was the second top scorer for Ireland’s bronze winning U20 team, despite being a year young for the age group. Her hard nosed aggressive style is ideal for the Super League and she would have been a major cog for Maree. She is out of the roster as she moves to Spain for Erasmus.
To help fill the void comes Carly McLendon, the club’s first female American signing. McClendon played at Division II Rollins in the Sunshine State Conference where she was named the Conference Defensive Player of the Year. Her combination with Fiona Scally on the inside should make scoring difficult for opponents.
The question facing Maree is do they have enough guard scoring to trouble the top teams or will there be too much of a burden placed on Clare Rockall’s shoulders?
Pyrobel Killester (Last season – 7th)
Last season, Killester were the story of the last two months as they went on a remarkable run to challenge for a playoff spot. Incredible shooting displays saw them hand Liffey Celtics their first loss and pointed to an exciting future ahead for the team once healthy. This summer has raised more questions than answers though as there has been a major turnover in personnel.
Hannah Thornton - who has become a major force on the Irish Senior Women’s team - has moved down the road to DCU Mercy where she is joined by Meave Phelan who is fresh off her bronze medal win with the Irish U20s. Add in the loss of Kerry footballer, Emma Sherwood, and Jade Daly and a large part of the Irish core is now gone. Expectations will be even higher for Rebecca Nagle to produce consistently and Killester will need Aisling McCann to continue her step up.
Killester’s plans will be aided by the addition of Adella Randle El, the American who last season led the league in scoring (22.7ppg) for Glanmire and they are bolstered by the return of American, Christa Reed. The question facing Killester is have they lost too much Irish leadership to push for a top 6 finish?
Ambassador UCC Glanmire (Last season – 5th)
Last season was a big transition year for Glanmire as they dealt with the losses of Grainne Dwyer and Clare Rockall. Finishing 5th overall, Mark Scannell will be looking to re-tool and make a challenge for silverware again this year. The exciting roster for Glanmire sees a combination of experience and youth, particularly amongst their Irish players.
Aine McKenna and Casey Grace are both experienced senior internationals who are used to winning championships and they will be joined by some up and coming talents who are now fully embedded in the Super League team. Annaliese Murphy and Louise Scannell both have extensive international experience and are no strangers to the big occasion – both also on the Ireland U20 bronze medal winning squad earlier this summer. Coach Scannell has also secured the signing of Amy Dooley who returns from the States and adds another of the bronze medal winning u20 squad to Glanmire’s squad.
The Irish talent is supplemented by the American duo of Shrita Parker and Tatum Nuebert. Parker played at both Rutgers and UMC Willmington and looks to be a hard nosed guard that will cause teams huge issues. Neubert is a 6’2 forward who played for some of America’s top programmes including Oregon during her collegiate career.
Mark Scannell definitely has the talent to compete, but the question facing Glanmire is do they have enough big wing players capable of competing against the likes of Grainne Dwyer in the big games?
Fr Mathews (Last season – 3rd and Champions Trophy champions)
In their maiden year in the Super League, Fr Mathews certainly made people take notice as they won the Champions Trophy in dramatic style last March. The addition of Grainne Dwyer automatically put the team into contention. Another year of Dywer coupled with the returning duo of Shannon Brady and Chantell Alford gives Mathews a continuity that is the envy of others.
That said there are still questions around this Matthews’ team, especially with the loss of key guard Hollie Herlihy. The additional retirement question has been there for Niamh Dwyer and her experience and mentality alone would be a major blow if it was removed from the team. The additions of Simone O’Shea and Amy Murphy will give some added depth but the question that will face Mathews is what point guard play can they get?
If they are to truly challenge Liffey Celtics for League honours, they will need quality guard play to support a tough defense they have already established.
DCU Mercy (Last season – 2nd)
Mercy are the team coming into the season both with the greatest possibility and also the biggest questions. Mark Ingle has lost underage Irish star Bronagh Power Cassidy who has headed to the States to play college basketball. In addition to that big loss is the loss of Aisling Sullivan, who has moved to Swords Thunder and at the very least, it’s the loss of a clever playmaker.
Sarah Woods has transformed into a star in recent years and she will be expected to play a major role again for the DCU women. On the inside, Rachel Huijsdens has been steadily developing into the best post player in the country and she will have the added benefit of playing alongside Hannah Thornton this year who has joined from Killester. With Maeve Phelan adding significant depth to an already strong core this is undoubtedly the deepest Irish roster in the country.
Success for Mercy may be dependent on the strengths of their import players and on first glance it looks like Mark Ingle has two strong players coming in. Meredith Buckhall is a 6’3 forward who played at Iowa State and she’s joined by guard Ashley Russell who had a standout career at Penn. The big question facing Mark Ingle’s squad is how quickly the squad can mesh with so many new faces joining.