The 2017 Womens Basketball Championship (WBC) begins this Sunday when Otago Gold Rush will host Auckland Lady Rangers at the Edgar Centre in Dunedin.

This will be the first game within an 11 team round-robin competition, where the countrys best domestic talent will strive for provincial supremacy.

Next week, all the WBC teams will gather to continue the round-robin, 4 and 5 May and then AUT on 6 May. Teams will then continue to host a number of home-and-away games to finish the round-robin in the regular season. The tournament will conclude with the Finals Tournament in Christchurch on 6-8 July.

Alloyfold Canterbury Wildcats

Defending champions Alloyfold Canterbury Wildcats have lost influential guards Terai Sadler and Shea Crotty who both played for the New Zealand Select team last year. Crotty is now playing for Tall Ferns coach Kennedy Kereama at Sunbury Jets in Melbourne.

Despite the absentees Wildcats Head Coach and 2016 WBC Coach of the Year, Lori McDaniel, will still be able to call on last seasons League MVP Fran Edmondson, Hayley Gray and Courtney Hamblin.

American import Ashley Gayle also returns to provide formidable front court presence. Gayle, having played professionally in Bulgaria and Sydney, still holds the shot block record at the University of Texas from where she graduated in 2012.

Another graduate of the American system is Darcy Rose. The linguistics specialist played college basketball in the US at Dartmouth College winning three Ivy League titles and played at the NCAA Tournament twice. Rose captained the Big Greens during her 2008-2009 senior season.

The Wildcats have added New Zealand Junior internationals Lauryn Hippolite, Esra McGoldrick, Charlotte Whittaker and Aimee Book to its roster, as it looks to go back to back.

Coach McDaniel is looking forward to seeing how the young players develop as they are incorporated into the squad.

"We have a good mix of young and experienced players led by the likes of Rose, Edmonson, Gray and Gayle, but it is a big adjustment for me having to coach high school players again because last year we had none. We have good leadership amongst our older players as we try to follow on from last years success.

"A couple of young players from the Nelson area have joined us - Lauryn (Hippolite) and Aimee (Book) as well as Esra (McGoldrick). Im expecting them to play significant minutes, especially in the tournament games, as everyone needs to contribute. Lauryn has really stepped up in the point guard spot, Im a big fan of hers at the moment."

McDaniel is looking forward to the start of the competition and expects the main threat to come from a couple of familiar foes.

"You have to look out for Otago as they have good structures and always come out really strong. Leanne Walker does a great job with the Waikato team even though they are often quite young but they are fiery and they are skilled and play really hard.

"The strength of other Associations will depend on which of their players they can get back from American colleges. It will be interesting to see and we could be in for a tough run.

"I do think, with the new home and away format, it does encourage some good support of teams in their local regions. It makes teams train harder and better and practice more, which makes me think we are in for a really good season."

Waikato Wizards

As McDaniel stated, last years runner up the Waikato Wizards will be coached by former Olympian Leanne Walker. Her daughter, age-group international Charlisse, will officially debut for the Wizards.

Older sister Krystal, a 2016 Tall Fern, is awaiting clearance from the University of Northern Colorado. US College commitments will also likely affect Kendell Heremaias availability.

Miriam Stevens and Kelcy Ballantyne will harness the front court with veteran Natasha Lenden piloting the back court. The balance of the squad will have a strong Waikato age-group presence from their Under 17, 19, 23 age groups.

Tauranga City Coasters

Foundation players Courtney Wilson, Cairyn Rogers and Kaatia Watene return for their third year with the Tauranga City Coasters.

Maka Daysh returns after a stint at Chadron State University. The power forwards leadership and interior presence will be invaluable for coach Rachel Gwerder and new assistant, former Tall Fern Audrey Abbot.

The Coasters have gained Texi Schaeffer a former stand out guard at Canyon High School, Texas. Schaeffer is currently working in Tauranga and will add experience and maturity to a young team that includes two sets of sisters - Te Hiria and Ngatai Bennett and Cairyn and Briarley Rogers. Gone from last season are Tayla McKendrick and Rebecca Hughes.

Coasters coach Rachel Gwerder says that her team, although still extremely young (only two of the squad are ineligible for the National Under 23 tournament later this year), are likely to be more competitive than previous seasons.

"Because they have been involved in the competition for three years the players are definitely stronger than they were in year one, year two and year three. Maka (Daysh) coming back gives us some true size and that is the one thing that we have really lacked in the past having an interior presence."

American Texi Schaeffer was spotted playing club basketball in Tauranga, "She is a really solid player who fits really well into our team environment. She doesnt do anything fancy, she just performs really solidly. For us the WBC is a platform for our players to go on and do other things in the game either collectively or individually."

Gwerder also thinks the 2017 WBC could be a more open competition.

"I think this year the talent and ability is spread more evenly amongst the teams which should lead to an exciting and more even competition. There are still going to be your power-houses, but I think we are likely to see a more competitive WBC this year."

Harbour Breeze

Harbour Breeze return after a twelve month hiatus under the guidance of rookie coach Sonny Tuaputa.

Tuaputa will have veterans Mikayla Blair, Anna Lacey, Tall Fern Deena Franklin and are also hoping to have American based players Georgia Perrott-Hunt, Tiarna Clarke and Zara Jillings available for part of the season, subject to US college demands.

It is anticipated that former Capital Flyers players Sonya Milford and Shanee Kiriau will link up with the Breeze. Another key signing is Georgia Agnew who has completed a four year stint at Utah Valley University.

Brooke Blair and Jaycin Tini are both unavailable as they recover from ACL injuries.

Auckland Lady Rangers

Auckland Lady Rangers will be led by Tall Ferns Assistant Coach Aik Ho. Rangers stalwarts Stevee Theyers, Kezia Kelly and Darci Finnigan will marshal the back court. Milomilo Nanai has the potential for break out season and aid a young looking squad that in addition to Finnigan has a number of players that have gained experience playing in the States.

Greissen Leslie and Jess Nicholson have had a season in Junior College whilst

Katelin Noyer, a 2016 Tall Fern debutant, is in her freshman year at Fresno State University.

Otago Gold Rush

2015 champions Otago Gold Rush, with a strong core of players returning and continuity in the coaching ranks, look to have a team capable of pressing for a top four finish.

Amongst the returning contingent are New Zealand Select representatives Janet Main and Soraya Umaga-Jensen. They will be supported by the likes of Natalie Smith, Natalie Visger, Bronwyn Kjestrup, Aleisha Ruske and Junior Tall Fern Nicole Ruske.

Lost from last season are Kelly Groot and Claudia Flawes, but returning coaches Todd Marshall and Dean Ruske have been able to strengthen the depth of the squad by including young Olivia ONeill (St. Hildas Colleigate) and sisters Zoe and Brittany Richards. The twins are back from a successful first year at Gillette College in Wyoming.

Taranaki Thunder

Taranaki Thunder, semi-finalists last season, will have seven returning players including dual international Jessica Tuki who is back playing following the birth of a baby boy last November. Tall Ferns coach Kennedy Kereama is sure to be tracking the form of the WBCs leading rebounder in 2016.

Taranaki have joined forces with Palmerston North and selected two young players from that region - Maia Watling from Palmerston North Girls High School and Nicole Cutler.

2016 Thunder captain Jenna Kensington is unavailable, as is Junior Tall Fern Joellen How who has headed to New York on a four year scholarship at Wagner College.

The Thunder will again be coached by Angelo Hill, who also coached the Opunake High School team to the Girls A Secondary Schools National title in 2016. Two members of that team, sisters Simonne and Isabelle Cook will suit up for the Thunder.

Waikato Country Cannons

The new team on the block is Waikato Country Cannons. Coached by Tyler Wilkinson the team will be built around the experience of Breana Jones, Donna Fermanis and Freda Riwai. Riwai has transferred from Te Tai Tokerau Phoenix, Jones from Auckland and Fermanis has made the short hop from the Waikato Wizards.

Rotorua Lady Vols

Like Harbour Breeze, the Rotorua Lady Vols return after a one year absence. Amongst others coach Sue Pene welcomes back Awatea Leach, Rilee Rehu, Elian Maxwell and Matangiroa Flavell from previous campaigns.

Te Tai Tokerau Phoenix

Te Tai Tokerau Phoenix will have three generations of Camerons in action. The family matriarch Mata will once again be coaching the Phoenix with her daughter Jeannie also returning for another season. Also in the lineup is Jeannies daughter Leylanni Cameron-Tana.

Guard Jaimee-Lee Tito returns for another season alongside Marion Te whui.

Capital Swish

Wellington based Capital Swish also has a strong family connection with the Penese family playing key roles. Nixon Penese takes over from George Leafa as head coach whilst his wife Luana continues in the managers position. Daughter Sariah, a Junior Tall Fern in 2016, completes the family connection.

Camece Salmon returns to the Swish and will make for a handy front court alongside Joanna Judge and Fijian international Bulou Tuisue.

Live Streaming

The following games will be available to view through live stream on Friday 5 May at www.nzherald.co.nz/basketball

TIME | GAME

9:00am | Harbour Breeze V Taranaki Thunder

10:45am | Otago Gold Rush V Waikato Wizards

12:30pm | Auckland Lady Rangers V Alloyfold Canterbury Wildcats

4:00pm | Taranaki Thunder V Waikato Country Cannons

5:45pm | Waikato Wizards V Capital Swish

7:30pm | Tauranga City Coasters V Auckland Lady Rangers

Tournament 2 Finals, in Christchurch on 6-8 July will also be live streamed.

Tournament 1: Harbour - May 4-6

Host: North Harbour Basketball Association

North Shore Events Centre May 4 & 5

AUT University Stadium May 6

Home & Away Games

Refer to http://www.basketball.org.nz/WBC

Tournament 2 - FINALS: Christchurch - July 6-8

Host: Canterbury Basketball Association

Cowles Stadium, Christchurch

This tournament will also be live streamed.

To read the draw, rosters and tournament programme go to http://www.basketball.org.nz/WBC
- This story has been automatically published using a media release from Basketball New Zealand