Jennie Rintala embraces golden WNBL opportunity with Bendigo Spirit

Bendigo Spirit newcomer Jennie Rintala plans to make the most of her first full-time shot in the Women's National Basketball League. Picture: NONI HYETT
Bendigo Spirit newcomer Jennie Rintala plans to make the most of her first full-time shot in the Women's National Basketball League. Picture: NONI HYETT

After a brief taste of playing in the big league in 2019-20, Bendigo Spirit newcomer Jennie Rintala is hungry for her next WNBL opportunity.

The Minnesota-born power forward/centre played five games for the Adelaide Lightning as a replacement for injured import Crystal Langhorne early last season.

She averaged about 14 minutes per game. Those five appearances have left her wanting for more.

Rintala was quick to seize her opportunity to join the Spirit, under second-year coach Tracy York after a meeting between the two in Adelaide earlier this year.

She believes her brief experience with the Lightning will leave her in good stead for a WNBL season like no other, to be played across just six weeks, and within the confines of hubs in the north Queensland cities of Cairns, Mackay and Townsville.

"I loved it, I really liked playing in this competition and at this level," she said.

"It didn't work out to play the entire season, but anytime I can step on the court, I'm giving it my best and I'm always going to do something to help the team.

"There's a lot of great talent in the league, a lot of great local girls in Australia, who are finally getting their chance to be on a WNBL roster.

"The competition in Australia is amazing, so just to be able to compete with everyone and be in one of the top leagues in the world has got to be exciting."

Rintala, 29, was a standout college player at South Dakota State University, before playing for the Kalamunda Eastern Suns in the Western Australian SBL in 2013.

After a second year with the Suns, she played in Germany for Rhein-Main Baskets, with a further pro stint in Luxembourg.

From 2017, Rintala spent time as a development player with the Perth Lynx, while continuing to play with the Suns before her Lightning call-up.

In between her brief stint with the Lightning and signing with the Spirit, she became naturalised, a step which has enhanced her chances of forging a longer career in the WNBL.

"It was a long process to get my residency, it took about 16-months," Rintala said.

"That's kind of why it took so long to get into the league, but finally everything thing just kind of fell into place.

"To finally be officially on a team with no restrictions, it sounds cliched, but it's my dream come true.

"Making the most of every situation, going up to Queensland is going to be an awesome opportunity. It's almost like a college (basketball) experience, having everyone in such a close-knit area.

"But it's going to be exciting."

While she did not know any of her new team-mates personally before signing with the Spirit, Rintala said she was certainly aware of some of them through their WNBL exploits.

She was both glad and relieved to meet most of them for the first time face-to-face at the Spirit's first training session in Bendigo on Monday, following months in lockdown, but plenty of interaction via the internet.

"It's been a long time coming; we've kind of worked out together on Zoom calls and we've done team meetings and everything for a few months now, so it's nice to finally get on the court and see how we all gel together now," Rintala said.

"Honestly, I am just ready to go.

"It's been a long time coming trying to get into the WNBL and now it's come to fruition.

"I'm definitely ready to give it my best."

This story Jennie Rintala embraces golden WNBL opportunity first appeared on Bendigo Advertiser.