Month: January 2017

Manchester Mystics

Mystics U14 continue good form with big win over Sheffield

Mystics u14s game at Sheffield last October was a real humdinger which is also the name of a song by JJ Barnes, northern soul, check it out on youtube! We trailed for virtually the whole game but finished stronger than Hercules to sneak home by five, 48-43. Despite learning a great deal – wine gums £1 a bag at Asda- from this first encounter which I intended to use to our advantage (If I could remember what it was!), we all expected a similarly close fought- I use the word advisedly- contest on this occasion. 

I was fully aware (for once) that it would be necessary to get the match-ups right. (I even considered contacting E-harmony!) We would also have to find ways to subdue the threat of Sheffield’s 2 main scorers as well as dealing with their considerable height advantage. (High heels were not an option!)

Given the depth of our squad, I was confident we would give a good account of ourselves. Little did I know- a phrase often directed at me by my dear wife!- that I was about to witness as comprehensive a TEAM performance from a Mystics U14 side as I have seen for many years. I emphasise the word ‘team’ because we managed to overwhelm one of our main competitors while giving all 10 players meaningful court time, with each player making a positive contribution.

This has been a pleasing aspect of our season so far and means that we are less likely to tire in the second half than our opponents tend to (although I do occasionally doze off!) Today’s first half resembled a warm autumnal day (reasonably close!). The second half reminded me of someone extinguishing candles. It was a blow out!

As with any story, a good beginning was a must. Our 5 starters, Courtney Kenyon-Betts, Holly and Lucy Bryan, Beth McLoughlin and Charli Wroe, as opposed to 3 prawn cocktails and 2 soups, gave us exactly that. They came out of the blocks like greyhounds on speed! Beth, Lucy and Charli combined to pile up the points (22 in all) while Courtney and Holly were as miserly as Scrooge in restricting a team to only 11 in 10 minutes. (Half their normal tally.)

We had lost none of our efficiency or togetherness with the appearance of Ellie Atherton and Olivia Forster in the latter stages of the first quarter. The two of them always give all they’ve got and fitted in as well as my feet do into my favourite slippers. (Admittedly, not being rich, I do only have one pair!) Their introduction meant that I had now used 7 players and all 7 had been magnificent. ( Guess the film title!)

At this stage, against tough opponents, an 11 point lead is almost as healthy as 5 a day but could we re-produce an equally scintillating display in the second period? If we could, Sheffield would doubtless find it as difficult to turn things round as it would be to try to pick up ice cubes with chop sticks whilst wearing boxing gloves.

We couldn’t. Sheffield upped their defensive intensity and despite Holly now scoring almost as regularly as a brain-dead US President contrives to alienate fair-minded people, we could only add 2 to our lead at 36-23 by half-time. Before the tip, we would have been as happy as Larry, whoever he is, with a scoreboard showing us just one away from two well-known lemonade drinks- 13 up! However, what followed was more, much more, than any optimist could have hoped for. The work-rate and mental toughness displayed by all 10 Mystics, including the yet to be mentioned trio, Ellie Hatton, Lidja Toland  and Lauren Addy was so impressive that it would have exceeded even Charles Dickens lofty expectations.

To win a quarter 23-5 against one of the best sides in the league is nearly as special as the Special One, old big head, thinks he is. We were now, incredibly, sitting on a massive 31 point lead at 59-28. Consequently, with no earthquakes forecast, I made more subs in the fourth quarter than were made for the Royal Navy during World War Two! In no way did this hinder the quality of our basketball. (I’m referring to our play, not the ball itself which is of dubious quality!) We bossed the final 10 minutes to the tune of 22-10 to finish with a dream-like 45 point margin of victory. (Fully 40 more than the last time we met Sheffield.) The 83-38 scoreline is not only a numerical palindrome, it also is even more astounding than it appears when one considers that, before this game, Sheffield averaged 77 points against all other opponents so far this season, conceding only 35 points per game.

Figures can, of course, be misleading- that’s why I find painting by numbers so confusing! – but the 8s and 3s here are a true reflection of our superiority on the day. With more demanding fixtures on the horizon, we must take heart from this but mustn’t get carried away by it. There remains all to play for.

Thanks to my trusted assistants Sammy and James for your truly valued help and to all our brilliant supporters.

Jim Carnegie

Manchester Mystics

Mystics U14 seal play-off spot with win at Leicester

Having arrived at Gateway College early last Sunday, it was more a case of Closed Gateway apart from a few blokes whacking a dead budgie over a net. (Playing badminton.) When everyone had arrived, I was relieved to find that the Leicester Warriors side did not include Genghis Khan, Geronimo or Attila the Hun but disappointed that the pre-match music was no better than last year! (Get some Northern Soul on!)

With it being, in the words of one of our more eloquent parents, ‘quite a treck,’ I was keen to try give all 10 Mystics a fair amount of court time by using the not necessarily to be recommended five on, five off strategy I often employ against less experienced opponents. Leicester fall into this category so I balanced out the fives and the way Holly and Lucy Bryan (that’s their surname, not their brother), Charli Wroe, Beth McLoughlin and Ellie Atherton began reminded me of wearing new shoes which rub. It was blistering! It was like being a spectator at the Greyhound Derby watching Ellie, Charli and Lucy sprinting down court as if they were being chased by someone they didn’t want to talk to. Their efforts were rewarded by some precision passing from Beth and Holly who both have the vision and range to create chance after chance. We were 10-0 up in less time than it takes for a Frenchman to cook a steak and when our subs (players, not boats) came on, there was no respite for the hosts who nevertheless kept their heads up and gave everything for their ever-encouraging coach. Olivia Forster, Lilja Toland and Kizzie Spence were now the greyhounds and they were being fed by Lauren Addy and Ellie Hatton who delivers the ball like a skud missile launcher.

Our uncomplicated approach saw us take the first quarter 31-6 but things were nowhere near as easy in the second period. The Warriors came out fighting and shot well from medium range as we became somewhat complacent on offense and lazy on defence in the absence of our defensive mastermind, Courtney Kenyon-Betts. We turned round 50-17 to the good with all 10 players having played roughly the same amount of time. (Although some played more roughly than others!)

Leicester made us work hard for what we got in the third but were unfortunate to find Charli in irrepressible form, scoring 12 of our 25 points in the period. The two fives sent out in the fourth both clicked like an expensive Swiss watch as we ran in an incredible 39 points in 10 minutes without even the sniff of a press to finish 114-31. No less than 6 Mystics registered double points, with a seventh scoring 8. (That sounds almost as confusing as football commentator Glenn Hoddle’s comment: ‘ They’re like sitting ducks, standing there.’)

The post-match hospitality was of the usual high standard although one or two of our girls shared the basketball more than they did the pizza! Our victory ensures a place in the last sixteen but each win in our remaining 5 fixtures, with Sheffield next up, will give us a more advantageous draw. Congratulations girls but there is still all to play for.

Many thanks to Sammy for all his help and to all taxi-driving parents for you support.

Jim Carnegie

Manchester Mystics

Mystics U14 big road win at Leeds

The Mystics Under 14s headed to white rose rivals Leeds Force on Sunday and came home with a 95 – 24, victory.

The notion that some of our parents were apprehensive about having to travel up the hill across the border to Yorkshire due to a dodgy weather forecast which predicted wet stuff falling from on high must have been transmitted to our kit because it decided not to arrive until the last minute itself! In the event, we were hindered by precipitation from above but rather than rain or snow, it took the form of an incessant drip (not Michael Gove or Boris Johnson this time) from the sports hall ceiling. This meant we had to move from a spacious full court setting to a more cramped side court which was like going from the Sahara Desert to Blackpool Beach and did not suit our running style of basketball.

To say that we started poorly would be as much of an understatement as calling Donald Trump quite worrying! Having won the home leg of this fixture by about 90, I decided to mix up two fives for the first quarter and split the time between them. The problem with plans is that they have a female side which means they often change their mind! We began as if we were trying to make a sequel to the classic film, Sleepless in Seattle with our very own Fast Asleep in Leeds! During the first 3 minutes, I’ve seen more life in anaesthetic! A fully awake Leeds Force took advantage and pounced to take a commanding 0-2 lead. As one of their girls flew to basket, I thought maybe we weren’t playing the Leeds Force but the Air Force!

Our start had made me take on the characteristics of 1 of the 7 dwarfs and I don’t mean Happy! Being a grumpy old man, I whisked the 5 mixed starters off earlier than intended and replaced them with a new 5 who all seemed fully conscious. They transformed me into Happy by running in 17 unanswered points in next to no time – however long that is!- thanks to foregoing our unproductive over dribbling into the corner with highly productive straightforward ball and player movement. Convinced that the 5 on the bench were now alive and kicking, I granted them a reprieve to even up the first quarter minutes and the responded well at the defensive end. 

I tweeted the combinations during the second quarter and everyone performed to their usual high level at both ends from this point on. The opposition tried really hard to stem the flow but to no avail. Despite their efforts, they were like a student who hadn’t revised for an exam. They had no answers! We shared the ball and court time generously to score 95 points without the hint of a demoralising press which is as unnecessary as Dutch people buying climbing boots! The game was refereed superbly, was played in excellent spirit and seemed to be enjoyed by all. Spectators from both sides got fully behind the players, providing lots of encouragement with no hint of negativity and our victory moves us ever closer to our goal of play-off qualification which would become nearly certain with a win at Leicester Warriors on Sunday. (Let’s hope Attila the Hun won’t be playing for them!) If we can then go on to defeat Sheffield Hatters (who are all mad!)(Not really!), that would be enough to ensure it with 4 further games to still be played.

Many thanks to my major helpers, James and Sammy as well as to our intrepid band of parents who all escaped back into God’s own county unscathed.

Jim Carnegie

Mystics WBBL Cup Champions 2017

Mystics tame Wildcats to win WBBL Cup

Manchester Mystics made basketball history by becoming the first ever WBBL Cup champions with a 71-60 triumph over Nottingham Wildcats at the Barclaycard Arena in Birmingham.

Dominique Allen put in her best performance of the season, posting a double-double of 21 points (on 80% shooting) and 11 rebounds on her way to being named the game’s Most Valuable Player.

Most importantly, Allen played a crucial role on the defensive end keeping the WBBL’s leading scorer Ashley Harris quiet. Harris mustered just 12 points on 33% shooting from the field, way below her season league average of 26.3 points per game.

Rheanne Bailey also played out of her skin, recording an even bigger double-double of 23 points and 13 rebounds in front of her hometown crowd, while Georgia Jones brought control to Manchester’s play, combining with Allen on an array of slick pick-and-roll plays. Jones finished with 16 points, six assists and five rebounds.

Mystics started the game in the ascendancy, opening with a 6-0 run, and it took Nottingham almost four minutes to trouble the scorers through a three-pointer from Siobhan Prior. Jones responded instantly with a three of her own, but neither side really made an impact from behind the arc thereafter.

Having opened up an 18-13 lead after the first quarter, Manchester began the second with back-to-back baskets from Allen and their superior energy allowed them to briefly extend to a double-digit advantage.

Nottingham, the reigning WBBL champions, had a rosier spell either side of half-time. Entering in the third quarter down by eight, they flexed their muscles through Harris and the lively Melisa Mendes to tie the game at 37-37 with just over six minutes to play in the period. 

The comeback ended there, as Mystics re-asserted themselves through the tenacity of Bailey and finesse of Allen, ending the third with a strong run of their own and a taking a 52-40 lead.

Jones and Allen went back to their trademark pick-and-roll at the start of the fourth, extending Manchester’s advantage to 16 points. A few nerves followed, with careless turnovers leading to Wildcats fast breaks, but once Jones took control of the ball she was able to provide the composure to see Mystics over the line.

Coach Jeff Jones said after the game that he sees this first trophy as “the first step on a pretty long journey,” and that the win owed much to the character of the team, who were without leading scorer Amy Browne.

Wildcats’ Prior agreed, saying: “Credit to Manchester – they came out, they’re working hard, they were getting to all the loose balls and offensive rebounds in the first half. It gave them confidence and they played really well, but we allowed that to happen and you can’t win a final if you don’t fight hard enough.”

Meanwhile for Bailey, who was unlucky to miss out on the MVP award, the previous week’s loss to Sevenoaks Suns in the league – which ended a run of 10 successive victories across all competitions for Mystics – helped to inspire today’s landmark win.

Bailey said: “Nottingham are a tough team to play against and we knew we had to come out ready. On the back of our loss last week, we knew how it felt to lose and we didn’t want to feel that again. I think that was part of our journey into today.

“What a team effort! The girls bought in, we worked hard in practice and the results showed today. So well done girls – great job!”

Report by Graeme Roberts

Wales trio

Magic trio still in hunt for Wales U16 spots

Manchester Magic’s Sion Gordon and brothers Ben and Luke Gordos have made it through the latest selection round as Wales Under-16s continue to build for this summer’s Fiba European Championships.

The trio are in a 17-strong line-up, with further cuts to come ahead of the July 23-30 tournament in Andorra.

Wales, who are coached by Magic’s Aurimas Verbukas (aka Coach Ollie), are in Division C and play group rivals Armenia, Gibraltar, Malta and Moldova.

Manchester Mystics

Mystics U14 begin 2017 with comfortable victory over Hatfield

Just like a well-made vinyl record, Mystics U14s slipped seamlessly back into the groove after the Christmas break (which drove me crackers!) Our expressed aim of getting through to at least the last 16 round of the play-offs came one step closer thanks to an all-round team display last Saturday against Hatfield (Doncaster), 78-29, which reminded me of a shiny shoe. It was polished!

Following a gameless (apart from turkey) gap of 4 weeks (which made it nearly 8% of a Gap Year) and on the back of only one practice session, I was concerned the girls might struggle to approach the heights they reached in their previous game when they excelled themselves against Stockport u16s. I needn’t have worried. This group is far more reliable than most builders and used car salesmen!

Whenever possible, which will probably work out at about 75% of the time this season, I do manage to treat all 10, 11 or 12 players on duty like judges and give them plenty of court time. This tends not to be as easy when facing the top sides like Nottingham, Tameside, Sheffield and Derby but having already beaten Hatfield comfortably away, I felt it would be a goer on this occasion.

With this in mind, I opted to split the first quarter with 2 pre-determined fives and follow the BBC’s lead with a repeat in the second period if nobody realised! I also needed to somehow include our eleventh player somewhere along the line. I started with Beth McLoughlin, Lauren Addy, Elli Hatton, Lilja Toland and Olivia Forster. They performed like a good cake mix -blended well- to give us a 10-4 lead against well-organised opponents. When I turfed them off, it was the turn of Courtney Kenyon-Betts, Holly Bryan, Lucy Bryan, Ellie Atherton and Charli Wroe. They were as fluent as a good linguist and won their little cameo 11-4.

The same process was less successful over the next 10 minutes, due mainly to our inability to remember our left from our right and giving the opposition too many free throws by committing unnecessary fouls through not being in stance and reaching in. This meant that we were only able to increase our lead by 5 to 39-21 by half time. Our normally water-tight defence had sprung a leak and required plugging. Offensively, we had moved the ball effectively and had created  plenty but needed to use the backboard more effectively to turn chances into points.

During my half-time monologue, no one fell asleep as I laboured on about not fouling and that Hatfield’s talented number 9 really was left-handed. I set the girls a target which was like my back- it was stiff! I asked them to try to keep our opponents to under 30 points. This is a very obedient squad and they did just that, just. They put on a 20 minute defensive clinic to restrict Hatfield to a mere 2 baskets in the third period and only 1 plus 2 free throws in the fourth. All 11 players, and that includes the yet to be mentioned Kadeja Mohamed, contributed impressively but Ellie A, especially, and Courtney deserve special mention for their outstanding effort. 

Courtney also shot as accurately as Robin Hood while Beth did a fine William Tell impression from the 3 point line. These two along with Holly, who controlled the event without anyone noticing, displayed a maturity way beyond their years to ensure that this victory went down as a team performance. They could easily have dominated proceedings but chose to do all they could to maximise everyone else’s input. Ellie H and Charli both took full advantage to register double figures while Olivia, Lucy and Lilja all made the most of what fast break opportunities there were. These were less frequent than is usually the case because Hatfield, as you would expect with a player named Swift in their team, were quick to get back on defence. If they hadn’t, we may well have run riot but they did so we didn’t!

We now face 2 away trips to Leeds and Leicester before facing Sheffield. If we come out on top in these 3 fixtures, we would be guaranteed a home tie in the first round of the play-offs so let’s practice well and learn from every game. Enjoyment and improvement by keeping things simple and efficient! Thanks to James and Sammy for their usual invaluable help and to all parents etc for your support.

Jim Carnegie