Last Saturday, Mystics U14s travelled to Derby to face the Trailblazers yet I couldn’t find any cowboys on view. (I could now go for a cheap shot and say ‘apart from the refs’ but that would be unfair!) I took 11 players, an awkward number to give meaningful minutes to, even in easy games. I did manage to get all 11 on court in both halves which, in a contest which was relatively close throughout, is no easier than climbing Mount Everest in flip-flops!
On a day when each of our 5 starters, Courtney Kenyon-Betts, Holly Bryan, Ellie Atherton, Beth McLoughlin and Lucy Bryan, made major contributions at one end or the other (and at both for 2 or 3 of them), it was they who were guilty of ignoring one of the 10 Commandments in that they stole the show. We won the game for two main reasons. We played superb team defence and we generally did the simple things well. Mega-talented Serbian superstars are able to thread bounce passes through the eye of a needle but most connoisseurs of the game will agree that u14 girls tend not to be able to.(Lol.) When they over-use the bounce pass, it usually results in a turnover or a spillage. Either one causes a mess so we actively encourage our youngsters to use it sparingly. (Very sparingly.) During this game such passes were spotted as often as the cowboys. This, plus less frequent attempts at forcing difficult passes, meant that we turned the ball over on fewer occasions than we did in our one lost game versus Nottingham.
There are still spells when wearing bibs of a non-sporting kind would have been useful due to unnecessary over-dribbling but, thankfully, the message seems to be slowly getting through that, in a team game, it is essential to share the ball and give as many people as possible the chance to contribute. Most of our number have also come to realise that good defensive footwork and pressure on the ball regularly results in opponents presenting us with the ball so that there is no need to risk silly, unwanted fouls by going for tentative steals off the dribble.
Against a significantly taller team blessed with quickness, it is very much to the girls’ credit that they were able to run such a devastating fast break so often in the first quarter. Devastating, that is, until it came to putting the ball through the hoop. We missed enough chances for any severe critic to label as as ‘hoopless.’ Whilst being far from that, we must become more clinical and finish lay ups ‘with our eyes.’ Instead of a comfortable lead, we finished the first period 6 less than that well-known lemonade, 7-up, at 13-12. Courtney and Holly were as reliable and brilliant as ever in their roles of subduing Derby’s two main offensive weapons (a canon and a flame-thrower!) while Beth’s pin-point, bounceless, passes to Lucy and Ellie, who were both back to their best, were a joy to behold (and to catch!) I was, however, concerned that the opposition’s impressive number 6, Katie Januszewska might end up scoring as many points as her name would get in a game of Scrabble!
Our first five remained influential as they mixed with our six other players, Lilja Toland, Charli Wroe, Olivia Forster, Lauren Addy, Elli Hatton and Kadeja Mohammed, all of whom contributed to some degree to our domination of the second quarter. Derby could find no way through our team defence which proved as unforgiving as any wife is when her husband forgets her birthday. A team sufficiently talented to average almost 70 points per game, failed to score any for the first 9 minutes of the quarter, giving us a 27-15 advantage going into half-time.
We came out a bit too complacently after the interval, giving up 3 baskets due to defence which was as slack as the over-sized jumpers my mother used to knit for me.This was addressed via a time-out and with lessons learned, the girls reminded me of that car programme on tv as they went into top gear. Ellie and Lucy benefited from more passes that were slicker than a hair smeared with Brylcream from Beth, Courtney and Holly to notch 12 combined points in a mere 3 minutes and u13, Lilja subsequently gave a promising all-round display which bodes well for next year as we raced into a 43-21 lead. Holly then rubber-stamped proceding with 4 baskets in a row to extend the margin to 25 so that the remaining 9 minutes could then be devoted principally to the 6 non-starters who gave it their all and only allowed the hosts to eat gently into our lead so that we eventually ran out 57-36 winners against very worthy opponents in a game played most sportingly in great spirit.
I want to finish by praising our bench. We win and lose as a team. I was so pleased to see nearly all of our players encouraging one-another, cheering each other on and generally being very positive when waiting for their opportunity to shine. As everyone is aware, even though we are a National League team rather than a Community one, in our less demanding fixtures, I always ensure that every single player gets to play almost equal minutes. This is not possible in tougher games and I do appreciate that the vast majority of parents and players accept this and put our team first. Thank you for that.
Thank you also to my able assistants James and Sammy for all their time and effort and to all parents for their support, even the ones who almost got red cards!