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.