After five straight wins, Manchester Mystics Under-14s faced their first real test in the North division when they took on the previously unbeaten Sheffield Hatters on Saturday.
Unfortunately, we were not at full strength as one of our starters and main scorers, Ellie Atherton, had turned her ankle and could only hop rather than run. This elevated Charli Wroe into a merited first five spot but it did put us at a physical disadvantage compared to our considerably taller opponents.
Up against bigger starters, we struggled from the outset to secure any rebounds. This, and the re-occurence of the over-dribbling disease which plagued us last season, resulted in a poor beginning. We managed a paltry one point during the opening five minutes and things were looking more black than rosy.
Fortunately, determined team defence meant we only trailed by three. A couple of substitutions, most notably the introduction of Lilja Toland, gave us the offensive boost we required and we now found ways to counter Sheffield’s tightly packed defensive barrier. We seemed, for the time being, to have also discovered suitable defensive match-ups to limit the power of the opposition’s three principle offensive threats. Holly Bryant was now boxing out to minimise the danger of Charlotte Timms, Lucy Bryan found ways to contain the high-scoring Abbey Whitehouse, while Courtney Kenyon-Betts was putting on a defensive master class up against the hugely influential Zoe Katteregea.
Consequently, we responded to our below par opening to shade the first quarter 11-10.
As expected, this head-to-head contest was such a different scenario to anything else either side had experienced thus far. Instead of scoring at will, every basket had to be earned. This was going to be a battle which would suit the likes of Elli Hatton, who was in her element up against aggressive opponents who were as quick as we were up and down the floor. This meant fast-break opportunities were at a premium, so we had to find other ways to score. We were lifted by the introduction of the energetic, all-action, fearless Olivia Forster and we cashed in on a perceived mis-match for Holly. Following a deep two from Beth McLoughlin, we found ourselves up by four.
This prompted me to give Courtney a breather. When will I ever learn! Eight points in the blink of an eye was a huge swing to the Hatters in a low-scoring affair and could have seen off many an opponent. Not this Mystics team. Up stepped Charli, now recovered from a fierce blow to the ribs, to swish a pair of free throws and score with a blistering drive soon after replacing Olivia, who had received a nasty bump on the head. This ensured halftime parity at 26-26.
In hindsight, I selected the wrong five going in to the third period. We turned the ball over far too often and remained scoreless for the opening four minutes. A time out plus a change of personnel then helped us regain our poise and self-belief. An extended run of court time for the much-improved Lauren Addy proved crucial. Her power enabled her to obtain much-needed rebounds and secure several loose balls to help our cause. Showing unbelievable toughness for such a young group, the girls hit back from a 0-10 dip, to transform 26-36 into 34-36. Once again, like a pack of hounds, we were back in the hunt.
On the back of three incredibly close quarters, it boiled down to whoever made the least mistakes over the final 10 minutes to decide the outcome of this enthralling contest. All things, however, were not equal. Our leading scorer on the day, Holly, was feeling too unwell to continue. I was worried that it would now be even more difficult to score. Her twin sister, Lucy, not Ivy, made certain it wasn’t. Worryingly for us, Sheffield had plans of their own. We were left very much on the back foot when Zoe fed Abbey, who posted up her smaller marker in the key twice in quick succession for two scores and a free throw.
The game could easily have slipped away from us but for Holly’s fortitude. Despite feeling far from well, she agreed to go back on. She helped secure our defence to such an extent that all of Sheffield’s considerable firepower could only manage one more basket in the remaining seven minutes. Ten points across the quarter from Lucy and four from Charli produced a 14-7 scoreline over this climatic period to stamp a pulsating 48-43 victory for team harmony over most worthy opponents.
Many thanks to my assistant coach James for his invaluable, insightful input and to our highly efficient team manager Sammy for all he did, as well as to all parents for your fantastic support. You were brilliant!