When Mystics U14s visited Derby- the basketball hall, not the horse race – before Christmas, we had to dig deep enough to find coal in order to secure a win so we knew that we could not afford to be complacent in our home game when facing this tall, mobile, well-organised side. We weren’t. Even though we are competing at national league level every week, rather than in a community league, as I have done more often than not throughout the season, I again used all 10 Mystics for more or less an equal amount of time during the contest.
Due to our strength in depth, in no way did this hinder our performance against a side sitting fifth in the league table. Thankfully, everyone was more on song than most contestants are in the Voice! In fact, my pick n’ mix strategy proved to be much better value than that found in most cinemas! The first group I let loose saw Lucy Bryan, Lilja Toland, Ellie Atherton, Lauren Addy and Beth McLoughlin gel as well as any hair product to give us a 13-5 lead in their 5 minute spell. Their replacements – Courtney Kenyon-Betts, Olivia Forster, Ellie Hatton, Holly Bryan and Charli Wroe put in a 12-2 shift which was more enjoyable to watch than any Soap! 10 points in under 3 minutes from an on-fire Charli helped to ensure a dominant 25-7 first quarter which was more Waitrose than Lidl from which our opponents could not recover.
Everyone had performed so well up to now so it would probably be as hard as learning Chinese to match such a display in the second period, given that even very capable teams at this age range tend to be notoriously inconsistent and can be expected to go off the boil at some stage. In the third, the same first group managed a 10-9 spell, followed by a 7-2 one from the second. This was still good enough to give us a pleasing 42-18 half-time lead. My (usually wonky!) aim during the opening 20 minutes had been to field 2 well-balanced, even 5s. As it turned out, this was the case, given that the first group were more potent offensively with 23 of our 42 points while the second group got the nod defensively by conceding just 4 of the 18 points. Bearing in mind that none of us ever stops learning (as Joey Essex once told Albert Einstein!), this proved to be an informative exercise (which is more than I can say for any Algebra lesson I ever sat through!)
Throughout the second half I mixed the combinations and this worked as well as a candy coated chocolate peanut. (A treat!) Whichever 5 players I threw together blended as well as any good cake mix. We won the third quarter 21-11 and the fourth 18-4 to finish with an emphatic 81-33 win against spirited opposition whose coaches were very gracious in defeat and complimented us on our team-work and strength in depth. Hopefully, these are 2 of the qualities which will stand us in good stead in the forthcoming play-offs. What number seed we will be and who we play in the round of the last 16 currently remains as much of a mystery as any Agatha Christie murder plot! I have been given different versions by 3 people who are supposed to know as they are in positions of authority, but, there again, so are Donald Trump and Boris Johnson!
With the play-offs not scheduled until 25/26 March, I will be trying to get friendly games arranged before then as we don’t want to go into them cold. Thanks again to James and Sammy for their great support, to Phil and Andy for doing the table so efficiently and to all team supporters.