Mystics U14s continued their impressive run of form to see out 2016 with 2 more convincing victories, firstly in the Northern Conference at home to Lancashire Spinners, 93-26 and then in a friendly 2 days later against Stockport U16s, 68-43. The high quality of the 2 performances owed much (as my credit card always does) to excellence in the neglected art of passing. As was to be expected, this was easier to achieve in the first game but was equally proficient when up against the bigger, tougher, more experienced u16 side who have some talented players.
In both games, the increasingly influential duo of Holly Bryan and Courtney Kenyon-Betts pulled the strings like skilled puppeteers. This talented pair have become far more composed than they were at the beginning of the season and have now learned to minimise the counter-productive unnecessary dribbling which stifles offensive fluency. They have a knack of seeing and delivering the right pass at the right time which is a compliment which can also be applied to Ellie Atherton and Ellie Hatton who both share the ball generously. (Certainly more than Harry Kane does or Scrooge would.)
When such good ball movement is combined with their willingness to run the floor as well as the boundless energy and finishing ability on the break or from medium range provided by Lucy Bryan and Charli Wroe (who, unbelievably still has another year at in this age range), watching this team could be a cure for conjunctivitis. (It’s a sight for sore eyes!)
Against Lancashire Spinners, everyone played with a maturity beyond their years with Holly and Courtney ensuring that everyone got plenty of the ball so that 5 players, led by Lucy, scored in double figures. Spinners competed well during the first half, benefiting from being allowed to advance the ball without being pressed, but were out-spun in the third due to the pin-point passing and well-timed cutting contained in Mystics’ offense.
The Stockport game was expected to provide a much sterner test for our youngsters. It did but a number of the girls shot so unerringly from medium range that it could have been mistaken for a William Tell master-class. This proved to be a major reason why we were able to get off to such a flying start. The basketball played by the team throughout the first period was by some distance the best of the season so far and seemed to catch our opponents completely off guard. They resembled a petrol station which had been hit by a surprise robbery. (Shell shocked!) This, allied to excellent team defence, exemplified by all of the above mentioned plus Lilja Toland whose lateral speed and willingness to listen enable her to mark virtually anyone and Lauren Addy who gives us the essential physical presence that her team-mates can’t provide, all resulted in a 23-7 blow out in the first quarter.
Our more senior opponents did tighten things up in the second stanza but we still bossed this to the tune of 13-6 to make the half-time score 36-13. The third quarter was much tougher. Stockport were a different animal after the break. They were now growling rather than baaing! They were much more aggressive offensively, using a big high post to good effect and driving hard at every given opportunity. This approach afforded them 14 points in just 6 minutes before we were able to stem the flow and finish the quarter strongly so that our lead had only diminishes by 3 points. The final period saw our opponents start well but we showed a steely resolve and won the period 16-11 to finish 25 points to the good with Charli leading all scorers.
This was an exceptional team performance by a talented group who are learning to understand one another- which isn’t easy with all the different accents!- more with every passing game (pun fully intended!). They seem to understand the value of working hard at the defensive end and should be proud of the fact that no team in the 14 games played up to now, including friendlies, has managed to scored more than 48 points against them. There is still much to learn and improve upon but hopefully, we can kick off 2017 with similar intensity.
Many thanks, again, to my 2 side-kicks, James and Sammy for all they do for the team. Thank you also to all parents for your much-valued support and lack of grumbling. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all and to both of my regular readers!