In a change of style, my report on this occasion will be divided into 2 categories- fact and opinion. Mystics U14s jaunt into the land of Maid Marion and Friar Tuck (a good name for a fast food chain- opinion!), to play the powerful Nottingham Wildcats, was destined to be better than any reality t.v. show in terms of quality, drama and excitement.(Opinion but very nearly fact.) As the top 2 teams in the Northern Conference, we had already been involved in a really close affair which saw Nottingham edge home by 4 (43-47) largely due to their vastly superior size advantage.(More or less fact.) Psychic Sally had predicted that a similarly even encounter was in store today. (Pure fantasy but likely to be a fact!)
After an all-too-brief warm up following an U16 game on our court (fact), we began sluggishly and were immediately put on the back foot due to a possible world record.(Mostly guesswork.) The home side’s first 6 offences all brought gifts for them. They scored with the first and drew fouls with the next 5 in quick succession.(Fact.) This meant that in less time than it takes me to burn toast, the foul count was 0-5 against us.(Undeniable fact.) Even more damaging, one of our least vertically challenged and most influential players, Holly Bryan had been blown for 2 fouls within the first 90 seconds.(Devastating, game changing fact.)
The impact of this was compounded by the fact (fact!) that in the first meeting between the 2 sides, Nottingham had had (sorry for the stutter) 1 starter- soup of the day- missing. As (bad) luck would have it, she, too, is yet another tall, athletic individual who could jump through the roof. (Slight exaggeration.) We’d had both Charli Wroe and Olivia Forster missing then so if Charli stood on Olivia’s shoulders, we’d be able to have a comparable match-up in height.(Contrived fact.) Faced with such physical inequalities, our game plan involved trying to contain our worthy opponents during the initial skirmishes and eventually wear them down in the latter stages.(Wishful thinking but half the plan did come largely to fruition.)
In anticipation of such a demanding challenge ahead which was likely to be as tight as a size 8 foot in a size 5 shoe. (Joke), I knew that team unity and togetherness was vital so, prior to tip off, I explained to every girls that this was not an occasion in which I could ensure all 10 of them a similar amount of court time, as happens in most of our games. (Irrefutable fact.) I added that whether on court or on the bench, they could all make a positive contribution to the team effort. (A fact taken in by virtually all players.) In the event, I did, somehow manage to get all 10 on court in the first half.(Miracle.) Inevitably, some individuals/combinations were more efficient than others.(Opinion, probably subjective.)
After a scrappy 8 minutes, with both defences in the ascendancy, there was very little in it at 8-10. (Mixture of opinion and fact.) This did deteriorate to 8-13 by the end of the first quarter as the home side benefitted by sinking 3 of the 6 free throws they were awarded in the final 2 minutes.(Fact.) The 5 point deficit was soon wiped out as, partly due to foul trouble, I hit on the combination of Courtney Kenyon-Betts, Lucy Bryan, Ellie Atherton, Lilja Toland and Lauren Addy which worked well for us at both ends of the court. They performed as harmoniously as any Welsh Male Voice Choir to bring us parity at 17-17. We were now looking the better side (biased opinion) until changes were forced upon us when both Lucy and Ellie joined Holly and Beth McLoughlin in foul trouble.(Reality.) The upheaval caused by this translated into a cruel 0-11 run up to half-time in the course of which Nottingham were donated no less than 8 more free throws than we were. (They were given 8. We received 0.) (Factual sour grapes.)
17-28 down to a buoyant team of talented athletes (although 4 of their 10 players saw no court time), on their home court with all the advantages this can bring (veiled suggestion), could have been deemed to be as daunting a task to many young teams as attempting to cross the Atlantic in a pedalo (nonsense!) but not for Mystics. The situation did get even worse at 19-34 but following a time-out during which I may have said something sensible (doubtful), the cavalry arrived in the form of 3s from Courtney and Lucy plus a breakaway 2 also from Lucy to give us renewed hope at 26-34. (More wishful thinking.) The only additions to the score for either side in the last 3 minutes of the third period came from free throws, 6 for them (3 made), 2 for us (1 made.) (Fact.) This took it to 27-37 as we entered the fourth quarter. Could we take heart from the fact that we had just won the third quarter? (Question.)
Lilja, who had an outstanding game, opened the scoring, only for the 10 point margin to be re-established via yet 2 more free throws for the hosts.(Fact.) Offensive rebounds and put backs by Nottingham’s impressive bigs established a more comfortable lead for them at 31-43 with 7 minutes left. There was now no reason to try to protect Holly from possibly fouling out too soon. With 4 fouls collected as swiftly as my window cleaner pretends to wash my windows, she had spent more time sitting on her backside than she had on court. Her re-introduction sparked a highly commendable comeback which only just failed to see us sneak home. Our 3 leading scorers for the season so far- Holly, Lucy and Charli- all converted to bring us within striking distance at 42-49 (long shot!) Then, 4 more free throws yielded 2 points for one team- guess which one-(fact) to restore the gap to 9 at 42-51 with time rapidly running out.
All seemed lost but this Mystics team never quits. Holly still had time to score 5 points to get us to within 2 baskets at 47-51 before time ran out. Well played both sides! Nottingham had again made effective use of their superiority in size but we had coped relatively well with this. (Opinion.) They had looked the better side in the first half, we did in the second.(Opinion backed up by the scores in each quarter.) We also coped with having to re-shuffle the pack to deal (see what I did there?) with 4 of our 5 starters accumulating 4+ fouls each relatively early in the piece, showing our strength in depth to good effect.
When I point out that both sides made 50% of their free throws (fact), it may also appear that we even coped here as well. However, if I add the fact that we made 6 out of our 12 (one eighth of our total points) but they were given a possible world record 35 of which they made 17 (one third of their total points), even a bottom set Maths pupil could ascertain that this was too much to cope with. Perhaps we should learn not to foul so much……(Opinion.)
There is no reason for us to see this narrow defeat as in any way negative. We finished far stronger than our opponents, winning the fourth quarter by 6, and can now look forward to our final 2 league games against Tameside and Derby, the outcomes of which will have a greater effect on our season than this minor hiccup. Well played girls. You are so tough mentally. You gave it everything and almost pulled it off.
Thanks to James and Sammy for all they do and to all of those parents who support our team so wholeheartedly and selflessly.
PS. The U16s are unable to play us this Sunday so unfortunately we have no game this weekend.