Mystics largely under-age U14 squad’s highly enjoyable and successful season ended yesterday when we succumbed to a big, mobile, well drilled Ipswich side in the last 16 round of the play-offs. For the most part, my nation-wide spies had told me what to expect. We should take no notice of Ipswich’s record because every game they had lost was without their dynamic 6ft centre Susanah Rafio who was on duty for their U16s. Sadly for us, today, in the words of their very pleasant coach, she was a making a ‘guest appearance.’ Her match-winning performance made her an unwelcome guest.
As well as Susannah, I was told we should take plenty of notice of their small, quick guard Abbey Yorke plus high scoring duo Makenna Williams and Alicia Boddy. Plans were drawn up for our offense and defence to try to counter the major threat these 4 posed. Unfortunately, no one warned me they had 2 other forwards who towered above all of our relatively vertically challenged team. This meant rebounds were as rare as penny blacks for us today which, in turn, limited our fast break opportunities.
Their coach told me they had tried to get videos of us but only found one of Olivia Forster in a 2017 Christmas pantomime. Both he and I knew this would be as tight as Pavorotti in a size 12 shirt and the fact that the game contained no less than 9 lead changes, confirmed this.
In the event, the contest proved to be a barn-stormer with more twists and turns than Chubby Checker dancing on Spaghetti Junction. As with any close encounter, it was decided by small details which are denoted **. Both teams started nervously. We rushed around like shopaholics at the January sales and missed several lay-ups which were as open as the grand Canyon **. Fortunately, the defensive display from Esha Nayar, Lily Gilronan, Lily Hayes, Olivia Forster and Charli Wroe was of a sufficiently high standard to limit the opposition to a mere 2 points in the opening 7 minutes, by which time we had done what all good indigestion tablets do – settled down – and were (unlike my hair) in control, 10-2 up.
Proceedings over the next 60 seconds then ruined my week-end and beyond because it had a profound effect on the outcome. Olivia was rightly blown for her second foul. Unwelcome but not disastrous. She is very smart so could probably manage until half-time. Somehow, we were informed that it was actually her third foul**. This transformed unwelcome into disastrous. She had to sit out the next 12 minutes which threw us into disarray. We went from 8 up to 2 down. Crucially, Ipswich’s recovery began by way of 2 sets of missed free throws both of which were rebounded and put in ** by the towering Susannah (despite having 2 Mystics vainly attempting to stop her.) This unwelcome occurrence repeated itself in the very last minute of the game at 61-62 **.
I re-instated Olivia after the interval and the team immediately regained its poise, so much so that we scored more points in the first 5 minutes of the third quarter than in the entire second period with Nia Molloy, Kizzy Spence and Emily Wood all scoring well to take some of the load off of leading scorer Charli Wroe. We were now like that fizzy lemonade – 7-Up – with 2 minutes remaining in the third. We then contrived to convert 0 out of 2 free throws while they hit 4 out of 6**.
Even so, we went into the fourth quarter 47-44 to the good but did not help ourselves by immediately missing the only 2 free throws we were awarded over the next 10 minutes. A lack of concentration on defence ** assisted Ipswich to embark on a 2-8 run in a quarter which was more nip and tuck than anything the Kardashians have put themselves through with their plastic surgeon. It was like the Hokey Kokey. We began it 3 up, went 3 down then 1 up, 5 down, 1 up and 1 down before their 2 missed free throws (mentioned 9 lines up.)*******
A 5 point loss sounds close but it does not reflect how even this game was. Even though 3 of our younger players, Daisy Bryan, Jo Vourliotis and Eleni Vourliotis had very limited court time, they, along with the absent Zara Masadeh-Tate and Lia Vourliotis and the 8 Mystics already mentioned can hold their heads high and be proud of what they have achieved this season with more to come in 2018-19.
It remains for me to thank my superb helpers-in-chief-, James, Sam, Carys and Jim plus Mark for his helpful comments and all parents etc for your wonderful support of these special young ladies.
The Mystics U14 on Sunday took part in a North West 3×3 Tournament at the National Basketball Performance Centre, that saw Team Synergy (4 of the Mystics) finish as winners. (thanks to Chloe Andrew for the photo)