The Ipswich Senior Women rounded off their regular season campaign with an excellent win against Southwark Pride on Saturday, to complete what has been an injury plagued season that has seen the team battle their way to a .500 record, and qualify for the national playoffs.
Through their twenty-one games so far this season (in all competitions), Ipswich have managed to play just two games with a full roster. Early season injuries to young internationals Becky Harwood-Bellis and Susannah Rafiu forced the team to play with a short rotation. No sooner was Harwood-Bellis back, than star guard Harriet Welham sustained a nasty knock that she has played through, in significant discomfort, for the remaining months of the season. Once Rafiu returned in January, a broken bone in Cameron Taylor-Willis foot then meant the team were without another of their internationals – literally meaning that we really haven’t seen this Ipswich team at full strength at all this season. Despite that, Ipswich have proven to be a team that nobody will want to face in this seasons playoffs. Victories on the road to title chasing Bristol Flyers and Solent Kestrels, as well as a comprehensive home wins against Loughborough and Solent again has proven that when firing on all cylinders, Ipswich can beat anyone. However, losses on the road to relegation fighting, Birmingham and Sevenoaks, shows that, when not firing, they can look like a team that can be inconsistent at this level.
So far this season, despite all this adversity, the team has an unlikely 11-10 record in all competitions and in will finish as either the 5th or 6th seed for the playoffs, depending on other results. 5th will likely be Loughborough on the road while 6th will mean Solent – both teams that Ipswich have beaten this season when playing some of their best basketball.
On Saturday the Suffolk side hosted a young team in a similar situation. Southwark Pride, who like Ipswich are a team made up of young, academy players, came to Ipswich. Both teams needed to win to avoid a first ever losing season at senior level, and Ipswich got the win in what was a very entertaining battle.
Cameron Taylor-Willis played her first senior game in six weeks, and returned in style with a team-high sixteen point eight rebound stat line, Danni Cazey added eleven points, while Susannah Rafiu added ten points and six blocked shots. Harriet Welham, who will be a front runner for WNBL Player of the Year, recorded fourteen points while Esther Little added sixteen rebounds and six assists to her six points as the team grinded out an impressive 62-56 win against a very talented team.
“It’s been a gruelling season, that’s for sure” Said Ipswich Coach Nick Drane. “If last year was a fairytale, this season has been something of an unpredictable story. We’ve not really had the chance to find any kind of consistency with our play, in no small part because of constantly changing the rotation due to injuries. That being said, the end goal is still available to us – if we win the playoffs, we will be the National Champions, and I would back this group of girls against anybody. We have a few weeks to prepare, and do everything we can to get fit and healthy for one last big push for this season. We will take one game at a time, but there is still a lot of basketball left in this amazing group of girls” added Drane.
Taylor-Willis 16, Welham 14 and Cazey 11.