Ipswich Basketball Club have qualified for the U18 Women’s National Cup Final in one of Basketball England’s showcase events at the University of Essex this Saturday.
With a team made up of a combination of some of the young stars from the Ipswich high-flying senior women’s team and their exciting U16’s, the Suffolk side will face off against the Reading Rockets next month. Ipswich chose to not enter the U18 national league, on account of the fact that so many of the players within that age group (Esther Little, Cameron Taylor-Willis, Charlotte Redhead, Susannah Rafiu, Ella Pearson and Becky Harwood-Bellis) are already established players within the clubs senior set-up. However, an entry into the national cup was granted and the team have taken some impressive scalps on route to the final. After a bye in the first round of the competition, Ipswich made short work of the Solent Kestrels in the last sixteen. Their quarter final match up on the road to reigning National Champions, Southwark Pride saw the Suffolk ladies again record an impressive victory, on the road to one of the toughest teams in the country. The Semi-Final, again away, this time to the mighty Manchester Mystics, again demonstrated the now famous Ipswich character as the team battled back from a half-time deficit, eventually winning by just three points to book their place at the Essex Sports Arena next weekend.
“Our Senior Women’s team is made up by 70% juniors, so it made no sense to enter the same girls into two national leagues. The Division One schedule is gruelling enough, without trying to fit in another sixteen games. These girls play together in the Women’s Elite Academy Basketball League (WEABL) on a Wednesday, so those two games a week are more than enough. However, we saw the cup as a maximum of five more games, and an opportunity to give some of our u16’s an opportunity to get some experience of playing with the older girls, and let’s be honest – we also felt it was a shot at some silverware”. Said Ipswich Head Coach Nick Drane, who will be leading the team.
In the past two years, Ipswich have become as celebrated girls and women’s programme as there is in the country. 2018 saw their women’s team record that famous treble, including lifting the national cup. The u16’s that season were also crowned national cup winners and made the final four. Last season, Ipswich were again amongst the trophies, winning the national schools u17 championship, via their academy which is based at Copleston High School. The club u14’s also finished their national league season as national runners up. However, standing in Ipswich way are the Reading Rockets, who like Ipswich, are a high flying academy programme. Reading boast a unique combination of British talent, an international flare. The Rockets include four exciting young Spanish players who are a tough match up, and Ipswich will need to be at their best to put themselves in a position to lift the trophy. Ipswich have battled injury and illness all season with junior internationals Esther Little, Cameron Taylor-Willis and Becky Harwood-Bellis all missing extended periods of time. Also injured since before Christmas has been highly rated prospect Susannah Rafiu. Rafiu is technically and quite unbelievably still technically an u16, although the 6’1 forward hasn’t played in her own age group since 2018. Talking about the back-log on injuries, Drane added “We are hoping that, at some stage, we will be able to have the whole team fit, healthy and all on the same court together. But who knows when that will be. Health is more important than winning, and there is still an awful lot of basketball to be played this season”.
The final will be played at the new, state of the art, Essex Sports Arena in Colchester. Ipswich are known for their travelling supporters, but so are Reading. With the final just a short 30 drive from the hope is that Ipswich will hold some degree of advantage on account of the number of local supporters expected to make the trip down the A12. The game tips off at 2:30pm on Saturday 1st February, for ticket information follow this link