The U18 Women completed their European Championships over the weekend with 2 wins and then a loss in their final game to finish in 10th place. After completing group C in 3rd, England beat Macedonia 64-56 on Friday before topping Estonia 70-62 on Saturday then falling to Belgium 34-76 a day later.
The England came into the game against Macedonia refreshed after their second non-game day of the tournament, refocused and ready to achieve their new goal of securing a 9th placed finish. With pride on the line and a realistic chance of defeating the teams in the 9th-16th bracket, the squad were ready to do battle.
Going into the game, the England girls were confident after seeing the recent results of the Macedonians, who were averaging just 37 points per game for the tournament. However, this confidence could quickly have been mistaken for complacency as the Macedonia squad were given the freedom to play and gain some momentum as the first quarter progressed. With the score tied at 11 apiece after ten minutes, the second quarter would be crucial in deciding who would be in the ascendancy.
England began the second period in a full court, aiming to disrupt the time and space that had allowed Macedonia to play with freedom and comfort. Early scores from Holly Winterburn and Charlotte Ellmore gave the English the biggest lead of the game so far, 18-11, but the Macedonians wouldn't give up. They forced a physical game, gathering offensive rebounds and putting them back for second chance points. Refusing to let up and keeping the score close going into the break, England remained up 27-24. A revelation in this quarter was the impact of Shauna Harrison who was everywhere on the court, grabbing rebounds, drawing fouls and making key baskets, causing the English bench to go crazy.
(The team listening to Coach Davie - Lorraine Dagger)
After the half-time interval, Coach Lee Davie was keen to continue to feed the hot hand, drawing up a play for Harrison who promptly knocked down a triple after good team execution. Harrison followed this up with an and-one in transition as she continued to lead the team with her energy and effort. The team stuck to their up-tempo and energetic brand of basketball throughout the third quarter, getting big contribution from up and down the roster. The quarter was capped off by a play in the final minute where exquisite ball movement and offensive execution led to a wide open three-pointer which hit nothing but net.
Heading into the final period up 48-36, the squad knew that keeping concentration was all that was needed to close out the win and move on to play Estonia in the next round. However, Macedonia came out firing, scoring the first nine points of the quarter to take the score to 48-45. The game looked like it may come down to the wire when it was kept at a one or two possession game, but heading into the final five minutes, guards Jump and Ellmore came back into the game to knock down back-to-back triples to make the lead more comfortable. From then on, both teams found it hard to score, securing the win for England.
With leading scorer Winterburn struggling with foul trouble, other members of the squad stepped up with performances that buoyed the team to victory. Starting point guard, Charlotte Ellmore, had arguably her best game of the tournament as she ran the show with 12 points and 4 rebounds, while shooting 2 of 4 from outside the arc. However, it was the energy off the bench from Shauna Harrison that really turned this game in England favour as she had an extremely impressive stat-line with 15 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists. Hannah Jump also added key scoring with 12 points and 2 rebounds.
Coach Davie was impressed by Harrison's output, "We struggled a lot today to bounce back and played into Macedonia’s hands, allowing them to assert their brand of basketball. Without the contributions of unsung heroes within this squad, we definitely would not have been able to close this game out. The play of Shauna Harrison off the bench was especially impressive, coming in and making a real impact whenever she was on the court. She had a short spell early on in the game where she had, I think, four offensive rebounds and drew four fouls; igniting our girls and getting them fired up to keep pushing for the win.”
That win set up a game in the 9th-12th placed bracket against an Estonia team that had upset a strong Ukrainian side the day before. The game started out as a cagey affair, as has been the case throughout the tournament, with low scoring in the first quarter. The England coaching staff had identified Victoria Vahi, Janne Pulk and Berit Loomagi as key scorers to shut down, but they were allowed to play freely in the first quarter, combining for 13 of Estonia’s 15 points. Estonia held the lead after one, up 15-9.
Early in the second quarter, Holly Winterburn picked up her second personal foul and Coach Davie called her to the bench. The scoring load was picked up by Shauna Harrison once again as she worked well with Hannah Jump on the perimeter to pour in 10 points combined. While England were beginning to find their touch on the offensive end, they lacked to grit and grind they had shown the night before to get stops and begin to eat into the deficit, still down 29-21.
(Coach Davie watching on - Blue Star Europe)
Coach Lee Davie addressed the squad at half-time with an impassioned plea for the girls to give their all in the second half and represent their nation with pride. The energy and hustle shown so far throughout the tournament was lacking so this was a real sink or swim moment for the squad as a tough second half battle was looming.
The team stepped out in the third quarter with a renewed pride and passion to represent England at their best that seemed to have been lacking. However, Estonia came out with the same approach as they hit three triples back-to-back to extend their lead to 38-25. Trying to right the ship, Harrison and Jump re-entered the game as Harrison went on a scoring tear, knocking in eight points in the final six minutes of the quarter. The girls had stepped up defensively, applying the scouting report and limiting the offensive looks for Estonia, but they still trailed by 11 heading into the fourth, 50-39.
The final quarter saw England needing a big push to turn the game around, which seemed to slowly be moving out of reach. Coach Davie drew up a highly effective play-call to start the quarter and perfect execution got Jump wide open for three, which cut the lead to 50-42. Jump and Harrison continued to pour in points from all over the court, followed up by a possession of fantastic ball movement which got Loie Webb wide open on the kick-out for three, cuting the lead further to 54-49. Holly Winterburn had re-entered the game early in fourth after being hampered with foul trouble and was active as ever, grabbing rebounds, playing the passing lanes and making key plays to get her teammates great looks.
(Loie Webb in action vs Scotland - FIBA Europe)
With the Estonia lead crumbling, Shauna Harrison hit back-to-back threes including a four-point play as the England bench and staff looked on in awe as the girls asserted their dominance on the game, bringing the Estonia lead down to a single point, 60-59. England then reeled off an 8-0 run to take the lead 60-67, as contributions from Jump, Winterburn, Charlotte Ellmore and Maya Hyacienth gave England control of the game heading into the final minute. Crucial free throws from Winterburn and Jump clinched it as England completed their monumental comeback to take the victory 62-70. The grit shown in the final period really paid dividends as the England girls won the fourth quarter 31-12, including a final five minutes where they outscored Estonia 14-5.
The “Splash Sisters”, Sheffield Hatters’ Shauna Harrison and Fever AAU’s Hannah Jump were crucial for England as they rallied in this game, dropping 21 points apiece to combine for a huge 42 of England’s 70 points, while shooting an impressive 8/17 from behind the arc (47%). Harrison also added 2 rebounds and 2 assists, while Jump was able to also grab 4 rebounds and 2 steals. Holly Winterburn, despite struggling with foul trouble, was again a key player in the win, showing her versatility with 10 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals.
Both Harrison and Jump were delighted after the comeback, "We played together as a team to get this really meaningful win" said Jump, "we fought out to the end to pull out a great result." Shauna Harrison, coming off her second game leading England in scoring, added, "Tonight’s game really was a thrilling victory. It was really tough coming back from 17 points down, but it showed how much we wanted it for each other and for England."
Heading into the game against Belgium and with members of the squad struggling with illness and injury, this final game of the tournament against such a formidable foe was always going to be an uphill struggle. With Coach Lee Davie not having key players available to play and others hampered by minute restrictions, the rotations were bound to allow for a vital learning experience for those who had not featured much thus far.
The game started with Belgium coming out in an aggressive full-court pressure defence, a tactic expected from the video the players had been shown. However, breaking the pressure was easier said than done as Belgium consistently were able to force turnovers and run them back for scores in transition or in the half-court. It wasn’t until the 4:36 mark of the game, after a Coach Davie time-out, that Loie Webb gave England their first points of the contest, as they trailed 11-2. Webb added another scored and Tia Freeman came off the bench to add to the tally, but the deficit was growing as England went into the quarter break down 20-6.
Coach Davie was adamant that the pressure could be broken and used against the Belgian side, as he drew up the press break options that the squad knew and had practiced. Yet, the moment still got to the players who were unable to execute and Belgium continued to force turnovers and extend their lead, heading into half-time up 36-16.
The message from Coach Davie was clear at half-time, there was 20 minutes left of the European Championships for this group of players to represent their country; and represent it well. The message seemed to be heard loud and clear as the girls came out inspired in the second half, beginning the third quarter with eight straight stops on defence which led to a 6-0 run to start the period. This forced a time-out from the Belgium coaching staff and the message was simple from the England bench – that three-minute spell shows that we can compete in this game. Unfortunately, that level of play could not be sustained as Belgium refocused and again began to exert their will on the contest. They ran out eventual winners 76-34, a real blow to the England squad who had done so well to regroup after the crushing defeat at the hands of Ireland.
Holly Winterburn led the scoring effort with 8 points, as she also added 5 rebounds, 2 assists and 3 steals. Tia Freeman ended the tournament with a good game off the bench, contributing 5 points, 5 rebound and 2 steals. Charlotte Ellmore also had 5 points, while also pulling down 4 rebounds and blocking 2 shots.
(Lauren Saa will be eligibile to play for the U16s again next season - FIBA Europe)
This England squad has a distinct hope for next year at this age group as 5 of the squad are 2001 born players who are eligible to return next year, including starters Hannah Jump and Lauren Saa. Holly Winterburn finished the tournament tied 7th overall with 13.4ppg, 6th in total points with 107, 2nd in FG% with 50%, 8th in steals with 3.6 per game and 4th in player efficiency with an average score of 16.4 per game. Charlotte Ellmore led all England players with 6.8 rebounds per game.
Coach Davie concluded the tournament with a very important message, "We came here with the goal of a medal and promotion to Division A, but we were unable to achieve it. What we can take pride in, however, is that every player and staff member in this squad has improved because of this National Team experience, just as they each have grown in their understanding of what it takes to achieve success at an elite level. The key now is to take that knowledge and share it back home – with coaches, players, schools, clubs and the federation. If what we have all learned from this experience is not brought home to shape how we work, how we develop and how basketball exists in our nation – then we will have wasted our time."
Report courtesy of U16W Performance Analyst Barney Blake