England's U18 Women started their European Championships with tough losses to Ireland and Estonia this weekend, going down 53-64 to Ireland as the tournament began on Saturday before a 47-54 defeat on Sunday.
England started brightly against Ireland, pushing out to a 6-2 lead off the back of a 3 pointer from eventual top scorer Harriet Swindells, who had 16. However the Irish kept battling and found their rhythm, going on a 5-14 run to end the period up 11-16. Moving into the 2nd and with 5 minutes left in the half, England has worked hard to tie the game up at 20 following buckets from Imani Whittington and Anna Popovic, before another 3 pointer from Swindells. Both teams traded baskets as the half wore on before heading to the break tied 32-32.
Unfortunately for England, things began to unravel once the action resumed. A lack of focus and execution led to a number of turnovers in the 3rd and Ireland capitalised fully, taking the period 4-22 and leaving England significantly adrift with one quarter to go. Despite winning the 4th by 7, it wasn't enough and the team fell to 0-1 for the tournament.
After the tie, Coach Vanessa Ellis pointed out where improvements could be made, "The team needs to maintain a consistency of play and maintain focus if they are to progress well for the next game against Estonia"
(Anna Popovic had 6 points and 5 rebounds vs Ireland - FIBA Europe)
Taking Coach Ellis' advice to heart, the performance 24 hours later was much improved. Estonia were paced by a dominant performance from Sandra Tael who finished with a 22 points and 11 rebounds double-double, the forward was a tough match up all game long. Barking Abbey's Imani Whittington led the English scorers with 11, supported by Anna Popovic with 8 and Chloe Gaynor who had 6 and a team high 9 boards.
Estonia started the brighter of the two teams as they pushed out to a 5-0 lead whilst England tried to find their range, eventually connecting with their first basket of the game after more than 4 minutes had passed. Estonia finished the quarter strongly to, scoring the last 5 points to lead 7-12 after 1. Much like the Ireland game, England came out and worked hard in the 2nd to reduce their deficit. Restricting Estonia to just 2 points over the first 6 minutes of the quarter allowed England to move out to a 21-14 lead themselves only to be pegged back by Estonia who went into the half 23-25.
Fortunately England were significantly more poised during the 3rd period of their 2nd game but Estonia kept chipping away and never made things easy. England led by as many as 6 in the quarter, but a strong final 4 minutes by powerful Forward Mariann Adelbert saw a flurry of scoring from Estonia who finished the 3rd up 33-37. Despite a desire for an English fight back, the 4th quarter belonged to Estonia and Tael. The captain totalled 13 of her 22 points in the final frame and England couldn't match her, losing the quarter by 3 and the match by 7.
England now sit at 0-2 but still have a real chance to finish in the top 2 of the group and continue their push for promotion. Their next game is against current group leaders Greece tomorrow (26th July) with a tip at 17:30GMT.