WNBL1 preview: Playoff final (29 May 2021) - Ipswich v CoLA Southwark Pride

Ipswich go up against CoLA Southwark Pride this weekend in the 2020/21 playoff final.

As the closing game of what has been a uniquely difficult season, this year's showpiece involves the top two teams in the land as both sides head to Nottingham Wildcats Arena for a 3pm tip.

Can Ipswich convert a regular-season title into playoff glory, or will CoLA win the big one for the first time since 2016/17?

Continued rise

There has been a constant direction of travel for Ipswich since their entrance to the WNBL in 2017/18 - up.

Their maiden season contained an unbeaten 15-0 record in D2, plus a fairytale victory over then D1W leading Essex Blades to claim the National Cup in historic fashion.

A .500 record in their first top-flight season led to a playoff berth as the #6 seeds, though that campaign would end following an opening-round loss to Solent.

Since then, Ipswich have been a D1W force to be reckoned with. A first regular-season title was secured following the curtailed 2019/20 season, though fans across the country were robbed of what would no doubt have been a grandstand end to the campaign and the subsequent playoffs.

This season's output was more of the same, a 16-2 record and top spot once again, adding another league title. When coach Drane's side did come under threat late in the year, they responded by beating their nearest challengers Loughborough and CoLA on back-to-back weekends, asserting their status as leaders of the pack once more.

Unsurprisingly, Ipswich are a much talked about side in this season's WNBL end of year awards, with Esther Little already claiming the Young (U19) Player of the Year, Harriet Welham and Little scooping places in the D1W British Team of the Year, and the duo also battling it out for the overall Player of the Year, which will be announced on Friday afternoon.

With quality play from two of the league's leading lights plus a support cast that most teams would envy, it's no surprise that Ipswich have found their way past the Pride in both their meetings this season.

Unlike a lot of teams facing the #1 seeds, the London outfit have held their own however. A 67-54 game in Suffolk was preceded by an 81-77 contest at CoLA, setting the stage for what is likely to be an entertaining clash on Saturday afternoon.

With the regular season's top-scoring offence at 84.8PPG and the league's scoring champ Harriet Welham (25.9PPG) at their disposal, Ipswich will try to fire their way to success this weekend.

Nottingham Wildcats Arena will host this weekend's final (Nottingham Wildcats)

Return to glory

To claim their first playoff title in four years, CoLA will need to do something they haven't managed so far this season and beat the #1.

Pride have managed to stay competitive in both meetings to date and a stronger final quarter effort in either matchup could have been decisive. The 81-77 home loss in November saw the London side go down 7-3 after a period of OT, whilst the 67-54 defeat in Suffolk closed with a 17-11 fourth quarter.

Harriet Welham had 52 points across those two games, including 34 when the teams met in London, so utilising their D1W leading defence (58.0PPG allowed) will no doubt be a priority for WNBL Coach of the Year Jackson Gibbons.

This season marks a return to prominence for Southwark, who were forced to endure a lean spell following their maiden playoff title. Without a positive record in either of the last two seasons, CoLA had their worst campaign to date a year ago, but have put that 3-12 disappointment behind them to produce a stellar 2020/21 that could end in playoff glory once again.

Simona Henshaw and Isi Ozzy-Momodu both made the WNBL Birtish Team of the Year after great seasons, and the likes of Emily O'Connell, Emilie Black and Molly Lavin have all shone at various stages of the current campaign.

A hugely competitive outfit regardless of what competition they're playing in, can CoLA get the good times rolling once again with another WNBL playoff title?

Ipswich roster (Jersey/Name/Position)

#4 - Millie Pearson (G)
#6 - Hannah Gray (G)
#7 - Alice Fallon (G)
#8 - Ella Pearson (G)
#9 - Saruna Gudza (G)
#10 - Charlotte Redhead (G)
#11 - Danni Cazey (G)
#12 - Susannah Rafiu (F)
#13 - Esther Little (F)
#14 - Harriet Welham (G - Captain)
#15 - Cameron Taylor-Willis (F)

Nick Drane – Head Coach
Josh Carson – Assistant Coach
Rob Schatten – Assistant Coach
Ollie Miall -  Assistant Coach
Richard Liddamore - Team Manager

CoLA Southwark Pride roster (Jersey/Name/Position)

#4 - Shantell Ayton (G)
#5 - Beeban Jikiemi-Pearson (G)
#6 - Ana-Isabel Andersson (G)
#7 - Simona Henshaw (G/F - Captain)
#8 - Ebere Egbirika (G)
#9 - Aaliyah Samuels-Campbell (G)
#10 - Lauryn Masawi  (G)
#11 - Emily O'Connell (G)
#12 - Victoria Natufe (F)
#13 - Emilie Black (G)
#14 - Isi Ozzy-Momodu (F)
#15 - Molly Lavin (G/F)

Jackson Gibbons - Head Coach
Brian Nguru - Assistant Coach
Jay Williams - Assistant Coach
Emmy Ososioma - Team Manager