WEABL: CoLA look for fifth title as new season moves closer

The 2023/24 WEABL season gets underway on 11 October, with CoLA looking to continue their dominance.

The Londoners claimed a record fourth WEABL title last season following a 72-60 victory over Itchen College, with Coach Gibbons' programme now moving two championships clear of the nearest challenger Barking Abbey.

"We have had a lot of turnover from last season's team, but we are excited about the new group we have combined with some talented returners," said Gibbons.

"It will be a fun experience getting them all to gel and understand our system of play."

One of those returnees is guard Violet Stutz, who featured for the GB U18s this summer, said: "We are looking forward to a strong season and looking to defend our WEABL title for a third year.

"We know we have a lot of work to do to achieve that though."

Fellow finalists from a year ago Itchen have suffered some upheaval ahead of this year, most notably with reigning South Conference MVP Faye Endean graduating from the programme and going on to sign a pro deal in the WBBL with London Lions.

Florrie Cotterill returns however, after her strong run in the playoffs a year ago helped the South Coast side reach the 2022/23 final, while point guard Tilly Goddard has moved through the junior ranks as is now ready for a shot at WEABL action.

"This year will be a rebuild year, with lots of U17s who have joined us from the Solent Kestrels junior pathway," admitted head coach Vicky Milner.

"We are young but energetic and eager to go. You can be sure to see a up-tempo style of basketball on the offensive and defensive end. The team know its going to be tough but we are ready to go."

Copleston made the Final Fours a year ago and will welcome back a talented core that includes the likes of Olivia Forster, Christabel Osarobo, Louisa Gibbins, Yazmin Edwards.

"We are really excited about the potential of this group in the WEABL. These girls had a memorable year in the U18s last year and we hope to carry that experience into the academy league this season," said Copleston head coach Nick Drane.

"There are some outstanding teams, players and coaching in our league."

Oaklands College were also Final Fours bound a year ago before being beaten by CoLA. Coach Clare Abbott's side have lost the likes of Daisy Porter, Eva Karasaite and Kizzy Spence, but the retention of Rosie Porter and Cleo Lewis-Gayle should soften the blow.

"I am looking forward to my debut season coaching in the WEABL," confessed Abbott.

"I have witnessed a group that is determined to get better, learn and strive for success. As a coach, I am most excited about pushing this group outside their comfort zone and watch each player grow through the season."

Nottingham Academy Wildcats topped the North conference a year ago before their playoff journey was ended by Itchen in the opening round. Talent pathway standout Valerie Cassidy-DeFalco joins the Midlands programme, but Natalie Charity, Yemisi Mefful and Macy Cook have all moved on to pastures new.

“This year is going to be a productive year. We have a great group of girls, a lot of younger players alongside a few of returners," said head coach Siobhán Prior.

"They have already shown that they want to push each other to be better and support each other in the process of growth and improvement. We are looking forward to growing together on court, in the classroom and as people and we are excited to do this together."

Manchester Mystics will also fancy their chances in what could be a highly-competitive North conference, with the likes of Alejandra Escriva and Daisy Bryan both set to carry the torch as 2022/23 North MVP Isobel Robibnson works her way back from long-term injury.

Likewise, Nick Moodey will have his Charnwood programme ready to go, bringing in a number of new faces with international experience. Charley Woodman (GB), Brooke Leo (Wales), Lousie Fisher, Lauren Cooper (both Scotland) and Hannah Cabezutto (Gibraltar) should all help the Riders in their drive to improve on their #3 seed from a year ago.

"There is a lot of excitement around the group we have this year, we have a good mixture of returning players and new players to the Riders programme but everyone is working hard, excited and raring to go," said Moodey.

The WEABL season begins on 11 October with a pair of fixtures in the South Conference as defending champs CoLA host local rivals Barking Abbey, whilst Copleston entertain Oaklands College.

The North conference gets underway a week later on 18 October, with Nottingham heading to Sheffield to get things underway.

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