It’s showtime! Hear from the WBBL Head Coaches…
By Jamie Thomas
They’ve led their teams into battle time and time again in this crazy, inspiring season, but this is what they’ve all been working towards as the WBBL Playoffs get underway in Newcastle this week and the Head Coaches of our playoff hopefuls look to lead their teams to glory.
It won’t be long until we’re at Finals Day in Leicester where we’ll crown the playoff winners, but before then, check out the thoughts of the eight Head Coaches below as well as some key stats ahead of the playoffs getting underway. Find more information on where you can watch the action live here.
First seed – Sevenoaks Suns
Head Coach: Len Busch
Regular Season Record: 19-1
Playoff Quarter Final opponents: Oaklands Wolves – Saturday, May 1st @ 5pm
Top-scorer: Cat Carr (19.2ppg); Assist leader: Cat Carr (7.3apg); Leading rebounder: Cat Carr (8.8rpg)
Coach Busch said: “We’ve had an intense run of games that we’ve got through one game at a time, and we’re looking forward to the playoffs, but we’re trying to stay in the moment as much as we can because the playoffs are one-and-done and if you don’t focus then it can end really quickly.
“Every team we play gets up for the occasion and gives us their best shot, so we won’t be taking anybody lightly and we’re expecting a battle in every game – we just hope to battle a little bit harder than our opponents on the day. We know that in the early rounds of the playoffs a team can make their whole season by knocking us out, so we don’t want to give them that pleasure.
“The players have done a great job of coping with the situation that we’re in and helping each other through it, so to be successful in the playoffs would be a phenomenal achievement for our team.”
Second seed – Leicester Riders
Head Coach: Jesper Sundberg
Regular Season Record: 18-2
Playoff Quarter Final opponents: Newcastle Eagles – Saturday, May 1st @ 7:30pm
Top-scorer: Holly Winterburn (14.9ppg); Assist leader: Holly Winterburn (6.2apg); Leading rebounder: Azania Stewart (8.8rpg)
Coach Sundberg said: “This is what we’ve been striving towards. We’re really excited and the playoffs come at a good point for us where we’re playing good basketball now, there’s growing chemistry in the group, and we’re just really looking forward to it.
“We’ve had some big roster changes mid-season, but we’ve shown since then we’re on pace to be competitive against the top teams. We’re getting to a place we’re happy with, there’s a good balance in the team and we’re having fun together.
“All the teams in the league have done a great job to get to this point and keeping everybody safe. It’s such an impressive achievement to even have the playoffs to look forward to. This is my third season here and our mentality at the start of the season was that we’re going to win these playoffs, but if we were to do it after everything we’ve been through then it would be amazing.”
Third seed – BA London Lions
Head Coach: Mark Clark
Regular Season Record: 16-4
Playoff Quarter Final opponents: Essex Rebels – Sunday, May 2nd @ 5:30pm
Top-scorer: Cassie Breen (18.5ppg); Assist leader: Kennedy Leonard (11.0apg); Leading rebounder: Stephanie Umeh (7.1rpg)
Coach Clark said: “Playoff time is an exciting time for everybody, but with a number of new players who’ve not been in the WBBL previously, this is their first chance to play in a playoff environment and the win-or-go-home situation is a very exciting one for players, so everybody is looking forward.
“The WBBL is very exciting this year, there’s more quality British players in the league and London doing well helps build the profile of the sport as well, I think. The question for teams will be can they execute better, can they find an advantage, and the intensity is going to step up for sure. In a one-off game, all of these teams will be very dangerous, as everybody has at least one player who can just take over and grab a win with a great performance.
“There are definitely going to be upsets. We’ve had some really close games against the lower seeds this season, such as Newcastle, where there was only four or five points in it for three quarters before we found a way to break the game open in the fourth and go on to win, but every team is capable of winning.”
Fourth seed – Nottingham Wildcats
Head Coach: Kenrick Liburd
Regular Season Record: 11-9
Playoff Quarter Final opponents: Manchester Mystics – Sunday, May 2nd @ 3pm
Top-scorer: Jasmine Joyner (19.5ppg); Assist leader: Chelsey Shumpert (5.0apg) Leading rebounder: Jasmine Joyner (10.5rpg)
Coach Liburd said: “We’re very excited for the challenge that is ahead. We’ve been looking to secure fourth spot to give us a good opportunity in what should be a very close game – we’ve been working on reinventing ourselves over the last few weeks as a team, and we seem to have done quite a good job of that so far.
“In a one-off game, anything can happen and we’ve seen that throughout the regular season with Newcastle running Sevenoaks and London close and Essex taking games from ourselves and Leicester, so I think this will be a very interesting playoffs and for us we’re just working hard on making sure we play our best basketball when it matters most.
“For us to be successful would be huge. We reached our first major final in three years against London, but an injury rocked our chances and we didn’t give a full account of ourselves. We’ve just got to win the game in front of us and after that anything can happen.”
Fifth seed – Manchester Met Mystics
Head Coach: Jeff Jones
Regular Season Record: 10-10
Playoff Quarter Final opponents: Nottingham Wildcats – Sunday, May 2nd @ 3pm
Top-scorer: Georgia Jones (17.2ppg); Assist leader: Georgia Jones (5.3apg); Leading rebounder: Dominique Allen (6.3rpg)
Coach Jones said: “Having an opportunity to win the last trophy of the season is always good. I think the format this year is good and we’re very excited for it. I’ve been doing this for 30 years now, but this season has been so different and challenging for obvious reasons, so we’re excited to have something to play for at the end of it all.
“I think there have been times this season where we all wondered if the season would continue, and for me it has just been about keeping the players motivated and reminding them how privileged we are to still be playing and playing for something now.
“We’ve been a bit shorthanded at times this season which has been tough, but we are improving and playing better longer – we’re just still working on that consistency through the 40 minutes – and when we’re at our top level we can play with anybody. If we all play to our maximum we have as good a chance as anybody of succeeding in the playoffs – anything can happen!”
Sixth seed – Essex Rebels
Head Coach: Tom Sadler
Regular Season Record: 10-10
Playoff Quarter Final opponents: BA London Lions – Sunday, May 2nd @ 5:30pm
Top-scorer: Deangelique Waithe (15.2ppg); Assist leader: Ashleigh Munns (3.5apg); Leading rebounder: Lucrezia Costa (10.6rpg)
Coach Sadler said: “It is a big achievement for us to have qualified, and to do have done so quite early, too. We’re only in our third year in the league, and in our first season we only won three games – which was a big accomplishment in itself – and last year we probably would have finished eighth, but obviously things were cut short, so we’ve had unfinished business this year.
“We’ve used the challenges and adversity we’ve faced to propel us forward and give us a purpose. It hasn’t been easy nor comfortable, but everybody is excited for the opportunity that lays ahead. Our togetherness and resilience has pleased me the most and I believe this group can do something special.
“I hope the best is still to come in the playoffs. We’ve seen glimpses of what we’re capable of, we’re a lot of fun to watch when we get going, and we’re not going to the playoffs to participate – we want to win it. We’ll remain focussed, take it one game at a time, chip away at it and see what happens.”
Seventh seed – Newcastle Eagles
Head Coach: Chris Bunten
Regular Season Record: 7-13
Playoff Quarter Final opponents: Leicester Riders – Saturday, May 1st @ 7:30pm
Top-scorer: Alison Gorrell (23.6ppg); Assist leader: Alison Gorrell (5.3apg); Leading rebounder: Alison Gorrell (7.5rpg)
Coach Bunten said: “We’re looking forward to the challenge a lot. We’ve had a bit of a turbulent season with injuries and players getting excellent opportunities to play in Europe at a very high level, so it has been difficult, and just to be here is really exciting and pleasing for us.
“What we’ve shown this season to get to this point in terms of our resilience and togetherness will only serve us well in the playoffs. We’ve got great people here and I can’t praise them enough for all of their efforts – we make up for anything we lack with an abundance of hard work, and we want to cause an upset.
“We’re going to chuck everything at our opponents, we believe in ourselves and that on any day we can get a win against anybody. I’ve tasted the success of winning the playoffs with this club in 2016, so we know what it takes as a club to win the whole thing, but to win one game would just be huge for us. We just want to show the fans what Newcastle basketball is all about.”
Eighth seed – Oaklands Wolves
Head Coach: Lee Ryan
Regular Season Record: 7-13
Playoff Quarter Final opponents: Sevenoaks Suns – Saturday, May 1st @ 5pm
Top-scorer: Greeta Uprus (12.6ppg); Assist leader: Beth Sarson (2.7apg); Leading rebounder: Lauren Milligan (7.8rpg)
Coach Ryan said: “We’re immensely proud to be here. This season has been a rollercoaster of emotions, but there’s a lot of pride to be here and relief as well to be at the end of the regular season and that we do have something to play for, and we’re really looking forward to May Madness.
“To get the playoff place secured in the midst of three games in three days was very pleasing and a testament to our group, but it just shows how much everybody across the league deserves credit too for getting to this point.
“I’m a big supporter of the May Madness format and I hope the neutral venues continue in the future, especially with the fans next year it’ll be very exciting and create a great atmosphere. We’re going into the first game as underdogs, but we’re hoping to bring something new to the playoffs as we could well have our full roster on the floor for the first time this season, and we could be a bit of a surprise package!”