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Bristol Flyers Women 2016/17 season review

Bristolflyers.co.uk contributor Jack Ford gives his review of Bristol Flyers Women's 2016/17 season.

The Bristol Flyers Women’s second year proved to be an eventful and memorable one.

Most definitely a season of two halves, the team stuck together to overcome initial disappointment and emerge as one of the surprise packages of the league. The season did not get off to a good start for the Flyers, losing their first six regular season games. The season’s first win was proving elusive, with the team coming close to it but eventually only losing by a three point margin to Anglia Ruskin. 

"Our heads certainly began to drop after losing the first run of games."

Hannah Watkins

Centre Hannah Watkins told bristolflyers.co.uk. “I think we began to put too much pressure on ourselves to get that first win and didn't play in a relaxed way.”

Head coach Gareth Till said about the streak: “Basketball is such a mental sport, belief in your ability you can play a big role in winning games. When you're losing frequently, as we did, it does make you question decisions.”

Fortunes changed however in late November, when they got their first win at home, convincingly blowing out local rivals Bristol Storm 62-36 to kick start their season.

“It was great to get that first win,” says Till, “Particularly as it was against our local rivals Storm. We knew we could not afford to lose that game and we put in a great performance.”

Newcomer Amani Clark made a big impression early in the season, who  played well both on defence as well as offence, where she was a stand-out. Her form continued throughout the length of the season and she was rewarded with a nomination for the league’s player of the year.

Their next game was also a high-scoring affair, defeating Exeter Eagles by 48 points. They closed out 2016 with a win over former Great Britain international Julie Page’s Lancashire Spinners to give them momentum heading in to the new year. 

Unfortunately the form built at the end of 2016 wasn't carried in to 2017 , the team’s winning ways came crashing down with back to back losses, to both Southwark Pride and a last-minute defeat to eventual champions Team Solent Kestrels. 

Defence was a particular strength of the team in 2016/17. Led by center Hannah Watkins, the Flyers would constantly play high-pressure defense and made a big effort preventing baskets and grabbing rebounds, which led to their winning by high margins.

Hannah Watkins had this to say:  “Coach obviously (had us) work on our defence and got us to focus on certain areas against specific teams but I feel that defence is a lot about effort and pride. We have a good number of players that bring great hustle.”

"Defence is huge for us. We defend hard as a team, not as individual players, and enjoy the challenge. It’s a part of the game that is reliant on attitude and commitment, everyone has the ability to play good defence."

Gareth Till

The Flyers defensive efforts were best demonstrated in their 59-42 victory over Essex Blades, where they held their opponents to no points for the entire third quarter. “That feels absolutely fantastic” Team captain Trish Groves said of the result at the time, “I’m not sure we’ve ever done that before, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a game where that’s happened before.”

This confident performance would be followed a single-point win over Barking Abbey, then a string of more comfortable, double-digit wins over Anglia Ruskin University, Bristol Storm and Exeter Eagles.

“Things started to click,” Hannah Watkins said of this late season win-streak, “I think the team grew in confidence with each win.”

The Flyers’ run of high-scoring victories was helped in part by the late addition of Maialen Zilbeti to the squad. Regularly scoring in double digits and a consistent, dependable offensive player, she had a noticeable impact on the team straight away, becoming the top scorer in her debut game for the club.

“It’s not easy to come into a new team in the middle of the season” says Zilbeti, “but I have to say that everyone made a great effort to make everything easier for me since the beginning. They accepted me very quickly and I felt that they were a strong team in which I could play comfortably.”

The Flyers concluded their regular season with two wins in as many days over third-place Charnwood College and a 57-40 victory over Lancashire.  A team that had started off winless finished on an eight-game winning streak and clinched fifth place in the league, showing their mental strength to recover from a series of early setbacks.

Head Coach Gareth Till said:  “I'm really proud that the team were able to turn the season around. It’s very easy to become distant from each other when things get tough but we came together and figured it out.”

“For me, the best moment of the season was the weekend we defeated Charnwood twice. The first game at home was unforgettable; brilliant team work, intense defense, clear offense -probably our best game.”

Maialen Zilbeti

Having qualified for the playoffs, they first faced Barking Abbey away, in a game where they quickly took control and maintained dominance throughout, winning 62 to 43.  Advancing to the semi-finals, where they faced top-seeded Solent Kestrels, the Flyers fought hard to keep their chances alive but ultimately the eventual league champions proved too much for them, ending their exciting and unpredictable season.

Their playoff run cut disappointingly short, life returns to normal for the team, and thoughts turn to September and the start of a new season, where they will be looking to go that one step further. 

First though, as with every season, comes rebuilding:

“Every season is a fresh start,” says coach Till, “Players come and go, you really don't know how the squad shapes up until September. 

“I am very happy with the group of players I've got, but the reality is that our players are amateur, they spend a lot of their free time and money to play (in the league) and understandably there comes a time when they have other priorities. 

“What is positive is we already have players keen to try out for the squad, so we're in good shape.”

All the Flyers Women players, coaches and volunteers extend their gratitude to everyone who gave the team their support this season, and hope that even more will come together next year to make 2017/18 their biggest and best season yet.

Bristol Flyers Women are always on the lookout for new players, coaches and volunteers.  Anybody who's interested and committed is always welcome to join the Flyers Family. Contact us at flyerswomen@gmail.com and we’ll be in touch!


About the contributor

Written by Jack Ford. A recent member of the Flyers Family, Jack has been volunteering with Bristol Flyers writing game reports on Flyers Women for the website and game day programme.