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Bristol Flyers Women 2017/18 season review

Bristol Flyers Women produced plenty of highlights during the 2017/18 season and took big strides forward in their development as one of the south west’s premier women’s basketball clubs.

After an uncertain start to the season itself, which saw them win their first game away to Lancashire but drop their home opener to the Reading Rockets, the offensive efforts of both Maialen Ansoain Zilbeti and Liisa Juul led the Flyers to four wins in a row. This streak included a come-from-behind win against defending champions Team Solent Kestrels, and a 21-point victory over eventual champions Anglia Ruskin University, in which Juul scored 28 points. 

In her first season as captain of the team, Fiona Fox was particularly pleased to see the team doing so well early on: “I felt honoured when asked to be Flyers captain, though obviously it was quite daunting and there are a lot of responsibilities that come with it, but it was a great feeling seeing us all come together, playing well as a team and executing the game plan.”

BEAT THE BLADES

Essex Blades only lost one game all season - that came at the hands of the Flyers. Cat Lutz had been causing problems for Bristol, as they worked hard to protect their lead in their late-November encounter. The Blades narrowed the gap to one with a minute to go, but the Flyers’ win was sealed right at the death after Ellie Shaxon missed the very last shot of the game for Essex. It was the most memorable, dramatic and exciting moment of the season.

“I can’t really describe how I felt when that final shot didn’t go in,” was centre Becks Cantin’s immediate reaction to the Essex result.

“Absolutely amazing, absolutely elated.” Riding this victory, the Flyers then scored a big win against Oxford Brookes and found themselves in second place at the mid-point of the season.
Photo by Billy East
Making the biggest impression of any new arrival to the team this year was Hannah Wallace. Her strength, vision and work ethic on the court, as well as regular high-scoring performances, quickly earned her a place in the starting line-up and she became a big part of the team’s game plan. 

Her season-best performance came in the Flyers’ cup semi-final matchup against Ipswich, which was also the team’s last game of 2017. While the team had previously been in control over Worcester and Sevenoaks en route to this stage of the cup competition, Ipswich proved to be another matter. 

Despite 23 points from Wallace, the Flyers couldn’t recover from the visitors’ fifteen-point run mid-way through the game, and continued unanswered scoring runs from Ipswich kept the win out of the Flyers’ reach, ultimately eliminating them from cup contention.

WINTER IS COMING

The second half of the season began with another disappointing loss to Reading, but the Flyers maintained their league standing after an emphatic and confident performance against Nottingham. As the season went on though, holding on to second place would not be an easy task.

The Flyers suffered heavy losses and battled hard for wins in February and March, as the result of ongoing unexpected circumstances. The weather had not been on the their side, resulting in games being postponed and rescheduled across the latter half of the season, and a lot of players were inactive for extended periods with injuries.

“It’s always a challenge with injuries, but fortunately we had good-sized squad this year to put a team out for each game,” said head coach Gareth Till.

"As a non-professional team we need to be well organised in terms of player availability, and when this is affected by changes it can be very frustrating.”

Gareth Till

During this uneasy period, Flyers suffered their biggest defeat of the season to Southwark Pride, while also seeing some very positive results, including a 30-point victory over the London Lions and a 68-42 win against Loughborough, in which Emily Short led all scorers with 15 off the bench.

Short was one of many Flyers rotation players who stepped up and shone in place of sidelined starters: Molly James blossomed into a dependable go-to shooter with a great long-range shot; a lot of close-range strength and physicality was seen from Becks Cantin and Hannah Till, who did great work filling the role of starting centre, in what would be her final season at the club. 

The Flyers went into their last game of the regular season looking for the win that would secure them a second-place finish, but so were their final opponents, Southwark Pride.

After going 8-0 down early on, the Flyers worked hard to try and turn the game around, and despite great scoring shows from Fiona Fox and Molly James, the win fell away from them at the last minute. The Flyers dropped to third in the final table, while Southwark gained the supposedly advantageous position in the final league standings – though their first playoff opponents would be Anglia Ruskin.

PLAY-OFF TIME

Still sore at having lost home court advantage for their entire playoff run, confidence remained high for the Flyers as they went into their quarter final matchup against Oxford Brookes at WISE.

In the game itself, Flyers took an early lead, but with no let up on offence from Oxford’s Julie Fricke, and the team at a visible height disadvantage, were soon down by double digits. The Flyers looked poised for a comeback late in the game, but lapses in concentration opened the door for Oxford to book their semi final spot and bring an early end to the Flyers’ season.

Given how well the Flyers had done in the early part of the season, the early exit came as something of a shock to many. Head coach Gareth Till described the end to the season as “disappointing, I think everyone involved believed we could achieve something this year. It was an opportunity missed.”

Reflecting on the season as a whole, Liisa Jull had similar thoughts: “The beginning was great but in the second half, when we all came back in the new year, we were a little bit physically unfit and it was hard to get back on track. We had our good and bad moments this season, but I think in general we were far better this season than last.”

Despite coming off short in the play-offs, the 2017/18 season saw the team achieve some of their best results, all the while showing great displays of athleticism, skill and teamwork that did not disappoint those who came to support them. In addition, Juul, Zilbeti and Fox all finished in the top five for player efficiency, while Juul also made the shortlist for fan’s player of the year.

Though there’s some uncertainty what next season’s line up will be, there is a lot of positivity in the Flyers Women as they look ahead to the 2018/19 season.

“It’s hard to plan for next season right now in terms of a squad, said head coach Gareth Till.

"We have had a lot of interest from new players and we’ll sadly be announcing that a few our senior players will be hanging up their boots from National League Basketball, so there will be a natural transition in the squad.

"What I can do is reflect on what worked and what didn't and how we could improve for next season. What is very encouraging is seeing some great new talent in our junior girls’ program.

Anyone wanting to volunteer, officiate or play for the Flyers Women is more than welcome and need only contact the team at flyerswomen@gmail.com.


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.