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WEABL 2018-19 Season Preview

The Women’s Elite Academy Basketball League (WEABL) returns for its fourth year as the 2018/19 season includes 10 teams across the Northern and Southern Conferences. This season sees a return to the two conference competition format, after last season’s format which included qualification stages and a final round of the WEABL and Women’s Academy Basketball League (WABL). The only newcomers to the league this season are Itchen Collge, as the Southampton-based side adds an elite women’s programme to their well established men’s counterparts.

Read below as we preview each side for this season, noting the key departures and new faces within each squad.

 

Northern Conference

Charnwood College

Third time was not the charm for Charnwood College, as Barking Abbey took the national championship to give the East Midlands side their third runner-up finish in a row.

A 5-2 record in the WEABL final round last season was good for a second-placed finish, as the Riders challenged for the WEABL regular season title. Their losses came against Myerscough College and City of London Academy, but the Riders were able to reverse their fortunes as they defeated the Central London side in the Final Four to punch their ticket to the national championship game.

Graduating guard Ebony Horton, regining WBBL Defensive Player of the Year and All-WEABL Second Team member, has headed stateside to join Binghampton University in the American East Conference of NCAA DI. Replacing her production in the back-court will likely fall on returning guard Holly Winterburn who will be critical once again for Leicester; one of the youngest stars in the Women’s British Basketball League (WBBL). Returning senior Lauren Saa is also going to be a big piece in the Riders campaign, as she makes the step up to the WBBL roster at club level.

With the Riders managing to replace the lost production from graduating players in recent years with a revolving door of talented recruits, look for their freshmen to also make an impact as the season progresses. One such new recruit is Emma Cheetham, as the Great Britain Under 18 international makes the switch from Myerscough to complete her senior year in the WEABL. Cheetham will be joined by fellow Myerscough transfer Ugne Pranculyte who will add size to the Riders’ front-court.

Team Profile.

Manchester Mystics Academy

Another difficult season in the WEABL saw the Mystics Academy’s main success being their qualification for the WEABL final round when the league split at Christmas. The second half of the season with the top teams was a tough battle for the Manchester side, failing to register a win.

Having lost their both dynamic scorer off the wing, Fiona Connolly, and their inside presence, as Silvia Okuonghae also departs, the Mystics will need to rebuild around their key returning pieces. Starting point guard Chloe Andrews will be back after a good season which saw her named to the England Under 18 long list, while Bethany Waugh and Lina Asobirionwu also return as contributors from last season. The big news for the Mystics roster for next season is the addition of Great Britain international guard Jade Mbam, who will be joined by centre Remi Idowu.

There’s change on the side-line as well for the Manchester programme, as play-caller from last campaign Aurimas Verbukas moves on to coach the Magic NBL Division One side, leaving a berth for Mystics WBBL player, and recent Great Britain Under 20 Women Assistant Coach, Natalie Chaloner to step into the role.

Team Profile.

Myerscough College

A mixed campaign for Myerscough College last season saw them be one of the only sides to take a game against national runners-up Leicester Riders Academy in league play, but then fail to make the playoffs. The Lancashire-based programme’s 4-3 record was only good for fifth place, as early losses to playoff-bound Barking Abbey School, Oaklands College and City of London Academy sealed their fate.

The North West squad return to WEABL play without stand-out performaners Shauna Harrison and Milly Knowles, among others. Harrison, named to the WEABL All-First Team last campaign, has headed stateside to join the NCAA DII California University of Pennsylvania, while All-WEABL Third teamer Milly Knowles will be attending Eastern Washington University in NCAA DI. Also departing the programme are Emma Cheetham, Hilary Subi and Jadzea Quinn. Cheetham will complete her WEABL career at Leicester Riders Academy, while Subi and Quinn will both be attending the University of Essex and representing Essex Rebels in the WBBL. Freya Kelshaw also moves on to continue her studies; she will attend Loughborough University to compete for the Riders.

The only returning starter from last season is combo guard Kyra Smith, as she completes her third and final season at Myerscough. Smith is up for the challenge of the roster changes in her team, saying “I’m really excited for this season, we are a small team but we are really up for the challenge.”

With former Head Coach Julie Page departing after two seasons with the programme, former England international and professional player Mike Bernard makes the move over from the Myerscough men’s programme to become the women’s play-caller. Bernard is pleased with his new challenge, saying “I am Looking forward to my first year in charge of the women’s team, we have a good group of girls from last year and good group that have come in.”

Team Profile.

Nottingham Academy Wildcats

A tough second season in the WEABL saw Nottingham Academy Wildcats fall into the WABL segment of the league at the Christmas break. A record of 1-2 in the WABL final round was a tough end to the campaign for the East Midlands side, but they can draw hope from a convincing win over Moulton College; showing what they can do when their pieces come together.

Returning point guard Brahe Ashton is sure to be a difference maker for the Wildcats after having stepped up into the WBBL squad at club level. A season lost to injury for Caitlyn Riley will likely make her hungry to return to the squad as a big contributor this season in her senior year, as the former England long list forward has previously been a great competitor for Nottingham.

With a number of their younger members of the Nottingham Academy WEABL squad having also been successful in their Under 16 team which reached the Dynamik National Schools final fours last season, the talent coming through is likely to be impactful despite playing above their years.

Off the court at Nottingham Academy there has also been some change as Siobhan Prior, the Wildcats starting point guard in the WBBL, was named Director of Basketball Operations to work to improve and expand the Wildcats provision of basketball at Nottingham Academy. The Wildcats will also be looking to a new play-caller this season, as Great Britain Under 16 Head Coach Kenrick Liburd joins the programme after time with Oaklands College and Barking Abbey.

Team Profile.

 

Southern Conference

Barking Abbey

Having taken home the inaugural WEABL national championship back in 2015/16, Barking Abbey were able to clinch their second national title in 2017/18, defeating Charnwood College in the final. A loss to City of London Academy in the 2016/17 Final Four fuelled their desire to get back on top and the East London side did just that; taking home both the regular season and post-season national titles. A 6-1 record in the regular season clinched their league title, with their only loss coming at the hands of Charnwood College, who were the only mark on an otherwise perfect season for Barking.

After a vastly successful campaign last year, there will be deep holes to fill for the returning players and new recruits at Barking. WEABL Player of the Year Charlotte Ellmore heads stateside to join NCAA DI school the University of Texas at San Antonio. Ellmore was joined on the All-WEABL First Team by Zoe Willis, who also heads to the US, along with Flora Durgerian and Megan Sheret, with Sheret attending Fresno Pacific University. Exciting guard Dami Adeyinka is another player to make the jump to the US college system as she will attend Quincy University.

Returning talent includes Loren Christie, as 6’3″ forward is fresh off a summer where she represented Great Britain in both the Under 20 and Under 18 sides. Guards Macy Spinks and Teresa Da Silva are back for their senior years, as they will be looked at to replace the production of Ellmore and Willis. The new faces in the Barking Abbey programme are England long list forward Precious Adediran who makes a move across London from Haringey Angels, while following Ellmore in a move from Southend Swifts is 6’2″ Great Britain international forward Lilly Annim.

After a stellar career on the side-lines for Barking Abbey, as previous Head Coach, and reigning WEABL Coach of the Year, Karen Burton has departed the programme and will be replaced by WBBL Head Coach Mark Clark and former professional point guard Diana Naydenova-Goryanova.

Mark Clark is hopeful of another successful year of player development, saying “We are looking forward to defending our WEABL championship.  Hopefully the standard will continue to improve and we will be able to use the competition as part of the development program.”

Meanwhile, returning forward Jolicia Cadogan is up for the challenge with the new-look roster, as she said “I’m really excited about the upcoming WEABL season. This year will a challenge as we have lost a number of players from our team, however we are all determined and ready to carry on the Barking Abbey tradition of winning.”

Team Profile.

City of London Academy

In what was billed as a rebuilding year for City of London Academy (CoLA), with eight players departing from their title winning squad, the Central London side were very impressive behind the stellar play of a number of freshmen. A third place finish in the WEABL final round was an impressive campaign as they finished with a 4-2 record, but lost out in the Final Four to an impressive display by Charnwood College.

A returning core of talented players will be exciting for Head Coach Jackson Gibbons, as his side are also fresh off taking home the NBL Under 18 Women’s National Championship back in May. Departing the program for new shores this season are Chandera Jones-Aryeh, who will attend Millierville University, and Kadija Conteh, who will be plying her trade for Adams State University. Jahnara Hall also moves on to continue her studies, but stays within the UK as she will attend Coventry University.

The returning core of players who had outstanding freshman campaigns includes a raft of junior international talent, with Megan Haines, Maya Hyacienth, Mia Sarkodee-Adoo and Ashana Hinds ready to make big moves in their senior seasons. Haines and Hyacienth shone especially in their freshman seasons, rewarded with selections to the All-WEABL Second Team. The returners will be joined by newcomers Jade Guidolin-Duncan, who has turned heads with her impressive junior career at Haringey Angels, and Amelia Sandie, a 5’7″ guard who represented Great Britain Under 16s this summer and makes the move from Brighton Cougars.

Coach Gibbons is excited to start working on mixing his returning talent with his new recruits, explaining “We are looking forward to this season with a great deal of excitement, we have a great group returning whilst we are extremely excited about our new cohort; the class of 2020. We feel like once the girls gel, we have all we need to be successful this season and most importantly here at CoLA, grow from our experiences.”

After an impressive first season in the WEABL, returning guard Maya Hyacienth echoed her coach’s sentiments, saying “We have a good core of players returning this season and I’m also excited about the players that have joined. We are deeper than last year and so I’m excited for people to be happy playing in their natural positions. All in all I think everyone at CoLA is really excited for the season ahead.”

Team Profile.

Copleston High School

Last campaign marked the first season where Copleston were not present in the post-season, as they had a difficult season in which they failed to register a win in the WEABL final round.

Despite struggling to register any victories, the Suffolk-based programme pushed plenty of teams very close and their top performers were recognised for their stellar play throughout the tough campaign. Maya Price was selected to the All-WEABL First Team after being a commanding presence in the paint for Copleston; she will attend Northumbria University to continue her studies and will be competing for Newcastle Eagles in the WBBL. Meanwhile, after completing leading the league in assists for three straight seasons, All-WEABL Third Team guard Ashleigh Pink departs to heads stateside to attend Barry University in NCAA DII.

Returning to the Ipswich-based side are Ines Bowman-Myles and Cameron Taylor-Willis, with Taylor-Willis having had an impressive summer with the Great Britain Under 16 team. The new recruit who headlines the Copleston squad for this season is Esther Little, a versatile 6’2″ guard who was a key member in the Ipswich senior women’s historic NBL season last campaign and recently completed her third summer competing on the national team stage. Little will be joined by fellow national team members Ella Pearson, who joins Copleston after also being a part of the highly successful Ipswich women’s programme, and Becky Hardwood-Bellis, who makes a move to the East from Manchester Mystics. The final piece in the puzzle for Coach Nick Drane is the addition of Charlotte Redhead, a 5’7″ guard with impressive shooting range who recently starred on the Sevenoaks Suns squad that won the NBL Under 16 Girls national championship back in May.

Coach Drane is looking forward to working with his new roster, as he said “We are so excited about the potential of this group. Between the development of our own Ipswich players within our own club pathway, and a great recruitment year following the success of our women’s programme, this is the most talented cohort we have ever had. We will be young, but I think we will be very competitive.”

Ines Bowman-Boyles is eager to get underway, saying “I can’t wait to get started in the WEABL. It’s going to be a great test but I know all of the girls are up for the challenge.”

Team Profile.

Itchen College

The only newcomer to the WEABL this season is Itchen College, as the Southampton-based institution makes its debut at the top level. A new challenge was needed for the Itchen women’s programme, after a recent successful years in AoC Sport competition was topped off by a 2017/18 campaign that saw them take home both the AoC National Cup and the National Championships.

The core of that national champion side has now departed, as Coach Vicky Milner is without her key pieces from last campaign in Emily Dodd, Jess Hamer and Chloe Garrity. However, 5’10” forward Louise Pilley returns for her third season with the Itchen programme, and will be looked upon to control the battle on the boards. The only other returners to the squad are Lauren Green and Heather Johnstone, both 5’9″ forwards, who will be asked to carry the young team through the tough Southern Conference.

Coach Milner is expecting first year forward Luisa San Juan to turn some heads in the league with her ability to shoot the ball and attack off the dribble. Also joining the programme are Caitlin Collier, Darcy Pafford, Charlotte Parkinson and Charlotte Finn, all of whom had successful seasons with the Team Solent Kestrels NBL Under 16 Girls squad which made the playoffs.

Coach Milner is expecting a tough task in stepping up to the WEABL level, as she said “We are a very young team in our first year in the WEABL, so the players and coaching staff understand the ride this year is going to be tough but are ready for the challenge. It is great to be able to give our club players at Team Solent Kestrels the opportunity to compete in this league, to develop as players and as a team.”

Coach Milner added, “The ladies are working hard in training and we are looking forward to our first challenge – local rivals Reading Rockets Academy.”

The need for the challenge of the WEABL was echoed by returning forward Heather Johnstone, “After last years breeze through the competition to being crowned AoC National Champions we felt like we should progess into into a harder competition to better our performance, especially with the great talent that has come up to Itchen this year.”

Team Profile.

John Madejski Academy

Entering their second season in the league after their debut last campaign is John Madejski Academy. Their first season in the WEABL will have surprised many, as the Rockets were extremely competitive to finish in sixth place in the WEABL final round, with a 3-4 record in league play. Blai Benlloch returns as Head Coach and will be hoping that his side can be equally as competitive and push on to compete for a spot in the post-season.

A notable departure for the Reading programme is Ana Afonso, but with a returning core of solid contributors Coach Benlloch should be expecting a good campaign. Headlining the returning class is Paula Romero Tarrega, who was voted onto the All-WEABL Third Team after a stellar freshman season last year. Tarrega is joined by Noa Sanchez Marques, Saffie Jarju and Elena Palacios Amaral, who all impressed on last year’s roster.

The new faces at the Rockets include Daisy Thompson, who makes the move to Reading from Surrey Blue Storm after previously representing the South East region. Joining Thompson from further afield are Gabriella Sanchez Parodi Reveron and Anabel Latorre Ciria.

Coach Benlloch is happy with his roster heading into the campaign, saying “We are really looking forward to this season! We have made some good additions to the team and have a much deeper squad that I believe can compete with every team this year so as long as we continue to work hard and build from last season I think we will really enjoy the challenge of the WEABL.”

Returning guard Saffie Jarju added, “Being a WEABL player really pushes me and enables us to play with and against the best teams in the country at the Under 19 age group. We have a deeper team this season so competition for minutes will be tough, alongside being more competitive in our WEABL games.”

Team Profile.

Oaklands College

After back-to-back seasons that have ended at the Final Four stage, Oaklands College come into this campaign hoping to go one step better and make their first appearance in the national championship game. A record of 4-2 was enough to sneak Oaklands into the post-season last year, with a crucial win on their home floor over Myerscough giving them the head-to-head tie-breaker they needed to seal a place in the Final Four.

Academy and WBBL Head Coach Lee Ryan is back for another campaign, but returns without the services of graduated All-WEABL Second Team guards Tia Freeman and Krisztina Nagy. Freeman remains within the Oaklands Wolves programme however, as she the recent Great Britain Under 20 international will attend the University of Hertfordshire to continue her journey as a student-athlete.

Returning to the Wolfpack is All-WEABL Third Team forward Ciara Belsham, and she will be joined by Kata Fulop, Khia Lee and Sami Brown. In addition, a new face who will be looking to make a splash at both WBBL and WEABL level is guard Fionnuala Wharton, who previously was plying her trade in Sweden.

Coach Lee Ryan spoke highly of his inside players, Belsham and Fulop, saying “Both players learnt so much last year from Rachel Morris [Oaklands’ WBBL starting centre], who played a big part in their development. Now, it’s their time to shine and lead from the front. Once Kata returns from rehab, the pair will be pushing each other and the team all the way to the post-season.”

Coach Ryan then spoke of his guards’ development, “I can see them making a big leap this season, along the WEABL they will get their chances in the WBBL, but also the ability to dominate with our new partner programme with the University of Hertfordshire in WNBL Division Two. Khia has such explosive talent and with Sami’s shooting ability, they will cause teams problems at all levels. Fionnuala is a tenacious guard with a huge upside, so it will be great to watch her rise this season.”

Team Profile.

 

The 2018-19 WEABL season begins Wednesday 26 September. Keep up to date with the WEABL all season long on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram.

 

Full rosters will be updated shortly on the team profile pages, so keep your eyes on the WEABL to find out who will be suiting up this season.