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2019/20 Season Preview – Southern Conference

The WEABL season is just a few days away as City of London Academy look to once again take the spoils in the Southern Conference. After a thrilling final week victory over Copleston handed CoLA the regular season title in 2018/19, the rest of the Conference has been working hard throughout the off season to try and make an impact at the top of the standings.

Barking Abbey

Two-time WEABL champs Barking will be looking to 2019/20 to secure another title after a disappointing first round exit in the playoffs a year ago.

GB U20 big Loren Christie has now graduated from the programme as she starts her journey at the University of Buffalo. Along with Christie, All-Conference 2nd team selection Precious Adediran also moves on after averaging 9.9ppg, 5.1rpg and 4.5spg in 18/19. Barking will be hoping new players and key returnees such as All-Conference 2nd team partner Lilly Annim can pick up the slack.

“I’m looking forward to another competitive season,” said Head Coach Mark Clark. “We want to continue to use the WEABL as a strong development environment and a key part of the development cycle.”

City of London Academy

After an amazing season last year where CoLA progressed to the WEABL Final thanks in part to an MVP season from Megan Haines, the London programme will be hoping that some major departures do not damage their ability to go one better in 2019/20.

Their departures include four players moving overseas to America in Esther Oluade (Loyola Marymount), Maya Hyacienth (Rider University), Megan Haines (University of Charleston) and Ashana Hinds (Central Arizona College). CoLA can call on the services of six notable returners though, including GB U18 Amelia Sande, who was a big time player a year ago.

“Glad to be back for our 5th campaign in the WEABL, our personnel like all the academies has changed significantly since last season,” said 2018/19 Southern Conference Coach of the Year Jackson Gibbons. “As per usual we’ll apply the same principles and get to work in the hope we will be competitive come the end of the season. I’m excited about the group we have this year, there’s so much room for growth and we are going to work tirelessly to see how good we can be.”

Copleston High School

After a Final Four loss to eventual champions Charnwood a year ago, Copleston will be hoping that a few new additions plus an extra year’s experience for their roster is enough to see them go further in 19/20.

Head Coach Nick Drane will hope returners Esther Little and Cameron Taylor-Willis can continue leading the programmes after great performances over the summer for the GB U18s. Little was named Defensive Player of the Year in 18/19 and her efforts at both ends of the court will no doubt contribute significantly to how far Copleston can go.

“Last season was this group’s first season together, and their first in the WEABL,” said Drane. “We showed great development throughout the season and had a successful year, making the Final Four and winning the u17 National Championship. With essentially the whole team returning, we are excited about what can be achieved this season.”

“We are looking to build on a really good first season in the WEABL,” added Little. “We were very young for this level last season, with all but one of us either in our first year at Sixth Form or still in the lower school. Hopefully we can use that experience to be even better this season.”

Itchen College

After a tough campaign in 2018/19 that contained just a single victory, Itchen will be looking to take strides to becoming more competitive this year.

Lauren Green will be a key part of that push as she enters her third year at Itchen and will take a leadership role both on and off the court.

Louise Pilley averaged double digit rebounds last year but has has now moved on to St Louise Community College. Likewise, Luisa San Juan was Itchen’s top scorer in 18/19 and is now continuing her basketball journey at La Salle University in the USA. Both departures will need to be overcome if Itchen are going to continue their development as a programme.

“Again, we know it is going to be a tough season for our Itchen girls. A small college with next to no recruitment and living off our local junior programme,” said Head Coach Vicky Milner. “However, we are a year into the league and hungrier than ever. The team have had a great pre-season and are ready to get after it. We have a bit of experience on board and the players are confident going into the new season. We relish the opportunity to put ourselves up against the best in the country and we are determined to take a few more wins this season. The girls are looking sharper than last season and we have added some speed and composure with new additions to the team.”

John Madejski Academy

JMA hope after making the Final Four last year that they can remain a competitive force in the WEABL and push to go one step further this time around.

The Berkshire programme will be backing last year’s Most Improved Player Anabel Latorre Ciria to build upon her 13.1ppg and 11.6rpg last season and continue her development.

“We’re really excited to start the WEABL season with this group of girls and we are looking forward to making progress on the great work done by Coach Blai and the team last year,” said new Head Coach Joan Portero Luque. “The WEABL is a great league and we hope to be competing with the very best teams whilst continuing to develop our girls’ programme here at JMA.”

“I’m really excited to start the season with my new teammates and new coach,” said new addition Daisy Thompson. “I feel very confident about our group this year and we believe we have a really good chance of progressing from last season. We will need to work even harder to get the best out of ourselves and that is a challenge we can’t wait for.”

Oaklands College

Oaklands’ journey ended in the first round of last year’s play-offs and they’ll be hoping that the return of a few key players from last season will help the programme to continue making progress.

With Louise Rouse, Khia Lee and Fionnuala Wharton all going again for another year with the Wolves, the addition of GB U16 player Jocie Leavold could be the missing piece to moving results forward on court after a 1 win campaign in 18/19.

“Investing in your own talent pathway takes time, the returners gained a lot of experience last year and we improved through our internal recruitment,” said Head Coach Lee Ryan. “We will be looking to get back in the mix.”

“Last year was a building year with lots of new faces,” said the returning Khia Lee. “I’m looking forward to getting back to competing with the league leaders this season, where Oaklands belong.”