Lancaster went into their home game against Leeds on the back of six defeats from six games. No doubt their new years’ resolution was to end this unfortunate sequence of results. Ultimately, Lancaster got it right when it mattered and emerged victorious in a 66-44 win. The scoreline did not at all flatter the hosts, whose attacking play, build up and teamwork ensured they got their season back on track.
From start to finish they looked like being the winning side. Forward Visiliki Makou was the standout player in the opening stages, scoring two impressive long range baskets to get the home side off and running. Her contribution, along with captain Daphne Sakellariou, was not limited to individual attacks, as they each set up Claire Caygill to score. At 14-0 ahead, they were exuding a confidence unlike that of a team bottom of the league.
Credit must be equally attributed to manager Thomas Guyler, who remained vocal throughout and never let his team settle. Whilst Lancaster had an abundance of options available from the bench, their opponents only had the same five players for the duration; the difference in energy levels inevitably showed as the game wore on.
Having established an unassailable lead, Lancaster made life difficult for themselves. Dubious defending led to a number of needless fouls being given away, and by virtue of numerous free throws Leeds had come back into the game at 16-8. The away side’s threat from the right flank reflected the fact that five fouls had been conceded in just less than seven minutes by Lancaster.
However, heads did not drop and Caygill put them back in control with a couple of baskets. Sakellariou was central to the home side’s attack, shielding the ball well and helping create chances. Makou continued to shine in the opening period with important interceptions powerful runs and powerful, scoring another impressive basket to retain Lancaster’s advantage at 22-10.
Lancaster’s marking when they lost possession remained their Achilles heel. With the scoreline back to 24-15 at the end of the first period, it was not as good as it might have initially promised, but the important thing was Lancaster were in the lead.
The second period was a much more comfortable and less shaky performance than the end of the first. Small forward Lissie Nzambetiou evaded a couple of challenges to find the net and get the home side off and running. This was followed by a superb solo effort from Deborah Acquaah and a good team basket finished off by Thelma Goremusanbu.
Makou’s impressive form was a major contribution to Lancaster’s success; she won the ball in vital areas and constantly burst forward. One such instance saw her perform a sublime turn and shot to score.
Another area of encouragement for the home side was that they kept the foul count down to just one; this was undoubtedly drilled into them by the manager. They went in at half-time 40-26 in front.
Whatever suggestions the manager made at half time, it clearly rubbed off on Lancaster in the third period. There was a formula of good individual skill and team players. Forward Laurie Kremer’s scoring frenzy was at the forefront of Lancaster’s resurgence. Sakellariou led from the front, dictated the play and held the ball up well to slow down the pace of the game and keep Lancaster in control.
The Lancaster defence sat much deeper and were tighter to their opponents, and consequently sailed into a 52-27 lead midway through the period. Notwithstanding Lancaster’s resilience, Leeds showed steely determination to get back into it and got in their faces of more. But the understanding between Makou and Sakellariou – Sakellariou the creator, Makou the scorer – kept the score firmly in Lancaster’s favour at 58-33.
The long awaited first win of the season was now in sight for Lancaster and it was simply a case seeing the game out, not allowing any slip ups. Although the final period was limited in activity, other than the ball getting stuck between the rim and backboard for the third time in the match, Lancaster must be credited for pressing and good work rate right until the end.
There were still flourishes of attacking skill in spite of the game being all but won, with Sakellariou finishing off a beautiful triangle passing drill the highlight of the period. Lancaster picked up the win they so desperately needed, 66-44.
Thomas Guyler commented on his team’s performance: “We played really well tonight, at a high tempo. But we need to work on getting the rebounds; we relied on one player today,”
Daphne Sakellariou admitted that: “It was the first game we have played as a team. We lost many third year players last year, so we had new players who took time to adjust to the atmosphere of the team. But this is the first time the players communicated and passed the ball really well. We have to win the cup game and then we can look forward to the Roses game.”
These are two crucial fixtures which will shape Lancaster’s season. But on the evidence of this hard fought result, it could be taking shape very nicely.