The Bulls DSC took a squad of seven players to the first UKWB North Development League round of matches, held at the Better Penrith Leisure Centre on Sunday 20th October.
The squad consisted of a range of players, from the newbie to the more experienced player. For Sam and Nia, this was their first experience of competitive wheelchair basketball, having only trained since August 2019; whilst Callum brought more experience from the training court but also had little competitive time under his belt. We drew on the experience of Christina, who has been training with the Bulls for four years and John also travelled with the squad, bringing three years experience, but limited court time in competitive play. We were bolstered with the greater experience of Steve, a player with considerable competitive experience and our coach Graeme, who could come on to support, should the need arise.
After a short delay, our first match against North Wales Knights tipped off and straightaway, the Bulls found themselves under a full-court press, to our surprise! North Wales pressed hard, scoring 12 points to The Bulls nil. At the break, coach Graeme came on in place of Nia and was able to push back against the tough play of The Knights, and we managed to get some points on the board, thanks to free throws from Callum and some nice shots from Graeme and Steve. The match ended 24-9 to The Knights, but there was little time to contemplate this, before we moved straight into our next match.
Carlisle Panthers clearly consisted of a similar mix of new, younger and less experienced players and looked to offer a more evenly matched competition to The Bulls. This allowed the newer and less experienced Bulls players to put into practice some of our drills, such as trying to pick defenders out before looking to drive into the key. This was quite successful, with new players Sam and Nia both finding the hoop for two points each. Nia also had a shot disallowed for not being in control of the chair – a learning point for the future! A closely matched first half ended 10-8 to The Bulls, with the chance to bring Graeme off and Callum on for more match time. The second half continued to be fairly evenly matched, with Sam netting four further points, working off the picks of John and Christina. Carlisle should be commended for the spirit in which they approached the match. With a large number of young and less experienced players, they played a style more in-keeping with the intentions of the development league, which meant players on all sides were able to develop their skills, as well as enjoy the fixture. The match ended 16-12 to The Bulls, which we were pleased to take away.
After a prolonged lunch break, during which the squad were able to sit together, get to know one another more, and to reflect on our earlier match experiences, and to discuss training tactics, we took to the court once more, to face Tees Valley Titans 4. Having seen them play earlier, we anticipated a tough but fair match and we were not disappointed! Tees Valley played very competitively, with a few fouls being committed. This allowed Callum to sink some free throws, and got us going with points on the board. Graeme chose to play in place of Nia, to try and get us ahead and to enable us to compete on a more even footing. This allowed us to go into the break 11-8 up – managing to come out on top, despite the competitive nature of the game. Callum and Sam continued to put points on the board for The Bulls, in the face of tough competition but despite this Titan effort from our squad, we finished the match 19-20, just one point behind Tees Valley.
Our final match of the day was against Wakefield Whirlwinds 2, another challenging squad to face. Wakefield had impressed us in earlier matches they’d played and it was the end of a long day! The first half proved challenging for the Bulls, with Wakefield coming out on top throughout the first half. Nia managed to get two points in the 9th minute, just in time for the break and for the Bulls to regroup. The second half was more competitive, with The Bulls digging deep and putting up greater resistance to the challenging but fair match in front of us. Further points from Callum and Graeme increased our total to 10, but with Wakefield managing to break through The Bulls defence a few too many times, the match ended 16-10 in favour of Wakefield. In spite of this, we felt it had been a fairly even encounter and all the players took away plenty of lessons learned.
At the end of an exciting day, The Bulls felt that the new UKWB league was a really positive development and we were all keen to come back for the next set of matches in early November. The organisers were happy to accept feedback and to act on it wherever possible, which enhanced the experience for all squads and players. We retired for a 2hr trip back down the M6, tired, hungry but pleased at the way in which our little team had risen to the occasion and had certainly not disgraced ourselves. Bring it on in November!