Xaverian College’s Paul Cantwell said he “couldn’t be more proud” of his women’s basketball team, after they stormed their way to a fourth-place finish at the AoC Sport National Championships, despite having only formed a few months ago.
The Manchester-based college became AoC Sport members for the first time in September and formed their women’s basketball team just before Christmas.
But the team, made up exclusively of first-year students, not only exceeded expectations by winning their regional qualifiers, they surprised even themselves with their impressive performance at the National Championships in Newcastle.
“I couldn’t be more proud,” said coach Cantwell. “From making a team this year, to winning our region, to representing the North West and finishing fourth at a tournament like this with nine really good teams, I think we’ve been fantastic.
“Their attitude the whole way though has been great. They’ve listened and bought in to everything I’ve taught them and I couldn’t have asked any more of the team than what they’ve done this year.”
It was only eventual gold-medallists Bournville College who halted Xaverian’s progress at Northumbria University’s Sport Central, before Itchen College pipped them to a podium place with victory in the bronze medal match.
But finishing fourth in a strong nine-team field was still a remarkable achievement for the team, who themselves admitted their preparation was probably lacking behind that of their rivals.
“We only train once a week but there have been a lot of things that have stopped training from happening,” they said. “We’ve had mock exams so sometimes we’ve not been able to practice.
“We’ve done some fitness work and we’ve learned plays, we’ve done drills. But we’ve not done that much fitness to be honest, we’re all dead unfit.”
The fact they consider themselves “dead unfit” is an indication of the high standards the girls are already setting themselves, having matched other sides both in terms of endurance and physicality throughout the three-day event.
“Some of them are brand new to the sport,” said Cantwell. “There is quite a big range in the levels in the team, but every single one of them from top to bottom has worked equally as hard.
“They wanted this to work as much as anything and it’s shown by the results we’ve had. Their work, effort, everything they’ve done, I couldn’t have asked for more.
And following their rapid progress in such a short space of time, the team are already looking ahead to next year, and hopes are high for even greater success.
“We still don’t know how each other plays that much yet so we’ve come together really well,” said the team. “Other teams have been playing together for years, teams like Itchen, and we just started - we’re still working on it.”
Coach Cantwell echoed the sentiments of his players: “We’ve got the same team next year, and we’ve got some other girls who have played at a good level coming to the college, which is going to help the team.
“So next year we’re looking forward to getting literally straight off the summer back on the practice floor, and we’ll go again.”
And Cantwell is delighted Xaverian College have been able to experience the Championships after becoming AoC Sport members this year.
“Across the board we’ve got great results. We got gold in the table tennis from one of our girls and as a college we’ve done really well. They’ve all finished high up and on the podiums. As a college this year’s been phenomenal.
“I think competition like this is needed, it’s the chance to showcase your talent. You work hard and you get your rewards at a competition like this. It’s a great weekend, not only for us staff to be able to coach and be part of it, but for the girls as well.”