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The glorious last dance as Bury St Edmunds County Upper School Basketball Academy students sign off as double national champions



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They are set to be the final year group of County Upper School’s Basketball Academy programme and they certainly wrote a fairy-tale final chapter, signing off in a blaze of unprecedented national glory.

Last Friday’s success at the Basketball Performance Centre in Manchester meant two prestigious national titles have been won in as many weeks.

The achievements of the Bury St Edmunds-based school’s Under-19s Women’s team is made even more impressive as a national trophy had previously proven elusive.

County Upper School’s Under-19s Women’s basketball team, along with coach Darren Johnson, are signing off with two national titles Picture: Mecha Morton
County Upper School’s Under-19s Women’s basketball team, along with coach Darren Johnson, are signing off with two national titles Picture: Mecha Morton

And with the academy said to be ‘coming to a natural end next season’ – with many leaving to join programmes in the USA or Women’s Elite Academy Basketball League (WEABL) – coach Darren Johnson could not have been left more proud.

“I always say that champions are made when nobody is watching,” he said.

“I am so proud of these players. They have sacrificed and dedicated themselves to the game of basketball over their nine years with our academy – whether practicing at 7.30am in the morning or finishing as late as 6pm after school.

County Upper School's Women's U19 Basketball team show their emotion at lifting the English Schools National Championship U19 trophy in Manchester Picture: Basketball England
County Upper School's Women's U19 Basketball team show their emotion at lifting the English Schools National Championship U19 trophy in Manchester Picture: Basketball England

“Winning not only one but two national championships in one season is a true reflection of their commitment, sacrifice and how hard they have worked behind the scenes to become the talented players they are at this point.”

County Upper clinched their second national title with a comprehensive 90-37 win over Crawley-based Holy Trinity Basketball Academy to land the Under-19s Women’s English Schools National Championship.

Talented forward Lizzy Sanders’ double-double of 29 points and 12 rebounds was enough to seal the Most Valuable Player (MVP) nod. Team-mates Alex Popova (17pts, 11reb) and Grace Spooner (19pts, 11reb, 8ast, 7stl) both also heavily contributed to the one-sided scoreline.

It follows their success earlier this month in lifting the AoC Sport National Basketball Women’s Knockout Cup with a 77-21 victory against Norwood Basketball Academy at the University of Wolverhampton.

Coach Darren Johnson with the national prizes and medals from a truly memorable final campaign. He is still set to lead basketball in the town via the linked West Suffolk Wolves club which has junior and male and female teams Picture: Mecha Morton
Coach Darren Johnson with the national prizes and medals from a truly memorable final campaign. He is still set to lead basketball in the town via the linked West Suffolk Wolves club which has junior and male and female teams Picture: Mecha Morton

Following nine years together, starting with the West Suffolk Wolves and then including Suffolk and regional success, coach Johnson said this was only the ‘end of the beginning’ of their basketball journey.

He added: “To experience this success is the whole reason why we as coaches do it. I’m just so proud of not just this year, but every class that has come though County Upper Basketball Academy during my 14 years at the school.”

For those 14 years County Upper School’s Basketball Academy have come within touching distance of a national title on numerous occasions.

They reached the Under-17s Boys National Final in 2012 as well as the Final 4 stages of the Under-16s Boys, Under-18s Boys English Schools and Under-19s Academy Basketball League (ABL) in 2013, 2017 and 2019 respectively. But the class of 2021/22 bounced back from being unable to play matches through parts of the Covid-19 pandemic with what was a real fitting final chapter.