Bury St Edmunds-based County Upper Under-19 Girls Academy share title
Darren Johnson admits Basketball England’s announcement that his County Upper Under-19s Girls Academy side will share the Dynamics U19 Schools Championship title is ‘bittersweet’.
The fledgling team – with the girls academy only established at the Bury St Edmunds school last year – had been a week away from playing their final with Richard Huish College from Devon when the UK went into lockdown.
There had been uncertainty over whether it would be rescheduled or the possibility of the competition being voided, but the confirmation they can call themselves national co-champions came last week.
It sees the side become the first girls basketball side in County Upper’s history to get their name on a national title. The Under-14 Girls also made a national final in the early 2000s.
But it leaves mixed feelings for the players and their coach.
“The players are a bit relieved they are not going to go back to school in a couple of weeks and then have to play having had 10 weeks off,” said coach Johnson.
“On the other side it is a shame we cannot get the chance to say we are the best and we have to share it.
“It is great we got there but a shame as we had a lot of talent this year and I felt we were in a great position to win the thing.”
He added: “It is bittersweet with the situation but it is the best outcome we could hope for, rather than this year they say it was voided and there was no winner.”
After eventually getting a bye through their regional group, with several schools pulling out, their national quarter-final in February saw them overcome Holy Trinity from Crawley 73-36 in Bury.
Their semi-final, at home to renowned Haringey-based Greg City Academy in early March, proved a must sterner test though.
County Upper had to dig deep to come from 11 points down at 50-39 with just five minutes on the clock in a thrilling finale.
It all came down to a free throw with two seconds to go, which County Upper landed for a 53-52 victory.
The final had been scheduled to be played at the University of Essex in Colchester on March 18, but the site was locked down earlier than most due to a suspected Covid-19 case.
Reflecting on being named co-champions in their first season, Johnson said he hopes it and future successes can help bring more females into the sport.
“It is great and I think it is a true reflection of the talent we have got coming through at the academy,” he said.
“We are still young though so hopefully we will continue to get stronger and our successes will hopefully attract more girls to start playing.
“I’m happy with where it is at and we’ve just got to build on the foundations we have now built.”