THROWBACK: Oaklands Wolves Girls in French Tournament Action!
The Oaklands Girls u13 tour to Calais on the Easter weekend of 2017 was an exceptional experience for everyone involved, and for most of the girls their first basketball tour. All the girls were very excited on departure and had little idea what to expect.
The Calais Girls’ basketball tournament has been running for 24 years and is held at an impressive 3-court facility. This region is very strong for women’s basketball in France, and the Calais Women’s team play in the highly-regarded French first division. The tournament featured u13, u15 and u18 categories with teams from France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Serbia and Switzerland. Oaklands would be one of 12 teams in the GU13 category.
After getting warmed up with an elaborate sing-song on the bus the team arrived in Calais late morning, and a quick change ensued before their first game against a team from Belgrade, Serbia. There was naturally a lot of nervousness amongst the group, however excitement soon ensued as they bagged their first ever international win 35-12. Getting into the flow of things, they bettered their first performance with a 35-4 win against Calais 2nd team, before facing a tougher game against Tourcoing of France from which they ran out winners 32-18.
Next up was a top of the table clash with Fleurus of Belgium, a back and forth match-up which finished 26-21 in favour of the Oaklands Wolves, booking their place in the semi-final. Despite being extremely tired they managed to win their last game of the day against Mons of Belgium 24-13, before enjoying the dinner provided by the tournament organisers. They had topped their group with a 5-0 record and were fired up for tomorrow’s semi-finals.
A major benefit of reaching the semi-finals was that they started in the afternoon, so a well-deserved lie-in and a stroll on the beach next to the hostel were welcomed by all.
They lined up for their semi-final against Luxembourg and the game was a close one, with a halftime score of 16-16. Early in the second half Oaklands built a small lead at 22-16, but Luxembourg fought their way back to within 2 points at 27-25 with a minute to play. After a super tense last few seconds, Oaklands ran out 28-25 at the final buzzer. Everyone was going crazy, they had reached the final!
After finding a quiet place in the stands to rest and regroup, Wolves took the court against a very talented Calais 1st team in front of a big crowd. The teams were introduced and official team photos were taken. The parents that had joined the girls on tour were all super excited, and the game started with tremendous noise from the large French support.
A back and forth first half ended with both teams level at 16-16. Oaklands started the 2nd half strong to take the lead at 26-20, but Calais applied the pressure and their girls showed off their elite skills in a run that saw them jump to a 38-31 lead with 2 minutes to go. However Oaklands weren’t finished and some strong play saw them close the gap to 38-36 with under a minute to play. The atmosphere at this stage was fantastic! Down 40-37, Oaklands heaved a long 3 on the buzzer that bounced off the rim and ended their hopes of taking it to overtime. It was a great final between two competitive and talented teams.
In the post final celebrations lots of teams chatted together and the atmosphere was really friendly and welcoming. After the Wolves picked up their 2nd place trophy, they were elated that Grace Strickland received the tournament MVP award.
After changing back at the hotel, the girls returned to the venue where the tournament disco was in full swing. With the excitement of the day’s basketball action still running rife they enjoyed a great party with teammates and players from other teams.
The Calais tournament was a great experience for the Oaklands Wolves girls. They had fun together, tested themselves against foreign competition and grew as a team throughout the weekend. This is an experience they will likely remember for a long time.