Loughborough Student Riders Women's season ended on a high over the weekend, as they defeated Newham NASSA Stars, 73-64, to win the Division Two National Play-off Final.
Newham opened the game with a strong run and defensive pressure from the London side led to repeated turnovers from the Students. NASSA's guard capitalised on Loughborough's mistakes and took an early lead.
Loughborough's Lucy Buxton kept her team in the game, scoring eight points in the first period to tie the game at 15-15. The second quarter saw much of the same for Loughborough and as they struggled to convert against the aggressive play of Newham, the London side opened up a six point lead by half time.
Head Coach Matthew Harber seemingly lit a fire in his team at the half time break. Determined not to have a repeat of the National Trophy final, Loughborough came out firing.
The Riders countered NASSA aggressiveness and athletic play with great team defence and execution on the break. Maaja Bratka knocked down a mid-range jump shot to retake the lead for Loughborough with two minutes remaining in the third quarter and Coach Harber's team never looked back.
Bratka took over offensively and Loughborough closed out the game well on the defensive end to seal the win, and the Division 2 National Championship..
Maaja Bratka finished the game with an incredible 26 points, 17 rebounds and 10 blocks as she led the Riders to victory once again. Loughborough's Lucy Buxton totalled 18 points whilst captain Gillian Baird added four assists whilst grabbing nine rebounds.
In just the first year of programme, the win grants the Loughborough Student Riders it's first Women's National title and as expected Coach Harber was delighted;
"I can't even express how proud I am of this group of young women. They have shown tremendous character all year round and everything has built towards this one moment. There really isn't a group of players who deserve this success more than they do and I know they are delighted that all the hard work has finally paid off!"
"NASSA are always a difficult team to play against due to their tenacity and athleticism. We started a little shaky, but found our feet in the second half and our depth ended up being a major factor in the win."
"Maaja [Bratka] was outstanding and you only need to see her stat line to realise that. This was by far her best performance of the year and no doubt the best is yet to come from her in the near future."
"[The] Play-Off Final win was a fantastic day for the whole Loughborough Basketball program and not just our team. The National title reflects the hard work that has been put into the development of our basketball program and we're in the process of developing something very special for the future."
"With that said, I would like to thank all of the coaching and operational staff at the program who have worked tirelessly on a day-to-day basis with myself and all the players. Russell Levenston at Leicester Riders, Jo Emmett at Loughborough's Sports Development Centre and Rob Jarram at Loughborough College have all played a big part in this year's success."