SOUTHEND Swifts’ under-18 team enjoyed a weekend of action against Dutch club HSV and the Sheffield Hatters.
Southend beat their visitors from Haren in the Netherlands twice but were pipped by Sheffield in their fixture at Seevic College in Thundersley.
The Dutch team have been regional champions for the past three seasons, with a 63-2 record, and are making the step up to their national competition this coming season, so for them it was the opportunity to play against two of England’s leading clubs.
Captain Fay Solkhon, Bethany Cooper and Abbie Jones were all making their last appearances as under 18s for the Swifts against HSV and all played their part.
The hosts raced into a 32-9 lead at the end of the first quarter with Louise Corfield, Charlotte Bennett and Megan Jones on target. Haren showed their fighting qualities in the second period but Swifts still led 53-24 at half time.
An injury to one of the Dutch players forced a shorter second half, where Kacey Realf, Amber Evans, Claire Gold and Zoe Willis were in good form as Swifts won 85-38.
Sheffield provided Swifts’ next opposition, with the Hatters finishing runners-up in last season’s Final Fours in May and boasting England captain Georgia Gayle in their ranks.
Bennett scored 10 points in the first period to help Swifts to a 14-13 lead and a three-pointer from Willis gave Southend a 30-28 half time advantage.
But a disastrous start to the next stanza saw Swifts concede 16 points before Bennett, Megan Jones and Gold reduced the arrears to make it 56-42 to Sheffield heading into the final period.
Jones left the court with a knee injury but Willis scored 12 straight to make it a one point game. But Gayle converted two foul shots to secure a 63-60 win to the Hatters.
Sunday saw Sheffield beat Haren 92-26 before the Dutch side faced Southend again.
The Swifts had players missing and brought in 14-year-olds Charlotte Ellmore and Chelsea Locke and 13-year-olds Katie Bennett and Ellana Woodley, the latter making her basketball playing debut.
Swifts conceded the first points but then reeled off the next 30 before going in 34-11 ahead at half time.
That became 56-16 after three quarters and 67-28 at the end, with Solkhon fittingly having the final basket before she left the court to prolonged applause from team-mates and spectators after her final U18 appearance.
Both visiting coaches were appreciative of the event. Sheffield coach Loraine Gayle, the Sheffield coach said: “We are always delighted to play against Southend as we know it will be a competitive fixture, and it was good to meet the players and staff of Haren. For our players, it was good to get back on court in a meaningful way.”
Addy Van der Stam, Haren coach said: “Firstly, thanks to Southend Swifts for taking great care of us and for arranging the whole weekend. “On court, my players had the opportunity to realise what they have to do in the coming season as they move up a division and that was exactly why we made the trip. “We look forward to welcoming Southend to Holland and to making further visits in the future.”