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Player development Coppa’s goal as Luxol head into women’s Shield final

Luxol's Anna Fenech Pace drives towards the Depiro hoop on Sunday. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Luxol, Starlites to face each other for second final after Super Cup

The 2023 women’s Shield culminates in the final on Sunday between Starlites JSD and Caffe Moak Luxol – a repeat of October 1’s Super Cup final.

While Starlites had a rest day last weekend in preparation for the final after an unbeaten run in the competition, Luxol had fallen to the former in the first round and so faced more games in pursuit of safe passage to Sunday’s game.

However, they got past their semifinal hurdle when they beat SiGMA Depiro last Sunday in a fourth-quarter rush.

SIGMA DEPIRO 54

CAFFE MOAK LUXOL 57

(13-13, 12-15, 20-11, 9-18)

Sunday’s encounter was certainly the two sides’ toughest test ahead of Starlites. Speaking to the Times of Malta, Luxol coach Santino Coppa had words of praise for Depiro but believes his players give him the satisfaction of working hard with a side largely based on youths.

“Surely Depiro are, together with Starlites, the team to beat,” he said, “This year they’ve made investments for their team because players like Sophie (Abela) and Kristy (Galea) come at a cost. Of course, I wish them my best.”

“I’m happy to be working with my team as we have young players who are growing and this gives me satisfaction. We are only at the beginning of the season and the aim for now is to build these players up.”

Asked about his squad, Coppa lauded his players’ efforts.

“For us, it’s like Year Zero, in the sense that we have a squad with only two senior players – Josephine and our American player (Tayler Bennett). The rest are 16- and 17-year-olds. But this is a challenge I enjoy as working with young players is something I enjoy, especially when I see them get better day after day. I’m proud of my girls as they follow my instructions with great effort and do their best every time.”

Ahead of the final, the Italian tactician is wary of Starlites, naming free-scoring Malta international Stephanie De Martino as a major threat.

“Starlites are possibly the best team, even because they have a player who for Maltese basketball is super – I’m talking about Steffi De Martino,” he explained.

“I’ve coached her many times with the national team so I know how she plays, they have a good American player, and the rest of the team is strong too. However, we’re here to play and without looking at scores, my aim is the progress of my players.”

Depiro’s Sophie Abela (left) is guarded by Luxol’s Sarah Fenech Pace. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

It was a balanced first half between two sides looking to assert their dominance this season. Defence was the goal at both ends of the court and it took a minute and a half of play for Sarah Sciberras to open the game’s scoring with a layup after a Luxol fastbreak.

Depiro’s shooting was far from perfect and in spite of numerous attempts, it was Luxol who scored next through Anna Fenech Pace.

Jose Ann Johnson finally got Depiro’s first points when she hit twice from a pair of freethrows. However, it was Luxol who added to their lead again through Josephine Diaby on their next possession.

Claire Ciantar brought it to a one-point game midway through the first quarter but scores from Sarah Fenech Pace and Diaby kept up Luxol’s edge.

The game was tied with 2.35 to go and both sides responded to each other’s attacks to keep it at part by the first buzzer.

It was as close as ever in the second quarter. In fact, it was Depiro’s Abela who hit first before Anna Fenech Pace replied for the Violets with two layups. A physical quarter ensued and it was Luxol’s effective defence which kept them ahead as Depiro put up the most shots before the break.

After the change of ends, it was Depiro who opened with a pair of Ciantar free throws. Sarah Fenech Pace hit one of two after getting fouled on the next play.

Julia Borg levelled for the Mtarfa side at 29-29 with 7.29 to go in the quarter. Luxol began to look sloppy as Depiro stole the ball multiple times. Tayler Bennett finally broke through for the Violets before Lisa Fenech Pace took all but one point from an and-one play straight after.

Meanwhile, the speed of Depiro guard Abela combined with the availability of centre Johnson in the paint brought the game to par again with seconds to go before both players gave Depiro the lead in a moment of panic for Luxol before the buzzer.

A couple of steals from Anna Fenech Pace and Bennett gave life to Luxol at the start of the final quarter.

Fouls became an issue for Depiro midway through the rubber as Luxol were in the bonus with six minutes to go but both sides were level before a Kristy Galea three-pointer put Depiro ahead.

Shanice Farrugia and Bennett combined for seven points to keep the roller coaster going.

In the final seconds of the game, Bennett made it a three-point game with a freethrow but it took two missed three-balls to give them the win at the final buzzer after a fiery contest.

SIGMA DEPIRO S. Abela 8, N. Agius 5, J. Xerri, L. Sciberras, C. Ciantar 8, J. Borg 5, J. Johnson 25, N. Borg, K. Galea 3.

CAFFE MOAK LUXOL L. Fenech Pace 6, T. Bennett 24, N. Vella, S. Fenech Pace 4, J. Diaby 9, S. Sciberras 2, S. Farrugia 2, A. Fenech Pace 10.

Referees Z. Dobrosavijevic, N. Rincon.

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