Starlites slam past Hibernians to stay top
It was a weekend to forget for Fusion Quest as the MAPFRE MSV Life women’s league returned from the winter break the league after the division’s strugglers fell to a 123-point defeat to second-placed Caffe Moak Luxol on Saturday, possibly a record scoreline in the Maltese senior league.
New Year’s fortunes also failed to favour Hibernians who suffered a tough 54-point loss to league leaders Starlites JSD in the later game.
CAFFE MOAK LUXOL 142
FUSION QUEST 19
(38-6, 32-2, 35-3, 37-8)
Speaking to the Times of Malta, Luxol coach Santino Coppa said that despite the win, it was not a game he enjoyed.
“It was a game against just five players so I chose to rotate every few minutes and play the young players because it was not possible to play a high-level game,” he admitted.
“Playing a game like this is not fun for me irrespective of the score, I was actually quite disappointed.
“Naturally, I couldn’t switch our system or not play at our best just because an opponent is not going through a good spell. But it is disappointing because you can’t play your game.”
When Fusion were introduced to the women’s league last season, many were sceptical because the majority of the club’s players were foreign. Because of the import-player quota, the club was constrained to playing until the regular season no matter how well they performed, an issue now solved after the club added more local players to its roster.
While back then, there were fears among the other clubs that a team full of foreign players would threaten the effectiveness of local competition, this turned out to be far away from being the case as Fusion have struggled so far in these two seasons.
Asked about this scepticism of foreign competition among locals, Coppa who has been coaching in Malta for many years, said it may stem from a decrease in technical players as in reality “the majority of the foreign players improve the competition and they inject value into the game from a technical perspective”.
“From my experience here at club level and also as a former national team coach, the number of technical players has changed from the time of Josephine (Diaby) and Steffi De Martino, but still we now have players like (Mikela) Riolo, the Fenech Pace sisters and others who are young but promising.
“However, the number of players is still limited compared to before and even the results we see as a national team are maybe a bit worse than we are used to. Without causing controversy, Malta deserved a better result last time around, but I think they could have also done better too.
“At club level, I think the league is on the right path, and while there are always improvements, all I can speak about is what improvements my club is making. I’m happy with the work my players are putting in and we’ve already won the John Tabone Cup this season – a professional and personal victory for us to win the trophy named after our co-founder and a great friend of mine. Winning or losing the title this season, I’m happy with the way we’re operating – I have a group of players who are intelligent and who play with passion and strive to improve day after day.”
On Saturday, Luxol got things going with a threeball from Nolene Vella. Fusion’s Nicole Montalvo opened her team’s account with a pair of freethrows on the team’s first possession, but Sarah Fenech Pace rushed into the paint to cancel it out and open the floodgates as play restarted.
After a 33-2 run from Luxol, Nicole Vella hit from the mid-range before Lisa Fenech Pace made it a 28-point margin ahead of the first buzzer.
The Violets attacked from all angles as the second quarter began, stretching the Fusion five to create open lanes for a mostly rotated Luxol team who went on to put up another 30+ quarter. Defence was another mismatch between the sides, with Coppa’s clan conceding just two points, a close-range effort from Maria Opauszki in the opening three minutes of the rubber.
Changing ends at 70-8 meant the game’s second half would be all but a formality with Luxol in no mood to stop and they showed just that when Vella restarted the quarter as she did the game, with a two-point score. Sarah Fenech Pace was again the team’s second scorer of the half as Lisa Fenech Pace hit third with Luxol up by 70 points.
Nevertheless, Fusion’s players did not die down and to their credit, kept looking to affect their strategy despite the tight press from Luxol defenders. Further against them was the fact that many unavailable players caused the team to play with just its starting five.
Fusion pushed past the 10-point mark with 2.48 to go in the third quarter, after a Vella drive into the paint that pulled defenders away from Opauski who was free to shoot. However, the gap grew to 89 points when Vanya Baldacchino pushed through contact to lay up the ball home for Luxol’s 100th point a few seconds later.
The final set of minutes was Fusion’s best scoring quarter but once more, Luxol put up another 37 points to finish off what was a game done and dusted before the break.
CAFFE MOAK LUXOL T. Bennett 4, L. Fenech Pace 25, H. Galea 2, N. Vella 9, S. Fenech Pace 18, J. Diaby 9, J. Said 4, V. Baldacchino 25, S. Scibberas 12, S. Farrugia 14, M. Marmara 6, A. Fenech Pace 14.
FUSION QUEST H. Grixti 4, N. Montalvo 5, E. Pace, M. opauszki 4, N. Vella.
Referees B. Vassallo, F. Ciurariu.
STARLITES JSD 94
(16-14, 21-10, 28-6, 29-10)
Maria Bonnett gave Starlites the lead with the first play of the game before Hibs’ Marie Buhagiar equalised around a minute later.
Points were at a premium in the early stages unlike tension between Starlites’ Michela Zammit Cordina and Hibs’ Lyndsey Whilby, the latter forced to the bench after just two minutes because of a technical for retaliation after a foul.
Hibs were made to pay for the incident as Steffi De Martino knocked down a three-ball to set Starlites ahead. However, it was a particularly balanced first quarter as Whilby returned in a better frame of mind to hit next, coupled with scores from Jasmine Abela changing the lead with 5.12 remaining in the rubber. This went on for the rest of the quarter before a pair of made Paige Cannon freethrows saw Starlites finish two points ahead after the first buzzer.
The second quarter was Starlites’ turning point as their domination over the game began. In a 21-point quarter, coach Fatih Dedelioglu’s clan improved their offence, and while it was a Kaya Calleja three-pointer that kickstarted the scoring, Hibs were held to just 10 points in 10 minutes.
Young guard Andie Saliba was brought onto the court and through physical play and accurate shooting, put up 15 points by the end of the game. Meanwhile, for Hibs, it was captain Iona Agius who led the charge. However, for the final half of the second quarter, it became all Starlites as they went on a 15-3 run until the halftime break.
The first scorer of the first half, became the opener of the second half too as Bonett hit a near identical layup a few seconds into the restart. Hibs’ Agius scored all points from an and-one play but once more, the Naxxar side took over in what was another quarter where they scored 20+ points and conceded less than 10. This became a 35-point margin ahead of the final quarter which spelt a likely game-over for coach Sandro Farrugia’s clan.
In fact, the final rubber was just as tough for the Paolites as Curmi took over Cannon’s role for the remainder of the game, and young player Catherine Cilia replaced De Martino. Whilby converted an and-one to reopen the scoring but Saliba drove into the paint from a Cilia assist, before Curmi hit from three to continue aggregating the margin.
Starlites kept up their rhythm until the final buzzer to stay top of the table after six wins in six games.
STARLITES JSD M. Zammit Cordina 5, M. Riolo 6, A. Saliba 15, M. Bonett 12, S. De Martino 18, P. Cannon 19, C. Cilia 8, C. Curmi 11.
HIBERNIANS M. Buhagiar 6, E. Farrugia, F. Fabok, I. Agius 11, L. Whilby 14, J. Abela 6, S. Vella, K. Calleja 3, A. Mallia, J. Dabic.
Referees Z. Dobrosaviljevic, F. Ciurariu.
Starlites 12; Caffe Moak Luxol 10; Depiro 8; Hibernians 6; Fusion Quest 6.
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