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Parting Coppa confident in Luxol’s future after 22-year stint in Malta

Santino Coppa (right) and his team celebrate around the MAPFRE MSV Life Women's League trophy. Photo: Luxol BC

Former Malta women’s national team coach to return to Italy

Caffe Moak Luxol celebrated a domestic double in May when they lifted the MAPFRE MSV Life Women’s League trophy after a Game Five victory against Depiro. While the celebrations took charge of the Ta’ Qali Pavilion, this achievement was bittersweet as it was also Santino Coppa’s final game as Luxol head coach.

The Times of Malta reported the news after the final day of the season, with the Pembroke-based club confirming his departure on Friday through a statement.

“Luxol Basketball Club extends its heartfelt gratitude to coach Santino Coppa for his dedicated service over the past years, highlighted by remarkable championship victories in the 2016-2017, 2021-2022, and 2023-2024 seasons, along with numerous other prestigious cups. Santino played a pivotal role in the success of our women’s team, and we wish him the best of luck as he departs for international commitments,” the statement read.

Speaking to the Times of Malta, Coppa praised his team’s journey this past season, especially because getting crowned Malta champions was far from their expectations with former player Sophie Abela and summer target Kristy Galea picking Depiro as their next destination after several years of playing American college ball.

“When we started planning the season, the president told me that Sophie (Abela) and Kristy (Galea) were going to be part of our team. So, I went home in June, thinking I had those two players. When I found out that I didn’t have either of them, we ended with a very young team,” he admitted.

“The only two established players left were Mandi (Mercieca) and Josephine (Diaby). The import player (Tayler Bennett) was also a last-minute choice. So, in agreement with the president, we all thought it would be a season without much chance of success – a season in which we certainly didn’t think we would win anything. So, I focused on the growth of the young ones. My training sessions were focused on individual growth, not necessarily on the team.

From left to right: Luke Camilleri, Josephine Diaby, and Santino Coppa with the MAPFRE MSV Life Women’s League trophy. Photo: Luxol BC

“But I have to say that these kids showed a great desire to learn. This had never happened before. They never missed a training session. They were always there, very attentive. So, the growth was beyond our wildest expectations.

“The two veterans helped me a lot. But I have to emphasise the help of (assistant coach) Luke Camilleri. He’s someone I’ve known since 2003. He was a young man when I first arrived in Malta for the national team. In the following years, although not officially, he has always worked with me, especially in video analysis. Luke (Camilleri) was a great help to me. You know, to form a group, you need good people. And he is definitely a good person.”

Coppa recounted how the team grew and pushed for a double, nonetheless.

 “The first incredible result was winning the John Tabone Shield, a cup that all of us at the club cared a lot about. But especially me, because I had a great friendship with John (Tabone).

“The girls followed me with great enthusiasm when the league started. And it ended fabulously because making the playoffs became the most important thing, before the title. A team that comes third doesn’t mean it’s the strongest team. But what happened? We beat Starlites 2-0 even though at the beginning of the season, they were supposed to be the favourites. And then, above all, we bounced back from 2-0 in the finals against Depiro. This was a fantastic thing because bouncing back to win 3-2 is something that shows great character – It’s a great satisfaction for me.”

National team gold

In 2002, Malta’s women’s national team was far from at the level it is in this day and age. Magistrate Antonio Mizzi, who was the Malta Basketball Association president of the day, and Secretary Frank Camilleri gave Trogylos Priolo coach Coppa a call in an attempt to turn the team’s fortunes around.

Since then, Malta went on to become one of the strongest teams among the small countries of Europe.

“In those years, I was one of the best in Italy. Sicily is very close to Malta, so the president of the association, who was magistrate Antonio Mizzi, and the secretary, Frank Camilleri, one day gave me a phone call. It was very far from my mind to come to Malta. But they involved me and it was never an economic matter, it was always a matter of friendship, a matter of esteem.

“And that’s when I started the challenging job. I cleaned up the old team a bit and I brought in some very young players. The first one I remember is Josephine (Grima back then), but I could also say Caroline Fenech and some other names.

“I changed the old national team a bit and that’s when it started to become a great job that gave incredible results until the first gold medal which was really a dream because when they told me about this adventure, they had told me that if we won a medal it would be a miracle. And I said, ‘But how many teams are there?’ There were four teams, so I thought we had to beat only one to win a medal. Instead, we beat all of them and we won gold.

“We started a story that culminated in the last year, 2013 or 2014, after 12 or 13 years of great success.”

Luxol’s future

After leaving the national team, Coppa returned to Malta due to the insistence of the late Tabone for a stint which saw him win three league titles throughout his tenure. Now, the Violets will be on the lookout for their next play-caller and Coppa is confident they will take the right decision for his replacement.

“Whatever choice Luxol makes, just like when they chose me, it will be a well-considered and very intelligent decision,” he said.

“In any case, I will always be available to support Luxol in any way, just as I have always done. So, if they ask for my help or advice, I will always be available because, I repeat, human relationships are important to me, and the rest counts for little or nothing. So, whatever request, whatever help Luxol asks of me, I will always be available because we are talking about friends, and you always support friends.”

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