University of Chester have been able to look back on a really strong start to the 2018/19 season in both National League and BUCS competitions, strong starts that they hope they can build on and reach the clubs stated aims for the year.
The National League side find themselves atop the Division 3 North table, 2 points clear of their nearest challengers, Team Derby Spartans, and also with the head to head over the midlands side after a narrow away win in November.
Similarly, the BUCS team are also flying high, this time in BUCS Basketball Northern 1A Division, as they sit top at the New Year break. This is particularly impressive given the fact Chester were only promoted into this division last season, the fact they’re on course for successive promotions gives huge credit to Coach Niel Gillard and the programme as a whole.
Going into this season there were a number of unknowns for UoC. They were now firmly ensconced in the division, with this being their 3rdyear at this level, but were coming off the back of a disappointing season, a season they entered with very high hopes only for injuries and various other factors to derail the season and left them finishing 4thin the table.
There was a small turnover of players as well, notable misses where Connor Murtagh and Danny Walsh who went to play in Italy and for Liverpool in Division 2 respectively. Whilst on the incoming front Reiss Faure-Daley joined the University having previously played for Division Rivals Team Birmingham Elite, Max Jones signed up after a stint at Cheshire Phoenix and Joe Kincaid made the move up from Plymouth to provide competition at Guard.
These moves, coupled with the players returning allowed Coach Wilson cause for optimism ahead of the season but with such a young core now, it was difficult to predict exactly how the team would fare in the upcoming campaign.
3 fixtures scheduled for the opening month, unfortunately only 1 was fulfilled as first Calderdale, and then Sussex Bears were unable to field teams in the National Cup giving UoC two walkover victories and progress to the 3rdround. The first league game came away to a youthful Derby Trailblazers II side and Chester, missing several players, lost 93-73 in a chastening opening to the season
In the league the fixtures came thick and fast in October. Reiss Faure-Daley joined up with the team and, in a real baptism of fire, came up against his old Birmingham Elite teammates, Chester got their league season rolling with an 82-60 victory behind 32 points from veteran Phil Brandreth.
Next up was a trip to the midlands to face Birmingham Mets, Chester squeaked out a 69-67 victory to move to 2-1 in the league, in a game that saw the season debut of Richard McNutt who has split his time between playing for the university and his role as Assistant Coach for the Cheshire Phoenix BBL side.
The following weekend saw a close victory over a strong Team Sunderland side. The visitors from the North East refused to be bowed and it was only in the 4thquarter that UoC were able to pull away to take the 83-75 victory
The month was rounded out with a double header of road games, Chester were victorious in both as they went to first Stoke and then Wolverhampton Albion and came away with two convincing wins, 83-65 and 98-69 respectively.
In cup competitions in October, Chester had games in both the National Shield and the National Cup. After benefitting from 2 forfeits Chester finally got to play a game in the National Cup as they welcomed Division 1 side Thames Valley Cavaliers to the Downes Sports Hall. Going against a side 2 divisions higher, the home side gave a good account of themselves initially before falling short as the game went on. Thames Valley eventually took the victory 81-60.
The week after it was time for Chester to debut in the National Shield, one of their season targets, as they welcomed Anglia Ruskin University to Chester. Despite playing a day earlier, the home side were in sparkling form against their visitors from Division 4. After a blistering start they kept their foot on the gas and moved into the next round with a 120-62 victory.
4 league fixtures in November for Chester as they went into the month with a strong 5-1 record. The month began with a home fixture against newly promoted Sheffield Sabres. Chester continued their great run of form in the league as they swept the Yorkshire side away with a 101-63 victory, max Jones weighing in with 31 points.
Sheffield was again on the horizon the week after as Chester travelled to then unbeaten Sheffield Hallam Sharks. Despite travelling with only 7 players, and with Faure-Daley suffering a game ending injury in the third quarter, Chester managed to take it to the final play of the game with Niel Gillard coming up just short on the potential game winning jumper as Chester dropped their second game of the season as Sharks took the 79-78 win.
Due to fixture changes made at the start of the season UoC and Stoke on Trent Knights met for a second time in 3 weeks next, this time in Chester and again, it was the home side that emerged victorious. Brandreth pouring in 27 in a 93-70 W. The final league game of the month came in a mouth-watering top of the table clash with UoC travelling to Derby to take on the high flying Team Derby Spartans and their high powered offence.
The hosts flew out of the blocks in the first quarter scoring 32 points but Chester refused to go away and chipped away at the lead before taking the lead in the final 10 minutes and never relinquishing it. They came away with the massively impressive 91-88 victory that saw them top the table once more.
Just one cup game this month as UoC made the long haul to the capital to take on Westminster Dragons. Coming the day after the league loss in Sheffield it wasn’t an ideal time for the team but they plugged away against the side from a division below and, in a high scoring affair, progressed to the next stage 109-87.
After a few long away trips Chester benefited from 3 back to back home fixtures to round out 2018. Calderdale Explorers, Charnwood College Riders and a reverse fixture with Derby Trailblazers II all came and went as UoC maintained their position at the head of Division 3 North with consecutive victories.
Struggling Explorers were dispatched 96-69 ahead of the visit of the talented young Riders side who fell foul of a stunning 3rdquarter blitz from Chester in a 93-68 win. James Strong having his way inside with 23 points.
The final National League game of 2018 came against a Derby side who had beaten UoC by 20 points in the league opener. Chester were able to show a slightly different look with a much stronger team and it showed as they took the 8 point win, 85-77.
In a similar vein to the National League side, there was a relatively high turnover of players going into the new season, losing key players including Daniel Guest, Connor Murtagh and Tim Pyiada to name but a few. Guest and Pyiada moving to Germany and Murtagh to Italy. But the side received a huge boost including the additions of Daley, Jones and Kincaid joining the team’s push for promotion to the Premier Division.
After such a successful season, Coach Gillard was looking to consolidate the teams position in the division, and the first few months have gone a long way to doing that.
The BUCS side opened up the season in Division 1A with a home game against last season’s Division 1 winners, Sheffield Hallam University. Ahead of the game, many would have predicted a land slide victory for Hallam. From the outset, Chester asserted their status as a competitive D1 side getting off to a flying start leading 22-18 at the end of the 1st quarter. Both teams rotated players and tightened up on defence in the second quarter, cancelling each other out and heading into the half 35-31. Chester came out after the half with a point to prove and building a 12 point lead at the end of the 3rd. Hallam reacted in the fourth, Chester gave up easy transition points and allowed Hallam back into the game. After a time out and re-organization, Chester came out on top. University of Chester 79 – 75 Sheffield Hallam University. Max Jones, Reiss Faure-Daley and Joe Kincaid all making impressive debuts. Top scorers: Jones 25, Askey 12 and Daley 9.
In the next game, Chester made the long travel up North to face Northumbria University 2nds, another Division 1A stalwart. Chester caught Northumbria off-guard taking a 9-0 lead forcing Northumbria into a timeout. Then a couple of ghost fouls were called on Jones forcing his withdrawal from the game early on. The quarter finished tied, 13 a piece. Chester pushed on in the second quarter, taking an 8 point lead into the half, 35-27. Injury forced Askey from the game and for the rest of 2018. The two side were more or less equally matched in the 3rd, with neither side shooting particularly well. Then Northumbria went off in the fourth quarter, taking the lead with less than a minute to go. Max Jones took over for Chester, and tied the game through a tough two in the dying seconds of the half, finishing normal time 62 a piece. The game went into over time, and Northumbria quickly took the lead, capitalising on Chester’s misses. 81 – 73 University of Chester. Jones finished with a huge 33 points while shooting 55% from beyond the arc.
November saw Chester travel away from home in all four games. After a tough loss, Chester were 1 and 1 in the league and their next opponents were fellow newcomers, University of Huddersfield who were yet to win a game in Division 1. Chester made the travel to Huddersfield. Chester showed they were a class above from the get go, winning the first quarter 21-8, and the second 19- 8. Chester took their foot off the gas in the third, winning by just 2 points before re-asserting themselves in the 4th, with the score finishing University of Hudderfield 42 – 77 University of Chester. Freshers, Jones and Daley both finished with double-doubles. Jones scoring 29 and pulling down 12 rebounds, while Daley added a season high 19 points and 11 assists!
After a narrow win against a talented Hallam side in the first game of the season, this was bound to be another close affair. Daley returned from an injury picked up in the previous weekends national league fixture. In the first quarter the teams traded baskets, ending 15-16 to Sheffield. A poor second quarter from Chester, meant they went into the half down by 10, 24-34. Sheffield built on their lead in the third, 38-54. Chester, picked up on both ends of the court in the final quarter, holding Sheffield to just 8 points in the entire quarter. An improved offensive quarter, saw Chester score 18 and pull the game within two, and the flow of the game in their favour before missing an opportunity to tie the game with a lay-up on the buzzer. Final score, Sheffield Hallam University 58 – 56 University of Chester. The team were led by senior, James Strong recording a double-double of 23 points and 11 rebounds. A special mention must go to second year, Dave Omole recording a huge 16 rebounds against towering opposition!
A week later, Chester travelled to Edinburgh in the BUCS Trophy. It was cold outside but somewhat colder in the sports hall. Despite travelling nearly 6 hours, Chester continued the pattern of starting the game fast, scoring an impressive 21 points and holding Edinburgh to just 9 points led by Jones having an impressive shooting performance! Chester slowed up and allowed Edinburgh back into the game, with the score 38-41 going into the 4th. Chester picked up their transition game closing out the game scoring 28 points to 13 in the final quarter. University of Edinburgh 51 – 69 University of Chester. The points were well distributed led by Jones 18, Strong 16 and 13 rebounds, Daley 11 and 9 assists, Omole 10 and 10 rebounds, Etherington 8 and Kincaid 7. The team will face Loughborough in the next round.
In the last game of November, the BUCS side travelled to basketball powerhouse Leeds Beckett, formerly Leeds Met, who were sat in second place in the league having just one loss, while Chester lay in 5th with 2 losses. However, a win would see Chester move leapfrog Leeds and Hallam into second. Chester travelled to the game with a small squad due to injuries. The side put in a defensive performance holding Leeds to just 50 points, while it was not an offensive performance to be proud of, missing many open opportunities, Chester came away with the win needed. Leeds Beckett University 50 – 54 University of Chester. Daley led the team with 20 points.
After a busy November, Chester had just one game in December against Leeds Beckett, just a week after the previous fixture between the two sides. This time Chester had a near full strength team with the return of Strong, Robinson, Shonibare. Chester led from the start, with all players contributing impressive performances on both ends of the court. Final score, University of Chester 73 – 54 Leeds Beckett University. Daley and Strong recorded a double-doubles of 16 points and 10 rebounds, and 12 points and 10 rebounds. With three others adding double figure points, Jones 15 including 5 threes at 50%, Omole, 12 points (shooting 75% from the field) and Etherington 11 including 3 from 4 three point attempts.
Here is to a 2019 with all to play for!