Portlaoise Panthers under 18 team travelled to Tullamore on Saturday for their first tournament of the season.
Having reached the top 4 finals last year, the girls and their coaches were aiming to get off to a strong start.
Their first game was against Athlone and the Panthers girls began with some super scores. Sekinat Shabawale, Sarah Phelan, Gillian Hannigan, Orlaith O’Donovan and Shauna Vandendries began the game at a fast pace.
Quick hands by Sarah Phelan and Shauna Vandendries allowed the team to push the ball up the floor quickly and Seqinat Shabawale and Orlaith O’Donovan rebounded strongly and finished well under the basket.
The team moved the ball well against Athlone’s zone defence and that opened up the outside shots for Gillian Hannigan and opened up the lanes for the guards to drive to the board.
Jennifer O’Neills introduction into the game gave the offence and the break extra speed and her excellent outside shots allowed the team to keep their noses in front. Ellen Dunphy and Rebecca Grant both entered the game in the second quarter. Ellen’s outside shooting and control on the ball bolstered the teams man-to-man defence and Rebecca Grant took some great rebounds and finished well under the boards. The girls held a lead at the half ,28-22.
In the second half, Sarah Phelan upped the pace and her direct drives to the board and passes on the break opened up a gap in the score that Athlone found impossible to bridge. Orlaith O’Donovan’s performance on both ends of the floor was immense, finishing with a personal tally of 16 points. With a win in the first game on a score line of 42-34, the girls were looking forward to their second game versus Tullamore.
Tullamore were an unknown quantity for the Portlaoise team as they did not compete in the Under 18 age group last season. The Panthers girls played their full court man-to-man defence against the Tullamore team to great effect.
The pressure forced turnover after turnover in the front court and after five minutes, Panthers lead 16-4. Tullamore brought back the lead in the second quarter against the half court defence but the press proved the difference between the sides.
Sekinat Shabawale, Orlaith O’Donovan and Rebecca Grant held firm under the boards. Shauna Vandendries, Gillian Hannigan and Sarah Phelan linked up really well on the break and their awareness of players running both sides of the court paid dividends. Panthers ran out comfortable winners in the end.
Jennifer O’Neill, Ellen Dunphy, Sekinat Shabbawale and Rebecca Grant stepped up seamlessly to Under 18 level and all involved with this squad are very positive about the season ahead.
Huge thanks to all the parents who travelled to the games and for their continued support.