Oliver Hylands Column: Leeds Force youngsters showcase their talents

Lucy Bentall
Lucy Bentall
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With most of the Leeds Force team at the University of East London last weekend at the BUCS Final 8’s representing Leeds Beckett University, the BBL side had no scheduled games.

The BUCS Final 8’s was always a highlight of my season throughout my time studying. A whole weekend full of basketball to either watch or play was enjoyed by every one of my team-mates.

I feel a little sad that I no longer get to experience the magic that the competition brings, but the weekend off was needed to shake off a lingering injury.

The landscape of the competition has changed, with Northumbria now enjoying the luxury of several Newcastle Eagle players including 39-year-old BBL MVP candidate Charles Smith. As luck would have it, that’s exactly who Leeds Beckett were matched up with in the quarter-final.

The University team which includes James McCann, Darrell Bethune, Branimir Mikulic, Ricky Fetske and Will Hall, put in an exceptional performance against the regular season winners Northumbria.

Despite Northumbria holding a 10-point lead going into the fourth quarter, the team put together an exceptional comeback attempt battling back to take a two-point lead with five minutes remaining. It was, however, the experience of the Northumbria team that closed the game and took an 83-75 victory. Despite the loss, the team had to prepare for another game less than 24 hours later to compete for the all-important BUCS points. Leeds Beckett University carried their momentum into their game and crushed Southern opponents Brunel, taking a commanding 90-45 victory to seal a fifth-place finish for the second year running.

The link to Leeds Beckett University has helped the programme build over the years, with several players, including myself, developing with the programme while studying. When I came to University back in 2008 I had only ever played local league basketball and been sat on the end of the bench at a Division Three team. Over the last seven years, I have grown with the programme and one game this season even had the opportunity to captain the BBL side. I urge any students that are looking for their own basketball journey to consider Leeds Beckett University.

While we are on the subject of development, one aspect of the Leeds Force programme making huge strides this season is the girls’ teams. Under the guidance of Mark Gunn, Ben Allen, Daniela Atkinson and Vicki Holden, the girls’ side of the programme has gone from strength to strength. With over 30 under-14 girls now playing for the club, the future is looking promising for girls’ basketball in Leeds. One of the Leeds Force success stories from the girls’ programme is currently our only female member of the Allerton High Force Academy, Lucy Bentall. Lucy has worked her way up through the junior programme, often skipping age groups due to the speed of her development. Despite not even turning 18 yet, Lucy has been playing for the senior women’s team for two seasons. In September she made the decision to join the Force Academy set up at Allerton High and has been developing into an athlete far beyond her age thanks to the support of their strength and condition coach, physiotherapist and their intense training schedule led by BBL Head Coach Matthew Newby.

I know I’ve already said it before, but the opportunity for development is certainly not scarce in this region and anyone that is serious about starting or continuing their basketball journey, Leeds Force is a great option no matter what level you are playing.