Belief, toughness and Welsh pride – Stef Collins previews the Archers’ season

By Jamie Thomas

When somebody with a resume that includes an Olympic Games appearance, a Commonwealth Silver medal, a caps record for Great Britain and many more impressive accolades to their name gives a glowing endorsement of the growth of the women’s game in the UK, you have to sit up and take notice.

That is what Cardiff Met Head Coach Stef Collins was keen to point out in our recent conversation with her though, that the British game is on the up, and we couldn’t agree more!

Hear more of Stef’s thoughts on the growing competitiveness of the WBBL and her hopes for the Archers this season below.

“It is great to see how competitive the WBBL has become in recent years, but particularly last year. On any given weekend, if you don’t bring your best game then you could be losing by 20 points, or if you do bring your best then you can win games you perhaps weren’t expected to if the other team doesn’t match your levels.

“I’ve been involved in this league for many, many years and often times in the past you’d have had your top three that there’s no chance for the teams lower down the table to compete with, but that wasn’t the case last year in particular and it won’t be the case this year either.

“Clubs have done such a good job in bringing through exciting junior players from their ranks, but the recruitment of international players has really raised the bar for the league as a whole and it is great to see the WBBL making a bigger jump with London entering the EuroCup, which is wonderful for the women’s game in the UK.”

“We definitely want to get ourselves back into playoff contention.”

The Archers were in the running for a spot at May Madness right until the last moments of the 2020/21 regular season, just missing out to Oaklands Wolves in a season where Met showed flashes of brilliance and potential that are very encouraging for the coming season.

The Archers last reached the post-season in 2018, and although last they couldn’t quite break into those top eight positions in the standings last term, there were many signs of encouragement for this year as Collins outlined the qualities the team will need to show to get over the line.

“As a collective we learn so much about ourselves every time we step on the floor. For sure there were occasions last year where we played teams that we thought we were on par with and maybe came up short, but on the flipside there were times playing top five teams where we beat them.

“Ultimately it reinforced how we need to understand what to do to be more competitive, more consistent, but also to have the confidence and belief and toughness both mentally and physically to be able to secure those wins in a very competitive league.

“One of the things we’ve missed out on for some time is the playoffs, so for us we definitely want to get back into contention, and showing the ambition to want to get into the top five or six teams more regularly. We need to have that belief, because we definitely have the talent, but we just need to work out how best to piece it together to achieve that.”

“We want to be disruptive and play with a lot of grit.”

As well as securing many returnees to the roster, vital for continuing to build the culture and consistency Collins knows the team needs to be competitive, the Archers have made an exciting addition at the point guard position in the form of Lauren Saiki.

The GB Basketball legend, Collins, alludes to have been looking for a better balance on offence with this acquisition and in particular a facilitator, which will suit the new signing’s skillset well as she ranked third in assists in NCAA D1 in 2020 for University of California’s Irvine Basketball team.

“We’ve been really fortunate to have a lot of players returning from last year, but we’ve added Lauren Saiki at the point guard position who had a great collegiate career at UC Irvine, and I think she’ll be a great offensive facilitator for us, which will be a big focal point for the team this year.

“We do have a defensive style where we want to be disruptive and play with a lot of grit, playing up the court on defensive end, but also balancing that with the offensive side where we want to be a bit more free-flowing in that early transition period, so we’ll be trying to speed up a bit this season.

“Having Mara Marchizotti back and Shannon Hatch will be really influential for us, then you have the staples that have been around the Archers for so many years such as Laura Shanahan, Kim Kheing, Sara Jorgensen, Levi Warren and Sarah Wagstaff and that experience is going to be key to us.”

“We want to build our programme around the Welsh brand of basketball.”

As the only Welsh club in the BBL or WBBL, the Archers have the extra pressure and privilege of representing not just their local fanbase but a nation on the British stage.

A significant source of pride for the club in that sense will have been the development of young Welsh talents Issy Bunyan, Carys Roy and Maisie Harrhy, and Collins spoke of her own personal attachment to Wales as well as how the team looks to inspire a nation with their performances.

“Taking pride in representing Wales is a big thing for us, and for me I’m maybe more Welsh now than anything else because I’ve lived here more than anywhere else in my life. I moved around a lot when I was younger, but now I’ve been here so long that I have a real attachment to Wales.

“Being the only Welsh franchise in the WBBL and BBL, it is really important to us that we do set the best possible example and inspire people, and it’s something we’re very conscious of and talk about regularly in team meetings and things like that, and the sense of pride we take from that.

“We do a lot of work on trying to increase participation, and our message is that we’re role models to young kids that want to play for the first time, so we do a lot of work in schools, delivering taster sessions, because we want to build our programme around the Welsh brand of basketball.”