By Jamie Thomas
Back in WBBL action this year for the first time since the 2017/18 season, Essex’s star guard Ashleigh Munns has slipped so seamlessly back into the swing of things it’s like she’s never been away!
On the verge of May Madness, the former Sevenoaks Sun is hoping to cap off a successful return to the league with the high-flying Rebels by putting on a show with Tom Sadler’s side in the post-season.
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think we could win it all. Every team will believe they have a shot at winning and that’s why this time of year is so great because everybody does have a shot. Sevenoaks, Leicester and London have all lost games this year so why can’t they lose again in the playoffs?
“They’re all beatable, and I feel like success for us would just be putting together a full forty-minute performance. We’ve shown in glimpses what we are capable of and if we can put that together then we’ve got a really good chance.
“I don’t mind losing if we’ve left it all out there – where the team and I have an issue is when we know we haven’t given our all and we’ve lost a game we feel like we could or should have won, so we’ll do everything we can to make sure that doesn’t happen in the playoffs.”
“I am so grateful to be back and in this position.”
As much as Munns’ experience will have been of significant benefit to this fast-growing franchise in the regular season, it is in the post-season where her know-how will be most valuable as a former playoff winner with the Suns.
The 26-year-old discussed what it was like for her to be a part of such a successful team earlier in her career, as well as her gratitude for being able to compete on the playoff stage again and share her experience with her new teammates.
“The last time I was there was with Sevenoaks and we had such a successful season. This year will be slightly different with Essex, but I am so grateful to be back and in this position with the team where hopefully we can go on a good run.
“I’m one of the few on the team that has been in the WBBL playoffs before. I learnt so much from being at Sevenoaks and having that experience – playing under Len (Busch) and alongside the likes of Renee (Busch), Cat (Carr) and T (Tayani Clark) – teaches you a lot about yourself and being in a very successful team, so if I can share any of my experiences to help the team then I will.
“It has been a long time coming for this club, it is something we have worked hard to achieve. We started the season very strongly and have not had the best form since, but the playoffs are a fresh start for us and we know what we have to do to make sure we perform to our best.”
“I honestly did have doubts that I could still play.”
Ranking in the top five for points, rebounds, assists and steals for the Rebels this season, as well as bringing her considerable experience to the table, Munns has contributed consistently strong numbers across the board on the court in her efforts to help the team achieve their maximum in every outing.
She detailed what it has been like for her returning to the professional environment, as well as why the timing was right for her to now step back onto the court competitively.
“I’ve just enjoyed being coached again. As a teacher, I spend all day, every day teaching students to play sports, and I’ve missed somebody telling me what to do and being in that team environment – those are the things I’ve missed the most from playing, I think, and I’ve really loved being back.
“As soon as I finished that season with Sevenoaks and decided I wasn’t going to play, I missed it instantly. I was always going to come back, I just needed to take some time out to figure myself out, but I always kept an eye on the league and kept in touch with everybody at Sevenoaks.
“I was approached to play for Essex last season, but the timing wasn’t right as I was just starting my teacher training. I honestly did have doubts that I could still play, but wanting to come back never left me, and when Tom approached me again before Christmas things had changed and it felt like as good a time as any, and I’m so glad I said yes because it has been a godsend!”
“This is a group that just works.”
A club that is very much still growing in all areas, Munns has enjoyed helping to develop a culture with the Rebels that will enable them to achieve their lofty ambitions for the future, in contrast to her previous experience at Sevenoaks who were already WBBL juggernauts at the time, as she elaborated on what she feels has Essex well-placed for success in years to come.
“We’ve made so much progress since the beginning of the season and we’ve put a lot of work in together. It has been nice for me to be a part of the growth of a club, because it isn’t something I’ve experienced, as Sevenoaks were established in my time there.
“I’m not a superstar, so when I was contacted to come here a few years ago I was a bit sceptical because having the pressure of helping grow a club on my shoulders and build a team around me as one of the most experienced players was something that gave me a lot of anxiety.
“What I love about this experience and being here now though is that this is a group that just works. Ok, many of them might not have been to the WBBL playoffs before, but most of them have been to US Colleges, so we have that shared experience and know what it takes to win. We have a good balance here, and if we can keep that core then we’re definitely going in the right direction.”