By Jamie Thomas
She’s seen it all at Oaklands since the club’s 2009 inception as an elite academy, but now, reaching the tail-end of hers and the club’s fifth WBBL season, talented Wolves shooting guard Lizzy Harrison is on the verge of leading her teammates into the excitement and drama of May Madness.
With the first playoff outings at Newcastle Eagles’ Vertu Arena nearing, Harrison was in reflective mood as she discussed the scale of the achievement playoff qualification represents for the Wolves and why competing in the WBBL playoffs will be ‘awesome’ for the club.
“Especially in these circumstances, to qualify feels a little bit sweeter, because we’ve faced so much adversity as a team through the course of the year, and it is such an achievement not just for the team but the whole club.
“This is every team’s goal at the start of the season, so to know we’ve clinched a spot and that we can look forward now is a great feeling. There’s such a buzz around May Madness, and for Oaklands to be a part of that and put on a pedestal with the best teams in this country is awesome!
“This is only the second time that we’ve made the playoffs, which seems crazy to think about, but it puts into perspective how much of an achievement it is. I’m loving the journey, loving how much this programme is building year-on-year. It’s amazing to see the different players come in, leave their mark and help build Oaklands from strength to strength.”
“I wouldn’t have believed … I’d still be here now.”
Having been involved in Oaklands basketball for almost half of her life in various forms, starting with the academy in 2009 before setting off to the United States to play and returning four years later to lead the Wolves into the WBBL, Harrison has had quite the journey with the St-Albans-based club.
The fifth-year WBBL guard discussed that journey in more detail, whilst detailing how she never would have expected to be involved for so long after starting her basketball journey all those years ago.
“I was here as an academy student from aged 16 to 18 before going to the US for four years and coming back to join the WBBL team. I would never have thought I’d still be playing basketball after all this time to be honest!
“I didn’t know whether I was going to keep playing after I graduated in the US, but it has all kind of fell into place organically, which is awesome. To go through the academy programme, go off to the US, come back and be a part of the WBBL team and help build the junior programme, it has been really cool.
“I wouldn’t have believed you if you’d told me all those years ago that I’d still be here now, it has been so long, but it has been so much fun.”
“I just feel really lucky for it all.”
Far more than a key player and leader for the club she loves, Harrison discussed just how much Oaklands basketball means to her, as somebody who has also used her passion for graphic design to improve the club’s social media style and presence and has helped the club grow in so many other ways during her time as a wolf.
“This is more than a club to me, definitely. This is Michael Ball’s baby, he built it from nothing in 2009 to what it is now with Lee (Ryan, WBBL Head Coach) coming in in 2011, so it is their baby, but I feel like a part of that.
“I have a real love for this programme and all the responsibilities that I have, especially to push the programme out there and show people the amazing work we’re doing. I love to be able to do the graphics and push the club on social media, and I’m just so proud of what we’re doing here.
“To be able to play basketball at the WBBL level, as well as continuing my passion of graphic design and being able to work with this club, I just feel really lucky for it all.”
“Anything can happen, it’s May Madness!”
It won’t be long until Harrison and her teammates are on the court and moments away from tip-off at the Vertu Arena to get May Madness underway, and undoubtedly the anticipation and excitement will be palpable for the Wolves and all eight qualified clubs ahead of the WBBL playoffs getting underway.
For the Wolves veteran though, she discussed what the team need to do to achieve success, detailing that the team are full of confidence as game day nears.
“We have to approach it with an open mind and believe anything is possible. We’ll have a great week of preparation and compete as much as we can for forty minutes – anything can happen, it’s May Madness! We’re going to go into Saturday feeling really confident, knowing what we can do and seeing what happens at the end of the day.
“We’ve got to be fearless, whilst knowing the job we have to do and making sure we prepare right. It’s a playoff game and we have to win or we go home. We played Sevenoaks away and only lost by a few points in the end, so I feel like we can compete with anybody in this league and it is just about who turns up and does their job best on the day.
“To be successful in the post-season would be the best feeling. After such a tough year, it would make it so much sweeter to win. If we were to win on Saturday and then go on with a chance to win again, it would mean the world – especially to do it with this group. Coming together and grinding it out through the playoffs is going to be really cool.”