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Starlites face Depiro to kickstart ‘covid season’

Hannah Johnson (second right) will again play for Depiro this season. Photo: Wally Galea

The month of November commences tomorrow and concurrently, the local basketball arena will welcome back the women’s game with match day one from the MAPFRE MSV Life Women National League.

Similar to their male counterparts, as a pro-active precautionary measure due to the present COVID-19 situation, the women will be playing fortnightly.

At the same time, also like in the men’s national league, all female senior league players will have to undergo and present a negative pre-game swab test as one of a number of measures introduced in the MBA health protocol.

2019 champions Starlites Naxxar GiG will face ARMS Depiro in the first female senior league game, after a 31-week stop since March, tomorrow.

The Mtarfa-based side brought back the ex-University of Washington forward Hannah Johnson. The 24 year-old-from Los Angeles donned Depiro’s colours last season and will surely again bolster the squad who are again coached by Ruben Baldacchino.

The Depiro coach admitted that he looks forward to basketball as it provides some fresh hope in these difficult and special times.

“The team is being built around our youth players coming from the nursery,” Baldacchino said.

“But we are also aiming to go a step better this season after last term where we managed to reach two finals. We have re-confirmed Hannah Johnson and brought in two players with experience in Monique Caruana (ex-Luxol) and Leanne Duncan (ex-Hibs). Both are doing an amazing job in helping our young players.”

At the other end, Starlites Naxxar will be led by Spanish play caller David Baudot and will again bank on the leadership of the combo guard/forward Patricia Arguello. The 33-year-old Madrid-born ex-Gran Canaria player may also see the return of centre Josephine Grima with the side.

“We are facing this uncommon situation and season with a lot of energy and trying to keep our motivation high,” said Baudot.

“I think we are training well although we are missing some players such as Mikela Riolo. However, some young players have joined the squad, and these are full of energy and committed. This should help us further in our preparation.”

The second game on match day 1 sees Hibernians play against Luxol.

New challenge

Hibs, in the last weeks, opted to have the veteran and experienced Maltese-Australian Samantha Brincat lead the team as a player-coach after their previous coach Silvia Gambino opted to join Mellieħa in the men’s league.
Brincat sounded wholehearted with this new challenge.

“This upcoming season is unlike anything I or my team have experienced before. There are many opportunities for players to step up into new roles and experience playing in the senior category,” Brincat said.

“With the inclusion of Claudia Camilleri (ex-Depiro), we are a young and versatile squad with a lot of potential. Overall, this season, which we are terming as ‘the covid season’, is one that is up for grabs by all teams, as most teams have filled out their squads with home-grown players.”

The Paolites will be facing a Luxol side which is in a clear transition period but seem to aim for a long-term developmental strategy with the appointment of Italian Claudio Massari as the head coach.

Massari, who in the past coached in the Italian Serie A1 with Broni and was up till last season at Fiorenzuola in the Serie B, will also be in charge of all the female sector, from 14 years upwards, at Luxol.

Luxol’s president Edgar Caruana Montaldo is confident Massari will be giving a positive contribution.

“There are quite a few changes to Luxol’s female sector this year,” he said.

“Claudio comes with over 40 years of experience in coaching and will surely contribute to raise the level of basketball for Luxol players.

“Regarding the players, there has been a considerable change as some of the more-experienced players have opted to stop playing and are now being replaced by young players. Luxol is also bringing on board American player Kali Koenig from Louisiana to strengthen the team.”

After featuring with the University of Mobile in the US NAIA League, the Mandeville-born Koenig last played with Lemvig in the Danish league last season.

This 25-year-old guard finished as the sevent top scorer in the league with 16.3 points per game but could not avoid her side from finishing in the seventh place in the regular season league standings.

One augurs for a positive female season which continues till the end, so as to have a clear champion.

As stated by one of the coaches, playing in a pandemic is something you cannot prepare for. If the protocol is abided by, and we respect the rules of the MBA, I believe we can enjoy the upcoming season to the best of our abilities.

One thing is for certain, it will surely be an unforgettable one.

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