Women’s title holders Caffe Moak Luxol are set to defend their crown this coming season in the Maltese women’s league, but not before facing Knock Out winners Hibernians on Sunday in the Super Cup final at the Ta’ Qali Pavillion (Tip-off: 2.15PM).
Luxol were all but favourites to win their 14th title, both due to their tough start to the season and eventually the season-ending injury for import player Jennifer Oramas. However, with the help of winter signing Palmira Marcal – who went on to win the Finals MVP award – and a collective effort by the team led by Malta international Josephine Diaby, Luxol managed to put up a late challenge to make the playoffs. While they lost their first outing against strong favourites Hibernians in the playoff finals, they came back to win the rest of their tie.
Speaking to the Times of Malta, Luxol coach Santino Coppa believes it was an unexpected result for the team because they were nowhere near being favourites.
“The result of last season was unexpected because we surely weren’t the favourites for it and the fact that we actually made the playoffs was a big thing,” Coppa said.
“It was difficult to get in and then in the final, we lost the first game by 20 points. But we made a reaction. It was important for us to push in the next games against a team that was definitely the favourite, and the only team to have played with three foreigners. So, it was a very important result.
“The girls had grown throughout the season and they improved. I must also mention the impact of Palmira (Marcal) when you consider that she had to spend 15 days of quarantine in Istanbul and another 15 here. But at the end, the hard work paid off and we won the championship, one which no one imagined would happen.”
Since then, Marcal has returned to Brazil on another contract with AD Santo Andre but has kept the team to heart.
“After her success last season in Malta, Marcal managed to get a contract she deserves in Brazil. She has remained in love with Malta and she called me yesterday to ask about the team and to wish us good luck. She is someone who has love for Luxol and unfortunately we’re going to have to move on, but we are very happy for her.”
Heading into the new season, Coppa will have a new import player at his disposal, Mexican guard Gladys Avila. The 27-year-old Mexico international had been on Coppa’s radar throughout the summer and he believes she has gelled well with the rest of the squad which will largely be the same as last season.
“During the summer, I have scouted Gladys Avila and eventually I decided to bring her over because even though the player is still young, she has vast experience in the Mexican league, as well as overseas when she played in Iceland last season,” he explained.
“It’s still early days to know for sure but she is surely a player who can give us a hand. She has integrated well within the group and both personally and as a club, we feel we have made the right choice.
“We will need some time however because we don’t know when we will have Sarah Pace back this season. She hasn’t begun training yet due to work and other commitments so for tomorrow (Sunday) and the first part of the season, she will not be available. So, the team is missing its playmaker and one of the forces who was a big part of last season’s success.”
Asked about the coming season, Coppa said Luxol will be counting on the same group of players where the young players will play a vital part this season.
“Surely the young players, especially Anna and Lisa Fenech Pace have improved drastically last season and they have also played with the youth national team. The group is the same, with Jo (Diaby). Mandy (Sciortino) will be the captain – she also went through a knee injury but gave us a valuable contribution. My philosophy is to always give our maximum – if we always do this, we can win.”
Luxol face a Hibs side under new leadership as former Starlites coach Sandro Farrugia switched teams over the summer to rejoin the Paolites. Farrugia and Coppa are all but new to each other, having worked together in the women’s national team for many years and the Italian believes changing coaches will not be of detriment to Hibs.
“I know Sandro Farrugia very well – he was with me for more than 10 years at the National Team,” Coppa said, “He is very wise, and he knows Maltese basketball very well. With this change, Hibs will not be at a disadvantage.”
Hibs have re-signed US import player Kenyotta Jenkins, vital to them winning last season’s knockout title. However, they lost star player Ylenia Bonett who made her first move overseas to join the ever-growing list of Maltese players abroad as she has already had an impressive start to her career with Snarfael Karfa in Iceland. Coppa however, compares this loss to their own absence of Pace.
“Surely the impact of Ylenia (Bonett) will be felt, she is one of the best young Maltese players, but even Sarah has a phenomenal impact on the game,” he admitted.
However, the Italian’s focus on the attitude of his team as a whole.
“My focus is on the attitude, will to win, and heading onto the court with the right mindset. Then it’s just the first game – we can lose by 20 or win by 20- we’ll see,” he said.
“The girls are very motivated and I’m very satisfied with the work they have done. It would be great to win but it’s not that important. The idea for the players is to grow and improve. Winning depends on a lot of things and I can’t really predict anything yet.”
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