Basketball: Uni against Kool Kats in the final

Kool Kats' Hannah Peacock, left, will do battle with Edinburgh University's Sheila Dixon tomorrow.
Kool Kats' Hannah Peacock, left, will do battle with Edinburgh University's Sheila Dixon tomorrow.
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Edinburgh University women have a chance to create history tomorrow when they attempt to win the Scottish Women’s Cup for the first time in what is certainly their first final.

Their task, however, at the Lagoon Sports Centre in Paisley, will be formidable as they face their city rivals Edinburgh Kool Kats, who are seeking their eighth Scottish Cup – their third in a row – and are unbeaten in both the league and cup this season.

The Edinburgh University Women’s team have taken huge strides with the appointment of a full-time professional coach Bart Sengers. A former coach with Dutch national league clubs, Sengers has revolutionised the whole approach to preparing the team, taking in strength and conditioning, mental preparation, team practice and so on.

Sengers is happy with his team’s preparation, saying: “We’re obviously not favourites after losing twice to them (Kool Kats) by more than 20 points but that didn’t make us feel we had no chance. There’s a lot of belief that we can turn this around and, if we can make a couple of shots, it will be a different game tomorrow.”

Sengers has recruited American student Sheila Dixon, a graduate of Brown University in New York, who has remarkable individual skills and an engaging personality.

Dixon admitted that coming to play in Scotland was “a bit of an adjustment” after playing for an American college team but is full of praise for coach Sengers: “I was expecting something less than that . His work ethic is terrific and he’s very focused on individual player development, more perhaps than some of our college coaches who put a lot of attention on team development.”

Dixon is delighted at the improvement that so many of the Edinburgh players have made.

“It’s really great to see. They’ve really applied themselves to the programme and we’ve progressed so much and shown a lot of potential,” she said. Dixon genuinely believes EU can beat Kool Kats tomorrow despite their two league defeats.

“It’s very frustrating – we just did not play well and in the second game we couldn’t hit a thing but I don’t just think we have a chance, I think we’ve a very good chance.

“It’s there for us provided we make a consistent effort for two halves. I’m excited but ready to go.”

Kool Kats coach Graham (“Ben”) Gunn, is a retired civil servant, who has given a lifetime to the sport along with his assistant, former teacher Brian Findlay. Both have shunned payment for their considerable contribution. Gunn first coached with Red Aces, for whom he first drove the bus and later continued with All Blacks, whom he memorably steered to the 1985 Scottish Women’s Cup at Meadowbank with a 56-55 win over MIM.

Even though Kats lost three internationalists last year in GB Olympian Rose Anderson, Lauren Walker and Sarah O’Brien, Gunn believes his current team – with a nucleus of Tracey Phillips, Emma Findlay, Hannah Peacock and Leanne Page – stand comparison with the best: “I believe Leanne’s probably the best player in the country at the moment,” he said.

“Different people step up and they always seem to show up a lot better in the second half of the season – cohesion, chemistry and teamwork come through.

“I know we’re favourites and we’ve beaten them twice this season, but that doesn’t mean we’ll beat them this time – they shot badly last time.”

It was 66 years ago and in only the third year of the competition that Edinburgh University won the Scottish Basketball Cup, beating Glasgow Maryhill 37-26 in the final at the Kelvin Hall.

Tomorrow, Edinburgh University Woemen aim to add to that long history.