City of Birmingham Rockets’ Women secured their first-ever WNBL Division 1 victory with an impressive and dominant display against Barking Abbey, taking the spoils 78-62 on a historic day for the club.
On the back of the morale-boosting National Cup win over Derby last week, Rockets Women travelled to the other side of London to take on Barking, formerly a feeder side for London Lions.
Abbey had a good season in Division 1 last year, but have begun this season with a 0-2 record, with Coach Emery’s side heading to the capital intent on furthering our hosts’ tough start to the season.
The game was full of storylines and intrigue from the off, with Rockets’ own Michelle Turner returning to her old high school to face off against the club she represented before moving to NCAA II side Fort Lewis in the USA.
Birmingham started with Michelle Turner, Nuri Seyedagha-Calderon, Catarina Seixas, Milly Harrison and Grace Brownell.
Birmingham secured possession from the tip-off and Seyedagha-Calderon immediately opened the scoring with a three, assisted by Harrison. It was a close quarter, with the lead changing hands several times.
Rockets relied largely on 3-pointers, with great outside shots coming from Seixas and Turner.
Coach Emery was quick to call his team into a full-court press too. This led to a number of forced turnovers and steals courtesy of Ellie Pierpoint, Heather Maxwell and Sarah Mullgrave.
Towards the end of the quarter, Barking took a small lead, largely through free-throws, as Rockets got into foul trouble.
However, Maru Bibiloni and Grace Brownell kept the scoreboard ticking over as the first ended with Birmingham just three behind, 23-20.
Seyedagha-Calderon immediately closed the gap to one point at the start of the second with two points from the foul line, before Enkeleda Pashaj made two free-throws of her own to give Birmingham the lead back, 23-24.
Two timeouts were called in the next few minutes and this seemed to disrupt the flow for the Rockets.
Turner scored an excellent two on the fast break having stolen the ball, but Birmingham fell behind 30-26 due to rushed possessions and missing pressured shots.
Rockets’ energetic defence was keeping the game close and they then started to find the open players in attack too, going on an 11-6 run to close out the half.
Brownell drained two free-throws before Pierpoint made a brilliant steal and also made both shots from the line. Seixas and Turner were found open to make jump-shots and give Coach Emery’s team a 37-36 lead at the break.
After the opportunity to rest and talk things over, Rockets came out re-energised at the start of the third and began to build a healthy lead. Their defence remained aggressive and they rebounded well, giving up very few second-chance shots.
On offence, a number of players began to fire, netting open shots. Seyedagha-Calderon and Pashaj both scored directly from stealing the ball, and Seixas, Turner and now Harrison too were among those regularly finding the basket.
Despite further foul trouble at this stage, Rockets’ lead was now 54-43. An excellent three-point play from Pierpoint continued the scoring, then Turner and Mulgrave closed out the quarter with big three-point shots to give Birmingham an imposing 15-point lead, 63-48.
The final quarter began with both teams showing some frustration and making mistakes.
Rockets’ foul trouble meant that Coach Emery had to make regular changes and utilise his full squad, reverting to zone defence too.
However, this all played into the hands of Birmingham who were sitting on a double-digit lead with the clock ticking down.
Seixas continued to be the player who made clutch shots at the right times. On two straight Barking possessions, she stole the ball and raced down the other end to lay-in for two.
This forced Barking into a timeout with the score 73-55 to Rockets, with just five minutes remaining.
After this point, Birmingham kept their composure and maintained a comfortable lead with the difference edging beyond twenty at one stage – with the game now out of reach for Abbey.
Mullgrave scored the final points of the game for Rockets with an open three from the baseline, superbly found thanks to some quick team ball movement.
The 78-62 scoreline was a fair reflection of Rockets’ second-half dominance and will give the team a lot of confidence going into the rest of the WNBL Division 1 season.
Seixas led the scoring on the day with 20 points. Turner wasn’t far behind with 19, including four 3-pointers, and Seyedagha-Calderon was also in double-figures, with eight different Birmingham scorers altogether.
Rockets’ incredible team defence led to many steals, blocks and forced turnovers.
Report by Jess Ellicott
Photography by Graham Hodges