Night after night, they are toiling in the shadows, preparing for their moment in the spotlight. Cayman’s national women’s basketball team has been practising four times a week at the First Baptist Church gym, sharpening their skills and hoping to get back on the Island Games medal stand for the first time since 2005.
Wendy Manzanares, a former player and now the head coach, has been putting her players through the paces, working on their offensive transition and their defensive tenacity. The last six weeks have been a crash course, and the women are hoping to improve on their fourth-place finish from 2017.
“Last time we beat Gibraltar to head into the semi-finals,” said Manzanares. “Gibraltar wasn’t very pleased and now they have home-court advantage. It’s going to be very competitive.”
Manzanares said that the bulk of the team played in the last Island Games in Gotland, Sweden, but the team also has some younger players who have not yet competed on an international stage. The team has a solid newcomer in Courtisha Ebanks, a former student-athlete at South Georgia College in the United States, and it has a returning veteran in Dionne Anglin, a veteran of two gold-medal teams at the Island Games.
Hannah Parchment and Khailan O’Connor return to stabilise the team’s backcourt, and Manzanares said Cayman will have an intriguing mix of veterans and youngsters with potential to grow.
“We have one very young player, Neandra Forbes-Morgan. She’s 15,” she said. “Usually with national teams we’ll try to include some young players because it’s good for them to get over there and see the level of play. But generally, some of the stronger players are the same from the last Island Games.”
Cayman is in a group with Menorca, Jersey and Gibraltar, a tough group that includes the home team and the defending Island Games champion. Cayman crushed Jersey by a 79-14 score at the last Island Games but were then beaten resoundingly by eventual champion Menorca 121-61 in the semi-finals.
Anglin, who won gold medals with Cayman in both 2001 and 2005, is returning after some time away from the sport. Cayman can reach new heights, she said, but it will take effort and passion.
“It will take some commitment,” she said. “You have to show some pride and dedication to the sport. It’s very difficult to get off from work and come here and practice. Some of us have children. Some of us are still in school. At the end of the day you’re drained, but it’s worth it to represent your country.”
Cayman’s women’s basketball team also won a bronze medal in 2003, but after an eighth-place finish in 2007, it took six years off from competing in the Island Games. They returned to finish fifth in 2015 and Victor ‘Voot’ O’Garro, who built the programme from scratch, believes there are good things on the horizon.
“I’m coaching the coaches,” said O’Garro, who coached the women to two golds. “There’s a learning curve for both players and coaches. We have four players with college experience, and the strength of the team is at point guard. We have to get the ball inside. You know how the big players are. If they don’t get the ball, they get frustrated. We have to get them away from a scavenger mentality.”
O’Garro, Manzanares and Anglin were all recognised in 2018 as part of National Heroes Day, and they hope to rebuild the women’s team to glory and pass the honours on to some of their younger peers. The road begins in Gibraltar, and they hope it leads to more gold medals somewhere down the line.
“It’s always an honour to represent your country, especially at a tournament of this magnitude,” said Anglin. “The Island Games are like a mini-Olympics for us, and we’re looking to go back on that podium.”