It says it all about the improvement of Caledonia Gladiators women’s side that rather than being content to merely make up the numbers in the group stages of their first-ever appearance in European competition, they’re looking not only to qualify but actually top their group in the EuroCup Women.

Despite no Scottish women’s basketball team having played in European competition for 50 years, Gladiators are showing no signs of being overawed.

Their three EuroCup games so far this season have seen the East Kilbride-based team record three victories, thus securing qualification for the next stage of the competition. And this evening, Gladiators will go for their fourth consecutive win in Europe when they travel to face Belgian side, Basket Namur Capitale, with a victory ensuring the Scots will top their group and progress to the next stage of the tournament in style.

It should perhaps come as little surprise that Caledonia Gladiators are faring so well in their maiden European appearance; after all, the Scottish side finished second in last season’s UK-wide domestic league and have begun this season’s WBBL by winning all three of their league fixtures so far.

The man behind this incredible surge is Miguel Angel Ortega, the head coach and a man who, when he arrived at the club ahead of the 2022/23 season, brought with him flawless credentials.

Ortega hails from Spain, which is widely accepted as the strongest basketball nation in the world outside of the USA. His success in his home country is considerable, with a particularly notable achievement taking the country’s most-successful side, Avenida, to their national title.

His impact in Scotland was immediate; in guiding Gladiators to second place in the WBBL last season, the Spaniard was named WBBL Coach of the Year and while last season’s league result was s significant milestone for the club, success in Europe is potentially even more impactful, which is why Ortega is quite so keen to continue his side’s winning record this evening.

“I’m very happy so far this season but this game tonight is very important because we can top our group and that’d be very good for the club,” the 61-year-old says.

“Qualifying for the next stage is amazing. It’s very important because it has put Caledonia Gladiators and Scotland on the map in basketball terms. 

“For us to be going through to the next round, which has never been done before, is an amazing achievement.

“This suddenly gets people looking at our club and what that means is in the future, we’ll hopefully be able to bring players in who are of even higher quality because they know we’re a club worth signing for.”

Even Ortega himself admits he was somewhat unsure how his team would adapt to the increased demands of European competition, particularly as only a limited number of players in the squad have any European experience to speak of.

The likes of GB internationalists, Erin McGarrachan and Chantelle Handy, with the latter doubling as the side’s assistant coach, as well as Spanish forward, Ariadna Pujol, have had a taste of European basketball but there were many more players who were complete novices to the European game. 

The Herald: Erin McGarrachan is one of Caledonia Gladiators' most experienced playersErin McGarrachan is one of Caledonia Gladiators' most experienced players (Image: Caledonia Gladiators)

And so Ortega has been pleasantly surprised at how his side has managed to meet the challenge of the EuroCup head on.

“To me, the big difference between European basketball and domestic basketball is the mind,” he says.

“If you’d have asked us a year or two ago would a Scottish women’s team be playing in Europe, winning games in Europe and qualifying for the play-offs you’d have said I don’t think so but here we are.

“We went into Europe not knowing how we’d fare but the team has stepped up and that’s been incredible.”

Ortega admits many observers, particularly in his home country, were sceptical about his decision to relocate to Scotland and take his position at the helm of Caledonia Gladiators’ women’s side.

It was, he says, the clear vision and lofty ambition of the club that attracted him to these shores and the team’s impressive results over the past year-or-so have fully justified his decision.

Despite his team’s recent achievements, however, he is far from content.

Another strong showing in the WBBL is a clear target this season, with hopes to go one better than last year’s second-placed finish.

But Ortega also harbours much longer-term goals for the club, putting as much effort into building a strong foundation for the club to build upon in the coming years as he does winning the next game in the calendar.

“We’d love to win (the WBBL), that’s very important. We want to compete well every weekend and of course that’s a focus,” he says. 

“But what’s also vital is to build the club to prepare it for the next step.

“So both winning games and developing for the future is important to us which is why we have duel targets over the coming year.”