THE 2021 Vitality Netball Superleague (VNSL) season is officially done and dusted meaning it is now time for our postseason reviews. A franchise which had little to no expectations on them as the season began, the Strathclyde Sirens proved to be one of the most exciting teams to watch this season with their hunger to improve and ability to match it with the top teams coming to the fore.
Season form: 10-8-2 (6th)
The Sirens worked hard all year to produce an outstanding and consistent effort and really challenge for a top four spot as the season came to a close. Whilst they ended up missing out by default and a couple of errant draws, the Sirens overcame criticism and injury to record an immense season and really prove what they are capable of, with players forming impressive connections across the court. Starting from the back, Towera Vinkhumbo was one of the best in the business in defence and combined seamlessly with the ever-reliable Emily Nicholl and Taylor Cullen working hard to enable VInkhumbo’s excellent vision and speed to create turnovers. Captain Gia Abernethy led from the front as Beth Dix worked in overdrive in attack, while the rotation of goalers proved crucial following Lynsey Gallagher’s early injury, with Emma Barrie, Bethan Goodwin and Niamh McCall all more than capable of carrying the load. The Sirens had plenty of moments where their confidence could have been sapped out of them, however the side rallied time and time again to develop from their early season woes, and pressed on for their best and most comprehensive season yet.
Best win: Def. Wasps Netball 44-39, Round 16
The Sirens put out a number of great matches this season, with no doubt that the Sirens’ back-to-back draws with Mavericks and Wasps proved they were out hunting, with their off-season development and belief really coming to fruition across the two rounds. The two draws spurred the side into action as the second half of the season loomed, with the win over the Wasps in Round 16 really bringing the heat and giving the Sirens the confidence that they could be in the running for a top four position. Despite trailing the first half, sitting three goals down at the main break, the Sirens kicked it up a notch in the third quarter piling on 15 goals to the Wasps’ six to take a 34-28 lead into the last term and held on in a tight final 12 minutes. Despite registering more unforced errors (10-7), the Sirens were cleaner in the contest with less penalties (39-44) and more turnovers (8-5). Captain, Abernethy was named player of the match, leading her side to victory with two intercepts to her name, while Nicholl and Vinkhumbo combined for five deflections. Barrie (25 goals from 26 attempts) and McCall (19 from 21) proved to be the attacking combination of the day as Dix and Abernethy worked in overdrive across the court.
Standout player: Towera Vinkhumbo
Most Improved: Emma Barrie
When it comes to a standout player, there was no other choice than Malawian defender Vinkhumbo, who was a livewire in her own right, and combined with the hefty defensive pressure of those around her as she stepped up to her full potential as the season went on. One of the key reasons to how the Sirens found success this season, VInkhumbo’s hunt on the ball and cleanliness with it in hand proved crucial and allowed her to shine as her vision, speed and aerial ability combined to create a real weapon in the back-end. Her work-rate, crafty footwork and endurance were key aspects of her game, and allowed her to pile on a whopping 86 turnovers for the season – over four per match – and average three intercepts and three deflections per match, too. Factor in her three unforced errors across the entire season, and Vinkhumbo’s clean hands were crucial for the side. Barrie’s improvement was evident this season, playing significantly more minutes than previous seasons with the youngster getting her chance early on when Gallagher went down with injury. But she showcased not only her composure but smarts under pressure, stepping up to the plate and proving time and time again that she is capable of having a big impact when given the time to work into the match. Her combination with both McCall and Goodwin was impressive, and she shot at an impressive 87 per cent accuracy throughout the season with 397 goals to her name. With a lithe frame and plenty of height, Barrie also managed 33 rebounds and three deflections.
Picture credit: Ben Lumley Photography