LOUGHBOROUGH Lightning have clinched the 2021 Vitality Netball Superleague (VNSL) premiership, defeating Team Bath by 17 goals, 49-32. It was a history-making performance from the Lightning, claiming their first VNSL trophy after being a part of the league for 16 years and playing in three grand finals prior.
Despite having the history books against them the Lightning managed to find a way to wow Team Bath who had not lost a grand final once making it to the final dance. The Lightning got off to a hot start skipping out to a handy lead thanks to an 11-7 first term. Their composure with ball in hand and resilience was on full display, pushing past the defence of Team Bath to control momentum. Mary Cholhok was proving to be a nuisance under the post for Bath who were unable to quell her influence as the Ugandan shooter commanded the ball time and time again. Her connection with Hannah Joseph was becoming increasingly hard to stop as she hit circle edge and opened up the circle to feed into Cholhok with plenty of ease.
The Lightning continued to extend their lead in the second quarter with their four-goal margin quickly turning into an eight-goal lead by half time, shutting out Bath’s offensive skill. Kim Borger and Sophie Drakeford-Lewis were working hard in attack for Bath, with the connection and partnership inside the circle keeping the scoreboard ticking over but they simply could not get enough ball. The Lightning were smothering any silky ball movement through the court with Sam May in her final game before retirement keen to not leave anything in the tank.
With the game slipping away from them, Team Bath came out with a real pep in their step in the third quarter to try and peg back the margin. They started to capitalise off the vital turnovers they were picking up and gained some much needed momentum. But it is not known as the premiership quarter for no reason with Beth Cobden elevating her game for Loughborough. The wing defence came into her own throughout the third with her dynamic movement and closing speed allowing her to get hands to ball, which in turn enabled her to negate the influence of Rachel Shaw in wing attack. Each time Team Bath looked like they found their way back into the contest, Lightning found a way to restore their composure and keep their noses in front.
Despite reducing the margin by a goal at three quarter time the final term did not go to plan for Team Bath who were quite simply shell-shocked. The Lightning could sense a win and with that, put the foot down to control proceedings and dominate play for the final 12 minutes. A blistering 18-8 final term proved to be the nail in the coffin for Team Bath as they were left in the lurch. Nat Panagarry was electric through the midcourt as Ella Clark also impressed under the post to help the Lightning forge ahead. Team Bath looked to the bench for answers and to help stem the bleeding but it was too little, too late as the Lightning ran rampant and secured their inaugural premiership.
Cholhok finished the game with 38 goals to her name and reeled in four rebounds as partner in crime, Clark shot 11 out of her 13 attempts. Panagarry was solid in attack and defence but it was the performance from Cobden that gifted her the MVP for the game racking up three intercepts and five deflections as she constantly bobbed up at the right time. Jasmin Odeogberin was strong in goal defence collecting two intercepts and five deflections as May left nothing to chance with her two rebounds and an intercept. Borger was the main port of call for Team Bath with her 22 goals while Drakeford-Lewis struggled to have a hug influence on the scoreboard only slotting four goals for the game. Serena Guthrie was well held by Panagarry but still managed a deflection while Imogen Allison did not have an overwhelming influence. It was a tough day at the office for Layla Guscoth and Eboni Usoro-Brown as the pair collected plenty of attention from the umpire combining for 26 penalties but did still manage nine deflections in the loss. All in all it was a classy performance from Sara Francis-Bayman‘s Lightning, well and truly earning their first piece of silverware in VNSL history.
Leeds Rhinos (34) defeated by Manchester Thunder (43)
With the grand final taking centre stage the battle between Leeds Rhinos and Manchester Thunder somewhat flew under the radar, with the game deciding third and fourth spot on the ladder. In the end it was Manchester that reigned supreme, claiming a hard-fought nine-goal win thanks to some crafty work from Joyce Mvula and Eleanor Cardwell inside the circle. Caroline O’Hanlon and Amy Carter were up to their usual tricks through the midcourt for the Thunder while Jade Clarke tried hard to keep the Rhinos in the hunt. But defensively the Rhinos were in all sorts of trouble with Tuaine Keenan and Vicki Oyesola racking up the penalties.
Photo credit: Ben Lumley Photography