Tag: ellie cardwell

VNSL 2021: Team review – Manchester Thunder

THE 2021 Vitality Netball Superleague season is officially done and dusted, meaning it is now time for our postseason reviews. Despite a mid-season hiccup, Manchester Thunder was one of the leading teams in season 2021 with their consistency and exciting firepower never failing to deliver.

Season form: 17-3 (2nd)

It was another impressive season from the highly successful club, which ultimately came in as the hunted this season after the league had no winner crowned in 2020. While Kerry Almond had announced her retirement at the end of 2019, the stalwart defender returned to wreak havoc alongside Emma Dovey and the duo picked up where they left off, never out of the contest. A hugely experienced midcourt bolstered that back-line with Caroline O’Hanlon, Laura Malcolm and Amy Carter hard to stop, while there was no doubting the exciting frontend as the likes of Joyce Mvula and Ellie Cardwell combined effortlessly and were relentless in attack. Despite one big blemish on their season with two straight losses in Round 5/6, Thunder only dropped one home and away match from then on, losing by just three goals to Bath in Round 13 before falling to the side by the same margin in the second semi-final. Overall, it was another impressive season from the side which could never be ruled out no matter the deficit, finishing the season with the most goals scored by any side (1096) and earning the bronze with a win over Rhinos to finish.

Best win: Def. Loughborough Lightning 60-46, Round 19

The only side which came away with two straight wins over the Lightning, there was no doubting the winning ability and intent of this Thunder side. But whilst their Round 9 victory over the side spoke of the Thunder’s winning ability, it was their Round 19 clash that really cemented the Thunder as the side to watch out for with a huge 14-goal margin setting the tone for a huge finals series. Winning the first three quarters and not allowing the lightning to maintain any consistency throughout, it was the defensive work from the Thunder that kicked this clash up a notch as they rendered Lightning inaccurate and error-ridden. The shared workload between Mvula and Cardwell paid off once more putting up 29 and 23 goals respectively, while Almond (five turnovers, five deflections, three intercepts, two rebounds) was immense and Malcolm, Dovey, Cardwell and Elia McCormick registered one intercepts apiece throughout an impressive full court defensive effort. Berri Neil also earned valuable minutes, putting up seven goals straight, while O’Hanlon’s ability to propel ball into the circle once more proved critical.

Standout player: Joyce Mvula

Most Improved: Amy Carter

In a team of stars, it was hard to pick out just one standout player from the Thunder playing group, but at the end of the day it had to be the ever-reliable Malawian sharpshooter in Mvula. The goaler rarely skipped a beat throughout yet another influential season in the front-end, and her combination with Cardwell was second to none as the duo carved up the front-end. Mvula’s ability to find space and evade her defender was significant, continuously receiving the ball exactly where she wanted it and her sticky fingers never letting her down. Her standout characteristic was her accuracy to post, piling on a whopping 681 goals for the season at 92 per cent, and her cleanliness saw just 24 unforced errors come off her hands across 21 outings for the side. Like the standout player, it was tough to choose a most improved performer for the powerful Thunder, with Carter eventually earning the title for her impressive consistency and non-stop drives. The defensive-minded midcourter was hard to stop when she got going credit to her hunt for the ball and great speed to cross the court within a fraction of a second, plying her trade in both centre and wing defence with ease. By no means the tallest player on court, Carter never failed to have an impact collecting 23 intercepts and 19 deflections for the season, rarely out of the contest, and averaged just one unforced error per match such was her cleanliness with ball in hand.

 

Picture credit: Ben Lumley Photography

VNSL 2021: Round 20 preview – Final round sees intriguing clashes emerge

VITALITY Netball Superleague (VNSL) Round 20 is here, and thus the end of the season has emerged with the closest campaign in recent years proving exciting and unexpected from start to finish. While the top four was prematurely decided following a positive COVID-19 case amongst the Leeds Rhinos playing group, the top three sides still have top spot to play for following unprecedented Round 19 results, whilst a quest for bragging rights remains for lower sides.

Round 19 ladder update: What is required from each top three side?

SUNDAY, JUNE 20

Saracens Mavericks v. Surrey Storm

With fifth, sixth and seventh positions still in contention, Mavericks need a win here to at least settle the score that they could have made finals if things played out differently this season. At the same time, the Storm have absolutely nothing to lose and have played out some big results over the past few rounds, making this one an intriguing clash to say the least. With some great developing players amongst the playing group the Storm will look to test the Mavericks, although the Mavericks’ newfound versatility and depth on the bench should pay off to put one last win in the book.

While Razia Quashie has already been ruled out of this matchup after suffering a potential Achilles injury last round, the Storm front-end does not have it any easier with both Jodie Gibson and Jo Trip forging a great connection throughout the season to really slam home the pressure and create exciting defensive moments. Both able to play a flashy game with their aerial leap or settle to a classic and physical one-on-one contest, Karyn Bailey and Emma Magee will have their work cut out for them against the Mavericks defensive duo. Through the midcourt expect plenty of speed from Yasmin Parsons with Gabby Marshall set the test of limiting the crafty wing attack, while two experienced heads in Mikki Austin and Sasha Corbin will go toe-to-toe. At the other end, the Mavericks boast a couple of viable options to post which allows them to avoid becoming too predictable, with Kadeen Corbin, Ine-Mari Venter and Britney Clarke all reliable and strong.

Manchester Thunder v. Strathclyde Sirens

Whilst neither team necessarily needs a win to complete their season given the Thunder has already secured a top three finish and the Sirens are out of the running for finals, it is safe to say this clash could be very interesting. Something worth keeping in mind is that the last time the Sirens and Thunder played, it was the opening weekend of VNSL action for the year. Whilst the Sirens went down by a hefty 17 goal margin in that encounter, the side had not yet found its footing in the competition meaning anything could happen here.

When it comes to this clash, there is no shortage of firepower. Expect a huge matchup between the two exciting Malawians, with Sirens goal keeper Towera Vinkhumbo one of the leading goal keepers in the competition and taking on compatriot Joyce Mvula – who is arguably one of the most consistent goalers in the league. But one of the big tests the Thunder front-end poses is the consistency of Thunder’s attack, with Ellie Cardwell able to both playmake and hand off the attempts to Mvula, or carry the load herself. This versatility could really shake the Sirens defence with Emily Nicholl and Taylor Cullen really needing to create a defensive buffer and deny the likes of Caroline O’Hanlon and Laura Malcolm pride of place on circle edge. Malcolm, O’Hanlon and Amy Carter will need to limit the speed in transition from Cullen and captain Gia Abernethy, while Beth Dix has been a livewire feeding into the circle, with Thunder’s Kerry Almond and Emma Dovey needing to put on the speed and creative flair to limit the impact of Emma BarrieBethan Goodwin and Niamh McCall to post.

Celtic Dragons v. Severn Stars

Expect a big clash here between the Dragons and Stars with both sides sitting on the lower end of the ladder, but the Dragons well within their chances to get a second win on the board and close out their season on a high. Whilst the Stars got the chocolates last time they met, the Dragons have produced some solid performances over the past few rounds and have somewhat found their form in the front-end which could challenge the Stars. Realistically, Stars should still take out this victory, although expect the Dragons to give them a run for their money.

The likes of Amy Clinton and Rebekah Robinson have been fairly consistent performers all season, usually lacking confident ball into the circle but proving relatively accurate to post when they do find the ball. It will be up to Shona O’Dwyer and Laura Rudland to confidently bypass the defensive effort from the likes of Iman ThomasLucy Herdman and Malysha Kelly, while Nia Jones and Kyra Jones play a vital role through the midcourt, transitioning well with their turn of speed. Dragons’ Clare Jones has played a crucial role back in wing defence for the Dragons, utilising her change of direction to create deflections, with the likes of Lucy Harris and playmaker Paige Reed both needing to apply some real offensive pressure to propel ball into Georgia Rowe and escape the long limbs of Dragons defenders Abigail Tyrrell and Annika Lee-Jones.

Tips: Mavericks by 12, Thunder by 8, Stars by 2

MONDAY, JUNE 21

Surrey Storm v. Wasps Netball 

A big matchup will wage between the 10th ranked Storm and sixth ranked Wasps to open Monday’s proceedings, not necessarily because of an expected result, but because the Storm will officially say goodbye to their attacking pillar Bailey, who announced her retirement during the week. The Australian goal shooter has been with the club since 2019, and played her first VNSL season at Mavericks the year prior, closing out a solid career in both Australia and the UK. Nevertheless, the Wasps were only pipped of a finals position this week, just like Mavericks and Sirens, meaning the side will be out hunting to get one last win on the board to prove what might have been.

For the Wasps, expect Fran Williams and Josie Huckle to pile on the pressure and not make life easy for Bailey and Magee at the post, while Lily-May Catling will need to be in tip-top form to disrupt the ease with which Parsons goes about her business. Iona Christian has really elevated her game this season alongside Amy Flanagan, so expect the duo to be a tough barricade through the centre and drive up the court with speed, with Niamh Cooper likely tasked with stopped Christian’s pinpoint passes into the circle. Defensively, Storm will hope to have the services of livewire Alima Priest back at their disposal, while without Priest, Felisitus Kwangwa and Leah Middleton will need to be switched on to force errors from the confident combination of Rachel Dunn and Katie Harris.

Loughborough Lightning v. Team Bath Netball

These two sides have not played since Round 1/2, making for an enticing clash given there is no more recent encounter that could play in with their respective form. Both sides come into this matchup off the back of unprecedented Round 19 losses, opening up a real question of which side has the intent and ability to bounce back well here. Both renowned for their ability to play a full court defence and shut down attacking forays, both Lightning and Bath will have their work cut out for them, with the side that is quickest to play its own game most likely to command control throughout and claim the points.

As is often the case between two similarly strengthened teams, the winner of this match will be the side which controls the centre third. Whilst Team Bath boasts

 in the centre and Jess Shaw and Imogen Allison on either wing, the Lightning can match them for defensive intent credit to the workrate of Nat PanagarryBeth Cobden and Hannah Joseph. Both sides have another viable wing attack each who can slip into the position to have an impact, while in the attacking neither side has a real hole in their offence with Lightning boasting Mary Cholhok, Ella Clark and Suzie Liverseidge, while Bath’s combination of Kim Borger and Sophie Drakeford-Lewis is backed up by an in-form Betsy Creak. Defensively, Sam May and Jas Odeogberin will have their work cut out for them against the Bath versatility, while Bath’s own backline in Layla Guscoth and Eboni Usoro-Brown is also hugely influential.

Tips: Wasps by 15, Bath by 3

VNSL 2021: Round 19 preview – Penultimate round sees do-or-die clashes

A HUGE penultimate round of Vitality Netball Superleague action is upon us, with one side in Wasps potentially taking the court for the final time this season as Leeds Rhinos earn the week off and the remaining nine sides go head-to-head, with London Pulse and Saracens Mavericks both taking the court twice.

SUNDAY, JUNE 13

Surrey Storm v. Wasps Netball 

Expect a huge clash between the Storm and the Wasps, with this matchup the Wasps’ final encounter for the home and away season and their last chance of securing enough points to make the finals series. While they are still more than capable of making finals they will really want to put the foot down against the Storm who have been showing some real fighting spirit over the last few rounds and will want to do anything in their power to stop the Wasps from achieving that last finals position.

The real test in this one will be whether Surrey Storm’s developing attack-line can defeat the tough buffer of the Wasps defensive combination in Josie Huckle and Fran Williams. While Karyn Bailey is capable of holding down the goal circle on her own she will need consistent assistance from Emma Magee in goal attack and hard drives from Yasmin Parsons and Mikki Austin to ensure she puts up a sufficient scoreline. Young defender Alima Priest has really come to the fore in the last couple of weeks alongside Leah Middleton although the duo will have their work cut out for them taking on experienced combination Rachel Dunn and Katie Harris, especially given the exciting form of Amy Flanagan and Iona Christian and the viable impact option of Gezelle Allison and injection of Lily-May Catling over the past few rounds.

Strathclyde Sirens v. Celtic Dragons 

Like the Wasps, the Sirens really need a win this weekend and they should achieve that with relative ease over Celtic Dragons. While the Dragons have actually shown some really great intent and hunt for the ball over the past six or so round in particular, the Sirens have a real pep in their step this season after a few seasons towards the bottom end the ladder and will really want to prove that their season has been enough to allow them a chance at finals, especially given their consistency throughout. 

The Sirens have undoubtedly been one one of the most improved teams this season and that is down to their exciting circle combinations. The attack has benefited from a rotating circle with Emma Barrie, Bethan Goodwin and Niamh McCall combining, which will be the real test for the Dragons with Annika Lee-Jones and Abigail Tyrell sure to have their work cut out for them. At the other end Amy Clinton and Rebekah Robinson are capable of turning on the excitement factor for the Dragons, however they will have a really tough time coming up against Towera Vinkhumbo in goalkeeper, especially considering the extra ball-winning ability of Emily Nicholl and Taylor Cullen out the front, and the drive down court from captain Gia Abernethy.

Team Bath Netball v. Saracens Mavericks 

This could be a do-or-die clash as the Mavericks take on Team Bath, although they do actually come in holding the mantle over Bath as the only side to have defeated the ladder-leading team all season. That being said. Bath certainly did not give the Mavericks the credit they deserved last time they met and are sure to come out firing this time around. The Mavericks have looked switched on over the past few rounds though so do not underestimate the side which is still potentially in with a chance of making finals.

It is safe to say that Serena Guthrie will be the barometer in this matchup with Sasha Corbin and Gabby Marshall having their work cut out for them, although the midcourt duo will be bolstered by a huge defensive line with Jodie Gibson, Razia Quashie and Jo Trip all more than capable of holding their own defensively. At the other end it is safe to say the defensive combination of Imogen Allison, Layla Guscoth and Eboni Usoro-Brown is hard to stop, with each individual a workhorse driving the ball down and combining seamlessly week on week. While the defensive matchup is fairly even, the difference here will likely come down to the goal circle units of both sides with Bath’s tried-and-true combination of Sophie Drakeford-Lewis and Kim Borger sure to set the court alight.

London Pulse v. Severn Stars

Expect an intriguing clash between London Pulse and Severn Stars given the shaky season that both teams have had this year. While Stars have had moments of brilliance they have been unable to convert that into consistent four quarter efforts, however it is also safe to say that Pulse have also really missed the mark this year and have struggled to keep up with the teams above them on the ladder. While the Stars are sure to bring the heat, the Pulse are on a roll and will want to ensure that continues as they wrap up their season and try to get a couple more wins on the board.

Both the Stars and Pulse have been showcasing some great upcoming talent with the likes of Paige Reed and Georgia Rowe consistently standing up for the Stars. The experience of Kyra Jones and Liana Leota has consistently stood up while Nia Jones has showcased her plentiful tricks of the trade heading up a young looking back line. In the absence of Halimat Adio, Pulse has had a real chance to showcase the explosiveness of their own defensive line, with Zara Everitt and Funmi Fadoju standing up alongside Lindsay Keable, and even young gun Peace Akinyemi finding her way onto the court last round. The real difference in this match will be the Pulse’s front-end firepower, with Sigi Burger a huge target in the goal circle while Lefebre Rademan and Kira Rothwell work hard out the front to provide an edge. 

Tip: Wasps by 8, Sirens by 15, Bath by 6, Pulse by 3

MONDAY, JUNE 14

London Pulse v. Saracens Mavericks

 Kicking off Monday’s matches is another big match between Pulse and Mavericks as the two sides shape up for their second matches of the round. The Mavericks will be either brimming with confidence or on shaky legs following a huge matchup with Bath, while the Pulse will want to do everything in their power to limit the Mavs of an extra win which could bump them into finals contention. Realistically, the Mavericks need this win here regardless of whether they get the win over Bath to even have a small sniff of making the postseason series.

The Mavericks will want to ensure they use the strength and evasive speed of Britney Clark in the circle in this match with the goal shooter an excellent target and creating a really versatile goal circle alongside Kadeen Corbin and Ine-Mari Venter. While Burger has been a consistent threat for the Pulse, the elevated form of Olivia Tchine has paid off in spades with the goal shooter proving she is more than capable of holding her own in the circle and offering a great impact option. Both sides match up defensively very well with livewires at either end, who are able to spark action with just one aerial leap. It is safe to say Fadoju and Quashie are sure to provide some exciting elements to the big matchup, with plenty of creative flair set to be on show, while Adean Thomas is another excellent feeder who will want to utilise her class and delivery.

Loughborough Lightning v. Manchester Thunder

The final match of the round is a battle between two and three – ultimately one of the most tantalising matches of the entire round. Lightning sit in second with just two losses on the board for the season while Manchester has three losses and sit on a just as comfortable winning streak as the Lightning do. Neither side has a weak spot and both have plenty to prove as they look to showcase just how powerful they are, especially given they could be a finals clash waiting to happen. 

There are a number of hugely important matchups in this match with the midpoint of both sides really coming to the forefront when thinking of where the match will be won and lost. The Thunder boast the likes of Laura Malcolm, Amy Carter and Caroline O’Hanlon through the centre, while there is no doubt that they are matched up on very well by Nat Panagarry, Beth Cobden and the likes of Hannah Joseph and Hannah Williams. Defensively, Lightning’s combination of Annabel Roddy, Jas Odeogberin and Sam May will look to make life hard for Joyce Mvula and Ellie Cardwell while the other end expect a huge one-on-one between Mary Cholhok and Kerry Almond as Emma Dovey looks to shut down the easy delivery from Ella Clark. Expect neither side to give an inch throughout a huge contest, with the real proof in the pudding likely coming down to that midcourt and the adaptability of each side.

Tip: Mavericks by 9, Lightning by 2

Picture credit: Ben Lumley Photography

VNSL 2021: Round 16 – Sunday wrap

THE finals race continues to heat up in the 2021 Vitality Netball Superleague (VNSL), and Sunday’s Round 16 matches were no different as a couple teams made major breaks for the top four and Team Bath secured the first finals spot.

 Severn Stars (41) defeated by Leeds Rhinos (63)

Player of the match: Vicki Oyesola (Leeds Rhinos)

The Rhinos continued their hunt for an elusive top four position with another win on the board, bouncing back well from their loss to Team Bath last round and effectively blowing the Stars out of the water with a 22-goal victory. The Rhinos kept the Stars to single digits in both the first and last quarter in a complete performance, continually building on their lead and forcing error after error from the Stars. Whilst the two sides were relatively even on the stats front, registering similar numbers for intercepts (Stars 14-13), deflections (7-7) and turnovers (15-16), the Stars were much more heavily penalised (58-43).

It was a classy defensive performance from the Rhinos, as player of the match Vicki Oyesola unleashed with Tuaine Keenan holding ground down back. Oyesola (three intercepts) and Keenan (six) blocked options within the goal circle and forced errant passes and errors from the ever-classy Liana Leota, causing issues for Georgia Rowe at the post, who received a caution following deliberate contact to Oyesola. Paige Reed struggled to assert herself on the contest, seeing Jane Taylor take her place and put up nine from 10 in a solid effort. The Rhinos were uncharacteristically error-ridden at the post, missing 12 goal attempts credit to pressure from Lucy Herdman and Malysha Kelly, however Leeds tall timber in Donnell Wallam proved crucial with seven rebounds to go with her 52 goals from 57 attempts. Rhea Dixon was tested by Iman Thomas and put up just nine from 14, while Brie Grierson and Jade Clarke continued their excellent form with little fear propelling the ball into Wallam.

Team Bath (55) defeated Surrey Storm (39)

Player of the match: Imogen Allison (Team Bath)

Team Bath is the first side to secure a top four finish on the VNSL ladder, and an inevitable finals position too following a comprehensive victory over Surrey Storm. Despite consistency from the lower-ranked side, it was Bath’s excellent start and ability to remain ahead of the eight-ball that allowed the side to build on their lead and not allow Storm to sniff their way back into the contest. Storm were heavily penalised throughout the contest and, despite registering one more intercept, were bogged down by unforced errors which allowed Bath to retain control. Bath piled on 18 deflections throughout to put doubt in the Storms’ feeders, coming out well-deserved 16-goal winners.

Player of the match Imogen Allison was an absolute pest around the loose ball, negating every move from speedster Yasmin Parsons and continuously forcing errant passes with her ability to apply hands over pressure. The wing defence racked up three intercepts and allowed Layla Guscoth and Eboni Usoro-Brown the freedom to do their job down back, combining for nine deflections (seven gains) as Serena Guthrie ravaged the midcourt with five deflections of her own, with Mikki Austin unable to maintain intensity against the formidable centre. A combined seven offensive penalties between Karyn Bailey and Frankie Wells did the Storm attacking circle no favours, and while they both remained fairly accurate (Bailey with 27 goals from 31 attempts and Wells with 10 from 12), there was little to be done against the impeccable defensive pressure stemming from Bath’s backline. Bath’s frontline was similarly on point, seeing Kim Borger pile on 37 goals and Sophie Drakeford-Lewis assist well with 12 from 14.

 Wasps Netball (39) defeated by Strathclyde Sirens (44)

Player of the match: Gia Abernethy (Strathclyde Sirens)

The Sirens are gaining on their higher-ranked opposition, with plenty of belief amongst this year’s playing group really paying off as they registered the Sirens’ first ever win over Wasps. With a draw last time they met the Wasps, the side clearly had no doubt they could collect the win here, and despite a shaky first half, the side came out flying in the third to come from a three-goal deficit to lead by six at the final change. Phenomenal midcourt transition and cleanliness in the back-end were how the Sirens got the job done, only winning the one quarter throughout but doing enough in the 15-6 third term to claim the 44-39 victory.

The combination of Emma Barrie and Niamh McCall continues to flourish and this match was no different, as the duo missed just three shots between them. While Barrie had three unforced errors to her name – as did Beth Dix and player of the match Gia Abernethy – she made up for it with 25 goals from 26 attempts as McCall piled on 19 to really test Wasps defenders Fran Williams and Josie Huckle and force the ball-hungry defenders to not just focus on Barrie at the post. Abernethy’s two intercepts and ability to find Barrie and McCall was critical, using her clean hands and vision to combine with Dix on circle edge as Iona Christian and Lily-May Catling struggled to compete with their one-two punch. Towera Vinkhumbo did not quite have the same impact on the stats sheet as usual but certainly put doubt in the feeders’ minds, as clinical efforts from Rachel Dunn (24 goals from 26 attempts) and Katie Harris (13 from 13) were not enough for the Wasps to clinch the win.

Manchester Thunder (60) defeated Saracens Mavericks (42)

Player of the match: Amy Carter (Manchester Thunder)

Manchester Thunder well and truly blew the Mavericks out of the water in their clash to finish off Sunday’s proceedings, flying out of the blocks and never looking back in a clinical 18-goal victory. To the Mavericks’ credit they did not stop trying, however they really lacked the intensity the opposition brought in spades, with the Thunder’s stars standing up again and again to propel back any chances of a Mavericks comeback. While Razia Quashie made her return to the bench, the Mavs missed Jo Trip‘s ball-winning ability as the side was continuously outclassed by the Thunder.

Amy Carter was a deserving recipient of the player of the match award, clinical in her midcourt approach and using her change of direction and burst of speed to dismiss Sasha Corbin time and time again. With two intercepts to her name, Carter was pivotal – alongside strong efforts from Laura Malcolm in her regular wing defence role – as the defensive end starred. Emma DoveyKerry AlmondRebekah Airey and Elia McCormick all had their time in the defensive spotlight and combined for 12 turnovers in a classy effort, making it tough for Ine-Mari Venter (32 goals from 38 attempts) to find the ball with ease, as both Kadeen Corbin (three from three) and Chloe Essam (seven from nine) had issues finding the post. Jodie Gibson impressed with eight deflections and two intercepts (four gains) but was outclassed by Joyce Mvula, who starred with a whopping 45 goals from 48 attempts, as Ellie Cardwell played an assisting role with nine from 10.

Picture credit: Ben Lumley Photography

VNSL 2021: Round 15 – Sunday wrap

THE Vitality Netball Superleague (VNSL) returned for the second half of the season at the Copper Box Arena, with goal shooters dominating during Sunday’s proceedings in London.

 Severn Stars (41) defeated by Loughborough Lightning (50)

Player of the match: Nat Panagarry (Loughborough Lightning)

The Lightning were tested by a hungry Severn Stars outfit to begin Round 15, with the side throwing everything they had against the Lightning. Whilst it did not register on the scoreboard across all four quarters, it was a formidable effort from the lower-ranked side which matched in intensity, but just appeared to lack finesse and the finishing touches as the match came to a close, registering just five goals in the final term after winning the third quarter. Accuracy was no issue for the Stars, however it was down to the defensive effort of the Lightning which limited the volume of ball from entering the goal circle.

Mary Cholhok was really tested by Stars defender Lucy Herdman, putting up 37 goals but failing to maintain her usual accuracy with nine misses to her name, while Ella Clark failed to have a significant impact with 13 goals from 15 attempts and four penalties, credit to the shared effort from Adi Bolakoro and Malysha KellyLiana LeotaNia Jones and Lucy Harris put in the hard yards through the midcourt with the latter two combining for three deflections, while Georgia Rowe (25 goals) and Paige Reed (16 goals) shared the workload fairly well and only missed one goal apiece. Nat Panagarry was in a class of her own to receive a well-deserved player of the match award, while Beth Cobden and Sam May combined for six deflections (two turnovers) through the defensive end.

Team Bath (59) defeated Leeds Rhinos (43)

Player of the match: Layla Guscoth (Team Bath)

One of the touted matches of the round did not quite live up to expectations as Team Bath came out flying against the Leeds Rhinos and did not stop throughout an enthralling contest. With an excellent few matches behind them the Rhinos appeared to be in with a chance of shutting down the blue and gold ladder leaders, however an outstanding 17-8 second quarter from Bath all but put that to rest as they went into the second half with a huge 12-goal lead. While the Rhinos looked like they would come back in the second half, they just could not impose themselves on the contest as Bath remained in control to run out with a comfortable 16-goal victory.

It was all class from Bath, as they held strong and starred defensively to shut down Rhinos sharpshooter Donnell Wallam and limit Rhea Dixon‘s impact on the drive. While Wallam still put up 35 goals, it was down to Eboni Usoro-Brown‘s impressive athleticism and player of the match Layla Guscoth‘s adaptability which saw Bath create something out of nothing, continuously turnover over the ball as Guscoth (six deflections and two intercepts for six turnovers) and Imogen Allison (four deflections and two intercepts for three turnovers) were all class in transition shutting down movement and opening opportunities to dive on the loose ball. A two-minute send-off to Summer Artman could have hurt Bath if it was not for the abilities of Kim Borger (43 goals from 46 attempts) and Sophie Drakeford-Lewis (16 goals straight) out the front, who did not relent throughout the contest and outclassed Vicki Oyesola and Tuaine Keenan at every turn.

Strathclyde Sirens (52) defeated Surrey Storm (39) 

Player of the match: Emily Nicholl (Strathclyde Sirens)

A huge battle between the Sirens and Storm saw neither side able to be separated early on, piling on 24 goals apiece by half-time before a reinvigorated Sirens outfit stepped up to pile on the defensive pressure and elevate their game to blow the Storm out of the water in the second half. It was the penalty count that was hugely evident in the 52-39 encounter, with the 51-30 penalties speaking a lot to the two halves of the match. Factor in the Sirens’ extra defensive hunt (11 intercepts to four and 15 turnovers to eight) and the side was just better at treasuring ball, however full credit goes to the workrate of the Stars to remain in the contest, with just one more unforced error and much more accurate in front of goal.

Emma Barrie was influential as ever with 37 goals as Niamh McCall once again showed off her accuracy from distance with 15 goals, with the duo outclassing penalty-heavy Surrey duo Leah Middleton and Alima Priest throughout the contest. Both Barrie and McCall also picked up an intercept apiece – with just Beth Dix not registering one to her name from the Sirens seven – while Towera Vinkhumbo and player of the match Emily Nicholl were hard work down back with the latter only generating three penalties across the full match and racking up two turnovers from her four deflections and intercept. Vinkhumbo (four intercepts) was a wrecking ball in the back end, inhibiting Karyn Bailey‘s ability to find the goal line and her preferred shooting zone, although still finishing the game with 25 goals straight to go with Emma Magee‘s 13 from 17.

Celtic Dragons (40) defeated by Manchester Thunder (54)

Player of the match: Joyce Mvula (Manchester Thunder)

It took a strong effort from Manchester Thunder to shake off a hunting Celtic Dragons unit in a big encounter, as the classy Thunder overcame the Dragons but overall were tested. The Dragons have stepped up their game in recent weeks and this matchup saw nothing different, as the side fell by 14 goals (40-54) but ultimately remaining competitive throughout against one of the top sides. It was only the middle third where things fell apart slightly for the Dragons, down to the full court pressure employed by a formidable Thunder outfit, but otherwise the first and final quarters saw the two sides only split by the one goal.

Laura Rudland injury in the second did plenty to dampen the Dragons’ spirits but little to stop the side from pressing in the contest, as Amy Clinton (28 goals from 32 attempts) and Rebekah Robinson (12 from 16) led the charge in the Dragons front-end. Annika Lee-Jones was tasked with shutting down Manchester key goaler Joyce Mvula (29 goals from 30 attempts) and certainly had her moments, but could not entirely shut down the eventual player of the match who once more worked in tandem with Ellie Cardwell (17 from 21). It was Thunder’s ability to capitalise off turnovers that allowed them to rein in control whenever the Dragons took their chances, with 12 intercepts compared to the Dragons’ four. Shona O’Dwyer and Abigail Tyrell picked up two intercepts apiece as Lee-Jones collected four turnovers from seven deflections, while for Thunder it was a full-court defensive effort that forced the Dragons’ hand, as Rebekah Airey led the charge with four intercepts, followed by Laura Malcolm (three) and Caroline O’Hanlon and Emma Dovey (both two).

VNSL 2021: Round 13/14 preview – Fourth double round of action set to separate top from bottom

YET another double round of action is upon the Vitality Netball Superleague (VNSL), and with the gap between the top and middle sides on the ladder gradually closing, the time is now for a couple of the mid-table teams to make their mark and really test the opposition. Plenty of quality games are on offer over a huge four days of action, with all 11 franchises taking the court in hope to elevate their standings.

>>>ROUND 3 WRAPS: Sunday // Monday

>>>ROUND 4 WRAPS: Sunday // Monday

>>>ROUND 5/6 WRAPS: Friday/Saturday // Sunday/Monday

FRIDAY, APRIL 30

Surrey Storm v. Celtic Dragons

Last time these two side met, it was the Storm that registered a solid 16-goal win over the Dragons. But whilst they started their season off strong, unfortunately that was the last time the Surrey side registered a victory, so they will surely be chomping at the bit here to get on the board. The Dragons may have fallen to the ladder leaders in Team Bath last round, but to their credit they came out flying to lead at half time – something that should send a warning sign to the Storm that they should not rest on their laurels this time around.

Expect the Surrey side to come in with a fire in the belly, with everything to lose if they hand a win to the lowly Dragons. Leading from the front will be Mikki Austin and Yasmin Parsons, whilst defensively Alima Priest and Leah Middleton have been steadily improving their partnership week on week. The Dragons are similarly solid in the backline, with Annika Lee-Jones putting on one of her best performances thus far last round, while Christina Shaw and Lucy Howells continue to work hard down back. Clare Jones and Shona O’Dwyer will look to really test the Storm midcourt, while Amy Clinton, Rebekah Robinson and Rebecca Baker continue to be solid options at the post, just unfortunately not getting the volume of ball in to pile on the offensive pressure. For the Storm, expect Karyn Bailey to lead the charge at the post with her clean hands and ability to snatch ball out of the air.

Saracens Mavericks v. Loughborough Lightning

The Lightning’s great fortune has continued across a huge season, and whilst they are yet to steal top spot off Bath, another comprehensive win over the Mavericks could do the trick here. The Mavericks may have started the season relatively well – bar their Round 3 loss to the Lightning – but have taken the foot off the pedal in recent rounds in the absence of Razia Quashie, so really need to lift their full-court intensity to get the chocolates here and not be overcome by Leeds Rhinos and Strathclyde Sirens – who are hot on the Mavs’ tail and also play two matches across the round.

Jodie Gibson and Jo Trip will need to be firing on all cylinders to disrupt the likes of Mary Cholhok at the post this round, with the matchup between Trip and Cholhok realistically one of the most crucial ones across the court for both sides. The Mavs will require the silver service of Gabby Marshall driving down the court to cut through the speed and workrate of the likes of Nat Panagarry and Beth Cobden through the midcourt, while Georgia Lees and Sasha Corbin will also be critical. The Lightning’s ability to use their bench is monumental and could really hurt the Mavs, with a tough defence line in Sam MayJas Odeogberin and Alice Harvey looking to block Ine-Mari VenterBritney Clarke and Kadeen Corbin in their tracks.

Tip: Storm by 10, Lightning by 12

SATURDAY, MAY 1

Surrey Storm v. Severn Stars

The two lower-ranked sides will be really looking to prove they have enough in the tank to grind out a couple more victories, with the Storm likely hoping to get another win on the board in their second encounter of the round, whilst the Stars currently own bragging rights following their Round 5/6 victory so will want to retain that mantle. Safe to say that a close encounter should be expected here, especially given the potential to leap out of the bottom three positions on the ladder.

The Storm are the first side to play a second match this round, and will need to put their best foot forward against the fresh-footed Stars. Whilst Parsons and Austin have no issue on the endurance front, the Storm will need to ensure their relatively inexperienced attacking duo in Sophie Kelly and Frankie Wells do not fatigue too quickly, as that will make it all the hard to propel ball into Bailey at the post. For the Stars, the return of Liana Leota from injury and Kyra Jones from retirement provided a huge boost to the squad last round which is sure to continue this round, with connections continuing to re-form. Georgia Rowe continues to be a significant threat out the front, as is speedster Paige Reed, while at the other end Nia Jones, Malysha Kelly and Iman Thomas will want to make life hard for the Storm front-line.

London Pulse v. Strathclyde Sirens

Expect another enticing battle here, with the Sirens showcasing plenty of good form across the past few rounds and looking to continue to apply that pressure on the ladder. The side has come along in leaps and bounds this season and will want to continue that trend against the Pulse, who have struggled to find purchase in a trying season, and realistically need a win here over the Sirens if they are of any chance to push the envelope in the remaining rounds. Just five goals separated the two sides last time they met, with confidence aplenty heading into this round.

Sirens lynchpin Towera Vinkhumbo has arguably been in excellent form this season and could very well be the difference between a win or a loss in this match. She lines up on a similarly impactful international name in Sigi Burger, and will look to utilise her excellent footwork and aerial ability to cause errors for the South African once more this round. At the other end, Emma Barrie has continued to step up in goal shooter for the Sirens and is yet to show any signs of slowing down, working well with Bethan Goodwin out the front to test defenders week in and week out. It will be up to livewire Funmi FadojuHalimat Adio and Zara Everitt to limit their impact, with the defensive workrate through the centre from Michelle Drayne and Ashleigh Dekker critical if the Pulse are to really test the Sirens on a roll.

Saracens Mavericks v. Celtic Dragons 

The Mavericks cannot afford to underestimate the Dragons in this encounter, and realistically they need a huge percentage-boosting win on the board here to not only uphold a competitive spot on the ladder to challenge the Wasps for a top four position, but also to really boost their confidence with spirits shaky at the moment. The Dragons will once more look to really challenge across the round, with improved performances across the past week, however do come into this one as the underdog following a 41-61 loss last time these sides met in Round 4.

This match will likely be won through the midcourt, with both sides matching up fairly well for accuracy and defensive prowess – although Mavericks arguably still lead the way at both ends – and while the Mavericks boast a classy midcourt chock full of England Roses talent, the Dragons midcourt has been developing nicely across the season and will look to treasure possession. Expect an intriguing one-on-one between Trip and Clinton under the post, while Sasha and Kadeen Corbin will want to exploit their knowledge of one another to outclass the Dragons at every turn. Expect Venter to utilise her improved vision and footwork to manoeuvre her way around Lee-Jones, who in turn will want to exploit her own height and long reach to block vision and cherry-pick passes.

Tip: Stars by 4, Sirens by 6, Mavericks by 12

SUNDAY, MAY 2

Strathclyde Sirens v. Leeds Rhinos 

Expect a really interesting matchup between these two sides, with Rhinos narrowly getting the win last time they met by seven goals, and without the services of goaler Donnell Wallam at the post. That being said, the Sirens have pushed both the Wasps and Mavericks until the very end this season and are well within their chances to get another win on the board here, with the side brimming with confidence and sure to come out firing against the Rhinos.

The battle between sixth and seventh is sure to be a cracker, and expect Wallam to lead the Rhinos’ charge once more, with plenty on the line for both sides given she did not take the court last time they met. But where Wallam goes, expect Vinkhumbo to follow in one of the most tantalising matchups of the entire round. Whilst Wallam has the height advantage and strength to pile on goals under pressure, Vinkhumbo’s hops will allow her to provide a critical link from the back-line and drive the ball forward once more. The Sirens cannot afford to ignore the services of Rhea Dixon out in goal attack, whilst Sienna Rushton is another viable option out the front. Factor in livewires Fi Toner and Jade Clarke taking on Gia Abernethy through the centre and the great form of Barrie and Goodwin at the Sirens front-end, and this matchup has everything.

London Pulse v. Manchester Thunder 

The Thunder have sunk to fourth on the ladder after another week off and sit two matches behind majority of the competition, so will be looking to come out flying against the Pulse. The Thunder have been extremely hard to stop since their Round 5/6 slump and have not dropped a game since then, leaving plenty of confidence in the side heading into this encounter. The Pulse will need to treasure possession and realistically need another win here to remain not only in with a chance at breaking into the mid-table logjam, but also stay ahead of the Storm and Stars who are hot on their tail.

The Pulse have a tough ask when they take on the in-form Thunder, with the Manchester side boasting huge names all across the court. Whilst the Pulse certainly have plenty of talent at their disposal, the connections just have not really appeared to be there at this point in the season, so will really need to tighten up across the court to deny easy ball into the likes of Ellie Cardwell and Joyce Mvula. Fadoju has starred across all three defensive positions this season so is sure to get a chance on either – or both – the Thunder’s attackers, whilst at the other end Burger will want to fly out of the blocks alongside Lefebre Rademan and Kira Rothwell and get a head start against the excellent defensive combination of Kerry Almond and Rebekah Airey.

Team Bath v. Wasps Netball

Team Bath will look to maintain top spot across a huge weekend of action which sees them take on two challengers. Realistically, this match should be the easier of the two and should see Bath come out on top with relative ease as long as they can maintain the same level of pressure across the court. For the Wasps, this match will be the test to see if they are really capable of testing the top side, sitting just two wins behind Bath but overcoming a couple of snags with their consistency along the way.

There will be no shortage of star power on court in this matchup, with consistent performers across the court waging an exciting battle. Rachel Dunn and Katie Harris have been in excellent form over the past few rounds and, given they balance the circle so freely and easily, will look to continue that here. The likes of Layla Guscoth and Eboni Usoro-Brown will look to test that flow and movement within the circle, while their actions are sure to be replicated at the other end with a couple more talented names in Fran Williams and Josie Huckle taking centre stage in the Wasps backline. The fight will not relent at that end, with Kim Borger and Sophie Drakeford-Lewis hard to stop even on a bad day, while both midcourts match up fairly well with livewires across the court.

Tip: Rhinos by 3, Thunder by 14, Bath by 8

MONDAY, MAY 3

Manchester Thunder v. Team Bath

Monday sees the competition in for some of the biggest matches of the round, with a huge head-to-head between the Thunder and Bath outfits. Whilst Thunder sits in fourth compared to Bath in top spot, they have only lost one more game than the blue and gold and are on a huge winning streak. The two sides are relatively evenly matched across the court and even though Bath well and truly made a statement against the Thunder last time they met, expect a closer encounter this time around.

The midcourt battle is set to be one of the best, with the likes of Manchester’s high powered combination Laura MalcolmAmy Carter and Caroline O’Hanlon taking on Bath’s defensive branded centre-court group in Serena GuthrieImogen Allison and sisters Jess and Rachel Shaw. There are very little holes across the court for either side, which is what could see a really close encounter play out. That being said, if one side get an early upper hand that could go a long way for building and extending an eventual match-winning list. Expect a battle of accuracy between Mvula and Borger at either end, while there is no shortage of defensive prowess across the two backlines, with Guscoth and Usoro-Brown holding ground in one circle and Almond and Airey within the other.

Leeds Rhinos v. Wasps Netball 

The final match of the round will play out between the Rhinos and Wasps, in another huge matchup that could realistically go either way. While the Wasps got the chocolates back in Round 5/6 by 12 goals, there is no doubt the Rhinos have stepped up since then, with injury returnees seeing the side step up to be a real ladder worry. Factor in the loss of Wasps captain Sophia Candappa, and the Rhinos could well and truly have the Wasps’ number this time around.

The battle between Wallam and Huckle is sure to be mouthwatering, given the ability of both players to get hand to the ball, and while the Wasps are missing a huge prong in attack with the absence of Candappa, there is no doubt their balanced attack in Dunn and Harris pays off regardless of who feeds into the circle. Defensively, Tuaine KeenanPaige Kindred and Vicki Oyesola have been hugely consistent so will need to retain that mantle to block the efforts of Dunn and Harris, as well as the midcourt advances of Iona ChristianAmy Flanagan and Leah Goss. Midcourt-wise, Clarke is hard to stop when she gets going given her excellent endurance base. With so many even  contests across the court, expect a huge match here that comes down to the wire.

Tip: Bath by 2, Rhinos by 3

Picture credit: Ben Lumley Photography

VNSL 2021: Round 9 preview – Easter weekend sees huge clashes all around

ANOTHER huge round of Vitality Netball Superleague (VNSL) action is upon us, with three sides sitting out of Round 9 and handed an extended break during the Easter long weekend. Saracens Mavericks have the toughest task this week taking on two fellow top five sides, as London Pulse and Severn Stars have a really good chance of getting wins on the board to elevate themselves up the ladder.

Sunday, April 4

Manchester Thunder v. Loughborough Lightning

A battle of second and fifth opens the round, with the Lightning looking to add to its winning streak as Thunder have a real chance to showcase just what they are capable of. While there is no doubt this match will generate plenty of talk given the two sides are powerhouses of the competition, the Lightning have the form and connections to really exploit the Thunder – especially if they are still missing Emma Dovey down back – while the Thunder will hope to shock the Lightning’s system.

Expect Lightning tall timber Mary Cholhok to wreak havoc out the front when she takes of stalwart defender Kerry Almond, with Rebekah Airey tasked with shutting down the ever-impressive and athletic Ella Clark out in goal attack. But the stars do not end there for the Lightning with the midcourt of Beth CobdenNat Panagarry and Hannah Joseph able to inflict a heap of damage if left alone. That being said, Manchester’s midcourt lines up fairly well in opposition with Laura Malcolm and Caroline O’Hanlon leading the charge, and able to propel ball into Ellie Cardwell and Joyce Mvula with ease time and time again. Given the evenness of the contest, expect this one to be a real close encounter that comes down to Lightning’s class out the front.

Severn Stars v. Celtic Dragons

The Stars will be hoping to get some much-needed separation off the bottom of the ladder this week, with their first match of the round against the lowly Dragons. Whilst this is realistically one of the Dragons’ only viable winning chances given their struggle of a season so far, even with a depleted midcourt the Stars have managed to be a real challenge for sides, continuously putting out four quarter performances despite not getting the win on the board, making this match a real test for both sides.

For the Dragons, expect Amy Clinton to continue to hold ground at the post with her sticky fingers, and utilise her steadily improving footspeed to evade the Stars’ defence in Adi Bolakoro, Lucy Herdman and Iman Thomas, who have been developing well as the season has continued. Clinton’s connection with Laura Rudland and Rebekah Robinson has looked solid in recent rounds despite still being beaten, while at the other end Annika Lee-Jones will be tasked with shutting down the likes of Georgia Rowe and blocking vision with her long arms. Paige Reed has shown some good form of late in at goal attack, so will look to exploit the likes of Lee-Jones, Abigail Tyrell and Christina Shaw with her footwork out the front.

London Pulse v. Wasps Netball

Pulse have a tough task this week, with a matchup against the ever-powerful Wasps to start their weekend. Whilst the Wasps have not quite been in the winning form they have become known for in the past, they still have registered five wins to the Pulse’s one, making this matchup a fairly predictable one in the scheme of things. Pulse’s main issue is generating scoring power whilst their defence is fairly strong, so if the side can limit the attack and hunt from the Wasps they could have a chance of maintaining a low-scoring affair, however given each side’s recent form it is safe to say the Wasps should have this one.

Expect the Wasps to fly out of the blocks, with the ever-reliable Sophia Candappa and Iona Christian heading up the troops, with the duo’s combination continuing to create magic in attack for the side. Their connection out the front with Katie Harris and Rachel Dunn can be hard to stop, with in-form Funmi Fadoju, Halimat AdioZara Everitt and Lindsay Keable certainly having a tough task ahead of them. Expect an intriguing battle at the other end with Sigi Burger a difficult player to stop when she is on, however has not quite had the support or clean feeds from her attackers, while Kira Rothwell struggled last round and the likes of Lefebre Rademan and Olivia Tchine have not yet managed consistent court-time given the defensive prowess of their opposition. Their opposition this week in Fran Williams and Josie Huckle is no different, and could be the game-changer in this encounter.

Saracens Mavericks v. Team Bath

The Mavs have arguably one of the toughest lineups of the round, and a loss to Bath on Sunday could spell real trouble for them backing up once more on Monday evening. Whilst Bath looks to be without Imogen Allison who went down in the opening minutes of their Round 8 matchup, they still have a plethora of viable options through the midcourt and down back which will really test the Mavs front-end which is still solidifying its connections. That being said, if the Mavs can take advantage of the missing link in wing defence early, they could have a real chance here of proving how much they’ve improved.

It will be the Mavs defence which needs to be switched on from the get-go in this matchup, with Razia QuashieJo Trip and Jodie Gibson given the tough task of negating the impact of Kim Borger and Sophie Drakeford-Lewis at the post. Most difficult though is the side’s depth in attack with Betsy Creak also a viable option to post, boasting plenty of front-end versatility. Expect Serena Guthrie and Sasha Corbin to go head-to-head through the centre with Layla Guscoth a potential to start in wing defence given the side’s defensive depth, as Eboni Usoro-Brown, Tash Pavelin and Summer Artman can all wreak havoc within the circle. Kadeen Corbin and Ine-Mari Venter will have their work cut out for them within the goal circle, even being fed by the likes of Gabby Marshall.

Tip: Lightning by 8, Stars by 12, Wasps by 14, Bath by 9

Monday, April 5

Severn Stars v. London Pulse

Opening Monday’s proceedings is a huge clash between two of the bottom three sides, with one at the very least looking to jump into top eight calculations given Storm’s week off. What this match could ultimately come down to is each side’s respective Sunday results, with confidence going a long way for success, especially given both have laboured away at the bottom of the ladder. Looking at recent form, it looks like Pulse could have the upper hand, however it could be too close to call this one prior to Sunday’s matches.

Expect a fairly even battle here, with both sides boasting stars at either end of the court but somewhat falling away in the centre. The Pulse will need Adean Thomas to really step up alongside the likes of Ashleigh Dekker and Michelle Drayne, with the midcourt boasting endurance but sometimes lacking the potency to fire the ball into Burger at the post. Burger’s positioning will be a real point of interest against Herdman in the goal circle, while the Stars’ defensive midcourt will need to really step up to block vision with Nia Jones and Bethan Dyke the go-to midcourters in action. At the other end, Lucy Harris will look to continue the form she found last round with Reed and Rowe in the circle up against the exciting Fadoju.

Saracens Mavericks v. Manchester Thunder

The final match of an action-packed round will see a tantalising clash between two sides which start the round in fourth and fifth. Whilst Thunder have recovered well from the Round 5/6 blip which saw them register two straight thrashings from fellow top sides, the Mavericks have had their fair share of tests and come out with victories in tough circumstances more than once, meaning this matchup could really come down to each side’s endurance following Sunday’s matches. Both teams have a real test on Sunday, meaning rotations could be high to ensure the fatigue does not sink in too early.

Expect the defensive units to go blow for bow in this one, with the likes of Almond and Airey in the backline for the Thunder whilst the Mavs boast an exceptional trio down back of their own with Trip, Quashie and Gibson more than capable of holding up under pressure. Realistically, the Thunder look to be the more in-form side between the two purely down to the exceptional attacking combination it has in the goal circle, with Mvula and Cardwell’s connection as good as any, whilst the Mavs are still working out their preferred combination with Corbin and Venter holding ground well but occasionally requiring an extra something something to keep the scoreboard ticking along.

Tip: Pulse by 6, Thunder by 7

VNSL 2021: Round 5/6 – Friday & Saturday wraps

A BLOCKBUSTER Round 5/6 of Vitality Netball Superleague (VNSL) action began on Friday evening, with two significantly different results opening the weekend following a week off last weekend. It did not stop there though, with three Saturday encounters setting the tone for the remainder of the double round, with a couple of teams asserting themselves and announcing themselves as the teams to beat this season. In the Friday/Saturday edition of our VNSL wraps, we take a look at the first five matches of the huge round.

FRIDAY, MARCH 12

Severn Stars (49) defeated Surrey Storm (46)

Player of the Match: Paige Reed (Severn Stars)

The weekend opened with a huge matchup between Severn Stars and Surrey Storm, with the Stars narrowly pipping the Storm at the post for their first win of the season. Under a mountain of pressure from the get-go, the Stars held up under the Storm onslaught and consistently stepped up to the bouts of form from the Storm to reign supreme by three goals after leading at each break. Both sides were highly accurate in the encounter, missing just six goal apiece, but it was the unforced error count (10-16) that really hurt the Storm with the side wasting crucial turnover ball and unable to capitalise on opportunities.

For the Stars, it was player of the match Paige Reed that set the court alight with 17 goals, piling on the pressure both in and around the circle whilst partner in crime Georgia Rowe was huge with 29 goals of her own in the tight battle, holding strong and giving Reed an easy feeding option. Defensively the side struggled to maintain cleanliness, rotating the likes of Adi Bolakoro, Iman Thomas, Malysha Kelly and Lucy Herdman through the back circle, but overall the unit produced a solid performance to put doubt in the Storm’s goalers and feeders. It was the lack of support in the circle that shot the Storm in the foot, with Karyn Bailey (33 goals from 36 attempts) forced to carry the load, although the efforts of Yas Parsons, Emily Gulvin and Mikki Austin were astronomical finding the tall timber at the post again and again.

Team Bath (60) defeated Manchester Thunder (35)

Player of the Match: Kim Borger (Team Bath)

The undefeated Team Bath came out with a point to prove in their return to the court, with a huge 25-goal victory over fellow undefeated side Manchester Thunder. Given Bath was coming back from two weeks away from the court it seemed like the Thunder would have the upper hand, but a tight battle in the first set the tone as neither side would let up the intensity. But consistency is key, and Bath proved how strong they are as they piled on three-straight 16-goal quarters and kept Manchester to under 10 goals in the remaining three terms. Bath’s ability to take chances and capitalise well and truly showcased their hunt on the ball, creating something out of nothing time and time again and leaving no stone unturned as they had an answer for everything Thunder threw at them.

Player of the match deservedly went to Australian Kim Borger, with the goal shooter piling on a whopping 39 goals as playmaker Sophie Drakeford-Lewis piled on 17 of her own. The two shot at an impressive 100 per cent accuracy, showcasing how easily they could maintain control under pressure from the likes of Emma Dovey, Kerry Almond and Rebekah Airey, with Dovey and Airey carrying injuries off the court. The defensive combination from Bath proved crucial once more with Eboni Usoro-Brown and Layla Guscoth continuing to shine, and keeping Thunder targets Joyce Mvula and Ellie Cardwell to just 15 goals apiece.

SATURDAY, MARCH 13

Surrey Storm (37) defeated by Loughborough Lightning (56)

Player of the match: Hannah Joseph (Loughborough Lightning)

Loughborough Lightning impressed once again claiming a 19-goal victory over the Storm to keep a firm grip on top spot on the ladder. It has been a difficult round for the Storm who have struggled to find their mojo, with the Lightning taking full advantage of their opponents inconsistencies across the court to capitalise especially under the post. Lightning made their intentions abundantly clear from the opening term of play pushing out to a seven-goal lead and looking to extend on that buffer at each turn. The defensive combination of Beth Cobden, Samantha May and Alice Harvey was causing all sorts of trouble for Bailey and Frankie Wells with youngster Sophie Kelly also injected into the action in hope to shakeup the attacking unit.

Cobden’s combination with captain Nat Panagarry was unstoppable as the duo paired seamlessly through the centre and even with a number of changes made across the board the Lightning did not skip a beat. The shooting combination of Mary Cholhok and Ella Clark was another main problem for the Storm with Leah Middleton drawing a wealth of attention from the umpire thanks to her 17 penalties while Felisitus Kwangwa had patches of brilliance but could not quell the Lightning pair. Cholhok finished with an impressive 34 goals even after spending time on the bench while Clark managed 14. Plenty of fresh legs hit the court for the Lightning throughout their clash with all 12 players getting a chance to get some valuable minutes as goal keeper Annabel Roddy made her first appearance for the season and Suzie Liverseidge provided an element of speed and unpredictability to the shooting line-up. Player of the match, Hannah Joseph had the ball on a string and created a number of attacking forays with her precise ball placement and overall netball smarts in what was another strong outing for Loughborough.

Team Bath (49) defeated Severn Stars (30)

Player of the match: Eboni Usoro-Brown (Team Bath)

After dismantling Wasps only the day before, Team Bath backed up their impressive performance with another commanding performance over the lowly Severn Stars, making it five wins straight. The Stars won their opening encounter of the round and their first for the season but simply did not have the legs or star power to stick with Bath who exploited their opponents in every way possible. Bath made a couple of changes from their previous outing with Betsy Creak getting the nod in at goal shooter with Jess Shaw and Tash Pavelin also earning a starting position and while it took some time for the connections to solidify Bath still had all the answers. The influence of Borger was undeniable with the goal shooter introduced into the game in the second term and scoring within the first 20 seconds highlighting her accuracy and netball nous.

The Stars got back to within four goals midway through the second term with the likes of Rowe putting in the hard yards under the post, but that was a fleeting moment as Bath put their foot down to reclaim the ascendancy. The defensive pressure from Bath was immense keeping their opponents to a mere 10 goals at half time while establishing a 14-goal lead themselves. The presence of Usoro-Brown down back was paying dividends for the yellow and blue with the goal keeper putting up a wall and picking off passes with ease. Her partnership with Pavelin (four intercepts) and Imogen Allison out the front nullified the influence of Bethan Dyke and Lucy Harris as Bath cruised to an easy win.

Manchester Thunder (44) defeated by Wasps Netball (53)

Player of the match:

Backing up from a hefty defeat, Wasps handed Manchester Thunder their their second loss of the season thanks to their 53-44 goal performance. It was an even start to the game with only two goals separating both sides at quarter time before the Wasps started to pull ahead in the second term with the defensive efforts from Fran Williams and Josie Huckle working wonders. Their ability to shut down the attacking forays and quell the influence of Mvula and Cardwell was imperative however that did not last long with the Thunder shooting duo able to pick themselves up in the second half and cause a real nuisance. Mvula finished with 19 goals while Cardwell slotted 23 as Laura Malcolm plied her trade in wing attack to work her side back into the contest.

The powerhouse combination of Rachel Dunn and Katie Harris were at their dominant best against Thunder with the two seeming to have the ball on a string and finding a wealth of space inside the goal circle. Dunn led the way with 31 goals, only missing the three shots while Harris was just as accurate to post nailing 22 out of her 24 attempts. Almond and Dovey worked in overdrive particularly in the second half to reduce the scoring impact of the Wasps’ shooters, levelling the playing field. Sophia Candappa was electric through the midcourt and around circle edge to feed the ball into the circle with great ease combating the likes of Airey.

VNSL 2021: Round 4 preview – Teams look to consolidate strong starts in huge round of action

THE fourth round of Vitality Netball Superleague (VNSL) action will see 10 of the 11 teams go head-to-head once more, as Team Bath gets an extended break before the next double round commencing on March 12, handed the bye round this week. Whilst the ledger will even for a few side this round with the likes of Celtic Dragons and Surrey Storm finally getting a lighter load to take their respective match tallies to five apiece, both Manchester Thunder and London Pulse will play just their third match of the season as double headers are handed to Severn Stars (0-2) and Loughborough Lightning (2-1).

SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 28

Severn Stars v. Manchester Thunder

Severn Stars will return to the court with fresh legs after a week off to take on Manchester Thunder, but will well and truly have their work cut out for them with the undefeated Thunder realistically almost as well-rested as the Stars with two matches in two weeks. Whilst the Stars boast plenty of gut running to match the Thunder through the centre, the side’s real test will be in their ability to hold up under the pressure from Manchester’s smothering defensive and offensive ends, which are both formidable. Adi Bolakoro will be one of the players to watch down back for the Stars, and will need to stand strong against the likes of Ellie Cardwell and Joyce Mvula out the front for the Thunder, with both players capable of holding down the goal circle individually, let alone when paired together. Factor in powerhouse Laura Malcolm, who has added another string to her bow rotating into attack, and veteran Caroline O’Hanlon, and the Stars will have their work cut out for them to limit ball into the goal circle. Expect Liana Leota to be her usual flashy self in the midcourt, and find the likes of Georgia Rowe, Lucy Herdman and Paige Reed out the front for the Stars.

Strathclyde Sirens v. London Pulse

Expect an intriguing battle between the Sirens and Pulse, with the Sirens coming into this encounter 2-1 compared to the Pulse who have struggled to jumpstart their season despite looking like one of the teams to watch this season. But whilst the Sirens have used their gut-running and speed to their advantage so far this season, they will have a real test in this matchup with the Pulse given the London-based side is hungry for that elusive win, and realistically matches up well against both the Sirens’ quick attack and tall timbers in the circle. Expect the likes of Sigi Burger to step up in this encounter after a quiet round last week, with the South African goaler a critical head for the Pulse, whilst the dynamic movement of Adean Thomas and strength down back from Halimat Adio, Lindsay Keable and young gun Funmi Fadoju will be crucial to get a win here. Sirens’ steadfast goaling duo Bethan Goodwin and Lynsey Gallagher have really stepped up this season, as has youngster Emma Barrie where required, creating an exciting attack line that will test their form in this matchup. Factor in the development of Taylor Cullen through the midcourt working alongside Gia Abernethy and working in the back-end with Towera Vinkhumbo, and the Sirens could really push the Pulse here.

Wasps Netball v. Surrey Storm

For two sides lingering in the mid-section of the 2021 ladder, this match could be the difference heading into the first major break of the season to really kickstart both Wasps’ and Storm’s seasons. The Wasps are always a huge threat with such an experienced squad at their disposal, but Surrey has shown some exciting form pushing a couple of teams to the limit and could really test the Wasps here. That being said, there is no doubt the Wasps have the intensity and hunt to get the job done with plenty of figures who can lead the charge – namely it experienced attack unit of Rachel Dunn, Katie Harris and Sophia Candappa out the front. Gezelle Allison adds an extra element of excitement to the usually settled goal circle, whilst elsewhere Iona Christian provides another bit of versatility, and down back Josie Huckle has been a menace. For the Storm, Yas Parsons has been reliable as ever, joining forces with Mikki Austin injected at times and a tough frontline to combat in Karyn Bailey, Frankie Wells and youngster Sophie Kelly. Expect the Wasps to come out the better in this encounter given their formidable connections, but the Storm are sure to give the Wasps a huge test with form on their side.

Leeds Rhinos v. Loughborough Lightning

The final match of Sunday’s fixture sees a huge battle between two of the early top sides in Rhinos and Lightning, as both teams boast two wins and a loss apiece in the early stage of the season. But whilst the Lightning will field a full-strength side, the Rhinos are undermanned with three of its recruits going down across the first weekend and still working out its less experienced connections on the Superleague stage. Lightning boasts a hugely formidable frontline with Mary Cholhok always a tough battle, whilst Ella Clark returned last round and proved why she is such a force to be reckoned with. Factor in the side’s reliable midcourt stars in Beth CobdenNat Panagarry and Hannah Joseph, and they will be a tough beat in this contest. The Rhinos should realistically match the Lightning fairly well defensively with Vicki Oyesola shaping up well down back alongside Paige Kindred – though the latter may need to tidy up her act aft 17 penalties last round – but through the midcourt and attack may suffer with Jade Clarke the main port of call as the experienced head in centre, and a couple of highly talented but relatively inexperienced goalers in Rhea Dixon and Sienna Rushton out the front.

Tip: Thunder by 15, Pulse by 8, Wasps by 13, Lightning by 10

MONDAY, MARCH 1

Celtic Dragons v. Saracens Mavericks

The Dragons will look to put their first win on the board from four prior attempts in this matchup, facing the Mavericks who will come into the round off the back of a huge loss last round that is certain to spur them on against the Welsh side. Whilst South African signing Ine-Mari Venter is still yet to take the court for the Mavericks, the side has shown some solid form across the court, namely in the centre and back-end with Razia Quashie holding ground down back and Sasha Corbin key through the midcourt, combining well with Gabby MarshallGeorgia Lees and propel ball into the circle. The real test in this one will be the Mavericks frontline against the Dragons’ defence, with Annika Lee-Jones holding strong in goal keeper for the Dragons, and lining up against the relatively inexperienced Britney Clarke who has shown some good signs out the front but is still developing her craft alongside Chloe Essam and experienced attacker Kadeen Corbin. The Dragons will look to utilise its zippy midcourt in Laura Rudland, Clare Jones and Shona O’Dwyer as well as its developing front-end in Amy Clinton and Rebekah Robinson, with the real trick to really inject Robinson into the contest.

Loughborough Lightning v. Severn Stars

Lightning and Stars will go head-to-head in the final match of the round, with both teams back for a second outing across the weekend. Whilst the Stars will have plenty to prove in this matchup, they are sure to come out flying against the Lightning who have looked hot this season and are looking confident across the court. Lightning defensive unit in Sam May, Alice Harvey and Jas Odeogberin will look to apply tough pressure from the get-go and really test the Stars attack, who will come in marginally more rested. Stars will need their experienced heads to step up and maintain pressure against the Lightning firepowers, and limit any ease of access to the goal circle and Cholhok’s waiting sticky fingers, with Bolakoro and Nia Jones needing to partner with Lucy Harris, Leota and Bethan Dyke through the centre to control proceedings and really command the match against a powerful looking Lightning side.

Tip: Mavericks by 16 goals, Lightning by 12

VNSL 2021: Round 1/2 – Friday & Saturday wraps

THE opening weekend of Vitality Netball Superleague action was tantalising from the first look at the fixture, and the first five matches of the combined first and second rounds were no different as some massive encounters and scorelines set the tone for what is set to be a huge season. In our first VNSL wrap of the weekend, we take a look at Friday and Saturday’s matchups.

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 12

Leeds Rhinos (65) defeated Celtic Dragons (35)

Player of the Match: Jade Clarke (Leeds Rhinos)

The newest franchise to the competition frankly got off to the perfect start in the competition, as they completely outclassed the Dragons in a mammoth 30-goal victory. The ever-reliable Jade Clarke led from the front, whilst the defensive work-rate from back trio Vicki OyesolaPaige Kindred and newest recruit Tuaine Keenan more than did the job relegating the Dragons to single digit scores in the first and third quarters. The comprehensive loss was further soured by injury to Dragons goaler Amy Clinton, whilst at the other end Donnell Wallam was a revelation out the front for the Rhinos with 49 goals to her name. Fellow Aussie Annika Lee-Jones was tasked with negating her influence early, but the tall timber was pushed forward to goal shooter alongside livewire Rebekah Robinson to inject some much-needed energy into the flailing Dragons once Clinton was forced to the sideline.

Manchester Thunder (53) defeated Strathclyde Sirens (35)

Player of the Match: Laura Malcolm (Manchester Thunder)

Thunder got their season off on the right track with a clean 17-goal victory over the Sirens, coming back from a slow start to overcome the Sirens in a clinical effort. The 20-goal to 10 final term was the real clincher, as the Thunder unit took a seven goal lead and ran away with it, using their experience to dispose of the hungry Sirens. Whilst an unshakeable Sirens frontline comprised of Lynsey Gallagher and Bethan Goodwin was hard to stop early, the speed and know-how from Thunder’s defence in Emma DoveyRebekah Airey and retiree Kerry Almond utilised their years of experience to reign supreme, aided by consistent performers Laura Malcolm and Caroline O’Hanlon driving through the centre. Unstoppable goalers Ellie Cardwell and Joyce Mvula continued where they left off last season, piling on the goals as the error-rate from the away side piled up.

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 13

Surrey Storm (42) defeated London Pulse (40) 

Player of the Match: Sophie Kelly (Surrey Storm)

The first Saturday match of the round saw the closest encounter of the opening weekend, as Surrey Storm pipped Pulse at the post by two goals in the London derby. The tight seesawing encounter saw neither side give an inch throughout the exciting contest, and while things seemed to go off kilter in the opening minutes when Storm goaler Emma Magee suffered a leg injury forcing 16-year-old Sophie Kelly to the court, it seemed to be the drive the side needed to push for a huge evenly-matched battle with the Pulse who did not let up throughout the contest. With both sides flaunting their exciting depth and making changes aplenty, with new recruits Lefebre Rademan and Felisitus Kwangwa making their respective Superleague debuts, it was the consistency of tall timbers Sigi Burger and Karyn Bailey holding ground at either end that told the tale, competing well at the post. Youngster Kelly was the talk of the town though, making her Superleague debut and not looking the slightest bit phased as she piled on the offensive pressure.

Team Bath (61) defeated Celtic Dragons (29)

Player of the Match: Betsy Creak (Team Bath)

Team Bath were just too good against a tired-looking Dragons outfit in the penultimate match of Saturday’s proceedings. While the Welsh side put up a fight early, they just could not compete with the smothering defence from the blue and gold side which was well and truly bolstered by its returning stars, including Serena Guthrie and Eboni Usoro-Brown. The Dragons’ tired legs after their Round 1 match were evident by their unforced error rate, while a whopping 30-goal to 14 second half was the real kicker as Bath well and truly ran away with both the ball and all the momentum. While the combination of Sophie Drakeford-Lewis and Kim Borger was hard to stop as always, the improved Betsy Creak stole the show after half time. To the Dragons’ credit, they kept the Bath squad accountable early and certainly pushed them at times, with Lee-Jones collecting some solid intercepts and once again making the trip forward, and while head coach Tania Hoffman proved she was willing to test out combinations, it was not enough in this matchup.

Strathclyde Sirens (36) defeated Severn Stars (30)

Player of the Match: Taylor Cullen (Strathclyde Sirens)

The final match of the first half of the round saw another close battle between sides, as the Sirens overturned their Friday night loss in a low-scoring thriller against the Severn Stars. It was a composed effort from the Sirens that saw them reign supreme, with consistency playing a huge role as the Stars rung in the changes at half time. Midcourter Taylor Cullen proved she was more than up to the task against the likes of Lucy Harris and Liana Leota, while at the other end it was the efforts of Towera Vinkhumbo and Emily Nicholl that inhibited the ball finding the clean hands of Stars goalers Georgia Rowe and Paige Reed. The reliable combination of Goodwin and Gallagher continued to pay dividends, and while the hustle in defence from the Stars was impressive it was not enough against the fired up Sirens outfit which was looking to come back from its slow start on Friday.