Tag: Kerry Almond

Memorable Matches: 2019 VNSL Grand Final

WITH netball taking a back seat to coronavirus in 2020, Draft Central is taking a look at memorable matches in world netball history. Next up is Manchester Thunder’s impressive come-from-behind win over Wasps Netball in the 2019 Vitality Netball Superleague Grand Final.

It was a match of pure intensity, with the see-sawing match-up proving to be just as good as suspected in the lead up. While the Wasps had been ahead on the ladder for much of the season, Thunder had gotten the chocolates both times the two teams played during the season, making for an interesting and exciting match-up.

Both sides battled hard from the get-go, with Wasps pulling out an early lead thanks to defensive efforts from Fran Williams and Hannah Knights, who were clinical and relentless in the circle denying easy ball into the circle and causing headaches with their long arms. The Wasps’ herding gamestyle worked a trick, crowding Manchester and forcing errors through the midcourt, propelling the ball down to attack with ease thanks to the pressure of stalwart Jade Clarke through the centre, driving the ball down to Rachel Dunn and Katie Harris at the post. Dunn and Harris’ ability to share the load was impressive as ever, with Thunder retiree Kerry Almond and Emma Dovey unable to hold off the duo when they got inside the circle.

But Manchester proved they cannot be underestimated, drawing ahead in the second quarter with a spectacular 18 goals to 11 to hold the lead at half time. The likes of Kathryn Turner and Joyce Mvula lifted to apply some much needed scoreboard pressure, while Liana Leota was instrumental through the centre of the court alongside veteran Caroline O’Hanlon, using their experience to hold ground through the midcourt. But a second quarter blitz was not enough, with the Thunder’s inconsistency all but coming back to bite them in the third when the Wasps unleashed once more.

A tight second half ensued and it was unsure which team would take out the title, with both sides spurred on by spectacular defensive efforts paired with impressive feeding in attack. Bongi Msomi used all her match experience to be a constant threat on circle edge for the Wasps, applying pressure with her speed and agility to find Dunn and Harris in the circle, unstoppable despite Laura Malcolm’s best efforts. But Malcolm’s bodywork came in useful once the final quarter came around, blocking Msomi’s leads and forming a crucial defensive buffer as Almond and Dovey kicked it up a notch once more despite trailing by six goals at the final change

The final quarter started with a bang, with Manchester chugging along to claw their way back ahead of the Wasps and doing so in an impressive manner, holding the Wasps to just the seven goals in the final term. While Wasps were consistent as ever, an injury time-out for Malawian goal shooter Mvula could have been the straw that broke the camel’s back for the Thunder, but instead saw Manchester come back with a vengeance as Ellie Cardwell joined the fray. A consistent figure who does not always get the recognition she deserves, Cardwell shot the lights out and offered a different option in the circle, switching up the match play with her clever ball use and gave her defenders another thing to think about in the circle. 

It was there that the game was won and done, with the Thunder running home for their third VNSL premiership title, winning against the reigning premiers 57-52 in impressive manner.

WASPS NETBALL 16 | 11 | 18 | 7 (52)
MANCHESTER THUNDER  11 | 18 | 10 | 18 (57)

Wasps

GS: Rachel Dunn
GA: Katie Harris
WA: Bongi Msomi
C: Jade Clarke
WD: Amy Flanagan
GD: Fran Williams
GK: Hannah Knights

COACH: Mel Mansfield

Thunder

GS: Joyce Mvula
GA: Kathryn Turner
WA: Liana Leota
C: Caroline O’Hanlon
WD: Laura Malcolm
GD: Emma Dovey
GK: Kerry Almond

COACH: Karen Greig

2020 Pre-season Manchester Invitational preview: Mike Greenwood Trophy

FOUR Vitality Netball Superleague (VNSL) teams will battle it out for the Mike Greenwood Trophy as part of the Pre-season Manchester Invitational. Following Team Bath hosting its BiG Showdown earlier in the week, reigning VNSL premiers, Manchester Thunder will host this pre-season tournament which plays out over one day. Each team will play three round-robin matches against the other teams competing, with the top two sides at the end of the day facing off for the overall title.

The teams that are competing are of course hosts, Manchester Thunder, as well as Loughborough Lightning, Team Bath and Saracens Mavericks. The Mavericks and Bath come into the tournament with some hitouts under their belt following the BiG Showdown, where the sides faced off in the final there. The Mavericks won both those clashes, so it will be fascinating to see how Bath responds when the two teams meet at 3pm on Saturday. The day opens with the Mavericks taking on the Thunder, before Loughborough Lightning have back-to-back games against Team Bath and the Thunder. Bath will then take a turn at back-to-back matches against the Mavericks and Thunder, with the Mavericks playing the Lightning in the final match of the day prior to the final.

Manchester Thunder are the reigning premiers in the VNSL with their defensive unit one of their strengths on the court. The Thunder will need to overcome the retirement of defensive post, Kerry Almond, and departure of important wing attack, Liana Leota heading into the 2020 season. They have a towering presence in goal shooter, with experienced Malawi talent, Joyce Mvula having an impressive reach and high volume to post. The Thunder will undoubtedly test out a number of combinations to fill the holes left by the departures, but it will be interesting to see how they perform. With Northern Ireland veteran, Caroline O’Hanlon staying on, the Thunder still have experience in the front court. Add in Eleanor Cardwell who stepped up in crunch moments last season such as the VNSL Grand Final, and the Thunder could be a high scoring side.

Saracens Mavericks are coming off a successful BiG Showdown tournament where they would love to add some more silverware to their cabinet in this one-day event. Up front, George Fisher is a player who can make a difference, while Kadeen and Sasha Corbin – members of the England Roses development pathway – are other names to keep an eye out for. Razia Quashie in goal keeper is one of the best in the competition and someone who will hope to counter the likes of Mvula in the circle. Jodie Gibson is a huge addition to the Mavericks’ squad this season, crossing from Wasps over the off-season and will line-up in a defensive post and provide some great experience and strength.

Team Bath showed they will be another key title contender in the VNSL for 2020, following their performances at the BiG Showdown. With the experienced and now Bath Hall of Famer Serena Guthrie on the list – though now moving onto a non-playing role – she has helped develop the future of England netball, with Ebony Usoro-Brown already having an impact at international level, while Imogen Allison and Summer Artman are others who have shown great improvement throughout the 2019 VNSL season since Guthrie returned. Sophie Drakeford-Lewis up front is a real young talent and while raw, could be one to keep in mind for the future. She will learn plenty off Australian shooter, Kim Commane who has been a terrific force across multiple leagues, with the former Melbourne Vixens’ shooter a great mentor for any young shooter.

Loughborough Lightning have an almost unstoppable force in Mary Cholhok who on her day can put up a ridiculous amount of goals. Still only 22-years-old and standing at 201cm (6 ft 7 in), Cholhok has a reach that very few can match, and the Ugandan talent is one who will continue to standout on the world stage. The other major player in the Lightning’s side is Natalie Panagarry, who has captained Loughborough and also represented England at international level. The Lightning will also look to a young defensive duo this season in Annabel Roddy who has returned to the club, joined by former London Pulse defender, Jaz Odeogberin. Both have played international netball at junior level and are still only teenagers themselves. Add in the likes of Roses’ juniors Suzie Liverseidge, Alice Harvey and Beth Gabriel, and the Lightning have plenty of youth prospects coming through.

Pre-season Manchester Invitational Fixture:

12pm – Manchester Thunder vs. Saracens Mavericks
1pm – Team Bath vs. Loughborough Lightning
2pm – Manchester Thunder vs. Loughborough Lightning
3pm – Saracens Mavericks vs. Team Bath
4pm – Manchester Thunder vs. Team Bath
5pm – Saracens Mavericks vs. Loughborough Lightning
6pm – Final

*All local times

Vitality Netball Superleague wrap: Grand Final

IN such a big season of the Vitality Netball Superleague, it is no wonder the biggest game of the season went down to the wire. Despite a hard and fast start from Wasps Netball, Manchester Thunder came back from a six-goal buffer to win by five goals, with an exceptional shared goaling accuracy of 89 per cent all but cementing the victory. Meanwhile, Team Bath bumped off Loughborough Lightning in the third place playoff, finishing the finals series in the same position they started at.

It was Manchester Thunder legend, Kerry Almond’s final game before retirement, and it was a fitting way to leave the competition – with a third Grand Final victory under her belt. The Wasps started off strong with a solid 16 goal to 11 first quarter, speeding away to an early lead as they shot four goals nil early in the first before Thunder got a goal on the board. Thunder’s patience through the midcourt is a key component of their play, however the Wasps took control of the movement early to limit options in attack and close space through the centre third. Wasps shooters, Katie Harris and Rachel Dunn were exceptional early, finding the post and space in the circle with ease, poking holes in Thunder’s defensive unit. Defensively, the likes of Almond and Emma Dovey seemed unable to bring their usual flair to the match, focusing more on preventing entry to the goal circle than generating excitement around the ring. However, it was not the lack of skill defensively for the Thunder that had the side chasing early, but instead the impeccable defensive work from Wasps’ Fran Williams and Hannah Knights, creating confusion for feeders as they battled relentlessly on Kathryn Turner and Joyce Mvula.

The second quarter saw a momentum switch as the Thunder put on the accelerator, shooting 18 goals to 11 to have a two goal lead at half time. Thunder’s composure settled as they finally took control, finding space in the goal third as Turner and Mvula started to come into their own, slotting goal after goal courtesy of pinpoint feeds around the circle. Forced errors across the court from the Wasps cost them, while the defensive unit seemed to take their foot off the pedal as Thunder’s confidence began to grow. Caroline O’Hanlon came into her own to start winning the centre court battle against dominant defensive midcourter, Jade Clarke, finding the ball better through the middle of the court and feeding well at the centre pass, switching it up as the Wasps fought for turnovers. Turner and Mvula continued to fight it out in the circle, gaining some ground and putting shots up from all over the ring.

But while a second half push from the Thunder seemed imminent, Wasps would not go down without a fight as an 18 goal to 10 third quarter saw the Wasps wrestle back control of the match to lead by six at three quarter time. Amy Flanagan was stellar in wing defence against speedy New Zealander, Liana Leota, limiting her space and reducing her role as Thunder struggled once again to move the ball through attack, missing the fluidity they gained in the second term. Leota’s ability to find the circle edge with ease was nullified by Flanagan’s brand of defence, causing issues as the circle defenders gained confidence once more, picking off the loose ball. Thunder’s errors started to creep back up as Wasps once again took the game by storm, with the likes of Bongi Msomi skilfully feeding lightning-fast passes into the circle under pressure.

The final quarter saw both sides battle for control, with Thunder wing defence, Laura Malcolm standing up and producing some of her best defensive work for the season against Msomi as the match came down to the wire. A spanner in the works midway through the final quarter saw dominant Thunder and Malawi Queens goal shooter, Mvula go down with a knee injury, causing an injury time-out for the side as Ellie Cardwell took the court in goals. In what many thought could be the straw to break the camel’s back, Cardwell stepped up to the plate and brought her own skill and exceptional footwork to the position, finding space and shooting at close to 100 per cent accuracy. The switch in goals seemed to spur on the Thunder, once again swinging the momentum in their favour and holding on despite the exceptional defensive efforts across the board from the Wasps, limiting the usually dominant side to only seven goals in the final term as Thunder ran away with it. Exceptional composure and skill under pressure saw Manchester Thunder win their third Superleague title, 52 – 57, fighting back and proving they were well deserving of the victory.

THIRD/FOURTH PLAYOFF: Loughborough Lightning v. Team Bath

In the pre-Grand Final opener it was down to the wire for the tough tussle between Bath and Lightning, with Bath coming out on top after a stellar second half shooting effort was too much for the Lightning (56 – 62). Down by one goal at the final change, Bath turned a corner to come out on top, shooting 19 goals to 12 to win the match and prove the dominant form they have displayed for majority of the season. Player of the match, Imogen Allison was well deserving of her title in wing defence, causing upsets around the court and making it difficult for Lightning to feed the ball into the circle. The likes of Sophie Drakeford-Lewis and Kim Commane were exceptional at the post, retaining their dominant shooting accuracy as they put up shot after shot. Defenders, Summer Artman and Eboni Usoro-Brown were spot-on in the second half, causing issues in the goal circle as Lightning’s Ella Clark and Mary Cholhok struggled under pressure. Artman and Usoro-Brown did what they do best, creating turnovers and moving the ball back through the midcourt with speed and precision courtesy of Serena Guthrie in centre. Nat Panagarry was a shining light through the midcourt for Lightning, doing well early to disrupt movement and flow, while Vicki Oyesola and Tuaine Keenan took control early through defence to disrupt Bath’s rhythm in attack. However it was not enough, with Team Bath ultimately pulling back Lightning’s early lead to win by six goals.

Vitality Netball Superleague preview: Grand Final

SATURDAY’S Vitality Netball Superleague Grand Final is set to be a big one, with the two highest scoring teams of the season raring to go in the biggest match of the league at London’s Copper Box Arena. Wasps Netball will defend their Superleague title and attempt their third victory in a row, while Manchester Thunder last won a premiership in 2015 so will be ready for a tough fight against the Wasps. Meanwhile, Loughborough Lightning will host Team Bath in a playoff for third as an opener to the Grand Final.

WASPS NETBALL vs. MANCHESTER THUNDER
5:30 pm

Thunder will come into this match with confidence coming off the back of two high pressure wins over the Wasps this season in Rounds 2 and 11. Both sides have shown time and time again this season that they can stand up to the pressure when the moment arrives, so this grand final is sure to finish with a bang. In what is expected to be a big final match of the season for both teams, it is likely to be the midcourt play that has a significant effect on results, with Thunder’s Caroline O’Hanlan, Liana Leota and Laura Malcolm likely lining up against the highly skilled Jade Clarke, Bongi Msomi and Amy Flanagan. In what is a fairly mixed offensive-defensive midcourt battle, it will be down to who removes their opponent from the match and is able to produce scoring opportunities under pressure. With the likes of Leota and goal shooter, Joyce Mvula appearing to have the ball on a string against Team Bath in the semi finals, Wasps are likely to look to the defensive unit of Clarke and Flanagan to shut down Leota’s skilled feeds and reduce scoring opportunities before the ball enters the circle. For Wasps, the skilled rotation and footwork of Hannah Knights, Fran Williams and Josie Huckle will prove vital as they fight to keep the ball out of the hands of their opposition in Mvula, Ellie Cardwell and Kathryn Turner. Thunder will have a similar issue through their defence, with speedster, Msomi almost unstoppable with ball in hand, especially with the likes of prolific shooters, Rachel Dunn and Katie Harris at the post to share the load. The defensive partnership of captain, Emma Dovey and retiree, Kerry Almond will be key in this match, with the pair needing to be at their absolute highest calibre to ensure they limit the Wasps from putting shots up, while Rebekah Airey has the ability to come off the sidelines and have an immediate impact.

LOUGHBOROUGH LIGHTNING vs. TEAM BATH
3:00 pm

In what is a slightly lower stakes game on Grand Final day, Loughborough Lightning and Team Bath will take the court one last time for the 2019 season as they fight to finish third on the VNSL ladder. Team Bath, like Manchester, will come into this matchup with a leg up, having beaten the Lightning on both occasions this season. However, Lightning will be raring to go given their big loss against Wasps in the semi final, so will want to come out strong against the defensive pressure of Bath. Last time they met, Bath only come out on top by two goals, so are likely to fight tooth and nail to ensure they get a third win in a row. Bath’s aerial defensive unit of Summer Artman and Eboni Usoro-Brown will have a task ahead of them as they take on tall goalers, Mary Cholhok and Ella Clark, while down the other end Lightning’s defence will also need to be on fine form as they take on the likes of Kim Commane and Sophie Drakeford-Lewis, whose partnership and volume has improved with every match together. The matchup between England Roses’, Serena Guthrie and Nat Panagarry is sure to be one to watch, with both players ready and willing to put their body on the line to ensure victory for their side.

Vitality Netball Superleague wrap: Semi-Finals

It was a big weekend of semi-finals action in the Vitality Netball Superleague, with the two most reliable teams of 2019 winning their respective matches and bound for the grand final this week. Wasps Netball gave Loughborough Lightning a second half shock, beating the side by 20 goals after only being up by three at half-time. Manchester Thunder managed a three-goal win under pressure from Team Bath in Kerry Almond’s final home game for her career.

The Wasps are through to their third consecutive VNSL final this week after a 41 goal to 24 second half saw the Lightning struggle under pressure from the reigning premiers. The Wasps stuck to their starting seven for the entire match, pushing through early patches of discomfort courtesy of Lightning’s midcourt work ethic to come away with the solid win. The likes of Fran Williams and Amy Flanagan were on fire for Wasps, defending the goal third with speed and skill, denying entry to the goal circle and putting the pressure on Lightning shooters, Mary Cholhok and Ella Clark. The shooting pair were at their usual standard at the post, however were pressured at every pass and denied possession time and time again. Their predictable play was too easy for the Wasps to read, proving their defensive read of play with intercepts and deflections alike. Lightning’s Nat Panagarry put her footwork and clever movement on show to weave through defence, however was blocked from making space at every move, forced to pass backwards. In attack for Wasps, Bongi Msomi was unstoppable credit to her speed off the mark and ability to put herself on circle edge to feed the ball into the shooters. Jade Clarke was solid as ever in centre, moving fluidly through the court as she provided a strong option transitioning from defence to attack. Rachel Dunn and Katie Harris did a wealth of work inside the goal circle courtesy of feeds from Msomi, putting up the volume and accuracy required for a big win. The loss of Cholhok early in the final quarter all but spelled defeat for Lightning, struggling to put ball to post in a 10 goal to 21 quarter to finish off the season.

Team Bath put in the hard yards to ruin Thunder’s finals chances, however could not do enough against the defensive onslaught of the home side, going down by three goals as the Thunder prevailed. With both sides heavily reliant on the form of their defensive unit it was always set to be a fairly even matchup, however finals pressure saw both sides battle hard all game, flying through to receive every loose ball and create opportunities forward. The likes of Serena Guthrie and Imogen Allison were pivotal through the midcourt and defensive third, forcing turnovers and creating opportunities for Bath’s Rachel Shaw in the centre third, while their defensive unit denied the ball entry to the Thunder goal circle. The phenomenal defensive duos of Bath’s Eboni Usoro-Brown and Summer Artman and Thunder’s Emma Dovey and Kerry Almond (in potentially her final match before retirement) were key in this matchup, living up to their season form with an exceptional display across the board from both sides. In attack for Thunder, the likes of Liana Leota and player of the match, Joyce Mvula paired seamlessly, almost having the ball on a string despite Bath’s defensive efforts. At the other end, the skilful movement of Sophie Drakeford-Lewis and Kim Commane saw the pair have no shortage of ball, finishing strong with a 15 goal to 13 final quarter, however it was Bath’s wastefulness with possession in the late stages of the match that cost them a win.

Vitality Netball Superleague preview: Semi Finals

THE first round of Vitality Netball Superleague finals for 2019 starts this weekend, with all four 2018 finalists backing up their dominant season last year with a fantastic effort again. With both matches played back-to-back on Saturday – albeit at different venues, teams will know early who their grand final opposition will be. Wasps Netball in first will host their 2018 Grand Final rivals, Loughborough Lightning at 5pm at Ricoh Arena for what is sure to be a big match, while Manchester Thunder will host Team Bath at 7pm at Belle Vue as both teams fight for glory.

A stellar start to the season saw Wasps Netball go undefeated for seven matches before three losses in the space of a month put a blip on the radar, forcing the Wasps to re-evaluate as Manchester Thunder overtook them on the ladder. Thunder were another side that had a strong start to the season with four wins in a row, always one step behind the Wasps as their defensive pressure consistently smothered their opposition. Loughborough Lightning had an average start to the season, winning only two from five in the opening rounds before lifting with a big win over Thunder, boosting their work rate and continuing their good form with a seven game winning streak from there. Team Bath have also had a shaky season, ultimately finishing strong but struggling with consistency across the board before settling and winning seven of their past nine matches to make finals for the thirteenth time in 14 years.

Semi-Final 1: Wasps Netball (1) vs. Loughborough Lightning (4)

This matchup is set to be a big one, with both sides overcoming rough patches early in the year to make finals, also maintaining strong winning streaks for periods of the season. The match could go either way, with both sides winning one of their two matches this season, though Lightning’s Round 10 victory by one goal after a 20 goal deficit in the opening match of the season is more likely to be an indicator of how this match could go. That being said, Wasps finished two games clear on top of the ladder, meaning the match could effectively go either way. Both sides will need to be at their best defensively, as both sides have the ability to shoot a large volume in a short amount of time credit to the speed and strength of their respective feeders. The likes of Wasps’ Rachel Dunn and Lightning’s Mary Cholhok are the ones to watch, with both in spectacular form as they head into finals despite their vastly different styles of play – Cholhok a primary shooter, holding at the post, while Dunn shares the load with fellow goaler, Katie Harris. Lightning goal attack, Ella Clark will need to be in on the action from the get-go, with her long bomb accuracy a key part of Lightning’s flow in attack. For Lightning to take home a win this week they will need to shut down the exceptional speed and skill of the Wasps’ midcourt, with the likes of Bongi Msomi and Jade Clarke able to cause havoc if left alone. Lightning pair, Nat Panagarry and Hannah Joseph have solidified well this season, so the midcourt battle is sure to be one to watch. Defensively, both teams have the ability to turn the tide of the match if their defensive players are on fire, with the likes of Tuaine Keenan and Vicki Oyesola big ball winners for the Lightning, while the tactical rotation of Fran Williams, Josie Huckle and Hannah Williams for the Wasps has proved to be a key defensive play for a large part of the season.

Semi-Final 2: Manchester Thunder (2) vs. Team Bath (3)

Though Manchester enter this semi-final with a home advantage, Bath will come into this matchup with the confidence and upper hand, having beat Thunder on both occasions this season, albeit by close margins. Given Bath won their second match against Thunder less than two weeks ago, Thunder are sure to come in hard and fast to win back the points. This match is sure to be a defensive showcase, with both teams playing a predominantly defensive game credit to their full court pressure and ability to gather turnover ball to advantage. Bath has arguably one of the best defensive lineups in the competition, with Summer Artman, Eboni Usoro-Brown and Imogen Allison leading the charge, well backed up by defensive midcourter, Serena Guthrie, whose run and carry through the centre court is unrivalled. For Thunder, the combinations between captain Emma Dovey, Kerry Almond and Rebekah Airey are key in defence, with all three players fantastic at applying pressure on and off the ball and able to create turnovers out of thin air. With both Laura Malcolm and Amy Carter able to enter the match and create a stir, the likes of Mia Ritchie and Rachel Shaw will need to ensure their connections forward to sharpshooters, Kim Commane and Sophie Drakeford-Lewis have pinpoint accuracy. Bath’s defensive unit will need to keep a keen eye on New Zealander, Liana Leota, another player who can have a big impact in a short period of time credit to her drives to circle edge and crafty feeds. With Leota on fire, the likes of Ellie Cardwell and Joyce Mvula should have no issue receiving the pass to put up shots, though Bath’s smooth and skilful circle movement will do anything they can to disrupt the space.

Vitality Netball Superleague wrap: Round 18

IT has been a big season of Vitality Netball Superleague action, and with 18 rounds under their belts every team has come away with some big wins and disappointing losses. In one of the closest and most exciting VNSL seasons yet, four big-name clubs ran over the rest of the competition and put on some dazzling performances across the board to be well-deserving of a finals position. With all five matches played at the same time on Saturday, every team had to fight for a win to maintain their position on the ladder, while some teams were in desperate need of results out of their hands. The final round for 2019 saw two games come down to five point margins, while Wasps Netball, Team Bath and Loughborough Lightning finished off the home and away season with a bang with another strong win in the books. The Saracens Mavericks have missed out on finals by the skin of their teeth, putting their twelfth win on the board but needing a loss from one of the top four – all of which came out on top in their respective matches.

Loughborough Lightning slotted their thirteenth win of the season, beating Celtic Dragons by 11 goals in the must-win match and finishing in fourth to guarantee a finals position. In veteran, Kyra Jones’ final match for the Dragons, Lightning came out strong from the get-go, putting 20 goals on the board in the first term before the Dragons put on a strong defensive effort in the second to even up the ledger with 14 goals apiece, though still down by six at half time. A more consistent effort from the Lightning in the second half saw the Dragons fade out towards the end, however the Dragons managed to keep the margin lower than their last match to finish the season on a good note. The likes of Hannah Joseph and Ella Clark worked seamlessly around the circle, while the connection between Clark and goal shooter, Mary Cholhok was strong as ever as the pair put up shot after shot and consistently producing options in goal. Chelsea Lewis and Kalifa McCollin did their job well at the post, however Lightning’s intent was too much as defensive efforts from Tuaine Keenan and Vicki Oyesola forced turnovers at every opportunity.

Saracens Mavericks have suffered a blow in the final round of the season, securing a five goal win over Strathclyde Sirens but missing out on finals after an inconsistent season saw the side relying on losses in the top four to make it through. Sirens have finished the season with only three wins on the board, however are sure to be content with a solid effort in the final match of the year, ready to build on their form ahead of next season. Sirens kept Mavericks on their toes throughout the match, likely giving the Mavericks a scare as they came out firing and stayed in the match until the bitter end, only down by three goals at three quarter time. Though never taking the lead, the Sirens pushed the Mavericks and put on a strong four-quarter effort to try and ruin finals chances for their opposition. Player of the match, Sasha Corbin put on a show through the midcourt, while defensive efforts from Sirens defenders, Emily Nicholl and Emma Gibbons forced dominant goaler, George Fisher to the bench as Corbin’s efforts were wasted in attack. A strong defensive push from Razia Quashie and Jo Trip saw the Mavericks take advantage of any loose ball across the court, creating turnovers and doubt in the Sirens’ minds as they crept closer, giving the Mavericks a vital surge to get the job done. Young sharpshooter, Emma Barrie put in the hard yards despite constant pressure from the likes of Quashie, while centre, Gia Abernethy was exceptional placing the ball to advantage.

Team Bath had a fantastic finish to the season, comfortably running over the resilient London Pulse by 22 goals and securing a finals berth against Manchester Thunder on Saturday. Bath started out strong against the Pulse, shooting 39 goals to 23 in the first half to all but guarantee a win against the competition newcomers. The hard and fast start saw the side slow down in the third, with Pulse showing some intensity and taking two goals off the half-time margin, before a 20 goal to 11 final term saw Bath take a confident win in front of a 1300 strong home crowd and retain their position in third ahead of finals. Player of the match, Kim Commane was stellar at the post for Bath, shooting the lights out and putting her side at an eight goal to nil lead early in the first. Interestingly, Pulse chose to start youngster, Bea Skingsley in goal defence, only bringing on captain, Ama Agbeze in the second term in an attempt to tag out speedy Bath goal attack, Sophie Drakeford-Lewis. Despite strong efforts at the post from Pulse shooters, Shantal Slater and Chiara Semple, who have settled well into their partnership since the beginning of the season, Bath’s defensive efforts were just too strong with the likes of Summer Artman, Eboni Usoro-Brown and Imogen Allison maintaining their strong form and consistently producing turnovers to feed back forward.

The Wasps were the one team guaranteed a finals spot after Round 18, but that did not stop the side from putting on another phenomenal performance to finish the home and away season on a high, managing a 15 goal victory over Severn Stars. In true Wasps form, the side came out strong in the opening term, putting shots up and denying goals at the other end as they relegated the Stars to only nine goals in the first. Despite a strong effort through the second and third quarters from the Stars, the Wasps pulled off a stellar final quarter to open the margin again and shoot 15 goals to six for their fifteenth win of the season. With the likes of Bongi Msomi and Jade Clarke generating plenty of turnover ball and creating opportunities in attack, goalers Katie Harris and Rachel Dunn had no issue putting shots up to maintain the lead. Credit to the defensive efforts of the Stars, with Sam Cook and Ella Powell-Davies putting in the hard yards to work back possession, reducing the Wasps to only 12 goals in the third quarter as clean ball movement through the midcourt provided plenty of options for the likes of Georgia Rowe at the post.

In a surprisingly close finish Manchester Thunder guaranteed a finals berth, beating a fired up Surrey Storm by only five goals after being down by one at three quarter time. It was a match of two halves, as Storm came out hard and fast to limit the usually clinical Thunder to only nine goals in the first term before being restricted to nine goals in the second as the Thunder overcame Storm’s tough defence and shot 19 goals to be up by six at half time. Storm reset at half time, flying out of the blocks to shoot 21 goals for their best quarter score of the season, once again limiting Thunder’s shooting efforts. However a strong defensive effort from Emma Dovey and Kerry Almond in the final term pulled back the margin once again, seeing the Thunder settle through the midcourt and take a much needed win to secure a home semi-final. While Joyce Mvula and Ellie Cardwell were solid in the goal circle, shooting with great composure to keep ahead of the Storm, the likes of Sigi Burger, Rhea Dixon and Yasmin Hodge-England were just as cool, calm and collected for Storm, settling the ball against the phenomenal defensive efforts of Almond and Dovey.

Final Ladder: 2019
1. Wasps Netball (15-3)
2. Manchester Thunder (13-5)
3. Team Bath (13-5)
4. Loughborough Lightning (13-5)
5. Saracens Mavericks (12-6)
6. Severn Stars (7-11)
7. Celtic Dragons (6-12)
8. Surrey Storm (6-12)
9. Strathclyde Sirens (3-15)
10. London Pulse (2-16)

Vitality Netball Superleague preview: Round 18

THE final round of the 2019 Vitality Netball Superleague begins and ends on Saturday, with all five games played at 6pm at venues across the UK. Four teams are still currently in contention for a finals finish, with the Saracens Mavericks relying on a win at home and a loss from one of Manchester Thunder, Team Bath or Loughborough Lightning to make finals. Wasps Netball have secured a home final already so are unlikely to push too hard this round, while Surrey Storm, Celtic Dragons and London Pulse have one last opportunity to impact the ladder by getting a win against potentially finals-bound sides. Second on the ladder will host a semi final, so with three teams sitting on the same win-loss ratio this season, the likes of Thunder, Bath and Lightning are likely to fight hard for that home final.

Loughborough Lightning take on Celtic Dragons at Sir David Wallace Arena in a must-win matchup, currently sitting in fourth on the ladder and needing a win to control their position in the top four. Last time they met Lightning outclassed the Dragons, however the Wales-based team has shown massive improvements since their Round 9 clash so will want to continue their good form following a win last week. The likes of Stacian Facey and Dee Bolakoro came out flying last round and will need to be on form again this week to shut down the strength and height of Mary Cholhok at the post and cut off Ella Clark’s long bomb shots on goal. Meanwhile, Tuaine Keenan and Vicki Oyesola will want to team up with Nat Panagarry to shut down the midcourt and defensive end to lock the ball into Lightning attack, with dominant Dragons shooter, Chelsea Lewis improving week after week.

In another big match, Saracens Mavericks host Strathclyde Sirens at Hertfordshire Sports Village in a bid to keep their finals hopes alive. The Mavericks had a convincing win over the Sirens last time they played, seeing the Sirens come out firing before petering off early in the second quarter under the immense pressure of the Mavericks’ defensive unit. The Mavericks won by a phenomenal 30 goals and kept the home side to less than ten goals in three of the four quarters, so will want to replicate that performance. The Sirens will want to finish their disappointing season on a high with a good contest against the Mavericks, so will need to shut down feeds into the circle and movement through attack. Jo Trip was the high flyer of the Mavericks’ big win last round against the Severn Stars, so along with Razia Quashie will want to push Emma Barrie and Lynsey Gallagher in the circle to reduce scoring opportunities and push the ball back through the midcourt. With a wealth of experience and options in attack, the Mavericks are spoilt for choice in the goals with the likes of George Fisher, Kadeen Corbin and Karyn Bailey able to rotate seamlessly through the circle with accuracy no issue.

Next up, Team Bath host London Pulse at Team Bath Arena, aiming for their thirteenth win in the hopes of a home final, while Pulse have one last opportunity to get a win in their debut season. In their last matchup the Pulse gave Bath a shock, coming from 12 goals behind in the last quarter to only lose by four goals, so Team Bath should know better now than to underestimate the bottom team on the ladder, especially given Pulse’s upset win over Mavericks in Round 13. With two highly experienced and game changing England Roses defenders on court in Bath’s Eboni Usoro-Brown and Pulse’s Ama Agbeze, the defensive battle on court in this match will be one to watch. Though Chiara Semple and Shantal Slater have shown immense improvement over the course of the season, up against Usoro-Brown and Summer Artman their talent may be outweighed by the experience and depth of Bath’s exceptional defensive unit. Comparatively, the likes of Kim Commane and Sophie Drakeford-Lewis have upped their game and connection over the second half of the season, so will be a force to be reckoned with for Agbeze and her defensive partners in crime, Loreen Ngwira and Jas Odeogberin. If Pulse can shut down the speed and influence of Serena Guthrie through the midcourt, they may have the power to get one more win for the season.

The Stars will aim for their eighth win of the season this round to equal their 2018 season, hosting Wasps Netball at Worcester Arena in one of the least finals-influencing matches of the round. The Wasps have already cemented their finals position, sitting two wins clear on the ladder, so will want to continue their exceptional form heading into finals with another win to finish off the season. The Stars put on a stellar performance last match against the Wasps, holding the hosts to only 13 goals in the second half but unfortunately going down by seven goals. Despite a disappointing Round 17 loss to Mavericks, the Stars will want to come out firing and put some pressure on the Wasps in their final match for the 2019 season. The Stars will have to think about how they feed into the likes of Georgia Rowe at the post this round, with defensive height in the circle courtesy of Fran Williams and Josie Huckle. The Stars will need to put on the accelerator to combat the influence, speed and footwork of pocket rocket, Bongi Msomi who has been dominant all season in wing attack for the Wasps, providing plenty of ball to the likes of Rachel Dunn in the goal circle.

Finally, Surrey Storm will host Manchester Thunder at Surrey Sports Park in the hopes to spoil Thunder’s dominant 2019 season. Storm is another side that has improved leaps and bounds over the course of the season, so will want to come out and put on a big performance this round after a 24 point loss in Round 9. Storm will be hoping the vertical jump and aerial ability of defender, Lorraine Kowalewska will be on show against the likes of Joyce Mvula this week, with the Malawian shooter proving week in and week out that she is a force to be reckoned with at the post. Down the other end, the likes of Sigi Burger will need to be on fire in the circle to keep Storm in the match against the defensive prowess of Emma Dovey and Kerry Almond. Spectators will hope to see a big matchup between the speed and agility of New Zealander and Thunder wing attack, Liana Leota against the power and impact of South African and Storm wing defence, Shadine Van Der Merwe, with both players able to generate excitement around the court.

Vitality Netball Superleague wrap: Round 17

THE penultimate round of the Vitality Netball Superleague (VNSL) is done and dusted, with a big win for Team Bath over Manchester Thunder meaning three of the top four teams are sat on the same percentage, with Saracens Mavericks in fifth needing a win in the final round to guarantee a finals spot. London Pulse gave Loughborough Lightning a shock with a second half push, while the Celtic Dragons put their form to the test with a seven goal win over Surrey Storm.

Game one of Round 17 saw Strathclyde Sirens take on finals favourites, Wasps Netball, putting in a consistent effort but going down by 15 goals 41 – 56. Defensively both sides put on a show, with the Sirens keeping the Wasps to only 11 goals in the first and sticking close by half time, before the Wasps reduced the home side to 20 goals in the second half. Despite the loss, the Sirens put in the hard yards against the continued dominance of Rachel Dunn and Katie Harris in the circle, while a more solid full-court effort from the Sirens saw their improvement this season take centre stage, not only reducing the margin but also denying the same volume of shots as their Round 8 matchup. Youngster, Emma Barrie once again put up a good performance for the Sirens, putting herself in good stead for her future in the VNSL as her side refused to give up.

Next up saw the Celtic Dragons get their sixth win for the season against Surrey Storm (58 – 51). The final Dragons home game for the season saw the crowd rally for the likes of retiree, Kyra Jones who got the opportunity to have one more win in front of a home crowd before the season ends. It was a big push for the Dragons given Storm’s strength over the past few weeks, proving once again that no team is safe this season, with any team able to beat their opposition on the day. Despite a stronger defensive effort from the Storm in the final quarter reducing the margin to seven, the Dragons held strong to get the win credit to the defensive efforts of Stacian Facey and Dee Bolakoro, whose connection has improved tenfold since the beginning of the season. Sigi Burger put in the hard yards in the circle, however couldn’t compete with the athleticism and aerial ability of her defenders to carry a win for her side. With the likes of Chelsea Lewis on fire at the post, the Dragons looked confident and composed as they controlled the match.

London Pulse put Loughborough Lightning under the pump this round, racing out of the gates to a three goal lead at quarter time, before a 22 goal push from the Lightning saw the Pulse struggle to compete in the second term. A strong second half saw the Pulse put the pressure back on, shooting 31 goals compared with the Lightning’s 30, however the damage was already done as the Lightning took home a five goal win (62 – 67). Despite not getting the win this round, the Pulse are likely to be happy with this margin, especially given it could be the percentage difference needed for the Lightning to make finals if they don’t get a win next week. Pulse have taken their game up a notch in the second half of the season, proving they have the ability to push teams to the final whistle. A great defensive effort was put up by the likes of captain, Ama Agbeze who has injected some much-needed experience and excitement on and off the ball through defence for the Pulse, while also holding the likes of Mary Cholhok well at the post. The Lightning will need to put up a stronger performance in Round 18 to ensure they make finals.

A big win by the Saracens Mavericks over an in-form Severn Stars outfit (62 – 48) gives the Mavericks one more week to make finals, relying on a big win in Round 18 and at least one loss in the top four next round to guarantee a finals berth. Despite a good start by the Stars, a 19 goal second term from the Mavericks gave the side a five goal buffer at half time, before a final quarter defensive effort kept the Stars at only seven goals in the last quarter, all but giving the Mavericks a 14 goal victory to keep them in the race for finals. A strong effort from Jo Trip kept the Mavericks ahead of the Stars at every turn as possession and accuracy seemed to be no issue for the home side, with the likes of George Fisher at 100 per cent by half time, while Kadeen Corbin and Karyn Bailey took their turns at the post to further their lead. Stars’ shooter, Georgia Rowe had the height advantage in the circle, however the footwork defensively from the Mavericks meant she had limited ball, creating further issues in attack for the away side.

The experience of Serena Guthrie and Eboni Usoro-Brown gave Team Bath a big push in the final match of the round to get a second win against Manchester Thunder this season, beating Thunder by three goals (53 – 56) in an absolute nailbiter of a match. It was a strong first half from Bath that put Thunder under the pump, with a 15 goal to eight second quarter to Bath giving the away side the momentum as they cut off options into the goal circle and forced turnovers at every opportunity. A completely equal 29 goal second half saw both sides battle for the upper hand, with both sides turning it on in the goal circle to keep the ball in contention. Summer Artman paired well with Usoro-Brown once again, proving that Bath have the ability to go all the way with another close finish, holding onto the lead and creating turnovers when it counted. The Thunder will want to bounce back in the final round, also in dire need of a win to cement a finals position, so the likes of Kerry Almond and Emma Dovey will need to be at their strongest next round.

Vitality Netball Superleague preview: Round 17

ROUND 17 of the Vitality Netball Superleague is the penultimate round of the competition, making it a big one, with some teams banking their finals opportunities on the outcome of the final two rounds. Rival teams in the top four face off against one another, with both sides requiring a win this round to ensure a finals berth. Two top four sides will battle lower teams on the ladder, with both the Loughborough Lightning and Saracens Mavericks wanting to keep their respective two-match winning streaks and finals hopes alive. Unless Strathclyde Sirens pull off the biggest spoil of the season, Wasps Netball are likely to stay in top spot for another week, after cementing a semi final appearance at the end of Round 16.

Game one of the round will see the Sirens host the Wasps on Friday night at 7:30pm at Emirates Arena. The Sirens managed their third win for the season last round after a tough match against London Pulse, so will want to replicate their form with the likes of Emma Barrie on fire in the circle, skilfully evading defence. However, the Wasps have set up their season well to be one of the best in the competition, and have shown they are willing to play hard and fast to get every win possible. It will take some strong defensive efforts from the Sirens to keep Wasps shooters, Rachel Dunn and Katie Harris down, with both players able to share the load and create opportunities for the other. The Sirens have put in the hard yards in the latter end of the season with the loss of star shooter, Cat Tuivaiti, so will want to prove their place in the competition with a hard contest against the Wasps, regardless of the final score.

With four matches on Saturday afternoon and three at 4pm, the first will be an intriguing mid-ladder matchup as the Celtic Dragons host Surrey Storm at Sports Wales National Centre. The Dragons are only one spot below Storm on the ladder, having crept up to manage five wins this season. They have showed massive improvement in their connection across the court and have gained consistency throughout the season. This season is already a win for the Dragons, who finished tenth on the ladder in both 2017 and 2018, but the side will want to keep their good form going into the remaining two rounds. Similarly, Storm have had an excellent second half of the season, managing a big upset in Round 13 and pushing some of the higher ranking teams along the way. Dragons defenders, Stacian Facey and Dee Bolakoro have only strengthened their relationship on court this season, reading the play with ease, so will be ready to push the likes of Sigi Burger at the post and deny Storm opportunities on goal.

Next up is a hopefully ladder-boosting match for the Lightning, who take on London Pulse at Copperbox Arena. Despite their position in fourth on the ladder, the Lightning will need to storm into this match to not give the Pulse an opportunity to get ahead and gain momentum, having done exactly that against the Mavericks in Round 13. Meanwhile, the Pulse will want to build on both their win against the Mavericks and the Storm’s win against Lightning to get over the line this round. Pulse have proven to be a force to be reckoned with in recent weeks, holding up defensively despite being unable to get an elusive third win on the board. With only two more weeks to turn around their inaugural season, the Pulse will want to be firing on all cylinders in the goal circle and prove their shooters, Chiara Semple and Shantal Slater have what it takes against the strong defensive movement of Tuaine Keenan and Vicki Oyesola.

In another intriguing match on Saturday, the Mavericks will host Severn Stars at Hertfordshire Sports Village. The Stars are another side that has slowly improved this season. After managing eight wins last year and only seven this season with two rounds left, they will want to turn up to both their final matches with a fire in the belly and desire to ruin finals hopes for their opposition. The Mavericks cannot afford another loss this season if they want to participate in finals, so need a big win over the Stars to give themselves a proper opportunity at finals contention. Last round, Sasha Corbin showed off the full brunt of her game smarts and skill with the ball, so will need to draw on that same energy to get the Mavericks off to a big start. Defensively, Sam Cook has been in fine form in recent weeks so will have her work cut out for her against the rotating shooting circle made up of George Fisher, Kadeen Corbin and Karyn Bailey.

The final match of Round 17 is likely the biggest of the weekend, with second-ranked Manchester Thunder hosting third-ranked Team Bath at Belle Vue at 5pm. Though Bath are currently sitting happy in third, a win for the Lightning coupled with a loss to the Thunder could mean they get bumped down with only one round left for the season. The Thunder are not in quite as dire a situation when they get on court, but their intensity and consistency makes them one of the high flyers of the competition and will be hard to stop once they get going. Last time they met, Team Bath came out on top after a physical encounter that saw both sides get plenty of action, with both teams boasting some of the best defensive partnerships in the competition. This match is sure to bring out the best of the best in terms of pressure across the court. Bath will once again rely on Serena Guthrie to push through Thunder’s midcourt barrier, while the likes of Summer Artman and Eboni Usoro-Brown will be pivotal for Bath’s success. For Thunder, Kerry Almond and Emma Dovey will want to pull out all the stops to deny Bath access to the goal circle, with the accuracy of their opposition something to watch out for.