Tag: laura malcolm

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: Semi-finals preview – Two huge semis to play as grand final looms on Sunday

THE Vitality Netball Superleague finals have arrived, with two huge matches setting up Sunday’s finals. First up is a battle between one and four, with the Loughborough Lightning and Leeds Rhinos going head-to-head, with the two versus three clash between Manchester Thunder and Team Bath following that.

Loughborough Lightning (1) v. Leeds Rhinos (4)

2021 results:

Round 4 – Lightning (70) defeated Rhinos (41)
Round 17/18 – Lightning (59) defeated Rhinos (51)

A huge battle is set between the Lightning and Rhinos, with one side in winning form and the other having spent a couple of weeks away from the courts with COVID-19 mandated restrictions. That being said, the Rhinos have been a big threat this season with a potent attacking end, hunt for the ball and willingness to contest hard, meaning they are a bit of a smoky here against the consistent Lightning. Both sides have plenty of upside and little flaws, making this matchup one to watch for sure. Lightning earned the minor premiership at the end of Round 20 and got the chocolates in both prior matchups this season, meaning they have the slight upper hand in this contest, but it is safe to say they should not underestimate the Rhinos, with the side stepping up well at every hurdle in the latter stages of the season.

A lot of this clash will come down to which side can take an early lead, with both sides boasting some huge gamechangers. Whilst there is no doubt the Rhinos have been a powerful team in the latter stage of the season, there’s a huge question mark over whether they have the tenacity, hunt and four quarter endurance to beat Loughborough Lightning without Donnell Wallam out on court in goal shooter. Rhea Dixon and Brittany Coleman boast plenty of exciting attributes in the goal circle, while Brie Grierson is another viable option who can rotate into the circle, however much of the side’s forward drive has come down to spotting Wallam at the post and propelling the high ball in. Coming up against the likes of Jas Odeogberin and Sam May, the Rhinos attack will certainly have plenty to think about especially with May’s impending retirement following the end of the season. Also bolstering that Lightning backline is Beth Cobden who has proved to be a livewire in wing defence throughout the season, while Nat Panagarry is a consistent performer out in centre, set to take on veteran Jade Clarke who will certainly match her for smarts and hunt on the ball. At the other end Mary Cholhok and Ella Clark have been hard to stop this season with Suzie Liverseidge providing an additional option to the post and consistently wreaking havoc out the front, meaning the likes of Paige Kindred and Tuaine Keenan will have their work cut out for them alongside tenacious micourter Fi Toner.

Tip: Lightning by 8.

Manchester Thunder (2) v. Team Bath (3)

2021 results:

Round 5/6 – Bath (60) defeated Thunder (35)
Round 13/14 – Bath (44) defeated Thunder (41)

Two teams coming off very different finishes to the season, there is no doubt this semi-final clash between Bath and Thunder will be a blockbuster. Both sides boast a wealth of talent across the court and plenty of versatility, however Bath have become a fraction predictable in the latter stages of the season while Manchester have continuously fired, creating a hugely even clash here. Whilst Manchester has the momentum coming into this final following a couple of confidence boosting wins to finish the season, Bath is on the back foot for the first time all season and it really showed in their last few matches. That being said, Bath got the better of Thunder both times they met earlier on in the season, and will not go down without a fight here after dropping the minor premiership this week.

Thunder’s defence in Kerry Almond and Emma Dovey has been on fire in recent weeks while Rebekah Airey has also been a formidable force in both wing defence and goal defence. Comparatively, Bath boasts its own hugely exciting defensive outfit with Layla Guscoth and Ebony Usoro-Brown not skipping a beat in each encounter this season. Expect an intriguing clash of speed, defensive nous and agility as Imogen Allison and Caroline O’Hanlon potentially go head to head, while Laura Malcolm and Amy Carter are also formidable forces who will look to split the midcourt and hunt for the turnover ball.The ever impressive Serena Guthrie can be hard to stop however, with her aerial ability and willingness to contest every ball continuously empowering her side, with her and Allison’s combined pressure allowing both Guscoth and Usoro-Brown to go out hunting. In the goal circles, it will be a battle of accuracy, volume and level-headedness, with both sides boasting huge talents to post. Thunder’s Joyce Mvula and Ellie Cardwell are two of the most consistent performers in the league, with an ability to share the load when required or take on the pressure themselves. Meanwhile, Kim Borger and Sophie Drakeford-Lewis are similarly as exciting to watch, with Drakeford-Lewis’ playmaking ability and skill from range providing a constant buffer for the defence.

Tip: Bath by 2.

 

Picture credit: Ben Lumley Photography

VNSL 2021: Round 20 – Sunday wrap

SUNDAY’S Vitality Netball Superleague matches are done and dusted for Round 20, with four teams completing their respective seasons. Whilst two sides started strong before their opposition flipped the script, Manchester Thunder had no holds barred in a massive clash with Strathclyde Sirens, taking out top spot ahead of the battle between Team Bath and Loughborough Lightning on Monday night.

Saracens Mavericks (48) defeated Surrey Storm (35)

Player of the match: Beth Ecuyer-Dale (Saracens Mavericks)

A shaky start from The Mavericks was not enough for the Surrey Storm to execute an upset, with the classy Mavericks showcasing plenty of hunt in the second half to well and truly overwhelm the Storm. The Mavericks proved that their seven-goal first quarter would not be the end of them, completely resetting at half-time and only allowing a total of 13 goals from the Storm throughout the second half – just four in the last – in a complete shutout by the Mavericks defenders. Whilst it was not the ideal finish to The Mavericks’ season, the hunt they displayed in the latter stages of the game when the game was in the balance allowed the side to finish on a high during Jo Trip’s final match before retirement.

Karyn Bailey impressed to post in her second last match before retirement, finishing with 30 goals despite the hefty defensive effort that was imposed upon her. However it was the lack of assistance to post that really hurt the Stars as Emma Magee and Sophie Kelly only combined for five goals from nine attempts credit to the workrate of Jodie Gibson and New Zealand retiree Trip down back, as the duo combined for five intercepts and 11 deflections, resulting in seven turnovers. Beth Ecuyer-Dale was immense combining with Gabby Marshall through the midcourt, with the two seamlessly transitioning the ball up the court with speed and clean hands to boot, whilst Sasha Corbin showcased her continued connection with sister Kadeen (11 goals) and South African Ine-Mari Venter, who continues to shine in attack finishing with 35 goals from 37 attempts. Felisitus Kwangwa and Grace Sullivan put on a solid defensive showing for the Storm, combining for six intercepts, 10 deflections and nine turnovers. A combined six turnovers from the midcourt combination of Yasmin ParsonsMikki Austin and Niamh Cooper did not do the side many favours, although Austin did win back a valuable intercept.

Manchester Thunder (64) defeated Strathclyde Sirens (37)

Player of the match: Emma Dovey (Manchester Thunder) 

Manchester Thunder topped off an excellent season with a huge win to complete their home-and-away fixtures, firing on all cylinders from the get-go and piling on the defensive pressure against the Sirens to pull off a 27-goal victory. Whilst the Sirens had a better second half, it was their shaky first half that really allowed the Thunder to stand up, with the Sirens attack failing to provide the same potency they have in recent weeks. Thunder piled on 31 goals to 15 in the first half to sit head and shoulders ahead of the Sirens going into the second half, and added insult to injury in the final term with 18 goals in the fourth alone to extend the huge victory.

There is no denying that Thunder boasts some of the best and most accurate firepower in the competition, and that was once again evident in this clash as Joyce Mvula piled on a whopping 40 goals as Ellie Cardwell applied ample assistance finishing with 24 and the duo missed just five attempts throughout against daring opposition. But the usually potent Towera Vinkhumbo just was not able to get hands to turnover ball, credit to the excellent feeds from Caroline O’Hanlon and Amy Carter, with the duo threading the needle time and time again to force errors from the Sirens defence and Carter teaming well with Laura Malcolm at the other end, wreaking havoc off circle edge to finish with four intercepts. It was a defensive masterclass from the Thunder, with player of the match Emma Dovey and Kerry Almond dictating both the pass and the placement, getting their hands to constant ball and the duo combined for 13 turnovers off the back of Dovey’s five intercepts and Almond’s two. Sirens’ attack had no answer for the Thunder’s hunt, as Bethan GoodwinNiamh McCall (both 13 from 16) and Emma Barrie (11 from 16) struggled to receive easy passes, with Beth Dix well held and Gia Abernethy forced to run with Carter.

Celtic Dragons (39) defeated by Severn Stars (45)

Player of the match: Paige Reed (Severn Stars)

In another tight start the Celtic Dragons and Severn Stars could not be split throughout the entire first half of their match up to finish off Sunday’s proceedings with a tight clash. But the Stars put on the accelerator in the third, executing an 11-6 quarter to extend the first major lead of the game. Whilst the Dragons tightened up in the final term, it was not enough to turn the tides as the Stars ran out six-goal victors under pressure, well and truly earning their fourth win of the season. To the Dragons’ credit they put out a fine performance, but unfortunately could not hold on for the full four quarters as the Stars’ experience reigned supreme.

the seesawing start was down to the defensive effort from both sides, with Abigail Tyrrell and Annika Lee-Jones controlling the airways down one end, and Iman Thomas and Lucy Herdman working hard at the other to pressurise the contest. All four defenders worked hard, however it was the likes of Paige Reed that became the showstopper throughout the contest, taking control of the Stars front-end to command possession and using her quick footwork to out-manoeuvre Tyrrell’s heavy attention down the court and evade Lee-Jones’ long arm inside the circle. Dixon shared the load with Georgia Rowe, piling on 23 goals to Rowe’s 22, and opened up space well for Lucy Harris (two turnovers) and Kyra Jones to find purchase on circle edge as the Stars extended a lead. Defensively, the Stars were marginally cleaner finishing with 27 penalties across Herdman, Thomas, Adi Bolakoro and wing defence Nia Jones, compared to Dragons’ 37, between Tyrrell, Lee-Jones and Clare Jones in wing defence. Amy Clinton (30 goals from 34 attempts) and Rebekah Robinson (nine from 13) worked hard in the front end for the Dragons, while Shona O’Dwyer was a nuisance in centre picking off three deflections.

 

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 17/18 preview – Crowds return as last double round arrives

CROWDS return to the Vitality Netball Superleague for the first time this season in a blockbuster double round of action, as the ladder continues to heat up with just one spot within the top four still up for grabs. There is no doubt plenty to play for this round, with home fans expected in droves and hoping to sway the results their way. With 10 matches playing out across the final double round of netball for the season, expect plenty of excitement across the court.

FRIDAY, MAY 28

Celtic Dragons v. London Pulse

An intriguing battle with wage between the Dragons and Pulse with both sides sitting at the bottom end of the ladder but showing some promising signs towards the latter stages of the season. Whilst the Dragons have only won one match this season, they have a real chance here against the Pulse who certainly have not hit the heights expected of them this year, especially in front of a home crowd. That being said, the Pulse still boast some hugely influential players who can turn the tides of a match with ease, and should still have the class to get their fourth win on the board for the season this week.

For the Dragons, the attacking combination of Amy Clinton and Rebekah Robinson has really stood up in recent weeks, not only with their willingness to go to post, but also convert from range. That being said, Pulse’s defensive unit has not taken a backwards step since losing Halimat Adio and have tightened up immensely in her absence, as Funmi Fadoju continues to star rotating through wing defence and goal defence, aided by Lindsay Keable and Zara Everitt and looking to really test the Dragons front-end. Expect an intriguing contest at the opposite end as Annika Lee-Jones takes on the Pulse front-line, with Olivia Tchine showcasing some great form in Sigi Burger‘s absence, while both Lefebre Rademan and Kira Rothwell have been playing a significant role out the front.

Severn Stars v. Team Bath

Team Bath has not skipped a beat this season, and this round should be no different as they take on the Stars. While the Stars have had patches of form and boast some exciting players, Bath has no shortage of class or depth and most importantly, has remained consistent throughout the entire season. Whilst Bath has already more than secured its finals position, the side will want to win the remainder of its matches as Lightning is gaining on them. Stars will want to put out a consistent four quarter effort here to get in the head of Bath.

While there are some intriguing battles across the court, one to watch is New Zealand veteran Liana Leota taking on Bath livewire Imogen Allison, with both players known for not giving an inch. Leota has been finding Paige Reed and Georgia Rowe inside the circle with ease, although the two goalers will have their work cut out for them against Roses duo Layla Guscoth and Eboni Usoro-Brown. The real test for the Stars will be in stopping the tried and true combination of Kim Borger and Sophie Drakeford-Lewis, with the two goalers rarely stopped to post, especially given the speed in transition down court from Serena Guthrie which does not allow defensive units to set up. The Stars have struggled with finding a consistent duo to man the goal circle each round, instead relying on a rolling selection to catch attackers off guard.

Tip: Pulse by 9, Bath by 17

SATURDAY, MAY 29

Loughborough Lightning v. Celtic Dragons

The Dragons have a much bigger test ahead of them when they face the Lightning, who are on the hunt for every single win they can get as they chase down Team Bath in top spot. In a battle between second and last on the table, this matchup looms as a fairly simple task for the Lightning, and while Dragons have shown some real intent and improved form, it is unlikely they will be able to get the chocolates here with so little winning experience in comparison.

Lightning’s front-end has fired on all cylinders all season, and is unlikely to let up any time soon with the like of Mary Cholhok continuing to star out the front. Ella Clark continues to play a significant assisting role, as does Suzie Liverseidge, while the Dragons’ midcourt will really have to kick up a gear in this encounter given the impact Beth CobdenNat Panagarry and Hannah Joseph can have. It will be up to Laura RudlandShona O’Dwyer and Clare Jones to make it hard for the Lightning mids to find circle edge, and take off some of the pressure off Lee-Jones and Abigail Tyrell. Defensively, Lightning’s Alice Harvey, Sam May and Jas Odeogberin will look to make life hard for Clinton and Robinson and render the duo inaccurate.

Manchester Thunder v. Severn Stars

Expect Thunder to leave no stone unturned in this matchup, as they look to keep pressing their agenda within the top four, while the Stars have laboured away toward the bottom end of the ladder for majority of the season. They are just one win behind Lightning and will be doing everything in their power to take the Lightning out of second on the ladder, and this matchup with the Stars should go a long way for the Thunder in their chances of doing just that.

Thunder have star players punctuating each third of the court, with the combination between Ellie Cardwell and Joyce Mvula one of the most influential in the competition, and certainly piling a heap of pressure onto the defensive unit of the Stars, with Lucy HerdmanAdi BolakoroMalysha Kelly and Iman Thomas all viable options to slot in the back-end. While all four players provide a different element to the defensive unit, Cardwell and Mvula are highly versatile players who flourish under pressure, so will need to be stopped from the get-go if the Stars are of any chance  of giving Thunder a scare. Stars’ returnee Kyra Jones will look to have an impact if required, while Jane Taylor is a viable option to slot into goal attack if the likes of Kerry Almond and Emma Dovey can get inside the head of Reed and Rowe.

Strathclyde Sirens v. Team Bath

Expect another huge matchup here, not only in terms of talent but also in terms of form and ladder positioning. While Bath have certainly been one of the benchmark sides in the competition this season, the Sirens are on the verge of their first ever VNSL finals foray and will not go down without a fight. The Sirens realistically need to win all four of their remaining matches to make it there, and while it will be hard, they are not out of the race yet. That being said, Bath have been in scintillating form and will not want to relent to the up and coming Sirens.

Bath’s defensive approach to the game will be their weapon in this matchup, as the back unit of Guscoth, Usoro-Brown and Allison – and to an extent Guthrie and Tash Pavelin – work to keep the likes of Emma BarrieNiamh McCall and Bethan Goodwin quiet to post. All three goalers have proven more than capable of piling on offensive pressure from range, while Gia Abernethy and Beth Dix‘s precise passes into the circle have been crucial. At the other end, the Sirens’ backend in Towera VinkhumboEmily Nicholl and Taylor Cullen will look to really shut down the efficient movement of Borger and Drakeford-Lewis, as well as the ability for the likes of Rachel or Jess Shaw to find circle edge.

Tip: Lightning by 18, Thunder by 16, Bath by 6

SUNDAY, MAY 30

Loughborough Lightning v. Leeds Rhinos

This matchup is a crucial one for both Lightning and Rhinos, with the hosts still on the hunt for top spot, though Rhinos have had an excellent second half to the season and are more than capable of stealing the last position in the final four. Last time these sides met the Rhinos still had significant injuries plaguing them, with that match nowhere near an indicator of the blockbuster this matchup should be. While Lightning will have the home crowd behind them and the consistency to take out this one, the Rhinos are charging for a spot in the finals and will not go down easy.

Cholhok will look to be her usual impactful self for the Lightning, although she should be well attended to by the likes of Rhinos defenders Tuaine Keenan and Vicki Oyesola who are unafraid of a bit of physicality, so will look to really get in Cholhok’s head. Expect star-studded matchups across the court with Jade Clarke expected to go head-to-head with Panagarry, while Brie Grierson has been in great form out the front for Rhinos and takes on Cobden in a huge test. The real test for Lightning will be limiting the huge impact of Donnell Wallam at the post, with no prior experience against the Australian goal shooter. Whilst the defensive unit has had plenty of time to practice on Cholhok, Wallam has a very different take on the position and in turn provides a difficult task, especially if Rhea Dixon is firing out in goal attack.

Saracens Mavericks v. Strathclyde Sirens

Expect a hard fought battle between the Mavericks and Sirens, as they go head to head in what could be a do-or-die battle when it comes to finals chances. Sitting in seventh and sixth heading into this round, there is plenty on the line with their last encounter finishing in a draw showcasing just how tight the matchup should be this time around. Both sides have everything to lose and plenty of gamechangers across the court even despite a couple of injuries that could throw a spanner in the works, making for a huge battle and what could be one of the matches of the round.

For the Mavericks, Jodie Gibson has really stepped up over the last few rounds, especially in the absence of Razia Quashie. Her combination with Stephanie Collard and Jo Trip continues to test opposition sides, something that will be critical when they face Barrie and McCall at the post, with McCall in particular very adept from range. Gibson’s newfound versatility speaks a lot for the form of the team though, with many players able to adjust accordingly, as Gabby MarshallGeorgia Lees and Sasha Corbin look to command the midcourt, lining up fairly well against Abernethy, Dix and Cullen. Expect the real test for the Mavericks to be in their attack, with the circle not quite gelling consistently and seeing regular changes across Ine-Mari VenterBritney Clarke and Kadeen Corbin, which could let in chances for Vinkhumbo to fly for intercepts amongst the confusion.

Manchester Thunder v. Surrey Storm

Whilst this match should go the way of the Manchester Thunder, it could also bump them into second on the ladder dependant on the Lightning versus Rhinos matchup earlier in the day, making this contest all the more important. In comparison, the Storm have struggled to string consecutive performances together this season and will have their work cut out for them this round with Thunder’s class and composure with ball in hand presenting a real test for the 10th ranked side.

The Storm will really look to their experienced heads in this matchup, with Karyn Bailey and Mikki Austin required to step up across the court. They will also hope to have another Australian in Leah Middleton back to add another layer to their defence, with Thunder’s combination of Mvula and Cardwell sure to cause a heap of issues down back for the Storm. Alima Priest has stepped up in recent rounds, as did Felisitus Kwangwa in Round 16 with Middleton unavailable, while Niamh Cooper will want to really stand up against the highly experienced Caroline O’Hanlon, who has pushed forward with Amy Carter standing strong in centre and Laura Malcolm wreaking havoc from wing defence, and Rebekah Airey also a viable option rotating between wing and goal defence. What makes the midcourt unit so influential is their ability to change up roles and still provide an impact, making this section of the court the real test for the Storm.

Tip: Lightning by 1, Sirens by 3, Thunder by 10

MONDAY, MAY 31

Leeds Rhinos v. Surrey Storm

The Rhinos will look to really cement their finals chances in this matchup with the Storm, with the two sides only separated by five positions on the ladder but realistically on opposite ends in terms of form. Rhinos went through a rough patch but have become a really threatening side with their ability to score quickly and efficiently, whilst the Storm are also a solid attacking side, but have failed to hold up defensively to really test offensive-minded sides. Expect the Rhinos to come away with this one fairly convincingly, although the Storm will be hoping to test them across the court.

Rhinos will want to back up with another win here, especially against the Storm who have struggled to put consistent performances together. Both sides boast tall-timbered Australians to post as well as players with plenty of flair. Expect Dixon and Wallam to be up to their usual tricks out the front, while Sienna Rushton has proved to be more than capable of stepping up where required. No doubt Priest will look to continue her exciting run of form down back, pairing well with both Kwangwa and Middleton to find plenty of turnover ball. Emily Hollingworth will likely be tasked with shutting down the likes of Yasmin Parsons or Austin, while Bailey will command attention at the other end of the court and looks to hold strong in goal shooter for the Storm, able to combine well with any rotation of Emma Magee or Frankie Wells, with both goal attacks able to slot in fairly easily.

Saracens Mavericks v. Wasps Netball

This is the Wasps penultimate match for the season and one of their last chances to make a stand for their position on the ladder, meaning this is ultimately another do-or-die encounter with the Mavs realistically needing a win here too to remain in the hunt. The two sides have already played out a close-fought and low-scoring battle this season proving just how strong they both are defensively, and they match up very well across the court. the Mavs will be hoping they can go on a run here to finish off, while Wasps will hope they can make use of the Mavericks’ fatigue coming in off the back of another game.

The Wasps have really missed the leadership of Sophia Candappa out the front, however the form of Iona Christian is paying off in spades with the midcourter pushing forward a lot more and looking to really challenge Marshall with the duo fairly well matched for speed and intensity. Meanwhile, Amy Flanagan and Lily-May Catling also line up fairly well against the Mavs, although the challenge will be whether their transitional play down court converts to goals with Katie HarrisRachel Dunn and Gezelle Allison sure to be well held by the versatile Mavericks defensive unit. At the other end, Josie Huckle and Fran Williams will look to really bring the heat against the Mavericks’ attack, with Catling’s reach outside the circle sure to test the Mavs’ ability to finding easy avenues to goal.

Tip: Rhinos by 15, Wasps by 3

Picture credit: Morgan Harlow

VNSL 2021: Round 16 – Monday wrap

MONDAY’S Vitality Netball Superleague (VNSL) matchups were nothing to scoff at, as two huge clashes proved just how close the race is to the final four. Wasps and Thunder played in their respective second matches for the round, with the former making it two losses for the weekend as the Thunder continued their winning streak wth two wins. Both winners were rendered less potent than usual, with neither losing side willing to let their opposition run away with a significant margin.

 Wasps Netball (47) defeated by Manchester Thunder (53)

Player of the match: Joyce Mvula (Manchester Thunder)

Unfortunately for the Wasps, they could not replicate their excellent Round 5/6 victory over the Thunder as they went down by six goals to the side. It was a tight contest throughout though, and given Thunder’s recent form and Wasps’ injury woes, it could well have been a much more significant margin, proving just how tight the season is shaping up to be. Unfortunately for the Wasps, this allows the fifth and sixth teams on the ladder to remain within touching distance. It was only the third quarter where the Wasps really left something to be desired, as the Thunder came out hunting in the second half after sitting 24-all at half time. A 29-23 second half showcased the third-ranked side’s ability to hold out under pressure, and despite compiling more penalties, were able to ride the momentum to the very end.

Joyce Mvula has had some excellent form for Thunder, and this match was no different as the Malawian piled on another 37 goals to star at the post. While she did register five penalties, Eleanor Cardwell provided a viable option too finishing with 16 from 17 in another classy effort as Amy Carter and Caroline O’Hanlon starred around circle edge. O’Hanlon was tested at times by Lily-May Catling who finished with two intercepts to her name, while Hannah Leighton got the goal keeper bib over the injured Josie Huckle and lived up to the role, creating four deflections and an intercept, finishing with three turnovers to lead her side. Rachel Dunn was consistent and dangerous as ever with 30 goals from 31 attempts while Gezelle Allison piled on 13 from 17 attempts but also had four unforced errors and earned a caution, seeing Katie Harris enter the contest but to little avail as she only put on four goals. Defensively, the tried and true combination of Emma Dovey, Rebekah Airey and Kerry Almond was hard to stop, especially with the services of Laura Malcolm shutting down effective feeds from her position in wing defence, having a day out without the efforts of Iona Christian feeding into the Wasps goal circle.

London Pulse (35) defeated by Loughborough Lightning (42)

Player of the match: Sam May (Loughborough Lightning)

An intriguing matchup played out between the London Pulse and Loughborough Lightning to complete the round, with Pulse really testing the Lightning throughout to only come away with a seven goal deficit as the match came to a close. It was only the first half effort from Pulse that really let them down in this one, scoring 17 goals to the Lightning’s 24. But while the Pulse could not whittle down the margin, they also made it tough for Lightning to add to it as the match went on, going even in the second half and forcing missed attempts from the usually dominant Lightning shooting end which booked a confirmed finals appearance with this victory. It was really the unforced error count that hurt the Pulse in the end, with 19 to the Lightning’s eight, despite Lightning topping the penalty count 57-48.

It was Lightning’s Sam May who deservedly won player of the match accolades for her huge effort to shut down feeds into Olivia Tchine at the post, while both Kira Rothwell and Lefebre Rademan had their turn in goal attack to release some of the pressure but were negated by the ever-difficult Jas Odeogberin. May’s four intercepts showcased plenty of hunt forcing hesitance from Adean Thomas and Rothwell feeding in, making it hard for the Pulse to score with ease as Odeogberin assisted well. Regardless, Tchine piled on 25 goals as Rothwell put on seven from seven. Mary Cholhok was defended superbly by Lindsay Keable and Funmi Fadoju with the former sacrificing her stats sheet to focus on the Ugandan, who was rendered inaccurate to finish with 33 goals from 43 attempts at 75 per cent, also creating five offensive penalties. Fadoju was an absolute livewire against Ella Clark, keeping the goal attack to nine goals and picking up six intercepts in the process. Beth Cobden continued her excellent form in wing defence for the Lightning, creating three intercepts.

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 16 preview – Thunder look to even up the ledger

THE Vitality Netball Superleague (VNSL) continues to showcase plenty of exciting talent week in and week out, so expect no different as we enter Round 16 of VNSL action. The Celtic Dragons have earned a well-deserved week off following some improved form, as Wasps Netball and Manchester Thunder take to the court twice.

SUNDAY, MAY 16

Severn Stars v. Leeds Rhinos

When it comes to the opening game of the round, expect to see no stone unturned from the Stars and Rhinos. Ultimately, the Rhinos are one of the in-form teams at the moment and need to take every chance they can get to put a win on the board to finish off the season, while the Stars have been impotent at times but blooded up some exciting young talent which will look to test the Rhinos’ combinations. There will be no shortage of quality across the court when the two sides collide, so expect plenty of intensity from both sides as the Stars look to get an elusive fourth win on the board and Rhinos hope to gain on Wasps and Mavericks.

Expect Rhinos sharpshooter Donnell Wallam to put on yet another goaling clinic at the post, with the Australian import continuing business as usual since returning from injury. Boasting accuracy and plenty of star power, the developing goaler rarely skips a beat but could be challenged this round by Stars defender Alima Priest, after the goal keeper all but shut down Mary Cholhok last round in an exciting display of what she is capable of. Rhea Dixon has been shining out in goal attack and could pose a challenge for the Stars back-end, although there is no doubting the skill, execution and gamechanging ability of Stars midcourter Liana Leota, with the New Zealander finding just about any avenue to Paige Reed and Georgia Rowe at the post. If the Stars can put on another defensive show like they did last week, the Rhinos better watch out.

Team Bath v. Surrey Storm

Expect Bath to remain top dogs this round when they come up against penultimate side Surrey Storm, with form and confidence keeping the blue and gold side in the lead for majority of the season now and little the lower-ranked sides can do to stop them in their tracks. Whilst the Storm have shown glimpses of form, inconsistency has proven to be a significant issue as the side struggles to get goals on the board, and two significant margins last round will unfortunately play a role in how they suit up this week.

Through the midcourt is Storm’s best bet of matching Bath, with Mikki Austin and Yasmin Parsons both capable of putting on impressive drives and most importantly, finding the loose ball. While they will have their work cut out for them against Serena Guthrie and Imogen Allison respectively, the Storm duo are as reliable as they come and will look to really test the defensive minded Bath duo. Both ends have a key Australian figure at the post, with Bath boasting Kim Borger and Storm showcasing Karyn Bailey. Whilst both are more than capable of holding up under pressure on their own, its far and away the ability of Bath goal attack Sophie Drakeford-Lewis to inject herself on the contest which makes Bath’s attack so strong, consistently finding the ball both inside and outside the circle. Layla Guscoth and Eboni Usoro-Brown have looked classy on court this season so expect no different when they line up on Bailey and any number of Storm goal attacks.

Wasps Netball v. Strathclyde Sirens

Both the Wasps and Sirens have plenty riding on this match, with the Wasps realistically needing a win here – against the side they drew against last time they met – while the Sirens have nothing to lose and everything to gain by stopping the Wasps from making finals. Whilst there are still three rounds left of the season, including next week’s double round, the Sirens are unlikely to make finals now but are still a chance iff they can stop the Wasps in their tracks, just three wins behind the side. That makes this one a must-win for both sides as they look to the run home.

There is no shortage of exciting lineups when you take a look at this matchup, with plenty of dominant players for both sides taking on players in impressive form. Iona Christian will have a big matchup on Sirens captain Gia Abernethy while there is no doubt Wasps’ Amy Flanagan and Sirens wings Beth Dix and Taylor Cullen have been in impressive form, showcasing just how much development has gone on over the past year. Factor in that Sirens livewire Towera Vinkhumbo will line up on the ever dangerous and fleet-footed Rachel Dunn, and there is no doubt there will be major challenges for both sides to hurdle. Katie Harris is more than capable of sharing the load with Dunn while at the other end, youngster Emma Barrie and a combination of Bethan Goodwin and Niamh McCall has the Sirens front-end singing with Josie Huckle and Fran Williams tasked with shutting them down.

Manchester Thunder v. Saracens Mavericks 

The Mavericks are another side that need a win here to start locking down a position on the ladder, but with Wasps pushing two wins ahead, Rhinos hot on their tail and now taking on the Manchester Thunder this week, the Mavs will be under a wealth of pressure this week – and not just on the court. With Razia Quashie still healing and Thunder in with a chance to push ahead to draw level with Loughborough Lightning, expect the side to leave nothing to chance in a huge clash between third and fifth.

Both sides boast plenty of phenomenal names, with once more the midcourt set to play a huge role in this encounter. The combination of Laura Malcolm and Caroline O’Hanlon is hard to stop but will be challenged well by the likes of Gabby Marshall and Georgia Lees, while there is no doubting the experience Sasha Corbin brings to the Mavs. Jodie Gibson and Jo Trip have worked well in recent weeks to propel oncoming ball but will certainly be tested by classy Thunder duo, Ellie Cardwell and Joyce Mvula, while at the other end it will be down to veteran Kerry Almond and fellow defenders Emma Dovey and Rebekah Airey to shut down the likes of Ine-Mari VenterKadeen Corbin and Britney Clarke, with the latter providing an excellent impact option at the post.

Tip: Rhinos by 8, Bath by 15, Sirens by 2, Thunder by 7

MONDAY, MAY 17

Wasps Netball v. Manchester Thunder

The opening match of Monday’s proceedings will see another huge clash, this time between two sides that need wins on the board here as they look towards finals. While Manchester do arguably come in as favourites, the Wasps have proved they are more than capable of taking vital points off sides and will look to steal one back here against a side just one ahead of them on the ladder. If Manchester manage two wins this round, they could well challenge Lightning’s spot on the ladder and set up plenty of action in the coming weeks.

When it comes to key matchups, this game has them all – from seasoned professionals Dunn and Almond at one end, to Mvula and Huckle at the other, there is no doubt there is little between the two sides when it comes down to their personnel or combinations. Expect a tight battle between centres Christian and O’Hanlon, with both at very different stages of their respective careers but known for their never-say-die attitudes, while Amy Carter is another viable option to take the court for Thunder too. Whilst the Wasps got the bragging rights last time they met, the side still had captain Sophia Candappa at its disposal so will be relying on Christian and Harris to find the circle, as the Thunder look to outclass the Wasps in this matchup.

London Pulse v. Loughborough Lightning

Expect the Pulse to come out with a fire in the belly in a tough one against the Lightning, which the Lightning should ultimately win comprehensively. Whilst the Pulse have shown moments of toughness in recent rounds, retaining eighth position on the ladder, the Lightning are not second on the ladder for no reason and have been a formidable force for each and every team to face. Especially with Sigi Burger still out of the side, the Pulse will have a tough time getting the points in this one.

Even with Burger out of the mix, Pulse still boast a highly exciting and versatile front-line with Olivia Tchine showcasing some excellent form in goal shooter with both Lefebre Rademan and Kira Rothwell impacting well in goal attack where required. Speedster Adean Thomas has shown some better form in recent weeks and will really look to hold up out the front, especially coming up against in-form wing defence Beth Cobden who has starred this season alongside Nat Panagarry through the centre. Expect youngster Funmi Fadoju to continue her sparkling ways rotating through the backline with Zara Everitt and Lindsay Keable, as the Pulse trio look to test the ever-tough combination of Cholhok and Ella Clark. While at the Lightning back-end there is no doubt Sam MayAlice Harvey and Jas Odeogberin have the ability to stop players in their tracks and will look to continue that form here.

Tip: Thunder by 3, Lightning by 13

Picture credit: Ben Lumley Photography

2021 ANZ Premiership vs. VNSL Team of the Week: Round 4/15

IN the next edition of our new series, Draft Central will compose two Teams of the Week with one side each hailing from the Vitality Netball Superleague (VNSL) and the other from the ANZ Premiership.

ANZ Premiership:

GS: Ellie Bird (Mainland Tactix)
GA: Jamie Hume (Northern Stars)
WA: Peta Toeava (Northern Mystics)
C: Kimiora Poi (Mainland Tactix)
WD: Maddy Gordon (Central Pulse)
GD: Elle Temu (Northern Stars)
GK: Jane Watson (Mainland Tactix)

BENCH: Grace Nweke (Northern Mystics), Gina Crampton (Northern Stars), Sulu Fitzpatrick (Northern Mystics)

Only missing one goal for the entire match it was hard to ignore Mainland Tactix goal shooter, Ellie Bird who was a lynchpin in attack. With twinkle toes along the goal-line and impressive balance and strength, Bird withstood a constant barrage of physicality to earn the starting position goal shooter credit to her 54 goals from 55 attempts. Northern Stars goal attack, Jamie Hume had a breakout game in her 100th match, sinking goals from here, there and everywhere to lead the way as shown through her 21 goals and while she was not the most accurate her workrate and decision-making made all the difference.

There is speed to burn through the midcourt as Peta Toeava gets the nod in at wing attack. The Mystics midcourter is a lynchpin in attack with her sure-fire passes, dynamic movement and confidence to consistently deliver no-look passes. Toeava is in a league of her own with her footspeed and release on the pass always favouring her intended target as she racked up 32 goal assists. Kimiora Poi earns the centre bib after a strong performance on Sunday with the talented midcourter putting in the hard yards to feed the ball into the circle while also plying her trade in defence to make life hard for the opposition. Speedster Maddy Gordon rounds out the final midcourt position with the wing defence impressing with her speed off the mark, tenacity, aerial ability and endurance. She was involved in just about every contest and applied strong hands over pressure to try and win ball back.

Moving into the defensive third and Elle Temu is back for her second week in a row, this time in a different position out in goal defence. Temu enjoyed the extra space to roam freely, covering the court with relative ease and picking up her fair share of ball to finish with seven gains, three intercepts and three rebounds. Joining her is Jane Watson, with the Mainland Tactix captain a key reason for her side’s win as she plied her trade and put in the hard yards. Watson showcased her niggling style of defence to out-manoeuvre her opponent and win back a wealth of ball, finishing with six deflections and two gains.

The bench is also littered with talent with Mystics captain and general, Sulu Fitzpatrick unlucky not to get the start with her workrate and netball IQ unquestionable. Another day, another dominate performance from shooting prodigy Grace Nweke who was just pipped at the post when it comes to earning the starting goal shooter position. She used her athleticism and aerial presence to inflict a wealth of scoreboard pain finishing with 51 goals at 93 per cent. The final spot goes to Northern Stars’ midcourter Gina Crampton who seemed to have the ball on a string with her 24 goal assists and 26 centre pass receives.

 

VNSL:

GS: Kim Borger (Team Bath)
GA: Eleanor Cardwell (Manchester Thunder)
WA: Iona Christian (Wasps Netball)
C: Serena Guthrie (Team Bath)
WD: Rebekah Airey (Manchester Thunder)
GD: Layla Guscoth (Team Bath)
GK: Towera Vinkhumbo (Strathclyde Sirens)

BENCH: Mary Cholhok (Loughborough Lightning), Laura Malcolm (Manchester Thunder), Fran Williams (Wasps Netball)

Team Bath dominated in multiple facets of the game and the goal circle was one of them as goal shooter, Kim Borger showcased her class, silky movement and accuracy to post to earn a spot in the starting seven. Borger is a cool, calm and collected customer able to use her body positioning to hold off defenders and slot 43 goals at 93 per cent. Alongside her in the circle is Eleanor Cardwell with the explosive goal attack able to keep the scoreboard ticking over with her range and accuracy. Cardwell nailed 17 goals from 21 attempts in a strong showing for the Thunder.

Holding down the wing attack position is Wasps player of the match, Iona Christian who is building some strong form with her classy feeds into the circle and vision to deliver precision passes. She also flexed her defensive mindset with a couple of deflections in an all-round strong performance. There are not enough superlatives for Serena Guthrie as the centre only gets better with age, using her change in direction, closing speed and defensive mindset to cherry-pick passes. Her nous to flick between attack and defence is second to none, once again earning herself a nod in the Team of the Week. Rebekah Airey found her groove out in wing defence for Manchester Thunder employing her strong hands over pressure to cause chaos and win ball back for her side time and time again.

Defensively speaking, Layla Guscoth had a game to remember with the Team Bath defender impressing with her ball tracking capabilities and hands over pressure to pick up two intercepts and six deflections. she was never out of the contest, constantly repositioning to get hands to ball and upset the flow for the opposition. Towera Vinkhumbo will pull on the goal keeper bib given the Strathclyde Sirens defender reeled in a wealth of ball in her sole outing for the round. Although she received a bit of attention from the umpire Vinkhumbo still starred recording four intercepts and two rebounds.

Looking to the bench and Mary Cholhok has earned a spot with her consistency to post and high volume of shots seeing her lead Loughborough Lightning to win both games. Laura Malcolm impressed with her work through the midcourt while Fran Williams inflicted a wealth of pain down in defence with her ball-winning capability on display.