Tag: Nat Panagarry

VNSL 2021: Team review – Loughborough Lightning

THE 2021 Vitality Netball Superleague (VNSL) season is officially done and dusted meaning it is now time for our postseason reviews. The last edition of the series goes to the 2021 Premiers Loughborough Lightning, with the side’s form this season hard to deny with so much firepower all across the court, allowing them to snag top spot in the final round of the season and put an end to Bath’s reign throughout the season.

Season form: 18-3 (1st/premier)

It was an impressive and consistent season from the Lightning to say the least, as they fired on all cylinders from the get-go and did not let up despite the calibre of teams they came up against. While they had a tough start to the season to say the least, falling to Bath and narrowly beating Wasps in the opening double round of action, the Lightning took that all in their stride and instead of collapsing under the pressure, utilised their learnings to come into each match from there-on out bigger and better than the last. With confidence came high-scoring affairs and vice versa, as Mary Cholhok found her groove in the front-end, which boasted Ella Clark, Hannah Joseph and Nat Panagarry, hummed as the attacking end developed to be a real superpower. Beth Cobden had a season to remember back in wing defence, returning to the fray from injury and time in Australia, and was just about unstoppable as she combined effortlessly with retiree Sam May and Jas Odeogberin. Suzie Liverseidge showcased her development as the season went on, as the side’s depth really came to fruition. With just three losses to their name throughout the season – to fellow finalists Bath (Round 1/2) and Thunder (Rounds 9 and 19) – the Loughborough Lightning built very nicely to eventually claim the minor premiership, and then take out the overall top prize.

Best win: Def. Team Bath 49-32, grand final

With a standout season under their belts, there is no doubt the Lightning had plenty of impressive performances, however their drought-breaking maiden Superleague grand final win had to be the greatest of the lot. Brimming with confidence after they stole the minor premiership in the final round of the season, the Lightning had all the momentum from the get-go throughout their grand final clash against eventual runners up, Team Bath. Consistency across the court and a huge final quarter effort paved the way for the Lightning, as they piled on 18 goals to eight to extend a massive 17-goal victory to make history for the franchise and the league. Defensively, the Lightning shone with eight intercepts – Cobden finishing with three and Odeogberin with two – while it took an impressive amount of work for the side to capitalise off Bath’s deflections to create turnovers of their own. May had a day out in the final match of her career before retirement, racking up four turnovers and just nine penalties to her name, while Cholhok was hard to stop piling on 38 goals from 41 attempts and dragging in four rebounds. Clark was consistent as ever out in goal attack with 11 from 13, unafraid to go to post, while Joseph and Panagarry were livewires on circle edge propelling ball into the goalers with ease. Overall, the Lightning were the better team, shutting down Bath’s channels and using their excellent, well-formed combinations to consistently force errors from the usually calm and composed Bath outfit. While penalties did rack up for the Lightning, it was their ability to get straight back into the action and capitalise under hefty pressure that handed them a well-earned victory to finish off an excellent season on a high.

Standout player: Beth Cobden

Most Improved: Jas Odeogberin

There is no doubt the standout player has to be Cobden, with the wing defence proving to be the match-winner on a number of occasions. She was relentless in her pursuit for the turnover ball and used her go-go gadget arms to find possession time and time again. With speed, excellent footwork and an innate ability to stay away from the whistle, Cobden’s ability to cleanly wreak havoc paid dividends for the Lightning while her transitional play and two-way running saw her work well with both the front and back-ends to transfer ball down court. Cobden’s adaptability was a consistent thorn in the side for her opposition, more than once forcing multiple changes in the wing attack position, as her hands-over pressure and work rate both on and off circle edge created turnovers aplenty. Cobden finished her season off with just 11 unforced errors to her name to go with an average of three deflections, two turnovers and six penalties per game. Odeogberin was a standout in her own way throughout the season, with the 20-year-old holding up well and consistently applying pressure both on and off the ball. Her ability to combine effortlessly with both Odeogberin and May paid off, while her relentless approach and hunt on the loose ball worked nicely with her fellow defenders’ attributes. The young gun was rarely beaten with her speed on the drive and elevation paying off time and again, while her ability to get fingertips to ball put doubt in the feeders minds and forced errors and turnover opportunities. Her ability to not only build throughout the season but also throughout individual games was impressive, rarely out of the contest and working cleanly as she finished her season with just six unforced errors to her name, as well as an average of 1.85 deflections and 1.4 turnovers per game.

 

Picture credit: Ben Lumley Photography

VNSL 2021: Loughborough Lightning make history with inaugural premiership

LOUGHBOROUGH Lightning have clinched the 2021 Vitality Netball Superleague (VNSL) premiership, defeating Team Bath by 17 goals, 49-32. It was a history-making performance from the Lightning, claiming their first VNSL trophy after being a part of the league for 16 years and playing in three grand finals prior.

Despite having the history books against them the Lightning managed to find a way to wow Team Bath who had not lost a grand final once making it to the final dance. The Lightning got off to a hot start skipping out to a handy lead thanks to an 11-7 first term. Their composure with ball in hand and resilience was on full display, pushing past the defence of Team Bath to control momentum. Mary Cholhok was proving to be a nuisance under the post for Bath who were unable to quell her influence as the Ugandan shooter commanded the ball time and time again. Her connection with Hannah Joseph was becoming increasingly hard to stop as she hit circle edge and opened up the circle to feed into Cholhok with plenty of ease.

The Lightning continued to extend their lead in the second quarter with their four-goal margin quickly turning into an eight-goal lead by half time, shutting out Bath’s offensive skill. Kim Borger and Sophie Drakeford-Lewis were working hard in attack for Bath, with the connection and partnership inside the circle keeping the scoreboard ticking over but they simply could not get enough ball. The Lightning were smothering any silky ball movement through the court with Sam May in her final game before retirement keen to not leave anything in the tank.

With the game slipping away from them, Team Bath came out with a real pep in their step in the third quarter to try and peg back the margin. They started to capitalise off the vital turnovers they were picking up and gained some much needed momentum. But it is not known as the premiership quarter for no reason with Beth Cobden elevating her game for Loughborough. The wing defence came into her own throughout the third with her dynamic movement and closing speed allowing her to get hands to ball, which in turn enabled her to negate the influence of Rachel Shaw in wing attack. Each time Team Bath looked like they found their way back into the contest, Lightning found a way to restore their composure and keep their noses in front.

Despite reducing the margin by a goal at three quarter time the final term did not go to plan for Team Bath who were quite simply shell-shocked. The Lightning could sense a win and with that, put the foot down to control proceedings and dominate play for the final 12 minutes. A blistering 18-8 final term proved to be the nail in the coffin for Team Bath as they were left in the lurch. Nat Panagarry was electric through the midcourt as Ella Clark also impressed under the post to help the Lightning forge ahead. Team Bath looked to the bench for answers and to help stem the bleeding but it was too little, too late as the Lightning ran rampant and secured their inaugural premiership.

Cholhok finished the game with 38 goals to her name and reeled in four rebounds as partner in crime, Clark shot 11 out of her 13 attempts. Panagarry was solid in attack and defence but it was the performance from Cobden that gifted her the MVP for the game racking up three intercepts and five deflections as she constantly bobbed up at the right time. Jasmin Odeogberin was strong in goal defence collecting two intercepts and five deflections as May left nothing to chance with her two rebounds and an intercept. Borger was the main port of call for Team Bath with her 22 goals while Drakeford-Lewis struggled to have a hug influence on the scoreboard only slotting four goals for the game. Serena Guthrie was well held by Panagarry but still managed a deflection while Imogen Allison did not have an overwhelming influence. It was a tough day at the office for Layla Guscoth and Eboni Usoro-Brown as the pair collected plenty of attention from the umpire combining for 26 penalties but did still manage nine deflections in the loss. All in all it was a classy performance from Sara Francis-Bayman‘s Lightning, well and truly earning their first piece of silverware in VNSL history.

Semi-final:

Leeds Rhinos (34) defeated by Manchester Thunder (43)

With the grand final taking centre stage the battle between Leeds Rhinos and Manchester Thunder somewhat flew under the radar, with the game deciding third and fourth spot on the ladder. In the end it was Manchester that reigned supreme, claiming a hard-fought nine-goal win thanks to some crafty work from Joyce Mvula and Eleanor Cardwell inside the circle. Caroline O’Hanlon and Amy Carter were up to their usual tricks through the midcourt for the Thunder while Jade Clarke tried hard to keep the Rhinos in the hunt. But defensively the Rhinos were in all sorts of trouble with Tuaine Keenan and Vicki Oyesola racking up the penalties.

Photo credit: Ben Lumley Photography

VNSL 2021: Semi-finals wrap

THE 2021 Vitality Netball Superleague grand finalists have been decided with Loughborough Lightning and Team Bath winning their respective semi-finals clashes and progressing through to the big dance. There were plenty of great moments with two spectacular clashes providing plenty of heart in your mouth moments.

Loughborough Lightning (58) defeated Leeds Rhinos (38)

Player of the match: Sam May (Loughborough Lightning)

Leeds Rhinos have set the bar high this season, and while they did not get the job done against the top of the table Loughborough Lightning, they have plenty to be proud of. In their inaugural season and subsequently first finals series they showed plenty of grit and determination however it was always going to be a challenge without the services of Australian goal shooter Donnell Wallam who was granted compassionate leave to return down under after the passing of her grandmother. It was a comprehensive performance by the Lightning who despite a close opening term put the foot down piling on 18 goals to nine to claim the ascendancy. That momentum did not let up for the remainder of the game with the Lightning implementing some incredibly strong defence to stop the Rhinos in their tracks. The Rhinos failed to reach double-digits in the second, third or fourth term as the lead ballooned out to 20 goals. Uncharacteristic inaccuracy cost the Rhinos, missing 17 shots compared to five while the Lightning showcased their ability to win ball back racking up 12 intercepts to eight.

The midcourt work of Beth Cobden and Nat Panagarry was once again at its damaging best as the pair combined seamlessly to open up the space. Cobden was a real menace through the midcourt and around circle edge amassing two intercepts and three deflections. Player of the Match Sam May impressed in her second last game before retirement with the goal keeper proving to be an imposing force. She picked up two rebounds, five intercepts and four deflections in an all-round clinical performance. In attack the work of Mary Cholhok was on display as the Ugandan shooter nailed 39 goals from 42 attempts, and not playing out a chunk of the match. She partnered well with Ella Clark out in goal attack who slotted 19 goals of her own and only missed the one attempt for the whole game. For the Rhinos it was the shared efforts of Rhea Dixon and Sienna Rushton in the goal circle that was paramount nailing 13 and 25 goals respectively. Jade Clarke’s midcourt craft was on show once again as the veteran plied her trade picking up an intercept and three deflections while the defensive unit were forced to work in overdrive with Vicki Oyesola and Tuaine Keenan racking up the penalties.

Manchester Thunder (38) defeated by Team Bath (41)

Player of the match: Serena Guthrie (Team Bath)

After holding top of the table for majority of the season, Team Bath stumbled at the final hurdle to drop down the ladder standings. But that aside, they managed to rally against the reigning champs to pull off a hard-fought win that went right down to the wire. There was no shortage of twists and turns as Thunder started strong before Bath skipped out to a two-goal lead at quarter time and then managed to forge ahead in the second to create a handy three-goal buffer which turned into the eventual winning margin. The second half was an intense and tight battle as neither side could be separated with both outfits scoring nine goals in the third and 10 in the last, highlighting the defensive pressure out on court. Thunder missed seven attempts while Bath only missed the two which proved to be a major difference in the end result. Penalties also came back to bite the Thunder as they racked up 10 more than their opponents, 55-45.

Defensively, Team Bath are littered with options and players that are able to turn a game on its head and that is what Eboni Usoro-Brown and Layla Guscoth did; imposing themselves on the contest at every opportunity. Guscoth was costly with her 13 penalties but made up for it with two intercepts and three deflections. Joyce Mvula was nowhere near as dominant for Manchester finishing with 18 goals to her name thanks to Team Bath’s strong defensive pressure to stem her influence and force Eleanor Cardwell to do much of the heavy lifting. Cardwell outscored Mvula finishing with 20 goals from 24 attempts. Through the midcourt it was a one-woman show as Serena Guthrie gave fans plenty to cheer about with her tenacity on full display with two intercepts and two deflections, let alone her sheer athleticism. Kim Borger was the strike shooter for Team Bath posting 39 goals at 97 per cent while Sophie Drakeford-Lewis played a strong supplementary role with her nine goals.

 

Grand final preview:

Loughborough Lightning vs. Team Bath

The grand final is set to be a cracker between the two teams. With both Lightning and Bath coming off a short turn around it is going to come down to which team can last the longest and provide that run and gun for a whole 60 minutes. Team Bath are coming off a gruelling encounter with Manchester Thunder, forced to really grind out the game and push it home while the Lightning had somewhat of an easier game in their semi-final encounter. Looking at the history of the two teams this season and it is a checkered one to say the least with both teams notching up wins meaning the grand final is going to go down to the wire. While Lightning have the recent form to suggest a win, there is no doubt Bath’s consistency this season will assist in their pursuit for glory.

All eyes will turn to the midcourt battle between Guthrie and Panagarry with the centres lynchpins for their respective sides and are real driving forces in both attack and defence. Defensively Team Bath have more options with Usoro-Brown, Guscoth and Summer Artman able to hold ground down back plus the work of Imogen Allison out the front. But the Lightning cannot be underestimate with May wanting to leave a mark on the competition and the likes of Jasmin Odeogberin and Alice Harvey able to have an impact. Team Bath will need to shut down the speed and ease in which the Lightning can score if they are to win while Loughborough will be hoping to stifle the classy ball movement Team Bath are renowned for to claim the upper hand.

Photo credit: Ben Lumley

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 – Monday wrap

THE final round of Vitality Netball Superleague action is done and dusted for the season, with two huge upsets completing the home-and-away season on a high. Whilst one matchup saw two sides playing out their final fixtures of the year without any finals in sight, the second saw top four positions at stake in a battle of two of the leading sides, with Loughborough Lightning taking out the win and the minor premiership in the process.

Surrey Storm (39) defeated Wasps Netball (35)

Player of the match: Felisitus Kwangwa (Surrey Storm)

Surrey Storm finished their season on the ultimate high, winning one last match for retiree Karyn Bailey, and in the process handing the Wasps their worst ever ladder finish. It was a huge performance from the Storm, who have struggled to find the offensive pressure this season, but had no issue firing in the final round limiting the Wasps in attack and finding ways around the mess at their own front-end. Despite quiet second and final terms, the work was done in the first for the side to have the half-time ascendancy (22-17) and hold onto that momentum to pile on the pressure during the third once more. Despite a 6-12 final term, the Storm proved far more fired up throughout the contest with nothing to lose, as their defensive end hummed and produced turnovers aplenty.

While the Storm racked up more penalties (15-7) and unforced errors (8-7), they made the most of their turnovers to apply offensive pressure, cleanly transitioning down court. It was a show-stopping performance from Zimbabwean Felisitus Kwangwa, who starred out in goal defence for a second straight match and piled on the pressure alongside Leah Middleton, with the likes of usually composed duo Katie Harris and Rachel Dunn appearing shellshocked by the hunt the defensive combination displayed. Gezelle Allison was also given a run out in goal attack, such was the pressure within the circle, while Storm’s Niamh Cooper and Mikki Austin provided great hands over pressure on the outer, blocking Leah Goss‘ vision on the feed. Amy Flanagan put in the hard yards for two of the Wasps’ three intercepts out in centre, while it was Yasmin Parsons who led the charge in the Storm front-end, threading the needle around reliable Wasps defenders Fran Williams and Josie Huckle, with the two collating two and one turnover apiece in a shaky day for the defensive unit. Bailey finished off her career with a 32-goal haul, ably assisted by Emma Magee (seven goals from nine attempts) in what was a full court effort from the Storm.

Loughborough Lightning (54) defeated by Team Bath (35)

Player of the match: Beth Cobden (Loughborough Lightning)

An outstanding four quarter effort from the Lightning told the tale of this clash, overcoming an uncharacteristically shaky Team Bath outfit to finish the season. With consistency, firepower and defensive pressure on show, the Lightning came out firing and did not relent throughout the entire matchup, and while Bath were by no means inaccurate, they struggled to find entries to the goal circle at all. The Lightning starred with their clean hands, and despite registering one more penalty (44-43), the side combined for just five unforced errors through the contest as their entire outfit hummed across the court, adding to their tally each quarter and dulling down the usually potent Bath attack. Whilst Bath trailed by just eight at the main change and had their chances, they struggled to return to their first quarter work rate, eventually going down by 19 goals.

Beth Cobden put on a masterclass in wing defence, dulling Rachel Shaw‘s spark and cutting off her every move to block easy access to the circle, finishing with nine deflections and three turnovers. It was a battle of Roses in centre as Serena Guthrie and Nat Panagarry went head-to-head, with both providing excellent defensive backup and neither really winning the battle, while Imogen Allison had her moments but also struggled to contain the speed and energy of Hannah Joseph who earned the upper hand to finish with two turnovers. Mary Cholhok continued on her merry way, in fine form all season and not slowing down here with 40 goals from 45 attempts, while Ella Clark (10 goals) and Suzie Liverseidge (four) had little issue getting on the board. Layla Guscoth was a shining light for Bath, picking off some crucial passes to finish with three turnovers alongside Guthrie, while both Eboni Usoro-Brown and Summer Artman took their turn in goal keeper, working to shut down Cholhok to no avail. At the other end, the usually reliable Kim Borger (15 goals from 18 attempts) was unable to have her usual impact credit to the defensive effort of fellow Australian Sam May and goal defence Jas Odeogberin, who well and truly shut down playmaker Sophie Drakeford-Lewis (eight goals), which in turn shook up the Bath attack unit, with Betsy Creak having a bit more success with 12 goals in goal shooter.

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 – Monday wrap

TWO more matches completed Round 19 of Vitality Netball Superleague action on Monday night, with huge results seeing one side dealt a devastating blow to their finals potential and the other a dent to their confidence ahead of their finals campaign.

London Pulse (46) defeated Saracens Mavericks (33)

Player of the match: Ashleigh Dekker (London Pulse)

For the two sides coming into their second clash of the weekend off the back of wins on Sunday, a tight matchup was expected especially given the confidence of the Pulse and the Mavericks dealt a devastating blow with Razia Quashie succumbing to a season-ending potential Achilles injury the match prior. While the Mavs looked the goods still heading into the matchup, the Pulse came out with a point to prove and extended their winning form to three, ultimately putting a huge stop to the Mavericks’ finals chances now with just one match left to play. Whilst the Mavericks got off to a hot start to lead at the first break, the Pulse flew out of the blocks in the second and continued adding to their scoreline throughout to knock the Mavs down a peg. The Mavs failed to score double digit quarters after the first testament to the Pulse’s defensive effort and ability to force errors from the attack, seeing the Pulse claim the huge 13-goal victory.

It was an absolute feeding showcase from Ashleigh Dekker, earning player of the match accolades for her ability to spot the combination of Olivia Tchine and Lefebre Rademan inside the goal circle. The tactical decision for Sigi Burger to sit out following her effort on Sunday proved how impressive Tchine has been this season, taking over the goal shooter role seamlessly, adding 35 goals straight to her tally while Rademan assisted well with 11 from 13 attempts. Defensively, the Mavericks struggled missing their pillar of Quashie, with Jodie Gibson and Jo Trip piling on the pressure but unable to faze the goalers to post. Gabby Marshall was her usual workhorse self but could not have an impact on Dekker, while Ine-Mari Venter and Kadeen Corbin failed to fire on all cylinders under the heavy workrate of Lindsay Keable and Funmi Fadoju, with Zara Everitt showcasing her long arms out the front blocking Georgia Lees‘ vision on circle edge.

Loughborough Lightning (46) defeated by Manchester Thunder (60)

Player of the match: Kerry Almond (Manchester Thunder)

The second match of the day saw just as surprising a result as the first, however in a very different way as the Thunder blew the Lightning out of the water from the get-go. It was the Thunder’s ability to keep the foot on the pedal that allowed them to retain the lead throughout the entire encounter, with the 30-20 first half speaking for the huge amount of defensive pressure the Thunder piled on. With both sides’ final berths secured already, this match was all about bragging rights, and sets up a huge final round with both teams now in a position to hunt for top spot on the ladder, or at the very least change up positions within the top four ahead of finals in a couple weeks.

Defensively, the Thunder starred limiting Mary Cholhok‘s impact in the goal circle and forcing Ella Clark and Suzie Liverseidge to step up. Kerry Almond was instrumental and was a deserved recipient of the player of the match award credit to her ability to cause a nuisance for the towering Cholhok, who still managed 32 goals but at a lower accuracy than usual, as Clark and Liverseidge combined for 14 from 18 attempts. Almond’s five turnovers from three intercepts and five deflections were critical, while Emma Dovey played her role well out the front in tandem with both Rebekah Airey and Elia McCormick. At the other end, the attack was huge proved by the rotation of both Berri Neal and Emilia Roscoe at times, with Joyce Mvula and Ellie Cardwell able to share the shooting load with 29 and 23 goals respectively. Just Nat Panagarry and Sam May picked up an intercept for the Lightning, with Beth Cobden‘s usual ball-winning ability and defensive presence nullified by the workrate of Caroline O’Hanlon.

Picture credit: Ben Lumley Photography

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 – Sunday/Monday wrap

A HUGE end to the final double round of Vitality Netball Superleague action saw five matches play out across Sunday and Monday, with Manchester Thunder officially earning its entry to the finals series and both Leeds Rhinos and Saracens Mavericks winning critical matches heading into the final rounds.

Loughborough Lightning (59) defeated Leeds Rhinos (51)

Player of the match: Mary Cholhok (Loughborough Lightning)

It took a huge third term for the Lightning to overcome the rampaging Rhinos in a huge top five clash, with the second ranked Lightning eventually claiming an eight-goal victory. But it was a testament to the Rhinos for remaining in the contest for majority of the clash, sitting 26-apiece at half-time but unable to rally in the final quarter to claim the comeback win. The Lightning’s defence was tight forcing more missed attempts than usual from the typically accurate Rhinos, in turn forcing errors down the court in a classy finish.

Player of the Match Mary Cholhok was critical for the Lightning, piling on 50 goals and rendering Tuaine Keenan out of the contest with the goal keeper unable to keep the Ugandan away from the post. Both Suzie Liverseidge and Ella Clark earned court time out in goal attack and played a great assisting role, feeding with ease to Cholhok as Hannah Joseph had a similarly critical role in wing attack. Fi Toner was influential marking Joseph and keeping her away from circle edge, although a caution to Vicki Oyesola did the side no favours with the goal defence on fire but not boasting her usual cleanliness. The match saw another impressive performance from Australian Donnell Wallam who piled on 48 goals, but missed eight of her attempts and created four unforced errors as Rhea Dixon struggled to impact credit to the work ethic of Jas Odeogberin. Roses talents Nat Panagarry and Jade Clarke forged a huge battle through the midcourt, at times evening the other out, while Sam May had a game to remember with five turnovers from her eight deflections.

Saracens Mavericks (35) defeated by Strathclyde Sirens (41)

Player of the match: Beth Dix (Strathclyde Sirens)

A huge clash was always expected between the Mavericks and Sirens, with both sides vying for an elusive top four spot and a draw in the bank from their last encounter. A highly defensive first quarter was what kept the Sirens ahead throughout the contest, limiting the Mavs to just six goals in the opening term before they bit back in the second, trailing 16-19 at the main change. This time it was the Sirens who got bragging rights though, controlling the second half to cement the 41-35 victory and creating turnovers aplenty – and most importantly capitalising off them – to claim a crucial victory in the scheme of finals.

It was the Sirens’ 19-9 ration for turnovers, with six of the seven starters putting their defensive cap on to earn at least one to their name. Defensively, it was another impressive effort with Towera Vinkhumbo‘s five intercepts contributing to her eight turnovers as Emily Nicholl and Taylor Cullen continued their excellent form to combine for seven turnovers and piling on the pressure against Kadeen CorbinChloe Essam, Britney Clarke and Georgia Lees out the front. The return of Razia Quashie to the starting seven was crucial and the goal keeper impressed in combination with Jodie Gibson, forcing a couple of missed attempts from Niamh McCall and Emma Barrie, although the two goalers appeared to have sticky fingers relinquishing just one unforced error apiece. The difference was Sirens’ Beth Dix who was excellent on the assist, finding circle edge with ease to continually propel ball into the circle and earn Player of the Match for her efforts.

Manchester Thunder (57) defeated Surrey Storm (41)

Player of the match: Joyce Mvula (Manchester Thunder)

It was one of the Storm’s better performances for the season in their 16-goal loss to Manchester, but a huge loss nonetheless as the Thunder ran away with victory credit to a consistent four quarter performance to officially lock down their spot in the finals. It was a well deserved victory the way of the Thunder though, who were clinical throughout only registering five unforced errors throughout the contest, but will be concerned at their huge penalty count registering 50 to the Storm’s 22, with the away side to their credit staying in the contest as much as possible.

It was the Joyce Mvula show out the front for the Thunder, with the goal shooter piling on the offensive pressure with 44 goals from 48 attempts credit to her ability to position to advantage of her feeders in Caroline O’Hanlon, Ellie Cardwell (11 from 13) and Amy Carter. That did not mean it was not a tight contest between Mvula and Alima Priest though, with the Storm goal keeper only relinquishing nine penalties throughout the full four quarters, registering five turnovers from her three rebounds and two intercepts, using her excellent reach and cleanliness to have an impact time and time again. Karyn Bailey was consistent as ever piling on 33 goals from 35 attempts, as both Frankie Wells and Emma Magee had their turn in goal attack but were tested by the ever-impressive backend duo of Kerry Almond and Emma Dovey, who combined for eight turnovers, as Carter impressed with three intercepts.

Leeds Rhinos (49) defeated Surrey Storm (39)

Player of the match: Emily Hollingworth (Leeds Rhinos)

This matchup between Rhinos and Storm was another tight clash from the get-go, with both sides coming in off the back of a loss and carrying plenty of energy and intensity from the starting whistle. But it was the classy Rhinos that pressured their way through the contest to register a 10-goal victory, staying ahead at every turn but in particular putting on the accelerator in the second and never turning back. Defensively, the Rhinos were on fire and retained their hunt for the ball throughout the entire encounter, while the Storm put on another excellent performance showcasing just what they’re capable of, despite sitting at the bottom end of the ladder.

It was another comprehensive effort from Wallam, with the goal shooter finding form from the get-go and piling on the offensive pressure as Felisitus Kwangwa brought plenty of energy to the back-end as Clarke and Mikki Austin created an exciting midcourt battle in transition. Oyesola and Keenan created a huge battle at the other end with Bailey and Well under a wealth of pressure from the get-go, while a game-changing effort from Emily Hollingworth made all the difference for the Rhinos with Toner sitting out, well and truly proving how capable she is picking up the wing defence bib and getting on with it. Hollingworth registered four intercepts, three turnovers and two deflections in an excellent effort out the front, having a day out against the ever-reliable Yasmin Parsons, who by no means had a shaky game, and showcasing the depth of talent across the competition.

Saracens Mavericks (41) defeated Wasps Netball (37)

Player of the match: Gabby Marshall (Saracens Mavericks)

It was the Mavericks who claimed the must-win encounter to finish the blockbuster round of action, upsetting the Wasps who required a victory here to ensure their entry to finals contention. It was a come from behind effort from the Mavericks who trailed at every change, and four at three quarter time, but forged ahead in a massive 13-5 final quarter effort to put a damper on the Wasps’ spirits to claim the four-goal victory. It was a historic maiden win over the Wasps, with a full court effort allowing the side to remain in the hunt for the finals.

The Mavericks goal circle continues to rotate, with Corbin and Clarke starting and finishing in goal attack and goal shooter respectively, retaining control throughout the contest. Despite a wealth of pressure applied by the likes of Fran Williams and Josie Huckle, the Mavs attack line worked in overdrive to make use of turnovers effectively and keep ahead of the Wasps’ movement. That being said, Rachel Dunn and Katie Harris starred out the front for their own side, continuously putting goals up and boasting plenty of experience to keep doing so, testing Gibson, Quashie and Jo Trip for speed time and again. Gabby Marshall was a revelation, starting in wing defence before standing up even better in centre, and was a real catalyst in the dying stages of the match alongside Sasha Corbin, creating something out of nothing to produce turnovers aplenty to steal the victory.

Picture credit: Ben Lumley Photography

VNSL 2021: Round 17/18 – Friday/Saturday wrap

IT was a blockbuster start to the double round of Vitality Netball Superleague (VNSL) action with matches played in front of a crowd for the first time this season. The Friday and Saturday games gave fans plenty to cheer about as Team Bath and Loughborough Lightning continued their winning ways.

Celtic Dragons (30) defeated by London Pulse (51)

Player of the match: Lefebre Rademan (London Pulse)

It was a relatively low scoring match but in the end it was London Pulse that got the job done against the lowly Celtic Dragons. Pulse led from start to finish and steadily added to their margin throughout the game. London were not afraid to ring in the changes to keep the Dragons on their toes and guessing what was going to be thrown their way next.

South African goal attack, Lefebre Rademan plied her trade effectively for the Pulse earning Player of the Match honours for her efforts out on court. A crafty player with ball in hand, Rademan created a wealth of attacking forays while also impressing under the post. She adapted on the fly playing with both Sigi Burger and Olivia Tchine while the ever-changing midcourt combination of Kira Rothwell and Adean Thomas was exciting to watch. Funmi Fadoju was her consistent self, applying strong hands over pressure and hunting for any loose ball such is her tenacious nature. Peace Akinyemi made her debut for the Pulse with the defender showcasing her array of talents to congest the attacking third. For the Dragons, Amy Clinton and Rebekah Robinson worked tirelessly in the goal circle while Annika Lee-Jones used her long limbs to apply pressure on the Pulse goalers.

Severn Stars (32) defeated by Team Bath (45)

Player of the match: Kim Borger (Team Bath)

Team Bath just go from strength to strength and this game was no different. Although the Stars pushed them throughout the contest, Bath stuck to their structures to keep finding ways to score and keep the Stars on the back foot. The Stars did work gallantly both in defence and attack to cause headaches for Bath who did not have everything their own way, but in the end the top team could not be beaten.

Serena Guthrie pulled out the party tricks once again with the Team Bath centre using every ounce of her athleticism and class to keep the ball in play and dish it off to none other than Kim Borger under the post. Borger was a rock under the post, holding her own against Lucy Herdman and Iman Thomas to out-position her opponent time and time again. Her connection with Sophie Drakeford-Lewis was another crucial element in the sides win as the duo used their quick hands and fancy footwork  to exploit their opponents in the circle. Liana Leota had her work cut out for her against Imogen Allison with the wing defence renowned for her physicality and ability to contest each and every pass. Tash Pavelin got the nod in goal defence to start the game and made the most of her chances with her defensive pressure well and truly coming to the fore.

Loughborough Lightning (59) defeated Celtic Dragons (35)

Player of the match: Suzie Liverseidge (Loughborough Lightning)

Unfortunately it did not get any better for the Dragons as they came up against the second placed Loughborough Lightning who made light work of them. The Lightning are a well-oiled unit and this performance was no different as they capitalised on their opportunities and suffocated the Dragons in attack. By half time the Lightning had established a commanding 19-goal lead and did not look like relenting, such was their pressure across the court and desperation to collect another win as they ran out 24-goal victors.

Making her debut Jess Haynes made an immediate name for herself with the defender impressing with her ability to read the play and go out hunting for the Lightning. It was a strong performance from Suzie Liverseidge as the goal attack nailed 16 goals at 94 per cent playing a strong role alongside Ugandan goal shooter Mary Cholhok as the two rotated the circle with great ease. Lee-Jones and Abigail Tyrrell had a tough time competing in the goal circle while Clare Jones worked hard to shut down the likes of Nat Panagarry through the midcourt. Beth Cobden continued on her merry way out in wing defence with her ball-tracking abilities and hunt to stop the ball in its track and propel it back down the court.

Manchester Thunder (55) defeated Severn Stars (43)

Player of the match: Caroline O’Hanlon (Manchester Thunder)

Manchester Thunder racked up another win as the Severn Stars fell to their second loss for the round. The Thunder snuck out to a lead early and controlled the flow of play with their key cogs in each third dictating the tempo. Severn Stars struggled to combat Manchester despite their copious changes with the class of the Thunder coming through. The win was a monumental one to say the least as the Thunder secured a spot in the semi-finals with the reigning champs able to contest for another title next month.

Paige Reed and Georgia Rowe were back at it in this clash as the two worked in overdrive in the goal circle to create space and inch closer to the post. Rowe was a commanding pillar under the ring but the tried and tested Thunder combination of Emma Dovey and Kerry Almond were up to the challenge as the defensive duo implemented some strong hands over pressure. Joyce Mvula was at her damaging best in attack for the Thunder with her clever body positioning and accuracy to post while partner in crime Eleanor Cardwell chimed in both on the scoreboard and out the front to dish off pinpoint passes to the goal shooter. The Stars were forced to defend for long periods of time with Adi Bolakoro using her fancy footwork to confuse the space while wing defence Nia Jones plied her trade out the front to limit the influence of Caroline O’Hanlon. But it was to no real avail as the wing attack seemed to have the ball on a string for large patches of the game.

Strathclyde Sirens (37) defeated by Team Bath (48)

Player of the match: Rachel Shaw (Team Bath)

Team Bath made it two from two downing Strathclyde Sirens in convincing fashion. It was all one–way traffic once Bath got going using their silky connections down court to bypass the Sirens and pile on the scoreboard pressure. Holding onto top spot Bath proved why they are competition favourites to ride the wave and deliver under pressure to shut down the Sirens attacking forays and cause disruption in attack. This win marks Team Bath’s ninth victory on the trot showcasing their overall dominance on the competition as their superstars continue to find a way to drag their side to wins.

There was no shortage of star performances from Team Bath as Layla Guscoth showcased her defensive nous to pickpocket passes and use her closing speed to wreak havoc while fellow defender Eboni Usoro-Brown also impressed with her body work against Emma Barrie. The battle between Guthrie and Gia Abernethy in the midcourt was tantalising with neither player willing to take a backwards step as Taylor Cullen fought hard to reduce the impact of Rachel Shaw around circle edge. Shaw had a game to remember with the wing attack finding the top of the circle with edge and releasing pinpoint passes into the circle with great ease, finding Borger and Drakeford-Lewis continuously.

Photo credit: Ben Lumley