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