Tag: nia jones

Netball fantasy teams: VNSL Roses v. VNSL International All Stars

FOLLOWING the huge success of the thrilling Diamonds vs All Stars Bushfire Relief game in March, it got us thinking about another hypothetical exhibition match, with international Vitality Netball Superleague (VNSL) players facing up to the top England Roses squad members who are currently plying their trade in the UK.

VNSL Roses:

GK: Razia Quashie (Saracens Mavericks)
GD: Fran Williams (Wasps Netball)
WD: Laura Malcolm (Manchester Thunder)
C: Jade Clarke (Wasps Netball)
WA: Gabby Marshall (Saracens Mavericks)
GA: Ellie Cardwell (Manchester Thunder)
GS: George Fisher (Saracens Mavericks)

BENCH: Sophie Drakeford-Lewis (Team Bath), Nat Panagarry (Loughborough Lightning), Jodie Gibson (Saracens Mavericks)

This Roses fantasy squad has a huge amount of experience and depth across all areas of the court. In the 2020 Netball Nations Cup, we saw the emergence of a new England shooting partnership between Ellie Cardwell and George Fisher – nicknamed “Fishwell”. Whilst Cardwell is usually seen wearing the goal shooter bib, in goal attack she opened up the shooting circle nicely for Fisher and can sink a sweet long bomb herself. This partnership would certainly give any defensive lineup a lot of headaches, especially given Fisher’s clever footwork and shooting accuracy. Sophie Drakeford-Lewis also plays more of the traditional goal attack role with her speed and strong drives and could provide another look for the shooting end. Whilst Drakeford-Lewis is at the beginning of her international career, she would be well supported in this lineup. She is likely to become a key option for England in the future – especially given she can also move into wing attack if needed, much like a versatile Nat Haythornthwaite or Kiera Austin.

In the midcourt, a balance of experience and youth creates this formidable unit. Youngster Gabby Marshall has great vision at wing attack and can keep any wing defence busy so they don’t go looking for trouble. Marshall is backed up by the veteran Jade Clarke who can keep a cool head in the middle and dictate play with ease. Tenacious tagger Laura Malcolm completes this midcourt lineup. Though she spent some time away from the England setup, her recent performances in the red dress have been outstanding. Nat Panagarry proved herself capable at the Netball World Cup 2019, showing that she is a confident team-player and can have an impact when needed. She has a good read of the game and her infectious energy can really lift a team.

The defensive end is where this team gets exciting. Whilst you have the reliable and gutsy Fran Williams out the front causing havoc, you also have one of the most threatening defenders coming up the England ranks in Razia Quashie at the back. Whilst Quashie is not the tallest defender in the game, she clearly has the athletic ability and pure strength to be a game-changer. With this defensive end, the difficulty may be the partnerships. As we saw in the Bushfire Relief game, putting two defending superstars out on court together doesn’t always mean they gel easily. I would love to see this combination out on court for England more as Quashie and Williams have such complementary styles of play. Given time together they could become a lethal partnership. Jodie Gibson is another versatile and experienced defender, providing a sparky and reliable option at the back should the defensive end need to change tactics.

VNSL International All Stars:

GK: Zanele Vimbela (Sirens, SA)
GD: Latanya Wilson (Dragons, JAM)
WD: Nia Jones (Stars, WAL)
C: Caroline O’Hanlon (Thunder, NI)
WA: Liana Leota (Stars, NZ)
GA: Alexia Baker (Wasps, AUS)
GS: Sigi Burger (Pulse, SA)

BENCH: Kim Commane (Bath, AUS), Adean Thomas (Pulse, JAM), Jo Trip (Mavericks, NZ)

This International All Stars side is undoubtedly stacked with talent. At the shooting end, it’s hard to ignore the threat of Sigi Burger under the post, given her 98% shooting average after three rounds of the 2020 VNSL Season. New to the VNSL, Alexia Baker is no stranger to high-quality netball, having been a Queensland Firebirds training partner. She knows how to feed a holding shooter like Burger and can also provide a solid option to goal. Kim Commane had an outstanding start to the 2020 season, ending up in the top five goal scorers, and she provides another different style of play to keep the defenders guessing. While this shooting end has very few international caps between them, these players have demonstrated their skills domestically and wouldn’t shy away from an opportunity on a bigger stage.

Liana Leota is a typical wing attack, extremely crafty and with a wealth of tools in her arsenal to feed the goal circle effectively. In the centre position, Caroline O’Hanlon is so impressive, not only due to her insane fitness but also her defensive pressure and a cool head. Leota and O’Hanlon combined effectively to secure Manchester Thunder’s Grand Final win last season, and could easily replicate this successful chemistry. Supported by Nia Jones in wing defence, the position where she is arguably her strongest, this midcourt unit would have no issues with transition play and swift goal conversion. Adean Thomas has also demonstrated her flair and skill, both at the VNSL and for Jamaica. Thomas is unpredictable, exciting and would be a great impact player in this lineup.

In the defensive circle, Latanya Wilson has been compared to a young Shamera Sterling and this glowing comparison is not undue. Wilson has fantastic aerial ability and was sitting on 14 intercepts when the VNSL was cancelled. This was just one behind the leader in Quashie, and Wilson racked up this impressive tally despite the fact she was suspended for one game due to dangerous play. Whilst discipline is an area to improve on, her surprising gameplay and rangy limbs would be a valuable asset in goal defence for the All Stars. Teaming up with Wilson is South African, Zanele Vimbela. Vimbela has proven her worth internationally and is surely next in line to the goal keeper bib for South Africa after Phumza Maweni. She is a fearless defender who attacks the ball and provides consistent pressure to unnerve the opposition feeders. Able to cover both positions effectively is Mavericks stalwart Jo Trip. Her height and experience mean she can make a difference in close games and would be a valuable addition to the All Stars.

Who would win?

The International All Stars have a tremendous amount of talent and a really diverse range of playing styles. However, the Roses consistency and familiarity with each other would most likely mean they would take the win. The battle would be lost and won in the midcourt, as the two sides are fairly evenly matched at both ends – with the Roses’ shooting circle slightly superior to the All Stars’. This would be a great spectacle of VNSL talent, but it’s likely the Roses would be able to edge out the All Stars.

2020 Vitality Netball Superleague preview: Round 2 – Mavericks look to topple Wasps to stay on top

THE Vitality Netball Superleague is back for Round 2 this week after a massive opening round saw five big matches play out with plenty of new names joining the fray and proving they have what it takes to dominate in the competition. With three games on Saturday and two on Monday, Round 2 of the Superleague is set to mix things up.

Severn Stars v. Manchester Thunder
Worcester Arena

The Severn Stars will have their work cut out for them this round, coming up against the reigning premiers in Manchester Thunder off the back of a disappointing Round 1 effort. The Thunder are sure to come out flying after a stellar performance last round saw them continue their streak over last season’s minor premiers Wasps, while the Stars will really need to lift their game after struggling against the wrath of the Mavericks. Stars key pickup Liana Leota will take on her former side after jumping ship at the end of last season, so will need to really prove her point through the midcourt to ensure the Thunder know what they’re missing through the midcourt. Thunder have their own weapons however, with Caroline O’Hanlon, Amy Carter and Laura Malcolm more than up to the task through the centre third, able to transition from defence to attack with ease, especially safe in the knowledge that Joyce Mvula, Ellie Cardwell and Kathryn Turner are able to have an impact to post. Stars have a plethora of options in defence, with Malawian, Towera Vinkhumbo proving she has what it takes in the Superleague last round while the likes of Ama Agbeze, Nia Jones and Ella Powell-Davies all have plenty to offer with experience and cleanliness alike. Georgia Rowe was a real target at the post last week with her height and clean hands, while Paige Reed provided a handy option when required to open up the circle and switch up the rotation.

Loughborough Lightning v. Strathclyde Sirens
Sir David Wallace Arena

With both sides heading in this round winless and sitting toward the bottom of the ladder, both Lightning and Sirens will want to up their game in Round 2. Despite a disappointing loss to Team Bath last round, the Lightning will likely still come into this match as the favourites against the Sirens, meaning the Sirens will really need to prove themselves as contenders and test the Lightning by applying pressure on key shooter, Mary Cholhok, who relies on her height to get the ball. Fellow Lightning goaler, Ella Clark will need to really inject herself into this game after going missing last round, while the likes of Nat Panagarry will want to lead from the front alongside Hannah Joseph and Vicki Oyesola transitioning through defence to propel the ball forward and prevent easy turnovers. Something the Sirens have going for them is the ability of their goalers to share the load, with Bethan Goodwin and Lynsey Gallagher shooting relatively evenly last week and getting ready to welcome young gun Emma Barrie back into the fray after a breakout 2019 season. Sirens pickup Zanele Vimbela was a handy inclusion on the court last week with six intercepts so will want to mirror that effort against an ultimately stronger side than their Round 1 opposition.

Celtic Dragons v. Team Bath
Cardiff Met University

Celtic Dragons did not get the strong start they were after last round with a frustrating one-goal loss to Surrey Storm, while Team Bath continued their streak over Loughborough Lightning with a solid 14-goal win putting them into second on the ladder. Despite missing star centre Serena Guthrie this season, Bath proved they have got the guts, determination and skill to get the job done with the defensive minded side dominating last round, making for a really tough competitor for the Dragons who had patches of greatness last week but to no avail. Kim Commane was a revelation at the post for Bath last round, shooting 55 goals to be the top scorer of the week so the Dragons will need to be at their best to shut down the quick moving Aussie. Dee Bolakoro and Latanya Wilson will be set the task of shutting Commane down. Dragons’ midcourt will need to really stand up defensively to deny access to the circle. For Bath, the defensive effort through the midcourt was their real focus last season making for one of the toughest defensive units in the competition, so the likes of Summer Artman and Imogen Allison will need to hold that up with the likes of Eboni Usoro-Brown no longer joining the fray due to maternity leave.

Surrey Storm v. London Pulse
Surrey Sports Park

The first of two Monday matches, this game between Storm and Pulse will be a real test to see which side can capitalise off a strong start last week with both sides coming into this game off the back of a tight victory. Both teams picked up key players over the off season so expect the goaling battle to be a big one, with internationals Sigi Burger (South Africa) and Karyn Bailey (Australia) lining up in goal shooter for their respective sides. A big question mark hanging over this match will be a matter of cleanliness, with these sides picking up a combined six cautions and one warning in Round 1. Both teams will want to clean up their act, though the intensity from both sides should make for a relatively contest across the court with some real interesting battles set to take place. The likes of Mikki Austin and Lorraine Kowalewska will be key cogs for Storm with their respective ability to change the game quickly a real  testament to their skill and timing. Kowalewska will have her work cut out for her against Burger who shot at 100 per cent last week, while Austin is sure to inject experience wherever she plays, taking on the likes of Ashleigh Dekker, Adean Thomas and Michelle Drayne through the midcourt.

Wasps Netball v. Saracens Mavericks
Ricoh Arena

Mavericks will be in for a tough one this round coming up against last season’s runner up in the Wasps, who are coming into this week off the back of a seven goal loss in Round 1. The Mavs will look to capitalise on their own massive start to the season after a 21 goal win over Severn Stars last week, making for a tough battle between two real contenders. These two sides stayed relatively similar over the off-season, not losing or gaining many key players, meaning the Mavericks will really need to build off their pre-season after going down to Wasps in close encounters twice last season. Both sides have key players across the court, with Wasps goalers Rachel Dunn and Katie Harris able to share the load evenly and accurately to post. It’s a different story for the Mavericks, with George Fisher shouldering a lot of the load in goal shooter while Kadeen Corbin works the circle and plays more of a feeder role, but can also turn and shoot to be a real threat. The feeding ability of Georgia Lees will be key for the Mavs, but with the experience of Jade Clarke and Amy Flanagan able to rotate through both centre and wing defence for the Wasps, the Mavs could be really tested. Defensively, the aerial ability of Razia Quashie in goal keeper will be key to produce turnover ball, though the real key will be to balance staying on the body of Dunn to deny entry to the circle and moving off to hunt loose ball in the goal third. Meanwhile, the likes of Josie Huckle and Fran Williams will be doing everything in their power to deny Fisher the ball.

2020 Vitality Superleague preview: Round 1 – Grand Final rematch to headline weekend

THE grand final rematch is set to headline Round 1 of the Vitality Netball Superleague with Manchester Thunder and Wasps Netball facing off in game one with last year’s third and fourth place Team Bath and Loughborough set to do battle closely after. Birmingham Arena will play host to all five matches over the course of the weekend.

Manchester Thunder v. Wasps Netball
Arena Birmingham

It will be a mouth-watering contest between the two sides who retained the majority of their all-stars over the off-season. With the grand final loss etched in their memories, expect the Wasps to come out with a real vengeance having been pipped at the post not too long ago. Led by the likes of Rachel Dunn at the post, the Wasps have a plethora of stars that can cause damage and will want to gain early bragging rights over their new enemy.  But the reigning premiers have just as an impressive list with Eleanor Cardwell coming along in leaps and bounds while youngsters Amy Carter and Laura Malcolm still have plenty to offer. The potential match-up between Caroline O’Hanlon and Jade Clarke will be something to savour with the two able to go toe-to-toe for a full four quarters given their high endurance, netball nous and experience. Joyce Mvula proved to be near on unstoppable under the post last season and could quite as easily pose a dominate threat once again for the Thunder with her strong holds and accuracy to post. Given Mvula is such a demanding target Roses defender Fran Williams along with Hannah Leighton and Hannah Knights will have their work cut out for them in trying to quell her influence.

Team Bath v. Loughborough Lightning
Arena Birmingham

After falling just short of the big dance, both the Lightning and Team Bath will be hoping to kick their 2020 off with a bang and announce themselves as grand final contenders. Team Bath have lost a valuable player in Serena Guthrie with the highly athletic and talented midcourter stepping away, allowing the likes of Imogen Allison and new comer South African Khanyisa Chawane to step up in her absence. Goal shooter Kim Commane was a key cog in attack given her scoring prowess, strong body positioning and nifty footwork while the development of Sophie Drakeford-Lewis could give them that extra edge against the Lightning. The battle in the goal circle between Ugandan shooter Mary Cholhok and Eboni Usoro-Brown will provide plenty of entertainment with the two renowned for their physicality. Usoro-Brown just recently announced her pregnancy and may be an uncertainty for the match but if she does play expect the tenacious defender to leave no stone unturned. For the Lightning defender Vicki Oyesola will have to be on her a-game to worry Bath while through the midcourt Nat Panagarry will be hoping to have a profound impact with her defensive nature.

Saracens Mavericks v. Severn Stars
Arena Birmingham

Both sides had a relatively inconsistent 2019 and will be aiming to get a quick win on the board. The Mavericks have a very strong core group of players that when on song can cause all sorts of damage given both their defensive and attacking attributes while the Stars recruited some handy new players that could ruffle their oppositions feathers.  In the goal circle alone the Mavs have a wealth of stars with George Fisher becoming a commanding presence with her height and strength on the take while her partnership with the experienced Kadeen Corbin makes the duo a deadly combination for the Stars. Sister, Sasha Corbin is just as electrifying through the midcourt with her change of pace and clean hands while down in defence Razia Quashie is a force to be reckoned with, thanks to her physical pressure and intercepting ability. Georgia Rowe will have to stand up under the pressure of Quashie if the Stars are to generate any real scoring. The Stars will also be hoping that the likes Ama Agbeze kicks off her campaign in style with her tenacious mindset pairing with the likes of Nia Jones and Ella Powell-Davies down back to block any easy avenue into goal.

Celtic Dragons v. Surrey Storm
Arena Birmingham

It will be an interesting contest between the Dragons and Storm given their up and down 2019 season but will be hoping that all changes this year. The Dragons have bolstered their defence this season with new recruit Latanya Wilson set to join the ranks and use her long reach and deceptive speed to full effect in her debut game. Her partner in crime Dee Bolakoro is as strong as they come making the two an ominous threat for opposition sides. They have a relatively inexperienced midcourt an area the Storm will be hoping to exploit, headlined by the likes of player/coach Mikki Austin. Karryn Bailey is a smooth mover in the goal circle with accuracy and volume two key aspects of her game making her the most obvious choice to goal for the Storm. Former Firebirds defender, Leah Middleton will be hoping to leave a lasting impact in her potential first game.

Strathclyde Sirens v. London Pulse
Arena Birmingham

With both sides finishing in the bottom two at the end of last season, they will be aiming to turn things around in 2020 and build some strong form early with a convincing win here. It will be a battle of the goal shooters with Emma Barrie and Sigi Burger both looking to do damage under the post with their height, strong holds and clever footwork The Pulse are only in their second year and will be hoping that their connections across court have strengthened with the likes of SPAR Protea, Burger making the jump. Burger will have to have a strong performance under the post if she is any chance to get her side over the line in her debut game for the Pulse. Adean Thomas will be in the same boat with the midcourter hoping to make a splash in her new colours while Michelle Drayne has proven to be a steady head in attack for the Pulse. The Sirens have a wealth of options in the goal circle with Lynsey Gallagher and Bethan Goodwin able to chip in on the scoreboard to relieve young shooter, Barrie. Through the midcourt expect Gia Abernethy to have a big game in her first match as captain making for an exciting battle.

VNSL 2020 season preview: Can Manchester go back-to-back?

WITH the 2020 season of Vitality Superleague Netball (VNSL) set to commence on the weekend expect plenty of fireworks. After a disappointing 2019 the Strathclyde Sirens and London Pulse will be hoping to climbs the ranks while the Wasps and Manchester Thunder will be hoping to continue their reign at the top of the table.

Potential top four:

It is hard to see the top four changing too much from last year’s finalists given the limited changeover of players and the high level at which these sides played at. With the grand final loss still fresh in their memory, expect the Wasps to come out with a real vengeance and look to go one better in season 2020. They have a high calibre of players with the likes of Rachel Dunn, Fran Williams and Jade Clarke crucial cogs across the court for the Wasps making them the team to beat this season. But the Wasps will have to combat Manchester Thunder who have gone from strength to strength in recent years thanks to the plethora of talent across the court. The experience of Caroline O’Hanlon and Joyce Mvula makes them an unstoppable force while the steady development of Amy Carter and Laura Malcolm is an ominous thought. Throw in the likes of goaler Eleanor Cardwell and Manchester could be shaping up to be premiership contenders. Another possible top four contender is Team Bath who showed they have the skill to take it to the top teams but suffered from inconsistency. Bath have lost superstar Serena Guthrie with the talented midcourter stepping away but her absence will allow the likes of Imogen Alison to step up to the plate. Aussie goaler Kim Commane has proven to be rock solid under the post while the development of Sophie Drakeford-Lewis and Summer Artman could be the winning edge they are looking for. The Mavericks showed plenty of strong sings last season and once again will be pushing for a top four spot after falling just short in season 2019. New recruit Jodie Gibson could be the missing piece for Saracens with her defensive pressure and experience pairing with the likes of Razia Quashie down back. Towering goal shooter George Fisher is another key player to keep an eye on for the Mavs while sisters Kadeen and Sasha Corbin are a dynamic duo. If all things go to plan, they could quite easily leapfrog fellow teams and make their way into finals.

Finals contenders:

After making the finals last year it will be hard for Loughborough to be discounted from the finals talk given their ability to apply full court pressure and a relatively unchanged line-up. Boasting the likes of Nat Panagarry and Mary Cholhok the Lightning are a real chance to make it into the top four again but with other teams strengthening and recruiting key players may be edged out of contention. It is hard to not consider Severn Stars as a possible top four side after claiming sixth spot last season and adding the likes of Ama Agbeze, Nia Jones and midcourter Liana Leota to the fold in 2020. They have all the makings to be a high-quality side, but suffer from inconsistency, something they will be hoping to iron out this year. After finishing mid-table last season the Celtic Dragons could be in for a challenging 2020 but still have the likes of Dee Bolakoro and new-comer Latanya Wilson to lead the way in the defensive end. They have welcomed a wealth of new players into the fray with Rebekah Robinson and Shona O’Dwyer also entering the mix meaning it may take some time for the side to settle into a rhythm and really hit their straps.

Outsiders:

Despite the inclusion of South African shooting star Sigi Burger it could be another tricky year for London Pulse. Burger will offer a great target under the post with her height and strong holds while the addition of Michelle Drayne could add further star power to the shooting circle. The Strathclyde Sirens have a relatively unchanged line-up heading into 2020 and will be hoping to find better connections across the court to put out a more consistent four quarter performance. Recruit Zanele Vimbela will add a wealth of excitement to the Sirens defensive stocks while shooters Bethan Gooden and Emma Barrie have proven to be a dynamic duo when on song. After finishing eighth on the ladder the Surrey Storm will be hoping to improve their rankings this year thanks to the recruitment of goaler Karyn Bailey but could be a star player or two away from really taking it to the top teams.

VNSL 2020 team preview: Severn Stars

WITH the 2020 season of the Vitality Netball Superleague now upon us, we take a look at each team heading into a massive year in Superleague netball. The next team in our season preview is Severn Stars.

Coach: Melissa Bessell
2019 finish: 6th (7-11)

Despite a slow season, the Stars do not have too much to be disappointed about with clear improvements throughout the season and a real ability to come up with shock wins. While they had plenty of talent across the court last season, they did not have the polish to get the job done consistently and were ultimately unable to really compete against the tougher teams.

2020 predictions:

With a number of big pick-ups this season, the real question for the Stars is whether they will have the connections across the court to improve on their 2019 form and create a new brand of Stars netball that can really compete with the best. The likes of Celtic Dragons trio, Nia Jones, Bethan Dyke and Lucy Herdman will bring a solid connection to make for an interesting addition to the side while veteran, Liana Leota can bring a wealth of experience to a side that seemed to lack that last season. They have really bolstered their stocks through the midcourt with Dyke, Jones and Leota all able to rotate through wing attack, centre and wing defence giving them plenty of options heading into 2020. Towera Vinkhumbo will be another one to watch throughout the season with the Malawian defender able to get hands to ball and hopefully create turnover opportunities for her side to capitalise on. 

Key pick-up: Ama Agbeze GD/GK (London Pulse)

Ex-captain of the England Roses, Agbeze will bring not just a wealth of knowledge and experience but also the winning mentality the Stars need to go one better this season. With leadership skills and an ability to lead from the front, Agbeze has the game smarts to win a game off her own back and the cleanliness to intervene attacking forays. With balance and strength to boot, expect Agbeze to play her role but also bring a different aspect to her play with her ability to elevate the young players around her. The defender can switch between goal keeper and defence when needed and is not afraid to back herself to go for intercepts and propel the ball back down the court. 

Team list:

Sam Cook (player-coach role)
Liana Leota (Manchester Thunder)
Nia Jones (Celtic Dragons)
Bethan Dyke (Celtic Dragons)
Georgia Rowe
Paige Reed
Lucy Harris
Ella Powell-Davies
Lucy Herdman (Celtic Dragons)
Ama Agbeze (London Pulse)
Towera Vinkhumbo (Malawi)
Hannah Howl
Chloe Carchrie
Jane Taylor
Ellie Gibbons
Chloe Cubello

Manchester Thunder claim pre-season tournament

THE Strathclyde Sirens, Manchester Thunder and Severn Stars all brought the new year in with style as all three sides went into battle in yet another pre-season warmup. The new format saw teams play six 10-minute quarters pushing teams to their limits. But in the end it was Manchester that reigned supreme winning both matches, while unfortunately the Strathclyde Sirens failed to notch up a victory in the tournament.

The Stars kick-started their day off with a battle against the Thunder. But Manchester proved too strong for their opponents registering a 19-goal victory, 67-48. The Thunder got off to a hot start and did not look back, opening up a 12-goal margin by half-time. Despite the Stars reducing the deficit marginally, the Thunder kept their foot on the throat. Joyce Mvula was solid as ever under the post for the Thunder, using her athleticism to reel in passes and shoot truly. Her combination with the likes of Ashleigh O’Neal and Caroline O’Hanlon was on full display with the two feeding well into the circle. Defensively, Laura Malcolm and Emma Dovey provided a reset option when moving forward while also plying their trade with their hands over pressure. The Stars found it hard to combat the movement of Mvula with Towera Vinkhumbo and Ella Powell-Davies unable to fully shut down the Malawian shooter.

Despite dropping the game against the Thunder earlier in the day the Stars rectified their issues across the court against the Sirens. It was a tight tussle between the two sides with the lead see-sawing with only goal separating the two sides at half time before the Stars turned it on in the final quarter to win by four goals 45-41. Georgia Rowe got the start for the Stars in the opening term holding strong and finding the net with ease thanks to her commanding height. Nia Jones and Bethan Dyke were solid through the midcourt using the angles to open up the space while doing the defensive things well. Despite challenging throughout, the Thunder made it count in the back half using their ball speed and placement to capitalise on their opportunities and claim their first win for 2020.

In the final match of the day the Thunder and Sirens went head to head with Manchester running out victorious 57-39. Neither side could be split in the first 10 minutes sitting at seven goals apiece showcasing just how intense the game was before the Thunder found their groove both in attack and defence to go on a scoring spree pushing out to a 13-goal lead with 30 minutes still to play. The Thunder meant business and despite an attempted comeback from the Sirens they were simply too good. Eleanor Cardwell headlined the attack end for the Thunder with the talented youngster shouldering the load while pairing with goal attack Kathryn Turner who also hit the scoreboard. O’Hanlon was consistent as ever running up and down the court while the defensive combination of Dovey and Rebekah Airey made for hard work.

Vitality Netball Superleague wrap: Round 14

ROUND 14 of the Vitality Netball Superleague (VNSL) saw two table topping clashes and potential finals teams go head-to-head, as Team Bath hosted Loughborough Lightning in a down to the wire thriller, while the Saracens Mavericks went down to Wasps Netball. The surprise win of the weekend however saw ladder leaders, Manchester Thunder suffer a shock loss to the Severn Stars, cementing 2019 as one of the best and most competitive seasons ever. In other results, the Celtic Dragons put on a stellar performance against the struggling Strathclyde Sirens while London Pulse almost got over the line against Surrey Storm.

It was a big game on Friday night as third took on fourth, with Team Bath and Loughborough Lightning fighting it out for finals contention. Despite a slow start, a dominant third quarter put Bath in a good position to take a strong win as they took back the lead, but a sloppy final quarter almost saw the Lightning take home the points as the home side struggled to convert. It was a tight final few minutes before the end of the game handed Bath some relief, coming away with a two goal win (57 – 55). The Lightning came in strong to lead by three at half time, but seemed to run out of steam after half time while Bath came in with confidence. A stronger final quarter saw Lightning reduce the margin and opportunities into the circle, but to no avail as they went down to Bath for the second time this season. Lightning have proved to be a surprise package this year, beating the higher ranking teams and going down to sides far lower on the ladder, so will be disappointed they missed this opportunity to get one over Bath and solidify their position in the top four. Bath defender, Summer Artman was a standout defensively, crowding the goal circle well with Eboni Usoro-Brown and putting immense pressure on Lightning goalers, Mary Cholhok and Ella Clark. The likes of Kim Commane, Sophie Drakeford Lewis and Laura Rudland were on song in the goal circle, standing up against the intensity of Lightning’s hands-on defence, while Serena Guthrie pulled out the full force of her talent, producing turnovers to feed back forward. This win will be a big confidence booster for Bath, who have lifted over the past few weeks to prove that they deserve a finals position, while Lightning will need to regroup ahead of next week’s clash against the Sirens to ensure they have the points to make finals ahead of the Mavericks.

Next up saw Celtic Dragons host Strathclyde Sirens, giving the Dragons an opportunity to put their recent improvement on show and come away with a 10 goal win (59 – 49). The Dragons have been steadily upping their game quality and consistency this season, and their efforts seemed to finally come into effect as they stormed away to an early lead, giving the Sirens little opportunity to work back into the match. The Sirens have struggled in 2019 to finish out games, but put in a hard fought effort to keep the margin at ten with a strong second half. The Dragons will be happy to come away with their fifth win for the season, a victory that was required to keep the pressure on middle-table teams, Surrey Storm and Severn Stars. With accuracy issues plaguing Sirens shooters, Lynsey Gallagher and young gun, Emma Barrie at the post, Dragons, Stacian Facey and Dee Bolakoro were able to take advantage and shoot the ball back down court to attack. The likes of midcourters, Nia Jones and Kyra Jones combined well defensively through the midcourt, putting more pressure on Gia Abernethy and Nicola McCleery as they struggled to push the ball downcourt.

In a shock result, ladder leaders Manchester Thunder went down by three goals (47 – 60) to the Severn Stars, with the Stars coming in hot to disrupt finals hopes across the board. This was the third win in the row for the Stars, who continue to impress having put in the hard yards to work their way back up the ladder in recent weeks. The Stars did a stellar job keeping the Thunder’s volume of shots low, reducing them to an eight goal second quarter and proving that every side can be beaten by any team on their day. The Thunder are renowned for sinking a lot of goals in a short period of time, credit to the accuracy and rebounding efforts of Joyce Mvula and Ellie Cardwell, however could not seem to get hands to the ball with Sam Cook and Jodi-Ann Ward on fire in the circle. The dominant pairing of Kerry Almond and Emma Dovey seemed to be at a loss against Stars shooter, Georgia Rowe, who put on a clinic at the post and worked her way around defence effectively, forcing a change in defence as Rebekah Airey took the court in goal keeper. With some composed defensive pressure and flying intercepts from the likes of Cook and Ward, the Stars were able to combat the Thunder’s comeback and solidify their best win for the season so far. The Stars put the Thunder into an uncomfortable position with a lapse in confidence, forcing changes across the court as the normally composed Thunder side struggled to keep afloat. Despite some good patches, the Thunder had a frustrating off-week so will need a big lift ahead of Round 15 to maintain their position at the top of the ladder.

In another close match, the London Pulse came agonisingly close to their third win as they pushed Surrey Storm until the final buzzer, going down by only three goals (56 – 53). A strong first half gave the Pulse a three goal lead, before a 16 to 12 goal third quarter saw the Storm gain the upper hand after a sloppy second term. The lead changed a number of times, with both sides hungry for another win – the Storm chasing a second win for the week after a spectacular show against the Lightning, while the Pulse have shown immense improvement over recent weeks. The likes of Sigi Burger put on another exceptional performance while goalsneak, Rhea Dixon provided a great backup around the circle, slipping between defenders. Pulse captain, Ama Agbeze put on a strong effort, but a shaky defensive setup around the circle created issues for the away side, while the home crowd pushed the Storm to go the extra mile in attack to score. Storm wing attack, Emily Gulvin was a standout, pushing hard at every centre to receive the ball in prime position to move downcourt for circle entry.

The final match of the round saw the Saracens Mavericks host a full strength Wasps Netball, going down by seven points as both sides battled out the second half for the advantage (51 – 58). A 23 goal to 31 first half set up the win for the Wasps, coming out of the blocks fast to ensure an upset would not pip them at the post this week. The Mavericks have some issues to iron out in the coming weeks in order to fight back into the top four, fortunately sitting only one game below the Lightning on the ladder despite a disappointing few weeks on court. A late fight back from the Mavericks was not enough against the force of the Wasps who flexed their muscles. The Wasps were challenged at time and will be happy with the win, with the victory helping to even out the points with ladder leaders, Thunder. George Fisher was fortunately back on form this week, putting on a show at the post with Kadeen Corbin in goal attack. It was not accuracy that was the issue for the Mavericks, but the opportunities going to waste as the Wasps created errors, putting pressure on every ball and causing issues across the court for the Mavericks. For the Wasps, the likes of defenders, Fran Williams and Hannah Knights were excellent, forcing turnovers and creating options through the midcourt credit to the speed and craft of Bongi Msomi in wing attack. The ever reliable shooting duo of Rachel Dunn and Katie Harris were clinical under the ring, sharing the load to create continuous options up forward.

Vitality Netball Superleague wrap: Round 9

ROUND 9 of the Vitality Netball Superleague saw a lot of unconventionally close matches, showing the growth of less experienced sides since the beginning of the season. Meanwhile, the 2019 ladder did not change with the outcomes of this week’s results, proving the closeness of the competition as we edge closer to the midway point of the season.

The Saracens Mavericks once again staked their claim on the competition defeating the Strathclyde Sirens by a whopping 30 goals. After an even first quarter, Mavericks pulled away finishing with a margin of 38 – 68. It was goal for goal in the first term with the Sirens going into the second quarter up by a goal, before an onslaught from the star-studded Mavericks saw the away side take control of the match. The Sirens only shot 14 goals in the second half compared to the Mavericks’ 36, proving there was no coming back for the already struggling Sirens. Mavericks player of the match, George Fisher once again stood out in goals, shooting 36/38 (95 per cent). She showed her versatility moving into goal attack to make room for Karyn Bailey in goal shooter (20/22 at 91 per cent), while Lindsay Keable put on a clinic in the defensive circle, staking a claim on a starting position in defence. Sasha Corbin displayed her excellent vision with her pinpoint passes into the goal circle. The Sirens were missing star shooter, Cat Tuivaiti to injury, but the end score just goes to show that the side still needs to learn to hold up when missing key ball movers. Despite the momentum being all for the Sirens in the opening term, the Mavericks had the experience to wrestle it back to take control. Gia Abernethy showed off her running ability through the midcourt, constantly ready for the ball and creating opportunities from intercepts. Nicola McCleery paired well in wing attack with Abernethy, getting onto the edge of the circle to feed into shooters, Beth Goodwin and Lynsey Gallagher worked tirelessly, while Hayley Mulheron did not stop down back for the Sirens.

Game two of Round 9 saw the Celtic Dragons take on Loughborough Lightning in a game that could have seriously hindered the Lightning’s chances in the top 5. The Lightning made sure it would not be an issue, shooting 19 goals in the first quarter on their way to a 13 goal win (57 – 70). Despite the loss, the Dragons have some good moments to pull from when going into the next round of the competition, especially from the final quarter margin which saw the Dragons beat the Lightning 17-16. It was the Dragons’ defence that appeared to be the issue, with the Lightning managing two 19 goal quarters for the game, proving consistency is still an issue for the Dragons. Meanwhile, Lightning will be confident going into the next stages of the competition sitting on four wins in a row. Nia Jones was dominant at times in wing defence, shutting down movement around the goal circle and giving circle defender and Jamaican import, Stacian Facey opportunities to pick up the loose ball. Facey and fellow defender, Dee Bolakoro applied great arms over pressure in the goal circle, helping to shut down movement and disrupt space. However the duo could not stop the volume of shots put up by Lightning shooters, Mary Cholhok and Lightning player of the match, Ella Clark. Lightning centre, Jess Shaw showed great patience feeding into the circle, working well with the shooting pair to find space for a shot. Lightning’s teamwork was monumental, generating turnovers from the Dragons and creating issues in the midcourt.

Manchester Thunder hosted the Surrey Storm, showing the competition why they are so highly rated after another big win, beating the sixth ranked Storm 66 – 42. The 22 goal win did not come easy in the beginning, as the Storm matched Thunder in the first term, only coming into the second term down by one goal. It was the Storm’s second and third quarter efforts however that let the Thunder take full control, as they shot only 16 goals to the Thunder’s 35. Thunder’s 20 goal third term cemented the match, as they once again proved their strength against a lower ladder side. Three players made their way off court from injury in the physical matchup, with Storm’s Mikki Austin and Nicole Humphrys, and Thunder’s Caroline O’Hanlon subbed off. With both starting centres – Austin and O’Hanlon – off court for most of the match, there were a number of unforeseen issues on court for both sides. Thunder arguably handled positional changes better than the Storm, who suffered in the middle thirds trying to recover the connection they missed without Austin on court. Prior to her injury, O’Hanlon was excellent pairing with wing attack, Liana Liota and goal attack, Ellie Cardwell, who made her presence felt in the goal circle as she came on at half time, with her timing in the circle a key feature of her game.

A big game changer for the competition saw the Severn Stars come close to beating Wasps Netball, only going down by seven goals. It was a tight game for both teams, with neither side able to break away convincingly throughout the match. Defensively, both sides were stellar, showing the value of the competition as a pathway for future national players. The Wasps held a lead for most of the match, but were certainly shown up at times by the young Stars squad on a mission. Despite a ten goal deficit at half time, the Stars refused to give up, pushing the Wasps further than their ladder ranking (8th) would suggest. Georgia Rowe was dominant under the ring as always for the Stars, while defender, Jodi-Ann Ward defended the circle with intent, maintaining constant pressure on the Wasps shooters at the other end. Sam Cook was another standout for the the Stars, showcasing her hands over pressure when it mattered, notching up intercepts through the early stages of the match. Bongi Msomi once again proved her necessity to the Wasps’ attack as she fed the ball cleanly to Rachel Dunn and Katie Harris in goals despite the immense defensive pressure. Centre, Jade Clarke was named Wasps player of the match for her consistency and cleanliness through the midcourt.

The final match of the round saw London Pulse pull out all the shots against fifth ranked Team Bath, coming agonisingly close to their second win for the season as they went down by a mere four points, 60 – 64. It was the Pulse’s 18 goal final quarter that almost won them the match, however consistency was an issue for the rest of the game, as they played well but could not capitalise in the early stages. On the other hand, Bath seemed to be on their way to a convincing win, before dropping all guard in the final quarter, only shooting ten goals and coming close to defeat after a dominant 19-goal third term. Team Bath midcourter and England Rose, Serena Guthrie finally made her return to the side from injury, injecting confidence back into the squad in the early stages of the match and boosting the defensive midcourt from one level to the next as Imogen Allison, Eboni Usoro-Brown and Summer Artman caused issues for Pulse’s attack. Goal shooter, Kim Commane was prolific at the post, shooting at 95 per cent accuracy, while wing attack, Sophie Drakeford-Lewis was named Bath player of the match for her well timed feeds and deflections. Throughout the match it was maintaining possession of the ball that seemed to be the main problem for Pulse, with shooters, Chiara Semple and Shantal Slater proving that accuracy at the post was not an issue. Semple made her claim for a consistent full game in goal attack, pairing impeccably with Slater, who was only subbed off in the final stages of the match for young gun, Olivia Tchine. Team Bath have struggled on court in recent weeks, with dominant patches here and there finally rewarding the side with victory, but proving there is still plenty to work on.

Vitality Netball Superleague wrap: Round 6

ROUND 6 of the Vitality Netball Superleague has effectively opened up the competition, with positions two through to five changing on a weekly basis as teams to continue to surprise on court. Meanwhile, Wasps Netball still sit comfortably at the top of the table, undefeated winning five from five. Lightning proved they are a much better team than recent score-lines and their current ladder standing may suggest, while Surrey Storm have jumped back up the ladder after two successful wins on the trot. Meanwhile, ladder movement in the bottom half of the ladder shows there is still plenty more surprises to come in 2019.

The round opened with a shock win from Loughborough Lightning against highly ranked Manchester Thunder on Friday evening. Thunder have been performing well in 2019 thus far, but Lightning were just too strong against the home side, taking home a 60 – 65 win. The Lightning starred in the second half after being relatively even at half time, only two points behind the quick and nimble Thunder side. However, Lightning came out with confidence in the third, shooting 18 goals to 13 to take the lead ahead of the final quarter, maintaining composure to take home the winning points. Shooter, Mary Cholhok was dynamic for Lightning, looking dangerous every time she received the ball in the circle. Meanwhile, midcourter, Natalie Panagarry had a sensational second half around the circle edge, seeming to have the ball on a string, while defenders, Vicki Oyesola and Tuaine Keenan put in the hard yards against an increasingly pushy Thunder attack. Joyce Mvula was dominant in the circle for Thunder, proving her necessity under the ring with strong hands and precision at the post, while Emma Dovey and Rebekah Airey worked well in defence despite Lightning’s second half attacking barrage.

Saturday’s matches opened with Severn Stars hosting confident Round 5 winners, Surrey Storm, with the Storm boosting their standing with a nine-goal victory (46 – 55). Storm came out firing in the first, shooting 17 goals to 13 to open the match and show what was to come in the game ahead. Storm were consistent, taking advantage of the Stars’ errors and capitalising on opportunities in front of goal. Stars goal shooter, Georgia Rowe was effective throughout the match, netting 28 goals for her side, while defenders, Sam Cook, Halimat Adio and Jodi-Ann Ward (sidelined by injury midway), worked efficiently to produce turnovers and create goaling opportunities. Storm shooters, Rhea Dixon and Sigi Burger battled hard under the ring against the Stars’ constant defensive attempts. Burger’s fellow South African, Shadine Van Der Merwe wreaked havoc through the midcourt and Lorraine Kowalewska pushed hard in the goal third to disrupt the Stars’ attempts at a smooth movement to goal.

Fourth-ranked Saracens Mavericks proved their position on the ladder on Saturday night, beating a struggling Team Bath side 68 – 45. Team Bath will be disappointed in their performance over the weekend, as consistency seems to evade the side with a number of big wins and big losses to their name in 2019. Bath certainly had more downs than ups in this matchup, missing co-captains and England Roses representatives, Serena Guthrie and Eboni Usoro-Brown ahead of the match through illness and injury. Meanwhile, the Mavericks were efficient from the opening whistle, shooting the first goal in what would be a dominant performance, keeping Bath to only ten goals in the first term and nine in the third. Team Bath were forced into making uncharacteristic errors across the court struggling against the pressure of the Mavericks. Despite issues throughout the court causing changes all round, Bath’s Imogen Allison was impressive through the midcourt, showing her force and learnings in Guthrie’s absence, while Kim Commane held strong under the ring. Mavericks goal keeper, Razia Quashie proved once again to be a standout, pleasing the home crowd with a dominant and exciting display in defence, while Michelle Drayne and Georgia Lees dominated in the centre third, with Lees taking the court on her 25th birthday. With a strong lead and not long to go in the final quarter, Australian, Karyn Bailey took the court for the first time in 2019, bumping starting shooter George Fisher into her lesser played position of goal attack after a dominant performance throughout the match, with a final tally of 48/53 at 91 per cent – beating Bath on her contribution alone.

Celtic Dragons put Wasps Netball through their paces on Monday night, only going down by 12 points to the current scoreboard leaders. Despite a goal-for-goal first term, the Dragons were down by six at half time. Hope was not lost, with a potential second half comeback to look forward to, however the Wasps’ skills cannot be faulted, with a 17-goal third quarter backing up their dominant second quarter to win the match. The Dragons came out hard in the final term to try and reel back the margin, once again matching the Wasps at 12 goals apiece for the third term, however could not jump ahead of the top side. Dragons defenders, Stacian Facey and Dee Bolakoro were resilient, continually working to make the shooting circle difficult for star Wasps shooters, Rachel Dunn and Katie Harris, who combined well once more and shared the load in the ring, proving why the Wasps have been so deadly in 2019. Meanwhile, Dragons wing defence Nia Jones put in the hard yards to stop the Wasps’ flow through the midcourt as her opposition wing attack, Bongi Msomi, was influential at circle’s edge. Wasps defender, Fran Williams, put on the pressure with some dominant deflections, while Sophia Candappa came on in the second half to help click her side into gear.

The final match of Round 6 was between the two bottom sides of the league, London Pulse and Strathclyde Sirens. Both sides have been struggling to get wins on the board, but Sirens managed to pip Pulse at the post for their first outing with an impressive six-point victory (54 – 60). Through an even first half, with a half-time score of 28 apiece, both sides battled for dominance before the Sirens managed to pull away, shooting 32 to 26 in the second half for a well deserved win. In a battle of the midcourt, Pulse goal shooter Shantal Slater was a significant target under the ring, though Sirens defenders, Emily Nicholl and Ella Gibbons certainly put her through her paces in the circle. Pulse’s Kira Rothwell and Brie Grierson shared the load of goal attack throughout the tight match, playing half a game each and seamlessly pairing with Slater. Defenders, Jas Odeogberin and Loreen Ngwira were effective throughout the game but were ultimately unable to carry their side to a win against a prolific performance from goal shooter, Cat Tuivaiti and midcourter Gia Abernethy as they took advantage of Pulse’s every error.