Tag: Razia Quashie

VNSL 2021: Team review – Leeds Rhinos

THE 2021 Vitality Netball Superleague season is officially done and dusted, meaning it is now time for our postseason reviews. Rhinos may have been the newest team to enter the competition, but they proved to be a tough competitor from the get-go with their wealth of exciting talent and developing stars stepping up throughout the season.

Season form: 12-8 (4th)

There is not much more the Rhinos could have done during their maiden season, with the brand new franchise turning heads from the very beginning. Injury struck the side early on with Donnell Wallam and Fi Toner both going down in the opening round, but that did not stop the side from storming the competition as they piled on 12 wins which culminated in an eventual finals berth. While the Rhinos made finals by default following a positive COVID-19 case ahead of the penultimate round of action, the side’s upward trajectory throughout the season was down to plenty of excitement and confidence amongst the new-look playing group. Wallam, Rhea Dixon and Brie Grierson were hard to stop when they got going, while Brittany Coleman and Sienna Rushton both made appearances in the front-end, showcasing the wealth of exciting goalers the Rhinos had at their disposal. Through the centre there was no doubting the midcourt craft of Toner and veteran Jade Clarke, while Vicki Oyesola grew in form and excitement as the season went on, bolstered by the work-rate of Tuaine Keenan behind her.

Best win: Def. Saracens Mavericks 63-48, Round 12

With plenty of impressive form behind them, there was any number of “best wins” for the brand new franchise who came into the season with all eyes on them and nothing to lose. With a couple of back-to-back wins over fellow finals hopes Sirens and Wasps during Round 13/14, it was the Round 12 victory over Saracens Mavericks that really turned heads, coming in off the back of two straight losses to charge out of the blocks and hit the Mavs where it hurt. It was a 16-goal first quarter effort that started the Rhinos off, with their early margin extending to 11 goals at the main break as they forged ahead. That margin continued to grow as the side won all four quarters, piling on 15 deflections and 10 intercepts throughout the contest. Wallam carried the load out the front with a whopping 54 goals at 98 per cent, while Dixon and Grierson utilised their pinpoint precision passing to the tall timber to outclass the Mavericks at every turn. The combination of Emily Hollingworth, Oyesola and Keenan was immense, as Keenan piled up six intercepts, and the trio combined for 11 turnovers between them. Whilst the Mavericks were missing Razia Quashie, it was still an enormous win for the Rhinos who did not let up throughout the entire clash, coming away with an eventual 15-goal victory. 

Standout player: Donnell Wallam 

Most Improved: Brie Grierson

While injury struck Wallam early on in the season, that did not stop the Australian sharp-shooter who proved to have not only the smarts and positioning to get the job done, but also the excitement factor to add a little bit of a spark to the Rhinos front-end. Wallam’s resilience, height and overall stature on court proved critical for the Rhinos time and time again, as her accuracy and overall volume saw scorelines pileup and her confidence grow with every single match. While not the most versatile player, Wallam was deceptively light on her feet and consistently provided a show for not only fans, but also her teammates and opposition, as she continuously evaded defensive intent and provided that steady head at the goalpost. She finished her season with 483 goals at 91 per cent – an average of 37 per match – despite only making 13 appearances due to injury and family tragedy, while also adding five turnovers to her name. Coming in as the most improved is wing attack Grierson, who stepped up to the plate time and time again and forged an impressive combination with Wallam and Dixon at the post. Her ability to thread the needle and find her two goalers within the circle was second-to-none while her speed and forward craft to find circle edge was immense. With clean hands, excellent footwork and a go-go-go mentality, Grierson developed her craft with every game she played and continuously stepped up as the season went on. Playing every single one of the Rhinos’ 20 matches, Grierson was consistent and completed her season with 11 turnovers, 14 deflections and four intercepts to her name.

 

Picture credit: Ben Lumley Photography

VNSL 2021: Team review – Saracens Mavericks

THE 2021 Vitality Netball Superleague (VNSL) season is officially done and dusted meaning it is now time for our postseason reviews. Another side which just did not quite hit the mark this season, the Mavericks were hit by constant injuries which led to a disrupted season for the side, despite the wealth of talent at their disposal.

Season form: 11-8-1 (5th)

While there is no doubt the Mavericks had some truly exciting players at their disposal, it was the culmination of unfortunately timed injuries, early connection issues and inconsistency that really cost the Mavericks this season. Razia Quashie, Jodie Gibson and eventual retiree Jo Trip were immense the whole way through, with the latter two proving more than capable of providing the highlights reel when Quashie was out injured, as Gabby Marshall continued on her impressive trajectory with another impressive season under her belt. Sasha Corbin was the steady head through the midcourt with Georgia Lees and returnee Beth Ecuyer-Dale’s circle craft continuously proving useful, while a new-look circle took some time to really fire, but once it did there was no questioning what its trio could do. Fresh from a stint in the Suncorp Super Netball Ine-Mari Venter was cool, calm and collected playing both in goal attack and goal shooter, while the steady, speedy and creative Kadeen Corbin injected excitement where required. Britney Clarke popped up here and there with her strong hold and ability to reel in the high ball, as the side forged a combination which was reliable and accurate to boot. However, their early season inconsistency and struggle to back up their most impressive performances really hurt them, finishing in fifth for the third consecutive season.

Best win: Def. Team Bath 46-35, Round 19

The Mavericks were the only side to defeat Team Bath twice during the home-and-away season, proving that their defensive unit had the smarts and offensive drive was too much for the then-ladder leaders. With two wins against the blue and gold side under the belts, it was arguably their Round 19 victory that proved the Mavericks had the goods and that the first win was not a fluke, as the Mavs ran away with an 11-goal win. Quashie starred in the last line of defence, standing strong to gather eight deflections, three rebounds and two intercepts, culminating in four turnovers while Gibson, Marshall and Ecuyer-Dale added two apiece as their smothering defensive effort rivalled Bath’s own. The combination between the Corbin sisters was immense as Kadeen Corbin shot 15 goals straight credit to Sasha Corbin’s ability to read the play and thread the needle, while Venter had a day out under the post finishing with 31 goals. While unfortunately both the side’s wins over Bath came with the cost of ugly losses the next day, both wins proved crucial in the side’s pursuit for a finals berth. 

Standout player: Razia Quashie

Most Improved: Jodie Gibson

It is safe to say that Quashie was the one to watch on court this season, and while she has been a superpower down back previously, it was her ability to pile on the pressure in every single match to continuously be a thorn in the side of her opposition. Whether she took the court alongside Trip or Gibson, Quashie had the innate timing, vision and intent to force errors and turnovers down back, while her aerial ability and strength proved critical at times. While the goal keeper was unfortunately injured at key times during the season, 2021 was arguably her best season to-date, compiling an average of 3.8 turnovers, 3.3 deflections and 2.6 intercepts per match. Whilst it may be a slight cop-out to call Gibson the most improved player given she has been part of the Roses squad prior to injury, there is no doubt the defender returned to her best form this season with a strong defensive unit surrounding her and absolutely starred in any position she played. With a wealth of versatility, Gibson was able to quickly and consistently step up to plug the hole in the defensive unit and allowed those around her to stand tall in the process. The speedy and adaptable player plied her trade in all three defensive positions throughout the season and did not skip a beat, using her long arms and clean hands to clean up the loose ball and snag intercepts to propel her side into transition. Gibson’s speed ensured she was never out of the contest, averaging close to three deflections and just nine penalties per match.

 

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

2021 ANZ Premiership vs. VNSL Team of the Week: Round 9&19

VITALITY Netball Superleague returned this week with the finals race front and centre while Round 19 of the ANZ Premiership rolled around. There were plenty of impressive performances from players across both leagues as Draft Central compiles two teams of the week from the respective leagues.

ANZ Premiership

GS: Grace Nweke (Northern Mystics)
GA: Jamie Hume (Northern Stars)
WA: Peta Toeava (Northern Mystics)
C: Maddy Gordon (Central Pulse)
WD: Renee Savai’inaea (Southern Steel)
GD: Karin Burger (Mainland Tactix)
GK: Taneisha Fifita (Southern Steel)

BENCH: George Fisher (Southern Steel), Sam Winders (Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic), Elle Temu (Northern Stars)

There is no denying that Grace Nweke has all but solidified her role as the starting goal shooter in our Team of the Week with the Northern Mystics representative a pillar of consistency. Her ability to hold strong under the post and use her footwork to claim prime position is second to none, not to mention her accuracy and volume finishing the game with 57 goals from 61 attempts. Alongside her in the goal circle is Northern Stars goal attack Jamie Hume who well and truly stepped up to the plate in Round 9 of the ANZ Premiership. The quick footed sharp shooter made her presence felt from the opening minute and shouldered the load. She backed herself from range and boasted a confident aura throughout the clash with her clever drives and hot hand coming to the fore to finish with 18 goals at 86 per cent.

There is speed to burn through the midcourt with Peta Toeava starring in wing attack with her quick give and go and vision. The Mystics midcourter set the court alight with her drive and positioning around circle edge to fire off pinpoint passes racking up a whopping 38 goal assists. Speaking of speedsters, Maddy Gordon had her time to shine in at centre for the Pulse with her tenacity speaking volumes. A real competitor with a high endurance base, Gordon plied her trade effectively up both ends of the court to feed the ball into the shooters and also rack up the intercepts herself. She could transition down court in a heartbeat such is her speed while her quick hands were also prominent. The wing defence position falls to Renee Savai’inaea and while she did not register a wealth of stats her work off the ball was tremendous, keeping her opponent off circle edge.

Down back it is hard to go past Karin Burger with the goal defence continuing to impress. In her first year with the Tactix, Burger has well and truly found her place using her closing speed and deceptively long arms to create deflections aplenty and disrupt the attacking rhythm for opposition teams. Her read of the play was also at the forefront of her performance collecting four intercepts for her efforts. Youngster Taneisha Fifita secured the goal keeper position with her ability to compete in the air and at ground level. The Southern Steel defender got hands to ball and used her body work to out-manoeuvre her opponent and reel in wayward passes.

Elle Temu was unlucky not to get the nod down back after putting out a stellar performance. The defender was in just about everything using her aerial capacity and quick feet to win ball back time after time. Also on the bench is George Fisher with the goal shooter a rock under the post while the final spot goes to Sam Winders with the Magic captain a real driving force in both attack and defence.

VNSL

GS: Ine-Mari Venter (Saracen Mavericks)
GA: Eleanor Cardwell (Manchester Thunder)
WA: Caroline O’Hanlon (Manchester Thunder)
C: Gia Abernethy (Strathclyde Sirens)
WD: Beth Cobden (Loughborough Lightning)
GD: Funmi Fadoju (London Pulse)
GK: Towera Vinkhumbo (Strathclyde Sirens)

BENCH: Mary Cholhok (Loughborough Lightning), Serena Guthrie (Team Bath), Razia Quashie (Saracens Mavericks)

Goal shooter, Ine-Mari Venter was in dominant form and was a key reason for the Mavs win using her strength to hold off her opponent. Able to read the play and position accordingly, Venter was able to go score with ease posting 31 goals. It was a strong performance by Eleanor Cardwell with the goal attack controlling the tempo in attack for Manchester Thunder and subsequently earning the starting position. Her ability to weave her magic down the court, hit the scoreboard at an accurate rate only missing three of her 26 attempts and create attacking forays was second to none.

Caroline O’Hanlon secured the wing attack position with the Manchester Thunder midcourter using her knowledge and experience to have a profound impact around circle edge. Not the quickest player out on court, one thing you can rely on is O’Hanlon’s ability to deliver well-weighted passes and nous to find space in the attacking third. Strathclyde Sirens captain and centre, Gia Abernethy was on song throughout her outing using her gut-running and slick hands to have an influence at both ends of the court. Abernethy had a hand in just about everything picking up a number of intercepts and deflections to lead the way for the Sirens. Beth Cobden takes out the wing defence position with the Lightning stalwart able to ply her trade and use her closing speed to clog up space.

London Pulse goal defence, Funmi Fadoju was in scintillating form in both games across Round 19 of the VNSL and while she got her fair share of whistle she made up for it with her ball winning capabilities. She was a real energiser bunny down in defence, throwing herself at everything that came her way and most importantly winning ball back whether it be through intercepts or deflections. Towera Vinkhumbo was at her damaging best for the Sirens getting hands to ball and staying away from the whistle. Her skill to stay in play and mount pressure was imperative in her side’s win as was her tenacity to win ball back and make life hard for opposition teams trying to enter the defensive circle.

There are a number of key players on the bench with Mary Cholhok a commanding force once again under the post for the Lightning with her height and prolific nature to post putting her in good stead. Razia Quashie also impressed with her defensive pressure and tenacity before she was struck down with injury, while the final spot goes to Serena Guthrie with the centre imposing herself in defence and attack credit to her hunt and sheer athleticism.

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 – Sunday wrap

THE penultimate round of Vitality Netball Superleague action is almost done and dusted, with three huge Sunday afternoon clashes playing out rather than the scheduled four due to the Surrey Storm and Wasps Netball clash being postponed following a positive COVID-19 case amongst the Wasps playing group. That match is set to be rescheduled in due time.

Strathclyde Sirens (53) defeated Celtic Dragons (34)

Player of the match: Gia Abernethy (Strathclyde Sirens)

The Strathclyde Sirens got a crucial Round 19 win on the board to take them another step closer to finals content, downing Celtic Dragons by 19-goals in a comprehensive effort. A consistent barrage was required by the Sirens to come away with the points in this clash, and consistent is what they got, adding to their tally each quarter throughout to leave the Dragons behind. Despite improved defensive efforts from the Dragons, the side struggled to hit the scoreboard in the first half, putting up just four goals in the first and trailing 24-11 at the main break. A huge 17-11 third term from the Sirens all but secured victory, as the side rolled out the subs to give developing talent a chance to showcase their wares.

Abigail Tyrell and Annika Lee-Jones had an excellent start, piling on the defensive pressure from the get-go to deny easy chances at goal for Sirens goal shooter Emma Barrie with the tall timber lacking her usual impact to the post finishing with just nine goals. The two Dragons defenders combined for six turnovers and 10 deflections with their high work rate paying off throughout the contest, although the agile movement of Niamh McCall (29 goals from 37 attempts) and Bethan Goodwin (15 from 16) appeared to do the trick as the Sirens took control. Player of the match and Sirens captain Gia Abernethy was hard to stop through the centre, throwing herself at everything to pile on four intercepts and allow Beth Dix to fire on all cylinders in wing attack. The combination of Towera Vinkhumbo and Emily Nicholl continues to shine, as the duo combined for seven intercepts, three deflections and 10 turnovers, while Taylor Cullen was a workhorse shutting down Laura Rudland. Despite their struggles getting ball into the circle, Amy Clinton (20 from 24) and Rebekah Robinson (12 from 13) were on song when they were within range. Clare Jones and Shona O’Dwyer continue to showcase their defensive nous in the midcourt, combining for two of the Dragons’ three intercepts, with the last snatched by Robinson out in goal attack.

Team Bath (35) defeated by Saracens Mavericks (46)

Player of the match: Ine-Mari Venter (Saracens Mavericks)

Just when Team Bath have been looking unbeatable, the Mavericks have come along once more to knock the ladder-leaders down a peg with a critical win. Whilst many may have expected their first clash victory to be a fluke, the Mavericks well and truly proved what they are capable of with a huge 11-goal victory over Bath to put them in a good position to steal that last remaining finals position. It took a hot start from the Mavs to secure the win, rendering Bath to just 13 goals in the first half to Mavericks’ 23, and firing on all cylinders from thereon out to ensure they did not allow the fired up Bath side to steal momentum. Whilst Bath executed a much more typical second half, the Mavs did not lose a quarter throughout to showcase just how good they can be.

It was a masterclass across the court for the Mavericks, who came out with a point to prove against the ladder-leaders. Ine-Mari Venter may not have had the court time in recent starts but was unstoppable combining with Kadeen Corbin, with the South African plying her trade effectively to finish with 31 goals and prove she was up to the physicality that Eboni Usoro-Brown and Layla Guscoth were bringing. Corbin shot 15 straight in a classy effort, utilising her footwork and connection with sister Sasha and Beth Ecuyer-Dale to really shake off the defensive pressure from Guscoth, Imogen Allison and Serena Guthrie. Bath speedster Rachel Shaw was well nullified by the ever-smothering Gabby Marshall, whose influence allowed Jodie Gibson and Razia Quashie to fire on all cylinders, with Jo Trip‘s impact also noted. Defensively, Quashie, Gibson and Marshall accounted for six of the side’s eight intercepts with Quashie also creating eight deflections, rendering the usually clean and composed combination of Kim Borger (15 goals from 18 attempts) and Sophie Drakeford-Lewis (one goal) to messiness, as Betsy Creak entered the action to pile on 19 goals to the side’s final tally. Guscoth and Guthrie were the only players to register intercepts for Bath, with the usually clinical defensive unit outplayed on this occasion.

London Pulse (42) defeated Severn Stars (40)

Player of the match: Funmi Fadoju (London Pulse)

The London Pulse secured another win to jump up the leaderboard a fraction more, gaining more separation from the Stars in the process with a critical two-goal victory. Whilst not able to make finals, both sides came out hunting for an elusive win and it was the Pulse that managed to execute their fifth for the season, and second straight showcasing their improved form as the season has continued. Whilst the Stars competed well throughout, winning the third term to go into the final quarter on 30 goals apiece, Pulse marginally pipped them at the post going the extra mile under pressure to claim the 42-40 final result.

Pulse’s improved backline continues to impress week on week, with young gun Funmi Fadoju stepping up once more to control proceedings. While she received plenty of whistle – with Fadoju and goal keeper Lindsay Keable combining for 40 – she was a livewire in every sense of the word, able to transition smoothly between attacking the ball and hands outside the circle to having a huge impact inside too, creating five turnovers for her side off the back of 10 deflections and an intercept. That being said, the consistent effort from Georgia Rowe (33 goals from 34 attempts) and Paige Reed (seven goals straight) paid off with the duo combining well and missing just one goal between them. The back trio of Iman ThomasLucy Herdman and Malysha Kelly worked hard to combat easy feeds into Pulse’s Sigi Burger, who finished with 29 goals to go with fellow South African Lefebre Rademan‘s 13, with Thomas racking up four intercepts to lead all comers. The battle between Kyra Jones and Ashleigh Dekker was immense, while Nia Jones put in the hard yards to limit Adean Thomas space to feed into the circle.

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 preview – Crowds return as last double round arrives

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

FRIDAY, MAY 28

Celtic Dragons v. London Pulse

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

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

Severn Stars v. Team Bath

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

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

Tip: Pulse by 9, Bath by 17

SATURDAY, MAY 29

Loughborough Lightning v. Celtic Dragons

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

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

Manchester Thunder v. Severn Stars

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

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

Strathclyde Sirens v. Team Bath

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

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

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

SUNDAY, MAY 30

Loughborough Lightning v. Leeds Rhinos

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

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

Saracens Mavericks v. Strathclyde Sirens

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

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

Manchester Thunder v. Surrey Storm

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

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

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

MONDAY, MAY 31

Leeds Rhinos v. Surrey Storm

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

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

Saracens Mavericks v. Wasps Netball

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

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

Tip: Rhinos by 15, Wasps by 3

Picture credit: Morgan Harlow

VNSL 2021: Round 16 – Sunday wrap

THE finals race continues to heat up in the 2021 Vitality Netball Superleague (VNSL), and Sunday’s Round 16 matches were no different as a couple teams made major breaks for the top four and Team Bath secured the first finals spot.

 Severn Stars (41) defeated by Leeds Rhinos (63)

Player of the match: Vicki Oyesola (Leeds Rhinos)

The Rhinos continued their hunt for an elusive top four position with another win on the board, bouncing back well from their loss to Team Bath last round and effectively blowing the Stars out of the water with a 22-goal victory. The Rhinos kept the Stars to single digits in both the first and last quarter in a complete performance, continually building on their lead and forcing error after error from the Stars. Whilst the two sides were relatively even on the stats front, registering similar numbers for intercepts (Stars 14-13), deflections (7-7) and turnovers (15-16), the Stars were much more heavily penalised (58-43).

It was a classy defensive performance from the Rhinos, as player of the match Vicki Oyesola unleashed with Tuaine Keenan holding ground down back. Oyesola (three intercepts) and Keenan (six) blocked options within the goal circle and forced errant passes and errors from the ever-classy Liana Leota, causing issues for Georgia Rowe at the post, who received a caution following deliberate contact to Oyesola. Paige Reed struggled to assert herself on the contest, seeing Jane Taylor take her place and put up nine from 10 in a solid effort. The Rhinos were uncharacteristically error-ridden at the post, missing 12 goal attempts credit to pressure from Lucy Herdman and Malysha Kelly, however Leeds tall timber in Donnell Wallam proved crucial with seven rebounds to go with her 52 goals from 57 attempts. Rhea Dixon was tested by Iman Thomas and put up just nine from 14, while Brie Grierson and Jade Clarke continued their excellent form with little fear propelling the ball into Wallam.

Team Bath (55) defeated Surrey Storm (39)

Player of the match: Imogen Allison (Team Bath)

Team Bath is the first side to secure a top four finish on the VNSL ladder, and an inevitable finals position too following a comprehensive victory over Surrey Storm. Despite consistency from the lower-ranked side, it was Bath’s excellent start and ability to remain ahead of the eight-ball that allowed the side to build on their lead and not allow Storm to sniff their way back into the contest. Storm were heavily penalised throughout the contest and, despite registering one more intercept, were bogged down by unforced errors which allowed Bath to retain control. Bath piled on 18 deflections throughout to put doubt in the Storms’ feeders, coming out well-deserved 16-goal winners.

Player of the match Imogen Allison was an absolute pest around the loose ball, negating every move from speedster Yasmin Parsons and continuously forcing errant passes with her ability to apply hands over pressure. The wing defence racked up three intercepts and allowed Layla Guscoth and Eboni Usoro-Brown the freedom to do their job down back, combining for nine deflections (seven gains) as Serena Guthrie ravaged the midcourt with five deflections of her own, with Mikki Austin unable to maintain intensity against the formidable centre. A combined seven offensive penalties between Karyn Bailey and Frankie Wells did the Storm attacking circle no favours, and while they both remained fairly accurate (Bailey with 27 goals from 31 attempts and Wells with 10 from 12), there was little to be done against the impeccable defensive pressure stemming from Bath’s backline. Bath’s frontline was similarly on point, seeing Kim Borger pile on 37 goals and Sophie Drakeford-Lewis assist well with 12 from 14.

 Wasps Netball (39) defeated by Strathclyde Sirens (44)

Player of the match: Gia Abernethy (Strathclyde Sirens)

The Sirens are gaining on their higher-ranked opposition, with plenty of belief amongst this year’s playing group really paying off as they registered the Sirens’ first ever win over Wasps. With a draw last time they met the Wasps, the side clearly had no doubt they could collect the win here, and despite a shaky first half, the side came out flying in the third to come from a three-goal deficit to lead by six at the final change. Phenomenal midcourt transition and cleanliness in the back-end were how the Sirens got the job done, only winning the one quarter throughout but doing enough in the 15-6 third term to claim the 44-39 victory.

The combination of Emma Barrie and Niamh McCall continues to flourish and this match was no different, as the duo missed just three shots between them. While Barrie had three unforced errors to her name – as did Beth Dix and player of the match Gia Abernethy – she made up for it with 25 goals from 26 attempts as McCall piled on 19 to really test Wasps defenders Fran Williams and Josie Huckle and force the ball-hungry defenders to not just focus on Barrie at the post. Abernethy’s two intercepts and ability to find Barrie and McCall was critical, using her clean hands and vision to combine with Dix on circle edge as Iona Christian and Lily-May Catling struggled to compete with their one-two punch. Towera Vinkhumbo did not quite have the same impact on the stats sheet as usual but certainly put doubt in the feeders’ minds, as clinical efforts from Rachel Dunn (24 goals from 26 attempts) and Katie Harris (13 from 13) were not enough for the Wasps to clinch the win.

Manchester Thunder (60) defeated Saracens Mavericks (42)

Player of the match: Amy Carter (Manchester Thunder)

Manchester Thunder well and truly blew the Mavericks out of the water in their clash to finish off Sunday’s proceedings, flying out of the blocks and never looking back in a clinical 18-goal victory. To the Mavericks’ credit they did not stop trying, however they really lacked the intensity the opposition brought in spades, with the Thunder’s stars standing up again and again to propel back any chances of a Mavericks comeback. While Razia Quashie made her return to the bench, the Mavs missed Jo Trip‘s ball-winning ability as the side was continuously outclassed by the Thunder.

Amy Carter was a deserving recipient of the player of the match award, clinical in her midcourt approach and using her change of direction and burst of speed to dismiss Sasha Corbin time and time again. With two intercepts to her name, Carter was pivotal – alongside strong efforts from Laura Malcolm in her regular wing defence role – as the defensive end starred. Emma DoveyKerry AlmondRebekah Airey and Elia McCormick all had their time in the defensive spotlight and combined for 12 turnovers in a classy effort, making it tough for Ine-Mari Venter (32 goals from 38 attempts) to find the ball with ease, as both Kadeen Corbin (three from three) and Chloe Essam (seven from nine) had issues finding the post. Jodie Gibson impressed with eight deflections and two intercepts (four gains) but was outclassed by Joyce Mvula, who starred with a whopping 45 goals from 48 attempts, as Ellie Cardwell played an assisting role with nine from 10.

Picture credit: Ben Lumley Photography