Tag: sigi burger

VNSL 2021: Team review – London Pulse

THE 2021 Vitality Netball Superleague (VNSL)  season is officially done and dusted meaning it is now time for our postseason reviews. Next up is London Pulse, a side which came into the season with plenty of potential, but was shaken up from the get-go and took a long time to adjust to the rigours of the competition.

Season form: 6-14 (8th)

While the Pulse had a heap of potential this season, it took them a long time to find their form and what worked for them across the court. The side had no shortage of international and homegrown talent, however the players just did not appear to gel on court early in the season despite their formidable individuals. Sigi Burger had a heap of pressure piled on her shoulders from the get-go with Lefebre Rademan shaky to start while Kira Rothwell was slightly inconsistent, however by the latter stage of the season the side had its front-end all but figured out with Olivia Tchine proving she was capable of stepping up when Burger was injured, and earning more court time as the season went on. The midcourt was probably the point of difference, providing strength early in the season and reliability later on, although it was the back-end which really stood up when it mattered as youngster Funmi Fadoju picked up where she left off last year, alongside Halimat Adio before the co-captain went down with injury, as well as Lindsay Keable and Zara Everitt. While it was not quite the season the Pulse hoped for, they certainly sent warning signs to the top sides on a number of occasions with three wins in their final five matches, and relatively close margins with some of the top sides once they got over their slow start. 

Best win: Def. Saracens Mavericks 46-33, Round 19

Pulse ended up with a number of impressive performances throughout the season, though there is no doubt their Round 19 victory over Mavericks takes the cake as the best of the best, registering a 13-goal victory to complete their season on a high and ensure Mavericks did not make the finals. The Mavericks registered more intercepts and deflections, however the Pulse proved cleaner with ball in hand and made the most of their opportunities and Mavericks’ fatigue. Ashleigh Dekker’s workrate was critical in the clash, while Tchine (35 goals) and Rademan (11) were accurate to post leaving little to chance with their accuracy and combination proving hard to combat. Michelle Drayne and Everitt combined for four turnovers while Fadoju and Keable were hard to stop, as Fadoju’s spark saw her pile on four turnovers (six deflections, one intercept) and goal keeper Keable’s reliability earned her four turnovers (four deflections, two intercepts) at the back. Also on the Pulse’s list of strong performances was their Round 10/11 loss to Team Bath, keeping the side to just 37 goals, whilst also challenging Thunder, Lightning and Wasps in consecutive weeks, losing by less than 10 goals to each of the three sides.

Standout player: Funmi Fadoju

Most Improved: Olivia Tchine

Of the plethora of talented players at the Pulse’s disposal this season, any number could have been the standout or most improved, making it hard to come to a conclusion. Given her livewire ways and ability to pluck ball out of the air on a consistent basis, it is Fadoju who gets the nod as the standout with the youngster consistently impressing. Her speed, endurance and aerial ability is a huge weapon for the Pulse, and proved to be a gamechanger on a number of occasions, stepping up when required – and even when not. Fadoju’s willingness to challenge for the loose ball and cleanly contest no matter the opposition was another key attribute, able to create something out of nothing and finishing with an average of 1.8 intercepts, four deflections and three turnovers for the season. Tchine on the other hand, appeared to come out of nowhere and stood tall at the post whenever she took the court. While still young, the goaler stepped up to the plate and piled on the offensive pressure time and time again, willing to go to post and rarely shying away from the contest. Averaging an accuracy of 85 per cent going to post, Tchine was rarely phased and used her great vision up the court and drives into space to wreak havoc in the Pulse front-end.

 

Picture credit: Ben Lumley Photography

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 – Friday/Saturday wrap

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

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

Player of the match: Lefebre Rademan (London Pulse)

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

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

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

Player of the match: Kim Borger (Team Bath)

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

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

Loughborough Lightning (59) defeated Celtic Dragons (35)

Player of the match: Suzie Liverseidge (Loughborough Lightning)

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

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

Manchester Thunder (55) defeated Severn Stars (43)

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

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

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

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

Player of the match: Rachel Shaw (Team Bath)

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

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

Photo credit: Ben Lumley

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 preview – Thunder look to even up the ledger

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

SUNDAY, MAY 16

Severn Stars v. Leeds Rhinos

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

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

Team Bath v. Surrey Storm

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

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

Wasps Netball v. Strathclyde Sirens

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

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

Manchester Thunder v. Saracens Mavericks 

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

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

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

MONDAY, MAY 17

Wasps Netball v. Manchester Thunder

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

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

London Pulse v. Loughborough Lightning

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

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

Tip: Thunder by 3, Lightning by 13

Picture credit: Ben Lumley Photography

VNSL 2021: Round 15 ladder update

ROUND 15 of the Vitality Netball Superleague (VNSL) saw some predictable results as the higher ranked teams secured the win over their lower placed opponents. Loughborough Lightning took the court twice as did Surrey Storm with the latter falling short in both outings further solidifying their spot towards the lower end of the ladder. In this new series, each week Draft Central will compare the most recent ladders given how quickly things can change, and delve into how each round of fixturing can change up positions based on the amount of matches each side has played.

ROUND 13/14 LADDER

  1. Team Bath (13-1)
  2. Loughborough Lightning (11-2)
  3. Manchester Thunder (10-3)
  4. Wasps Netball (9-5-1)
  5. Saracens Mavericks (8-5-1)
  6. Leeds Rhinos (8-6)
  7. Strathclyde Sirens (6-6-2)
  8. London Pulse (3-11)
  9. Severn Stars (3-11)
  10. Surrey Storm (2-11)
  11. Celtic Dragons (1-13)

ROUND 15 LADDER

  1. Team Bath (14-1)
  2. Loughborough Lightning (13-2)
  3. Manchester Thunder (11-3)
  4. Wasps Netball (10-5-1)
  5. Saracens Mavericks (8-5-1)
  6. Leeds Rhinos (8-7)
  7. Strathclyde Sirens (7-6-2)
  8. London Pulse (3-12)
  9. Severn Stars (3-12)
  10. Surrey Storm (2-13)
  11. Celtic Dragons (1-14)

There were no changes to the ladder in Round 15 as each side solidified their standings on the ladder. Only 10 of the 11 sides got their chance to shine out on court with the Lightning and Storm pulling on the bib twice and the Mavericks given a week off but not impacting ladder positioning in any shape or form.

The mid-table logjam continued to develop as Saracens Mavericks and Leeds Rhinos sit just outside the top four but mounting pressure on the top teams. The Mavericks currently have nine wins under their belt for the season with the only difference between them and the Rhinos, Leeds’ draw. The Rhinos were handed a comprehensive loss at the hands of the top of the table Team Bath as the blue and gold maintained their one game clear buffer. Bath only get better and better with their connections across the court and skill to withstand the barrage of pressure enabling them to dismiss the Rhinos with ease and shape up as clear premiership favourites.

It was a disappointing round for Surrey Storm who were given two chances to leapfrog their way up the ladder but fell short on both occasions. Surrey were well and truly found out in their clash against Loughborough Lightning as they were kept to a mere 28 goals while Strathclyde Sirens also got the last laugh. Looking at the Lightning and they continued to add to their winning total notching up two straight victories to not only hold down their positioning on the ladder but add to their percentage which will be imperative as the Wasps and Manchester Thunder are hot on their heels.

Thunder once again proved why they are a real threat in the competition securing a dominant win over the Dragons. The win keeps them within touching distance of the Lightning as only one game separates the two sides on the ladder. Wasps also maintained their standings in fourth spot on the ladder clinching their eighth win of the season, this time against London Pulse who put them through their paces.

The Pulse have been competitive for large chunks of the season and Round 15 was a testament to this. However the absence of Sigi Burger and Halimat Adio was obvious and ultimately hindered their ability to secure a win here which would have taken their tally to four wins for the season. But credit where credit is due, the Wasps’ capacity to grind out games and rely on structures well and truly came to the fore as they look to hunt down the Lightning and Bath ahead of them on the ladder.

Looking at the bottom of the ladder and the Celtic Dragons were unable to get back on the winners list after their heroics last round, suffering a 14-goal loss to the higher placed Thunder. Severn Stars showed glimpses of magic in their clash but could not put out a full four quarter performance as they remained in ninth spot on the ladder, one game ahead of the Storm.

Casting an eye ahead to Round 16 and it is fair to say that anything is possible as sides look to keep their finals dreams intact. The Mavericks will be eager to take the court and notch up a much needed win to leapfrog into the top four while the Rhinos will be hoping to bounce back.

VNSL 2021: Round 15 – Monday wrap

ROUND 15 of Vitality Netball Superleague (VNSL) action is done and dusted, as Loughborough Lightning continued its winning streak and Wasps Netball got a vital win on the board against a hungry London Pulse outfit.

Loughborough Lightning (53) defeated Surrey Storm (28)

Player of the match: Alima Priest (Surrey Storm)

Loughborough Lightning went on a rampage in its second game of the round, coming in no holds barred as they flew out of the blocks against Surrey Storm and never looked back on its way to a 13th straight victory. Whilst the Storm got defensively stronger every term, finding new ways to block the Lightning’s easy access to post, the side struggled to hit the scoreboard and had little chance to really challenge the Lightning offensively. The Lightning’s strength was formidable across the court, winning consistent ball back and retaining control across all three lines to limit the storm to single-digit scorelines each term in a clinical performance.

There was no doubting the Lightning front-end in this one, as they skipped out to a 30-13 halftime lead credit to the flawless scoring and execution of Mary Cholhok out the front. With 36 goals to her name at 100 per cent, the tall timber seemed rarely uncomfortable on court and did a wealth of work to open opportunities for not only Ella Clark (10 goals) but also Suzie Liverseidge (five) and Lucy Parize (two) who were afforded game time with the luxury of a significant margin. Despite registering a warning to her name, Sam May made her mark with two intercepts, four deflections and two rebounds to finish with three turnovers, while Beth Cobden and Alice Harvey were similarly impressive, with the latter shutting down Storm’s go-to Australian sharpshooter Karyn Bailey, who was well and truly shut down and could only put up nine goals for the match. Ellie Kelk did a solid job out the front with 11 goals, as did Frankie Wells (seven), however the entire attacking unit had a night to forget on the physicality front, combining for 13 offensive penalties. Alima Priest and Felisitus Kwangwa put up an impressive effort down back despite the lack of attacking intent from the side, picking off four intercepts apiece but unfortunately were rarely awarded for their work rate. That being said, Priest deserves full credit for her ability to disrupt Cholhok and was a deserved recipient of the player of the match award.

Wasps Netball (42) defeated London Pulse (37)

Player of the match: Iona Christian (Wasps Netball)

It was a seesawing matchup between the Wasps and Pulse to close out a huge round of action, as the Pulse put up a phenomenal outing despite missing key pillars in Sigi Burger and Halimat Adio. The Pulse fought until the bitter end, and it took some outrageous efforts from the Wasps to limit their hunt and shut down the excellent Pulse workrate across the court. That being said, it was the Wasps that got the vital win on the board, credit to an excellent first quarter which saw them retain the lead at half time by four goals, and continue to remain ahead of the eight ball despite the Pulse’s final quarter comeback.

Iona Christian has had an excellent season, and it once again came to fruition in yet another player of the match award-winning performance. The midcourter put on a show with her dash and dare, and did not relent throughout the contest as she consistently found Rachel Dunn by the post and allowed Katie Harris to enter the game. Christian was one of four Wasps players to pick up two intercepts apiece in a classy defensive display, despite efforts from Pulse livewire Funmi Fadoju – who also did a solid job shutting down Harris at times, picking up eight turnovers for her efforts – Zara Everitt and Lindsay Keable. While Keable put in the hard yards to cause inaccuracy, a whopping 27 penalties to her name did no favours for the Pulse, as Dunn had plenty of chances to hit the scoreboard undefended to finish with 32 goals from 39 attempts. For the Pulse attack, they were under a Wasps barrage from the get-go but did a solid job holding up under the pressure from Fran Williams (six turnovers) and Josie Huckle (five), as Olivia Tchine put up 25 goals from 32 attempts, while Lefebre Rademan found her range to finish with 12 from 16. All in all it was a performance the Pulse can be proud of despite not getting the win, while the Wasps will be looking to go one better next round.

Picture credit: Ben Lumley Photography

VNSL 2021: Round 15 preview – Lightning look to gain on Bath

THE pointy end of the 2021 Vitality Netball Superleague (VNSL) season has arrived, with just five more rounds to come with teams needing to get their connections and wins in order heading into the final stretch. Loughborough Lightning could very well overtake Team Bath on the ladder if margins and results fall their way, whilst Saracens Mavericks receive a much-needed breather but will hope that Strathclyde Sirens do not get another win on the board with the middle of the table growing ever closer.

SUNDAY, MAY 9

Severn Stars v. Loughborough Lightning

The Severn Stars may be coming into this one off the back of a Round 13/14 win, but so are the rampant Lightning who will want to take any chance they can get to close the gap between them and top-ranked Bath. With just three wins on the board compared to Lightning’s 11, the Stars will have a hard time but have proved they will not relent throughout each and every contest. While the Lightning registered a 28-goal victory back in Round 4, expect the Stars to come out hunting in this match.

Expect midcourt duo Liana Leota and Kyra Jones to continue their smooth partnership through the midcourt, injecting plenty of speed, strength and class into the Stars side in recent weeks and allowing their less experienced players to step up to the plate. But they will have their work cut out for them against the likes of Nat Panagarry and Beth Cobden, with the latter in her best form since prior to her 2019 anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury, and will need to pile on the defensive pressure as Lucy Herdman and Iman Thomas have the tough ask of negating Lightning goalers Mary CholhokElla Clark and Suzie Liverseidge. That being said, Paige Reed and Georgia Rowe have been combining well at the other end, so will look to evade the Lightning’s defensive efforts to at east make for a closer matchup this time around.

Team Bath v. Leeds Rhinos

Whilst this match is not necessarily a must-win for Bath, it is for the Rhinos who need the wins now ahead of the final stretch, and realistically it is too for the Lightning who will rely on Rhinos upsetting Bath here to potentially take top spot. It has only been a few weeks since these two sides went head-to-head, but worth keeping in mind that Bath claimed the victory despite Rhinos sharpshooter Donnell Wallam making her return, in turn setting up another huge clash this week. Given Bath’s season so far they should still be favourites here, however Rhinos’ form and dangerous ability to pile on the goals quickly could prove crucial in an upset.

Expect a huge battle at the post between Eboni Usoro-Brown and Wallam, especially given Wallam’s capacity to control the goaling on her own. Layla Guscoth has been in excellent form in goal defence and will need to ensure that as much as she keeps Rhea Dixon quiet, she also will want to force the goal attack to take some of the goaling load in the side’s effort to shut down Wallam. Moving up the court, both Serena Guthrie and Imogen Allison have been in excellent form and will have their work cut out for them against an improved Brie Grierson and ever-impressive Jade Clarke. The opposite goaling end could be where the match is won and lost, with the Rhinos defensive unit growing ever stronger with Vicki Oyesola at the helm and Tuaine Keenan bodying up at the post, well-matched when looking at Bath’s front combination of Sophie Drakeford-Lewis and Kim Borger.

Strathclyde Sirens v. Surrey Storm

It should be an interesting matchup between the Sirens and Storm, with Sirens realistically the favourites coming in based on form alone, although the Storm have been hunting and gaining on a third win for the season. That being said, fine-tuned and secure connections have paid off for the Sirens while the Storm have struggled at time to find clean movement down the court, and become predictable on drives allowing for easy intercepts. Expect the Storm to remain close early but fall away as the much improved Sirens fire on all cylinders to gain on the franchises above them on the ladder.

There are some intriguing head-to-heads in this match, with the midcourts relatively evenly matched. Sirens may boast Gia Abernethy and Taylor Cullen, but Surrey has formidable names of its own with Mikki Austin heading up the side along with continual threat Yasmin Parsons, with both able to create a tough one-two punch across the court. The real difference across the court though is in the goal circles, with tough Malawian goal keeper Towera Vinkhumbo having the season of her life down back for the Sirens but sitting out for much of last round putting question marks on this match. Without Vinkhumbo the likes of Karyn Bailey would be able to hold up the Storm front-end alone, however it could be a matter of who can step up in goal attack if Vinkhumbo is named in the squad. At the other end, Emma BarrieBethan Goodwin and Niamh McCall have been impressive for the Sirens in the circle, creating a real headache for the likes of Storm’s Leah Middleton and Alima Priest.

Celtic Dragons v. Manchester Thunder

Expect the Thunder to star in this matchup, given just like the Lightning they are hoping to gain on Bath in top spot. But the Dragons have showcased plenty of improvement in recent weeks, getting their first win on the board last round and challenging Bath for a full half before releasing the pressure in their Round 12 encounter. Whilst it is safe to say the Thunder should have this one in the bag, teams are realising they can no longer afford to underestimate the Welsh side if they want to gain on the leaderboard, as Manchester will want another big win here to remain in the hunt for a top four finish.

With so much front-end class, there is little stopping the Thunder from getting the job done with Ellie Cardwell and Joyce Mvula continuing to star in the goal circle and Laura Malcolm and Caroline O’Hanlon rarely beaten on the drive. The two-pronged attack from the Manchester side allows them to pile on offensive pressure as a moving circle combining effortlessly to share the load or adjust to a holding goaler, making the side even more impressive and hard to stop for the Dragons who will need to match them for adjustments. Annika Lee-Jones has shown glimpses of what she is capable of but will not be able to purely focus on limiting Mvula back in goal shooter, while midcourt-wise the Dragons will want to treasure ball as much as possible given the swiftness with which the Thunder can turn over possession and score. Dragons’ attack is its prime target at the moment with Rebekah Robinson and Amy Clinton in fine form, while Clare Jones has been consistent through the midcourt.

Tip: Lightning by 12, Bath by 3, Sirens by 6, Thunder by 16

MONDAY, MAY 10

Loughborough Lightning v. Surrey Storm 

Both Lightning and Storm will shape up for their second matches of the round, and could well be coming in with opposite records given both sides’ form and opposition over the two days. Lightning should win this one fairly easily in a battle of second and second last, although a close call in this match could be enough to bump the Storm up a position on the ladder which is surely what will drive them to push the Lightning for the full four quarters.

Storm defenders Priest and Middleton will well and truly have their work cut out for them down back in this one, so expect the likes of Felisitus Kwangwa to look to impact the contest where required and provide a more physical matchup on Cholhok. In the midcourt it will once more be down to Parsons, Austin and Emily Gulvin to shut down Panagarry and Cobden, although Lightning’s midcourt depth will prove useful here with Lauren NichollsHannah Joseph and Hannah Williams all more than capable of taking the mantle and retaining pressure through the centre third and elsewhere. For Storm, the likes of Emma MageeFrankie Wells and young gun Sophie Kelly will need to work hard to assist Bailey at the post and force one-on-one defence to open up space for the goal shooter.

Wasps Netball v. London Pulse

The final match of the round will pit the Wasps and Pulse against one another, with the Wasps yet another team that needs to keep collecting wins against the lower-ranked sides ahead of the tough matches in the coming weeks, while the Pulse are hunting for consistency and will hope to challenge the Wasps at the very least. Unfortunately the Pulse have lost co-captain Halimat Adio following a meniscus tear suffered during Round 13/14, so will need to utilise its versatile backline to fill the hole she leaves and look to build pressure from the defensive end all the way up the court.

With Adio out of the side, expect plenty of defensive movement from Pulse as they look to cement a clear duo with Funmi Fadoju, Zara Everitt and Lindsay Keable all capable of causing pressure in the defensive end, while Ellie Rattu is also an adaptable player who could have an impact if required. They will have the hard task of limited Rachel Dunn and Katie Harris, with the duo rarely stopped in the front-line given their read of the play and ability to switch up in an instant. The Pulse will hope Adean Thomas and Sigi Burger are good to go this round, while Kira Rothwell will want to step back up to her early season form out the front after lacking some intensity over the past few rounds. Lefebre Rademan and Olivia Tchine have proved they can uphold the front-end if the midcourt is willing to propel the ball in, so Fran Williams and Josie Huckle are sure to do everything in their power to disrupt that while Iona Christian and Amy Flanagan will do the hard yards through the midcourt to limit ease movement.

Tip: Lightning by 14, Wasps by 10

Picture credit: Morgan Harlow