THE 2021 Vitality Netball Superleague (VNSL) season is officially done and dusted meaning it is now time for our postseason reviews. Arguably the in-form franchise for the season, Team Bath were unfortunate to peak a fraction too soon and just missed out on top spot and finishing the 2021 season with a premiership in hand.
Season form: 17-3 (3rd/runner up)
One of the most dynamic teams all season, there is no doubt Team Bath deserved to be in that grand final matchup to finish the season, however their huge season culminated in a runners up award with the side ultimately peaking a fraction too soon. Bath remained undefeated atop the table for majority of the season before two straight losses in the lead-up to finals led to a third place finish for the home and away season. Despite a heart-in-your-mouth victory over Thunder to claim a spot in the grand final, Bath’s 2021 season was left wanting as the side was shut down from all angles in the biggest match of the year. That being said, Bath’s impressive form all season was not just down to their players, but the connections across the court. The side with the least goals conceded overall, it was down to the workrate of Layla Guscoth, Eboni Usoro-Brown and Imogen Allison, who created a constant buffer in the back-end that was only bolstered by the speed, aerial ability and netball nous of Serena Guthrie through the centre. Elsewhere, Kim Borger and Sophie Drakeford-Lewis were hard to stop when they got going, finding space aplenty in the front-end and rarely missing when they went to post, as Rachel and Jess Shaw propelled ball in with ease. The side also found time and space to blood up developing players, with Tash Pavelin and Betsy Creak both finding plenty of court time.
Best win: Def. Manchester Thunder 41-39, Semi-final
Team Bath had plenty of impressive wins throughout the season, however it is their semi-final victory over a hunting Manchester Thunder that takes the cake with Bath coming in off the back of some shaky and inconsistent form. Whilst Bath had been in control all season, its last couple of closer encounters really appeared to hit the squad for six as they entered their clash with the Thunder, however the tightly-fought matchup this time went the way of Bath, 43-39. It was a combination of accuracy and a pressing defensive unit which eventually handed Bath the win, as Thunder piled on more attempts at goal but could not get past the long arms of Usoro-Brown and Guscoth with ease. While it appeared on the stats sheet like the Thunder were leading all-comers, Bath’s composure came good in the big moments, utilising their starters throughout the entire clash as Thunder was forced to throw the bibs around. Guscoth and Allison were immense combining for 10 of the side’s 13 turnovers, stopping the ball from entering the circle or allowing Usoro-Brown time to cover Joyce Mvula before she found possession. While both Guthrie and Borger collected four unforced errors apiece, Guthrie more than made up for it with her strength and endurance, while Borger’s workload was immense, finishing with 32 goals from 33 attempts. Drakeford-Lewis also wreaked havoc with her nine goals, finding Borger with ease within the circle.
Standout player: Layla Guscoth
Most Improved: Sophie Drakeford-Lewis
Upon return from a stint in the Suncorp Super Netball, there was no doubt Guscoth would be a real livewire for Bath this season, proving just about unstoppable when she was in form. The goal defender was rarely far from the contest, with her smooth movement, evasive footwork and long arms continuously earning her turnovers, while her renewed combination with Guthrie and Usoro-Brown was a sight to behold. The defender could create something out of nothing and played a significant role in leading her side to victory, as she led from the back and worked hard to pressurise the back-end of the court. Sitting second in both the intercepts and deflections categories, with 45 intercepts and 78 deflections across her 20 appearances, Guscoth was able to anticipate ball-movement down court and cleanly command possession. Coming in as most improved is Drakeford-Lewis, who may already have been part of the extended Roses squad this season, but did everything in her power to retain that position with another excellent season under her belt. A real team player and playmaker, Drakeford-Lewis was rarely far from the action with her speed, spatial awareness and ability to turn and shoot making her a force to be reckoned with time and time again. Her combination with Borger was paramount to the side’s success, with her vision enabling her to sight the goal shooter at the post while also zipping around the inside of the circle to edge closer and shoot from range. While Drakeford-Lewis has been a solid figure within this side for a couple of seasons now, she well and truly stopped up in 2021 putting up 285 goals at close to 92 per cent accuracy.
Picture credit: Ben Lumley Photography