Manchester Thunder moved three points clear of the competition this week with a 50-49 win over reigning champions Wasps, to hand the Coventry-based side its second single goal loss in as many weeks. But while the margin may have ultimately been the closest possible to take the win, this now means that Thunder has done the double over Wasps this season, something which has not been achieved by any other team since the champions entered the league three years ago. After Wasps’ loss to Loughborough Lightning in the previous round, it is clear that their air of invincibility is wavering. Wasps coach Mel Mansfield will be looking for senior players Jade Clarke, Rachel Dunn and Hannah Knights to settle the ship when her side meet bottom club London Pulse this weekend.
Saracens Mavericks leapfrogged Wasps into second place, following an impressive 58-50 win over Surrey Storm. Storm led 31-26 at half time, with South African shooter Sigi Burger providing an impressive target for her midcourters under the post. But Kat Ratnapala’s team has a renewed self belief this season, and with Jo Trip displaying improved footwork skills to disrupt space in the Storm circle, slowly the errors edged into the Surrey team’s game. A storming 13-7 final quarter drove Mavericks to the win, but the Hertfordshire team will know they have been in an epic battle and will be looking for a much better performance away to Loughborough Lightning in the next round.
Lightning squeaked past an inspired Severn Stars side in round 11, winning 54-53. Stars trailed for most of the match, entering the last quarter eight goals adrift. But thanks to some neat midcourt work by Iona Darroch and inspired shooting from Maryka Holzhausen and Georgia Rowe, Stars started to claw back the difference during the final quarter. In front of a partisan home crowd, Stars levelled the scores with two minutes to play but could not maintain their discipline and momentum. With 20” on the clock, Lightning intercepted and drove confidently to the post to score the winner. Loughborough now sit in fifth place, level on points with Wasps, Mavericks and Team Bath, who were, themselves, pressed all the way to a 51-47 victory over Strathclyde Sirens.
Sirens, forced to juggle their front line after star shooter Cat Tuivaiti announced her pregnancy, relied on the new shooting combination of Bethan Goodwin and Niamh Macall, who responded with a nerveless performance that gave the visitors a 15-9 lead at quarter time. Bath responded with some impressive shooting of their own, through the combination of Sophie Drakeford Lewis and Kim Commane, who are starting to build an impressive partnership. England’s tireless centre Serena Guthrie was the nerve centre of the Bath win, snatching interception after interception and finding her shooters with pinpoint accuracy. Slowly, the momentum shifted to the home side, and with errors coming into the Sirens game, Bath moved ahead. A gap is now opening between the top five sides and the rest of the competition, but which four make the play offs is anyone’s guess.
Disappointingly for Sky Sports viewers, after a weekend of tightly contested games, Monday night’s televised match up between Celtic Dragons and London Pulse was a disappointing spectacle. Neither team seemed willing or capable of stringing together a sustained period of control and the game see-sawed from end to end of the court in Cardiff: both centres certainly earned a rest at the end of the match. Pulse started far too slowly, with missed connections and wild passing letting Dragons take control of the scoreboard. They led 13-6 at the end of the first period,and a series of puzzling coaching decisions by Pulse coach Te Aroha Keenan kept taking the momentum from her charges throughout the rest of the game. Every time Pulse started to come back into contention, it seemed that the London line up was changed again and the opportunity was lost. With nine more weeks of the regular competition, and a visit to Wasps this Saturday, a win seems a long way off for the London side.
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