A polished second half performance from WA Sophia Candappa spared the blushes for reigning champions Wasps, as she inspired the Coventry-based side to edge past Saracens Mavericks 54-50 in the latest round of NSL action.
Candappa was an inspirational second-half substitute for the champions, driving effortlessly to the circle edge and providing vital midcourt pressure to threaten the Mavericks offence when they threatened to break through.
Mavericks led by five early on, but Wasps pegged back the score to level at halftime, thanks to some relentless work by the defensive duo of Sam May and Hannah Knights. For Mavericks, George Fisher showed the benefit of sustained court time since her move back to the Hertfordshire side, netting with ease from all over the circle and combining well with England squad colleague Kadeen Corbin.
However, it was Candappa who settled the ship for the league leaders, marshalling the Wasps attack with aplomb and releasing shooters Rachel Dunn and Katie Harris into space for an easy shot.
Mavericks surged again, but could not close the gap which had opened up and Wasps took the points after a thrilling game. However, at the final whistle, the champions knew they had escaped a potential defeat – for Mavericks, and other sides chasing the table toppers, the match-day tape will make for some interesting analysis as the challengers identify the chinks in Wasps’ armour.
Manchester Thunder stay in second place after a 62-49 victory over Severn Stars. Manchester coach Karen Greig opted to start with Eleanor Cardwell at GS, after an impressive performance from the bench last week, but midcourters Caroline O’Hanlon and Liana Leota found it difficult to feed her efficiently: the first quarter ended 13-12 in Thunder’s favour.
Midway through the second quarter, Greig reshuffled her frontline, to counteract the stifling defence of Stars’ Jodie Ann Ward, bringing Joyce Mvula to GS and moving Cardwell to GA. Cardwell’s height and clever placement of feeds to her shooting partner paid dividends, and the visitors pulled out to a 22-29 lead at halftime.
Thunder’s lineup was shuffled once again for the second half, with Carter moving to C and Malcolm coming on at WD. However, the intensity from the Manchester side never wavered and Stars found themselves chasing ball as the lead stretched to 33-50 at three quarter time.
Despite three quick goals at the start of the final period, Stars found it hard to counteract Thunder’s ball speed and vision, and the Manchester side took the points from an entertaining fixture. Thunder and Wasps are now the league’s only undefeated sides and meet on 23 March.
TeamBath moved into third place after an impressive 75-50 win over last season’s runners up, Loughborough Lightning. The new-look Lightning team had no response to a wonderful shooting performance from Australian import Kim Commane, who netted 43 of her 45 shots and combined effortlessly with Sophie Drakeford-Lewis.
In the midcourt, Imogen Allison and Serena Guthrie are starting to forge an impressive partnership with plenty of dynamism and flair, and despite the best efforts of Loughborough’s Natalie Panagarry and Hannah Joseph, Loughborough found it hard to drive the ball to the circle edge for an easy feed.
Revitalised by new player-coach Mikki Austin, Surrey Storm continued to demonstrate cohesion and understanding in a comprehensive 69-49 win over London Pulse. Pulse continued to make the unforced errors which have dogged their previous performances, much to the frustration of captain Ama Agbeze, who was watching (injured) from the sidelines.
Despite drawing the third quarter 15-all, the London side found it difficult to push ahead, and an inspired 20-8 final quarter from the visitors drove Storm through for the win. In this mood, Storm is a side fit to match any in the league, and Austin will be looking for another impressive performance from her side next week, which moved into equal fifth place in the table, away to Severn Stars.
Storm now sit level on points with Celtic Dragons, who came from behind to take their second win of the season, 46-50 away to Strathclyde Sirens. The Scottish team led early on, with Cat Tuivaiti once again providing the thrills and skills which kept the crowd on the edge of their seats.
However, Dragons knuckled down to the task at hand, cutting out errors and closing down the space for the home side in attack, and this dogged approach started to reap dividends. In a gritty, hotly contested final quarter, the ball moved end to end at pace with neither team willing to give an inch, but it was Dragons who connected on their final passes with more fluency.
Shooters McCollin and Lewis held their nerve under intense pressure to deliver the three points for the Welsh team. Next up for Dragons, a challenging visit from champions Wasps, while Sirens will be looking to kickstart their season when travel south to face London Pulse.