And then there was one. Manchester Thunder’s defeat at the hands of Loughborough Lightning (60-65) leaves champions Wasps as the only undefeated side in the Vitality Netball Superleague. And the Coventry-based side extended their lead at the top of the table with a 58-46 win over a spirited Celtic Dragons team.
Loughborough’s win over Thunder came as a surprise to many, not least Lightning head coach Sara Bayman, who has been concerned about her team’s inconsistency in recent weeks. This time out, Loughborough stuck to task from the outset, but with the home team ahead by two goals (34-32) at the half time break, a win for the visiting Lightning looked to be a tall order, with Thunder famed for pushing ahead in the third quarter.
The home side introduced England squad members Laura Malcolm and Ellie Cardwell for the second half, but it was the visitors who responded better to the changes, and with Mary Cholhok and Ella Clark providing a steady flow of goals for Lightning, the visitors took the quarter to lead by three at the final break.
The final period was nip and tuck, with neither side willing to give advantage to the other, but it was Loughborough who held their nerve and form to maintain control of the scoreboard. Despite a mid-quarter surge by Thunder, who closed the gap to a single goal, it was Lightning who maintained their focus and control to take a famous win, and put themselves level on points with Surrey Storm, who they face next week.
Meanwhile, Wasps demonstrated their strength in depth with their 58-46 win over Celtic Dragons in Cardiff. Despite coach Mel Mansfield regularly shuffling her line up to give her full squad court time throughout the match, the champions won each quarter of the game and gave the home side plenty to consider.
Dragons led by three goals early on, following a sharp interception by WD Nia Jones, but failed to capitalise on the lead, which was soon overturned by stifling defensive work by Hannah Knights and Sam May for the champions. Wasps soon found their rhythm and were at their threatening best, extending their lead to seven at half time, and then pushing on again in the second half.
South Africa captain Bongi Msomi was at her energetic best, marshalling Wasps frontline to great effect and releasing shooters Dunn and Essam into space with pinpoint accuracy. In this mood, the champions will be hard to stop.
Saracens Mavericks moved into second place on the table, level on points with Manchester Thunder, after an impressive 68-45 win over a TeamBath side fancied by many at the start of the season as potential title winners.
Missing co-captains and England players Serena Guthrie and Eboni Usoro-Brown through illness and injury, TeamBath were a shadow of the side which beat Loughborough Lightning in the previous round, and trailed 10-18 at the first break. The second quarter continued to be all about Mavericks, with Georgia Lees a bundle of energy in the midcourt for the home team to push the Hertfordshire side to a 35-22 lead at half time.
TeamBath continued to make unforced errors in the second half, which Drayne, Quashie and Trip were quick to pick up and turn into offensive opportunities for the Mavericks team, and with the England squad combination of Fisher and Kadeen Corbin starting to click, the lead extended to 53-31 in the third quarter.
The final period was more evenly contested, but by then it was too little too late, and Mavericks took a famous victory. Meanwhile, TeamBath will be looking for a more consistent performance and the return of their England stars as they look to regroup against Wasps in the next round.
Surrey Storm continued their excellent run of form with a 55-46 win away to Severn Stars, which moves them to fifth in the league table. However, London Pulse’s inconsistencies continue to punish the league’s newest side as they slipped to a 60-54 loss to the visiting Strathclyde Sirens.
Coach Te Aroha Keenan will be searching for ways to eradicate the unforced errors in the final quarter which continue to punish her team’s positive work as they look to register their second win of the season. Without more discipline, Pulse’s visit to highflying Mavericks in the next round could quickly become a very uncomfortable experience.