TeamBath finally found the winning formula at home, taking the win over a highly fancied Manchester Thunder 60-56. Despite the continued absence of inspirational midcourter Serena Guthrie, sidelined with a viral infection, Bath’s midcourt combination of Shaw, Ritchie and Allison were equal to the pace and guile of Thunder’s well drilled centre court. With shooters Kim Commane and player of the match Sophie Drakeford Lewis combining brilliantly, the Manchester side found it hard to break through.
Bath led by five at the first interval, but Thunder’s circle defenders Dovey and Almond showed why they are one of the strongest combinations, confusing the space for Bath’s feeders and turning over vital ball which Mvula and Turner duly converted. The gap between the sides closed to a single goal midway through the quarter, but Bath rallied, inspired by an eye catching interception by Mia Ritchie, which seemed to take the wind from Thunder’s sails. By half time, the home team led by four goals, 32-28 but the game was still within the visitor’s grasp.
The second half was a nip and tuck affair, with Bath’s vocal crowd roaring on their side and seeming to play every pass for their team. In an electric atmosphere, Drakeford Lewis showed why she is one of England’s most exciting attacking prospects, seeming to glide into the circle at the appropriate moment, making space for Commane and shooting accurately at will to outfox the best efforts of the Thunder defenders. At the final whistle, with the second half effectively a tie at 28 goals apiece, the home team had done just enough to take the win, and leaving Thunder to regroup ahead of a rescheduled game against Wasps in midweek.
League leaders Wasps reinforced their title credentials by retaining their 100% record in a 61-34 drubbing of Strathclyde Sirens, at home in Coventry. Even with their missing star shooter Cat Tuivaiti, on paper the reigning champions would be a tough challenge for the young Scottish team, and without the Tuivaiti magic in attack, the Scottish team found it hard going from the first whistle.
Wasps defenders Amy Flanagan and Hannah Knights once again proved why they are the often unsung heroes of their team, providing countless defensive turnovers at the top of Sirens’ attacking third and frustrating the Scottish side’s attempts to turn the relentless tide of Wasps goals in their favour. Wasps coach Mel Mansfield rang the changes in her line up, giving court time to youngster Chloe Essam in the shooting circle, but Sirens failed to capitalise and the well-drilled Wasps side pushed on and on, ultimately taking a convincing win. In this form, they will be very hard to stop.
Loughborough Lightning continued their recent good run of form, and heaped more misery on London Pulse with a 56-51 win over the newest side in the league. Sara Bayman’s side moved into the top four for the first time this season after a third consecutive win, once again inspired by a sensational shooting performance by Ugandan import Mary Cholhok, who is growing in confidence in every round and connecting well with Hannah Joseph in midcourt.
Leading at half time, 31-21, Lightning looked set to pull ahead in the third quarter, but Pulse had other ideas. Inspired by an immaculate shooting performance by Jamaican international Shantal Slater, who ended the game with 34 goals at 100% accuracy, Pulse started to claw back the deficit. Midcourt balls were chased down with more purpose and more care was taking in circle feeds. The visitors took the third quarter 17-13 and the stage was set for an epic final 15 minutes.
The last quarter was full of nip and tuck netball, which the London side edged by a single goal – but sadly for them, the deficit was too big to claw back. Loughborough’s experience, and an inspired defensive performance by Tuaine Keenan, which earned her the player of the match accolade, was enough to steal the win. However, the Midlands side will be watching the tapes this week to work out how they let Pulse back into a game which should have been out of their reach.
Celtic Dragons proved that there are no pushovers in this year’s competition, taking Surrey Storm by surprise to steal a 48-46 win at the Surrey Sports Park. Fijian defender Dee Bolakoro was once again her side’s inspiration, grabbing key interceptions to deny Surrey’s attacking moves, and frustrating Storm’s South African shooter Sigi Burger on numerous occasions. Dragons’ full court defence shocked the home side into unprovoked errors and the Welsh team led by five at the end of the first quarter and six at halftime.
Player coach Mikki Austin regrouped her Surrey side at the main interval, and they were more focused from the start of the second half, wasting less possession in the midcourt and finding better shooting opportunities. As with the Lightning/Pulse game, however, the gap was too big to close and Dragons took an unexpected win to close the gap on the sides above them in the league.
The round’s final game, between Severn Stars and Saracens Mavericks, proved a disappointing spectacle for Sky Sports viewers, with Stars squandering too much possession and failing to net vital goals which would have made the game more of a contest. Mavericks’ front line of George Fisher and Kadeen Corbin are starting to build an impressive understanding, which kept Stars at bay despite the best efforts of defender Sam Cook, who was at her smothering defensive best.
Unfortunately for Stars, the rest of the side put in a frustrating performance, full of basic errors, which never allowed them to completely contest a game should have been within their grasp. Mavericks took a comfortable victory while Stars will be looking to regroup and refocus ahead of their trip to Wasps this weekend.