Top Four on Track
By Zara Collings
It was business as usual in Round 15 of the Vitality Netball SuperLeague for our top four teams, with Team Bath, Manchester Thunder, Loughborough Lightning and Wasps all putting another three points on the board and increasing the distance between them and their competitors.
Whilst many (including myself!) were tipping Team Bath and Leeds Rhinos to have a battle for the ages, Bath produced a dominating performance that certainly quietened any calls for an upset from the newcomers. For the first time since Round 1, Leeds were hesitant to feed the ball into their superstar shooter Donnell Wallam and this lack of confidence was pounced upon by two very ball-hungry Bath defenders in Layla Guscoth and Eboni Osuro-Brown, who racked up eight gains between them across the 48 minutes. Bath ended the contest with only six players on court, as after entering the game in the final quarter, Goal Keeper Summer Artman was suspended and sent from the court. Whilst Bath undoubtedly have a starting seven full of stars, the strength of their bench is starting to attract some questions. Head Coach Anna Stenbridge needs to be sure that she can bring on any player at any time and after this season’s first suspension, there is certainly work to be done in that regard.
With Leeds unable to execute the big upset they are certainly tracking towards, a solid win from Strathclyde Sirens over Surrey Storm brings them to just one point behind the Rhinos side. In the first half, Storm certainly appeared to have fixed some of their attacking problems, with Emma Magee and Yasmin Parsons finding good space and Karyn Bailey proving to be as stable as ever under the post. However, a half time pep talk from Technical Director Karen Atkinson and some fiery Irn-Bru proved to be just what the Scots ordered, as Sirens outplayed Storm in each position to win the second half 28-15. After struggling last week without Goal Keeper Towera Vinkhumbo on court for the full 48 minutes, Atkinson had called for her other defensive players to step up and this they certainly did, as Goal Defence Emily Nicholl was awarded player of the match.
In what was perhaps the most exciting game of the round, a depleted London Pulse pushed Wasps all the way before eventually bowing out 37-42 against the two-time champions. A dynamic Pulse defensive end exposed a lack of variety in the Wasps attack, as feeders Amy Flanagan and Iona Christian struggled at times to get the ball to Rachel Dunn. In these instances, Goal Attack Katie Harris must stand up and provide another option in the circle by turning to post and putting up the shot. As Wasps come up against Strathclyde Sirens and Manchester Thunder this weekend, they will need to bring variety and consistency in their attack or they risk being exposed by both these strong defensive units.
It was also a big week for English Netball, as Jess Thirlby announced her squad of 24 English Roses for the upcoming year. Halimat Adio (Pulse) and Rhea Dixon (Rhinos) were named for the first time, alongside returnee Beth Cobden (Lightning) who looks back to her best after a string of injury troubles. Cobden is joined by her fellow Lightning midcourters in Nat Panagarry and Hannah Joseph, who makes her return to the Roses Squad. Notably, fan favourite Wing Attack Chelsea Pitman retains her spot, despite not playing in any of the three elite international competitions in 2021.
As Round 16 approaches, all of those named in this Roses Squad will be looking to put out comprehensive performances to reward Thirlby for their selection. Perhaps none more so, than Mavericks shooter Kadeen Corbin, who publicly acknowledged on Twitter this week that she missed out on Roses selection, despite putting herself forward. She will play a pivotal role as her side look to take on Manchester Thunder, in what is a must-win game for her side and Corbin will want to prove that she has the consistency, skill and hunger to work her way back in to the mix. Currently sitting in fifth, six points behind Wasps, Mavericks must ensure a top four spot remains within their grasp. Lose this weekend and with only five games left before the end of the season, finals may just be a bridge too far. This one will be fiery.
Stats Leaders of the Week
Most Goals: 43 Kim Borger (Bath v Rhinos)
Most Gains: 8 Funmi Fadoju (Pulse v Wasps)
Most Offensive Rebounds: 8 Rachel Dunn (Wasps v Pulse)
Most Defensive Rebounds: 3 Leah Middleton (Storm v Sirens) & Fran Williams (Wasps v Pulse)
Most Intercepts: 4 Towera Vinkhumbo (Sirens v Storm), Rebecca Airey (Thunder v Dragons) & Alima Priest (Storm v Lightning)
LOUGHBOROUGH LIGHTNING 50 def SEVERN STARS 41
Georgia Rowe 25/26 (96%)
Paige Reed 16/17 (94%)
TOTAL 41/43 (95%)
Gains 7 (3 Herdman)
Mary Cholhok 37/43 (86%)
Ella Clark 13/15 (87%)
TOTAL 50/58 (86%)
Gains 7 (Clark 2)
Player of the Match: Nat Panagarry (Lightning)
TEAM BATH 59 def LEEDS RHINOS 43
Kim Borger 43/46 (93%)
Sophie Drakeford-Lewis 16/16 (100%)
TOTAL 59/62 (95%)
Gains 15 (Guscoth 6)
Donnell Wallam 35/38 (92%)
Rhea Dixon 7/11 (64%)
Sienna Rushton 1/1 (100%)
TOTAL 43/50 (86%)
Gains 10 (3 Tuaine Keenan)
Player of the Match: Layla Guscoth (Bath)
Match report – Team Bath v Leeds Rhinos
By Rona Hunnisett
At the start of the weekend, the repeat fixture between league leaders TeamBath and the fast-improving Leeds Rhinos side was the pick of round 15 for many people – could the five-time champions find a way to counter the strength and versatility of shooting sensation Donnell Wallam and dampen the flair of Dan Ryan’s young side? In the end, the team from the South West simply had too much fire power for the Leeds line up, running out comfortable winners with an impressive performance that would have fired a warning shot across the bows of other teams with title aspirations. With only five rounds of the regular season left, TeamBath are looking ominously strong and coach Anna Stembridge’s claim that they have yet to register a full 60-minute performance will have raised many eyebrows. Just how good can they be?
From the first whistle, when Team Bath turned over Leeds’ opening centre pass, the entire Bath unit was simply too skilled and too focused for the young Northern side. In all areas of the court, they stuck to the game plan and executed it with accuracy and finesse. In a Bath line up packed with internationals who all had a “good day at the office”, England’s Serena Guthrie at C and Layla Guscoth at GD were stand outs. Both put in superlative performances which, combined with the smothering defence of Imogen Allison at WD on the transverse line, meant that Leeds were forced into errors when feeding Wallam from long range. The errors crept in, the Northern side became hesitant in lifting the ball into space in the circle and Bath quickly turned the resulting interceptions into flatline balls to goal, where Sophie Drakeford-Lewis and Kim Borger punished Leeds errors time and again.
Bath’s circles were both firing on all cylinders, with Guscoth and Eboni Usoro-Brown using all their international experience to confuse the space for Leeds’ feeders while, at the other end, Kim Borger and Sophie Drakeford-Lewis put on a masterclass on how to implement a rotating circle. Time and again, Borger used her quick footwork and clever body movements to draw the defenders forwards and then drop back into the space under the post, while Drakeford-Lewis capitalised whenever Leeds double-teamed her shooting partner, driving the baseline or using sharp front cuts to get herself into simple scoring positions. Any team with ambitions to defeat TeamBath in this sort of form will need to find a way to disrupt their partnership, and fast.
For Leeds, there were positive attacking signs to build on, if they are to contest a play off place at the end of the season. When Grierson and Clarke were confident to let the first time ball go into space, Dixon and Wallam took full advantage, but Bath’s full court defence frequently pushed the feed further up the court, giving Usoro-Brown and Guscoth the opportunity to cut in and take the interception. Leeds showed signs of reverting to their game plan towards the end of the match, but by then, the win was out of their grasp.
What needs improvement?
From the outset, it was clear that Leeds lacked the experience and confidence of their West Country opponents. When the ball movement through court worked for them, it was delightful to watch, but too often they hesitated in releasing the ball, giving Bath time to regroup. That confidence will come with more time as a unit. For Bath, it will be about removing the niggling marginal errors which crept into the game at key times and ensuring full concentration until the final whistle.
Where was it lost?
The Team Bath full court pressure soon started to force errors from the Leeds team, not least from GA Rhea Dixon, who found the close attention of player of the match Layla Guscoth hard to overcome. Guscoth used all her experience to close down the space available to the young Leeds shooter, forcing her into a tonne of work outside the circle and pushing her feeding opportunities wider and deeper into the midcourt. Without Dixon’s clever cut and drive at the top of the circle, Leeds were forced to look laterally or back to the transverse line, and that gave Guthrie and Allison time to disrupt play and force an error from the Yorkshire team.
When was it won or lost?
The second quarter was the turning point for Team Bath in terms of the scoreboard, with the league leaders switching into another gear completely. However, with their game plan disrupted by Bath’s stifling defensive pressure, there was no real opportunity for Leeds to mount a comeback throughout the second half, and despite showing sparks of what has made them one of the league’s most exciting teams this year, the result was never in doubt.
How did she do that?
Observers of Leeds’ games this season will be familiar with Donnell Wallam’s ability to score goals from anywhere, even when falling off the backline, and on any other day, her tip of a lost feed back into court to score in the middle of the first period would have made it the star of the show. But for sheer agility and strength, the award for the game’s most eye-catching moment must go to England’s Serena Guthrie. At the end of the third period, chasing down yet another ball which seemed destined for the second tier of the Copper Box’s seating, Guthrie launched herself into the air and flicked the ball back behind her to Kim Borger, who was waiting under the post. Many say that you make your own luck, but this incident was a clear demonstration of the connection between the Bath front line, and effectively sealed any hopes of a comeback for the Leeds side.
Bath: GS Kim Borger, GA Sophie Drakeford-Lewis, WA Rachel Shaw, C Serena Guthrie, WD Imogen Allison, GD Layla Guscoth, GK Eboni Usoro-Brown
Changes / substitutions: 4th Q: GK Summer Artman, (midway through quarter) GD Tash Pavelin
Rhinos: GS Donnell Wallam, GA Rhea Dixon, WA Brie Grierson, C Jade Clarke, WD Emily Hollingworth, GD Vicki Oyesola, GK Tuane Keenan
Changes / substitutions: 2nd Q: Fi Toner, 3rd Q (midway through quarter) GD Paige Kindred, 4th Q: WD Emily Hollingworth, GD Vicki Oyesola, (midway through quarter) GA Sienna Rushton
Umpires: Alison Harrison and Kate Stephenson
STRATHCLYDE SIRENS 52 def SURREY STORM 39
Emma Barrie 37/41 (90%)
Niamh McCall 15/19 (80%)
TOTAL 52/60 (87%)
Gains 15 (6 Vinkhumbo)
Karyn Bailey 25/25 (100%)
Emma Magee 13/17 (76%)
Sophie Kelly 1/1 (100%)
TOTAL 39/43 (91%)
Gains 8 (4 Middleton)
Player of the Match: Emily Nicholl (Sirens)
Match report – Strathclyde Sirens v Surrey Storm
By Bethany Lord
With 6 wins and 2 draws under their belt compared to Storm’s 2 wins, many expected Sirens to run away with this match. Technical Director Karen Atkinson said pre-game that they had set themselves a goal of beating every team below them on the ladder, and that was their goal today. Although Sirens took home the win, Atkinson wasn’t ‘overly pleased’ with their performance, evidence of the Sirens ambition and expectations for themselves this season.
Vinkhumbo returned to the Sirens starting seven after missing the last two rounds with a knee injury, and Emma Magee returned for Storm after sustaining an ankle injury in the early minutes of Round 1.
The first half of the match was neck for neck, with teams finishing level at the end of both quarters and it looked like we could be in for a showdown. However, in the third quarter Sirens pulled it out to a 6 goal lead, ending the game 13 goals ahead of Storm and making good on their goal of beating every team below them in the standings. Storm put up a good fight in a fast-paced game, but a cohesive Sirens outfit proved too strong for the Surrey side.
One thing that worked really well for both teams in this game was the use of the GA. All too often we see the GS dominate the scoreboard, with the GA putting up fairly few shots. However, both Emma Magee (Storm) and Niamh McCall (Sirens) made significant contributions to their teams score, in addition to taking on a playmaker role in the attacking circle.
The partnership between Sirens WA Beth Dix and GS Emma Barrie continued to grow, and we’re beginning to see the rewards of constant court time for these two players. Dix fed some absolute stunners into Barrie, who has improved significantly since the start of the season in terms of her positioning and holding. Whilst there’s still a way to go in terms of Barrie’s growing strength and the Sirens midcourt’s ability to feed to her, it’s great to see the Sirens midcourt start to get the hang of feeding to the tall shooter, something they have previously struggled with.
What needs improvement?
Storm are still struggling with consistency, a point player/coach Mikki Austin has mentioned in numerous pre and post match interviews this season. They have their moments but are struggling to put up a full four quarter performance. It was particularly noticeable in the attacking end, with the Storm centre-court often forced out wide and playing the ball backwards. Austin and Parsons need to make use of each other more in the attacking third to change the angle of the feed into the circle.
Despite taking home the 3 points, Sirens tended to struggle on the second phase off the centre pass. WA Beth Dix was getting depth in the goal third but her team mates seemed hesitant to feed it to her, leading to rushed or forced passes. If her team mates aren’t feeding to her deep she’s forced to play level, which takes up more space and doesn’t drive the ball down the court. Sirens need to have more confidence in their players on that second phase, and Dix needs to ensure that she doesn’t fade too deep too early and to lose her defender earlier.
Where was it lost?
Sirens full court, consistent defensive pressure proved too strong for the Storm outfit. Their commitment to structure and pressure on every ball caused a number of personnel changes from Storm Head Coach Mikki Austin in the final quarter as she attempted to make changes that could change the flow of the game. However, the lack of consistency throughout the game from the Storm side led to their downfall, and personnel changes weren’t enough for them to claw back on the scoreboard.
When was it won or lost?
The third quarter, as it so often does, marked a turning point in the game. Sirens drew the margin out to a 6 goal lead after scores were level at half-time. Storm were arguably still in contention to turn it around until about the halfway point of the last quarter, when they would have struggled to do so before the clock ran out, but once Sirens had the lead they never really looked in any danger of losing it.
How did she do that?
Vinkumbo returned to the Sirens starting seven after a knee injury in Rounds 13/14. Although not her most standout performance of the season, she came back with a bang not only by keeping Storm GS Karen Bailey’s dominance to a minimum, but with a few flying intercepts out of the circle. You’ve got to love a GK that can get those floaters! Not to mention, she leads the competition in both intercepts and turnovers – an impressive feat for any player, let alone one who has missed two games due to injury.
Special mention has to be made of Sirens GS Emma Barrie’s attacking intercept on the transverse line early in the second quarter. Not necessarily the most exciting moment but a surprising one, and an intercept we wouldn’t typically see from Barrie.
Sirens: GS Emma Barrie, GA Niamh McCall, WA Beth Dix, C Gia Abernathy, WD Taylor Cullen, GD Emily Nicholl, GK Towera Vinkhumbo
Storm: GS Karen Bailey, GA Emma Magee, WA Yasmine Parsons, C Mikki Austin, WD Niamh Cooper, GD Leah Middleton, GK Alima Priest
Umpires: Megan Samuel and Kate Mann
MANCHESTER THUNDER 54 def CELTIC DRAGONS 40
Amy Clinton 28/33 (85%)
Rebekah Robinson 12/16 (75%)
TOTAL 40/49 (82%)
Gains 10 (4 Annika Lee-Jones)
Joyce Mvula 29/30 (97%)
Ellie Cardwell 17/21 (81%)
Berri Samaera Neil 4/4 (100%)
Lois Pearson 4/5 (80%)
TOTAL 54/60 (90%)
Gains 14 (3 McCormick)
Player of the Match: Joyce Mvula (Thunder)
LOUGHBOROUGH LIGHTNING 53 def SURREY STORM 28
Mary Cholhok 36/36 (100%)
Suzie Liverseige 5/7 (71%)
Ella Clark 10/14 (71%)
Lucy Parize 2/2 (100%)
TOTAL 53/59 990%)
Gains 11 (3 May)
Ellie Kelk 11/14 (79%)
Karyn Bailey 9/12 (75%)
Frankie Wells 7/9 (78%)
Emma Magee 1/1 (100%)
TOTAL 28/36 (78%)
Gains 14 (5 Priest)
Player of the Match: Alima Priest (Storm)
To hear from the players and coach, post match, tune into the Surrey Storm Podcast.
WASPS NETBALL 42 def LONDON PULSE 37
Rachel Dunn 32/39 (82%)
Katie Harris 10/14 (71%)
TOTAL 42/53 (79%)
Gains 15 (Williams 6)
Olivia Tschine 25/32 (78%)
Lefebre Rademan 12/16 (75%)
TOTAL 37/48 (77%)
Gains 14 (Fadoju 8)
Player of the Match: Iona Christian (Wasps)
Match Report: Wasps v Pulse
By Iona St Joseph
It was a must win game for Wasps this weekend in order to keep Mavericks and Rhinos at bay for that fourth place position. Coming off the back of two losses in Rounds 13/14, they would have been fired up.
London Pulse were without the injured Sigi Burger this week, as well as the continued absence of their Captain and starting Goal Keeper Halimat Adio.
After the first quarter, it looked like this game might have all the hallmarks of a blow out. Wasps started strongly, with Centre Amy Flanagan picking up two intercepts early on, and Josie Huckle applying solid pressure to the relatively inexperienced Olivia Tchine.
Going into the first quarter break 14-7 up, fans would have been forgiven for thinking that it was Wasps that would easily take the win; they looked like they were working harder off the ball, and they certainly seemed like the more confident team heading into the second quarter.
It looked much the same until mid-way through the second quarter, when Pulse fought back strongly, cutting Wasps’ nine goal advantage to just four, 23-19, at the half time break. The Pulse feeders seemed to find Tchine much more easily towards the end of the second quarter, whilst at the other end of the court, Funmi Fadoju’s move across to Goal Defence from the wing caused all sorts of headaches for Rachel Dunn and Katie Harris in the Wasps shooting circle.
At one point in the third quarter, Pulse managed to get within two goals, but unfortunately they just couldn’t sustain the pressure, and a few errors combined with increasing penalties meant that Wasps took the win.
Wasps were the more clinical side in this matchup. Although they went quiet at points, which allowed Pulse back into the game, they were more consistent in their processes and they were much more disciplined throughout; Wasps racked up 37 penalties, compared to 67 from Pulse, which helped win them the game.
Rachel Dunn was as reliable as ever under the post, scoring the majority of Wasps goals with 32/39 (82%), and she was strong on the rebound too, picking up eight of Wasps’ nine offensive rebounds.
There was plenty of positive play for Pulse, their defensive duo of Fadoju and Lindsay Keable at Goal Keeper certainly didn’t make it easy for Wasps, and when the Pulse feeders were able to find their shooters from the edge of the circle, the ball went in easily. Adean Thomas had a strong game at Wing Attack for Pulse, her energy a key component of her side’s comeback in the second quarter.
What needs improvement?
It’s been a tough season for Pulse, and they probably haven’t ended up where they would like to be on the table. In this game, we saw glimpses of what they’re capable of and, with a few more seasons allowing this group of players to grow and develop together, I think they will certainly pose a threat to the top half of the table.
This game really showcased how they can play if they are more disciplined, and it certainly bodes well for the future of the squad.
Although Wasps won, there were periods of this game where they just seemed to fall by the wayside. Flanagan was quiet in the second quarter compared to her dominance in the first, and Rachel Dunn, who scored 13 goals in the first quarter was kept to just six in the second. When Flanagan and Iona Christian at Wing Attack can get the ball into Dunn easily, it’s seamless, but they don’t seem to have a plan B when up against strong defensive pressure. They appear reluctant to give Goal Attack Katie Harris the ball, often preferring to pass back to the centre third and reset the play to get it into Dunn under the post. That connection will be key if Wasps make it to finals.
Where was it won?
The composure from Wasps throughout the game was what won them the match. The defensive combination of Huckle and Fran Williams reacted well to Pulse’s run of goals in the second quarter, and didn’t let them get ahead. Williams was the game leader for defensive rebounds with three, helping to keep her side in the game, and she picked up six of her team’s 11 gains.
The Wasps midcourt were reliable throughout. Iona Christian put in a player of the match performance at Wing Attack, picking up two intercepts and three deflections; it looks like they have found their replacement for Candappa for the rest of the season.
Where was it lost?
The penalties really started to blow out for Pulse in the third quarter. Although Keable was doing a heap of work defending Rachel Dunn, she was heavily penalised and finished the game with 27 penalties on the stats sheet. That lack of discipline was what cost Pulse the game, and you could see that they were getting frustrated as the time pressure was added in the fourth quarter.
When was it won or lost?
After a fantastic performance towards the end of the second quarter and into the third, Pulse just couldn’t keep up the momentum, although they did have a final resurgence in the fourth, cutting Wasps lead from 11 goals at one point down to five at the final whistle.
How did she do that?
Two words: Funmi Fadoju. After moving to Goal Defence at the start of the second quarter, Fadoju was a key part of Pulse’s renaissance. With two intercepts and a whopping 11 deflections, she was a menace for the Wasps attack. Her movement and footwork meant she was able to go for ball, and the fact that she is so agile, keeping off the body of the shooters, meant that she only picked up 10 penalties over the course of the game.
Wasps: GS Dunn, GA Harris, WA Christian, C Flanagan, WD Catling, GD Williams, GK Huckle
Pulse: GS Tchine, GA Rademan, WA Thomas, C Dekker, WD Fadoju, GD Everitt, GK Keable
(after Round 14)
BATH . 15. 42pts . +193
LIGHTNING . 15 . 39pts . +237
THUNDER . 14 . 33pts . +172
WASPS . 16 . 31pts . +99
MAVERICKS . 14 . 25pts . +29
RHINOS . 15. 24pts . -1
SIRENS . 15 . 23pts . -12
PULSE . 15 . 9pts . -88
STARS . 15 . 9pts . -72
STORM . 15 . 6pts . -144
DRAGONS . 15 . 3pts . -313
Alice Harvey (Lightning): Ankle injury in Q4 v Surrey Storm and left the court
Halimat Adio (Pulse): Lateral Meniscus tear – out for the rest of the season
Razia Quashie (Mavericks): unconfirmed ankle injury and has not been in match day squad for a number of weeks
Sigi Burger (Pulse): Knee injury and likely to be out for a number of weeks
Lynsey Gallagher, Strathclyde Sirens – injured knee and hoping to return before the end of the season
Catchup on the latest Vitality Netball Superleague news, and hear from the players and coaches via our friends at The Netball Show.
Sunday, May 16
12pm – Stars v Rhinos
2pm – Bath v Storm
4pm – Wasps v Sirens
6pm – Thunder v Mavericks
Monday, May 10
5:15pm – Wasps v Thunder
7:15pm – Pulse v Lightning