Contributors – Zara Collings, Bethany Lord, Iona St Joseph, Rona Hunnisett & Ian Harkin
Ticket to finals…
by Zara Collings
After sixteen rounds of the Vitality Netball SuperLeague, two teams have secured their spot in the semi finals. With a sixteen goal win over Surrey Storm, Team Bath were the first to book their finals ticket and can no longer finish outside the top four after securing fifteen wins from sixteen games so far this season. It was a strong performance from the side in blue, winning each quarter by at least three goals or more. Shooting duo Kim Borger and Sophie Drakeford-Lewis showed why they are considered to have one of the best attacking connections in the league, shooting at an impressive 92%. Head Coach Anna Stenbridge once again took the opportunity to empty her bench late in the fourth quarter and this depth will be key for Bath heading into finals.
Loughborough Lightning were the second team to confirm their top four finishing spot, winning a closely fought encounter with London Pulse 42-35. Lightning were without young-gun Goal Keeper Alice Harvey, which saw exciting future prospect Jas Odeogberin start at Goal Defence and Suzie Liverseige once again seamlessly slotted into the Wing Attack position in the absence of Hannah Joseph. Despite Lightning securing the eventual three point win, this was a very winnable match for London Pulse who will be disappointed they were unable to capitalise on a strong start and impressive defensive gains. With eight turnovers, Fumni Fadoju once again starred for Pulse and her closing speed and dynamic movement is thrilling to watch. In a worrying trend that has characterised patches of their season, Pulse had nineteen unforced errors, spread across the court.
It was an exciting round for Strathclyde Sirens and their fast-growing tribe, as they finally got their much-hunted victory against one of the top four. Captain Gia Abernethy guided her team in a player of the match performance, picking up two interceptions and provided a steadying influence in attack. It was a blistering third quarter performance that secured the victory for the Scots, with Niamh McCall once again maintaining her composure under the post.
This victory blows the race for the final two top four spots wide open. Manchester Thunder look set to take the third spot, with thirteen wins under their belt on 39 points. Wasps, Mavericks, Rhinos and Sirens are all in with a chance of securing the elusive fourth spot, each with a very different path to finals.
Wasps currently sit in fourth, on 31 points, however after suffering two losses this weekend, have only two matches left in their season. Both are must-win games for the two time premiers, who will take on fellow contender Mavericks and Surrey Storm.
Fifth placed Leeds Rhinos have arguably the ‘easier’ route to finals, with four games left in the regular season. After a big clash with Loughborough Lightning, Rhinos will face Surrey Storm, London Pulse and Celtic Dragons who sit tenth, eighth and eleventh respectively.
Considering the teams they have left to play, Strathclyde Sirens face perhaps the ‘toughest’ task on paper, with both Bath and Manchester Thunder, as well as fellow top-four contender Mavericks and Celtic Dragons. However, do not discount this Sirens side, who have proven time and time again they are capable of running with all the ‘big guns’ of the League for the large part of the 48 minutes. With a victory over Wasps this weekend, this side will carry plenty of momentum and confidence into this big matches.
Whilst Saracens Mavericks have slipped to seventh on the ladder, they have most definitely not slipped out of contention. However, they have yet to face Sirens, Wasps, Bath, Pulse and Storm for a second time. With so much of their season still to play out, Mavericks have the most room for manoeuvre in these final fixtures. With England international Goal Keeper Razia Quashie looking to return to the fold after suffering an ankle injury earlier in the season, Mavericks will be fancying their chances for that final spot.
Stats Leaders of the Week
Most Goals: 52 Donnell Wallam (Rhinos v Stars)
Most Gains: 8 Funmi Fadoju (Pulse v Lightning)
Most Offensive Rebounds: 7 Donnell Wallam (Rhinos v Stars)
Most Defensive Rebounds: 3 Alima Priest (Storm v Bath)
Most Intercepts: 6 Tuaine Keenen (Rhinos v Stars), Nia Jones (Stars v Rhinos) & Funmi Fadoju (Pulse v Lightning)
LEEDS RHINOS 63 def SEVERN STARS 36
Georgia Rowe 24/26 (92%)
Jane Taylor 9/10 (90%)
Issy Eaton 2/2 (100%)
Paige Reed 1/1 (100%)
TOTAL 36/39 (92%)
Gains 15 (Jones 6)
Donnell Wallam 52/57 (92%)
Rhea Dixon 9/14 (64%)
Sienna Rushton 2/2 (100%)
TOTAL 63/73 (86%)
Gains 16 (Keenan 6)
Player of the Match: Vicki Oyesola (Rhinos)
TEAM BATH 55 def SURREY STORM 39
Kim Borger 37/39 (95%)
Sophie Drakeford-Lewis 12/14 (86%)
Betsy Creak 6/7 (86%)
TOTAL 55/60 (92%)
Gains 13 (Guscoth 5)
Karyn Bailey 27/31 (87%)
Frankie Wells 10/12 (83%)
Sophie Kelly 2/2 (100%)
TOTAL 39/45 (87%)
Gains 11 (Priest 7)
Player of the Match: Imogen Allison (Bath)
To hear from the players and coach, post match, tune into the Surrey Storm Podcast.
Action in the Sirens’ goal circle in their upset win over Wasps. Photo: England Netball
STRATHCLYDE SIRENS 44 def WASPS NETBALL 39
Rachel Dunn 24/26 (92%)
Katie Harris 13/13 (100%)
Gezelle Allison 2/2 (100%)
TOTAL 39/41 (95%)
Gains 5 (Williams 2)
Emma Barrie 25/26 (96%)
Niamh McCall 19/21 (90%)
TOTAL 44/47 (94%)
Gains 8 (Dix 3)
Player of the Match: Gia Abernethy (Sirens)
Match report – Wasps v Sirens
By Bethany Lord
7th met 4th in this exciting match between Wasps and Strathclyde Sirens. With Bath now having guaranteed their spot in the top 4, and Rhino’s earlier win this round, the pressure is on to secure one of the three remaining positions with both Wasps and Sirens looking to be in the finals. Sirens had to win to keep their finals chances alive, and Wasps needed to win to put a more comfortable amount of distance between them and the teams coming for their 4th spot.
The last time these two teams met it was a 32 all draw but today it was Sirens that took home the win, 39-44. Sirens were ecstatic to get the 3 points, as evidenced by Beth Dix’s insta stories – wouldn’t we all love a CEO that buys the team a round of shots after a win?!
Despite the first half staying close, this was a Sirens game through and through. The second half saw Sirens come on and assert their dominance on court, proving to everyone that they’re not a team to be underestimated.
Siren’s GS Emma Barrie’s front hold was a key element of their win – the 19 year old shooter has come leaps and bounds in her strength, and put up an impressive performance against a physical defence from Wasps GK Josie Huckle. The glory wasn’t all for Barrie in the Siren’s shooting circle, GA Niamh McCall was an impressive playmaker, calling the shots and often clearing the space for the pass into the front hold to work.
What needs improvement?
Wasps need to have more confidence in one another and use Rachel Dunn as the target shooter she can be. It felt like they were playing to keep possession rather than playing to win, a distinct problem for a team gunning for a coveted top 4 position. The long or over the head ball into Dunn, who has proven on a national and international stage that she can take them, was often open, but Christian, Goss and Flanagan didn’t appear to want to take the option. Confidence was clearly lacking, whether that be in their own ability to execute the pass, or Dunn’s ability to receive. Dunn herself must also take some of the responsibility and keep her holds for just a little longer to make the ball a viable option – she appeared a little rattled by Vinkhumbo, moving around the circle more than necessary and in a manner that often lacked intent.
Watching Vinkhumbo and Nicholl’s partnership develop in the Sirens defensive circle this season has been exciting, but they do need to be careful when doubling up on a shooter. This match saw Rachel Dunn often being double marked by the Sirens defence, and whilst Nicholl often took the opportunity to go hunting and take some great intercepts in the goal third, we also saw that Wasps GA Katie Harris found quite a few uncontested balls.
Where was it lost?
Undoubtedly, Wasps lost the game on the attacking transverse line. They struggled finding an option on the second phase off the centre pass, constantly having to go back deep into the centre third. The Wasps circle also struggled, with partnerships between Dunn and Harris, and Dunn and Allison, not quite hitting the mark – the third quarter in particular saw Harris and Dunn crowding the circle. Lacking structure and cohesive movement, the ball was thrown back onto the transverse line from the circle edge multiple times – a very risky move.
When was it won or lost?
The third quarter almost felt like watching a different game. Sirens stepped onto court with a mission, and blew it out of the park. Their speed, creative play and confidence in each other as a team took them from 3 goals down at half time, to a 6 goal lead at ¾ time, scoring 15 goals to Wasps 6 in the third quarter.
How did she do that?
Rachel Dunn’s almost layup (twice!) after a long ball into the circle in the last minute of the game was a sight to see, reminiscent of Leeds Rhino’s Donnell Wallam or Australian Gretel Bueta, both ex-basketballers. The question must be raised as to where this drive was throughout the rest of the game – Wasps struggled in all four quarters on getting the ball into the circle, choosing to play it safe over taking the long ball, which arguably lost them the match. If Wasps want to stay in the fight for a place in the top 4, we need to see this drive and confidence for a full four quarters.
Wasps: GS Dunn, GA Harris, WA Christian, C Flanagan, WD Catling, GD Williams, GK Huckle
Sirens: GS Barrie, GA McCall, WA Dix, C Abernathy, WD Cullen, GD Nicholl, GK Vinkhumbo
MANCHESTER THUNDER 60 def SARACENS MAVERICKS 42
Joyce Mvula 45/48 (94%)
Ellie Cardwell 9/10 (90%)
Berri Neil 3/4 (75%)
Lois Pearson 3/5 (60%)
TOTAL 60/67 (90%)
Gains 18 (Dovey, McCormick 4)
Ine Marie Venter 32/38 (84%)
Kadeen Corbin 3/3 (100%)
Chloe Essam 7/9 (78%)
TOTAL 42/50 (84%)
Gains 10 (Gibson)
Player of the Match: Amy Carter (Thunder)
Match Report – Thunder v Mavericks
By Iona St Joseph
As we get towards the business end of the season, it’s make or break for a number of the teams in the VNSL. Arguably the favourites going into this game, Manchester Thunder started the weekend in third place on the table and would be keen to secure their place in the top four.
Mavericks, whose formidable defensive end has been causing headaches for teams up and down the ladder this season, were forced into a raft of changes for this game with Jo Trip ruled out due to illness and Razia Quashia returning to the bench from injury.
It’s crunch time for Mavericks if they want to knock Wasps out of that top four spot, but with Rhinos and Sirens gunning for the top of the table as well, it looks like it’s going to be an exciting race for finals.
Although Manchester Thunder have spent much of their season in the top four, this game wasn’t one of their best and they would be keen to tighten up if they make finals. It was scrappy from the get-go and whilst Mavericks’ starting line-up perhaps wasn’t their strongest on paper, Thunder didn’t really know what to expect. Josie Gibson, who we’re more accustomed to seeing at Goal Defence or Wing Defence, started the game at Goal Keeper and proved to be a headache for Thunder’s star shooter Joyce Mvula.
Amy Carter came back strongly after a week off with a Player of the Match performance at Centre, and her combination with Caroline O’Hanlon in attack meant ball started to flow into the shooters, particularly once the Manchester side grew into the game in the second quarter.
Despite Gibson’s best efforts, it was a strong performance from Mvula once again, shooting 45/48 goals at 94%, and although it was a scrappy start, Thunder had the upper hand throughout.
After 13 seasons together, it’s no surprise that the Thunder defensive pairing of Kerry Almond and Emma Dovey were tough opponents for the Mavericks attack. Dovey shone at Goal Defence, snapping up three intercepts and picking up just three penalties across the whole game; a very impressive feat for a circle defender.
There were some uncharacteristic errors through court from Thunder at points during the game, but they managed to find Mvula under the post with relative ease, giving them an eight goal lead after the first quarter.
What needs improvement?
Thunder didn’t have it all their own way, and Mavericks certainly managed to get under their skin at points in this game. There were times in the game where the Saracens side really impressed, but their overall performance just wasn’t clean enough to be able to take the win. There was careless play throughout, whether it was being unable to score off turnover ball, or trying to force panicked balls into the shooters, Gabby Marshall summed up their performance as “sloppy” at half time, particularly off the second phase.
Without their star defensive lineup, it was always going to be a tricky game for Gibson and Goal Defence Steph Collard up against Mvula and England Rose Ellie Cardwell in at Goal Attack for Thunder.
Where was it won?
Thunder dominated across all four quarters with strong performances and combinations across the court; Laura Malcolm continues to be reliable at Wing Defence for the Manchester side, so much so that Mavericks Wing Attack Georgia Lees was benched at half time.
Their performance gave coach Karen Grieg the confidence to bring on young shooters Berri Neil and Lois Pearson from the bench in the fourth quarter. Without the physical dominance of Mvula under the post the feeders had to work harder to get the ball in, but once they’d found the route to their shooters, Neil and Pearson rewarded their teammates with some confident shooting.
Where was it lost?
Mavericks struggled to find that second phase option during the first half, but when Sasha Corbin moved to Wing Attack from Centre and Beth Ecuyer-Dale came into the middle after half time, the game seemed to open up for them a bit more.
There were a lot of changes across the court from Mavericks throughout the game. They found gear a lot quicker with Corbin in Wing Attack but when Chloe Essam had to go off for a blood injury in the third quarter, they seemed to lose momentum and that connection through court. With 10 unforced errors across the match, it was a sloppy performance in places.
Mavericks Goal Shooter Ine-Marie Venter struggled more than we’re used to seeing under the post, shooting at just 84%. When the shooting line-up was announced, some were questioning the decision to start with Kadeen Corbin and Goal Attack and Venter back in Goal Shooter, when they have played so well with Corbin under the post and Venter allowed more movement in Goal Attack.
When was it won or lost?
A strong first quarter from Thunder helped to put them on the front foot for the rest of the game. It was their best quarter performance, and Mavericks only really seemed to match them for goals by the time the game got to the fourth quarter, so it was just too late for them to be able to catch up.
The errors from Mavericks were costly, and also led to them getting frustrated. Kadeen Corbin came off the bench in the fourth quarter into Goal Keeper, which we have seen before this season, but it’s a change that seems to come for Saracens when things feel a little desperate. A comparatively low scoring game for Venter didn’t help the final scoreline, but there are certainly things to work on if Mavericks want to have a chance of reaching finals.
How did she do that?
Amy Carter showed why she was backed to be part of the England Roses Futures Programme this week, putting in a Player of the Match performance at Centre for Thunder. Her connections with O’Hanlon, Cardwell and Mvula in attack helped her side secure the win and her defensive efforts, including two intercepts, kept Mavericks at bay.
The connection between Almond and Dovey in defence for Thunder was a real thorn in the side for the Mavericks attack, turning over ball and keeping the penalties low, which is always a win for any defender.
Despite a loss for their side, Gibson and Marshall both performed well in defence at the other end of the court, upping the pressure on the Thunder attack in the second quarter and picking up 11 deflections between them throughout the game.
It’s going to be a tight race for that final spot in the top four, and with three games in hand over fourth place Wasps going into rounds 17 and 18, there’s still every chance that Mavericks could make it! The remaining rounds before finals are certainly not to be missed.
Thunder: GS Mvula, GA Cardwell, WA O’Hanlon, C Carter, WD Malcolm, GD Dovey, GK Almond
Mavericks: GS Venter, GA K Corbin, WA Lees, C S Corbin, WD Marshall, GD Collard, GK Gibson
MANCHESTER THUNDER 53 def WASPS NETBALL 47
Rachel Dunn 30/31 (97%)
Gezelle Allison 13/17 (76%)
Katie Harris 4/4 (100%)
TOTAL 47/52 (90%)
Gains 7 (Leighton 3)
Joyce Mvula 37/40 (93%)
Ellie Cardwell 16/17 (94%)
TOTAL 53/57 (93%)
Gains 7 (Airey 4)
Player of the Match: Joyce Mvula (Thunder)
LOUGHBOROUGH LIGHTNING 42 def LONDON PULSE 35
Olivia Tchine 25/28 (89%)
Kira Rothwell 7/7 (100%)
Lefebre Rademan 3/5 (60%)
TOTAL 35/40 (88%)
Gains 12 (Fadoju 8)
Mary Cholhok 33/43 (77%)
Ella Clark 9/11 (82%)
Lucy Parize 0/1 (0%)
TOTAL 42/55 (76%)
Gains 11 (May 5)
Player of the Match: Sam May (Lightning)
Match Report – Pulse v Lightning
By Rona Hunnisett
Loughborough Lightning booked their place in the Vitality Netball Superleague play offs for 2021 with an entertaining 42-35 win over London Pulse. But the London side, playing on their home court at the Copper Box, will be ruing missed opportunities and wasted possession which could have allowed them to take a famous win. Despite missing key players, Loughborough’s policy of giving the full bench court time during the early part of the season meant that the connections were already established and the side could integrate new faces with confidence. However, this is a match that the London side could – and should – have won, and while many of the Pulse line up are emerging talents, they need to learn how to win in close games like this.Loughborough will count themselves lucky to have escaped with the points. There will be sterner tests ahead for Lightning, and they need to ensure that their error rate is significantly lowered if they are to challenge for the title at the end of the season.
Nat Panagarry and Beth Cobden controlled the midcourt for Loughborough, using all their experience and know-how to keep the scoreboard rolling in Lightning’s favour. Despite taking a heavy hit early in the first quarter, Panagarry’s work rate was simply extraordinary and both she and Cobden marshalled their front line to deliver safe feeds into Cholhok and Clark. However, they did not have it all their own way and with Funmi Fudoju once again demonstrating why she is the defender to watch this season, the youngster kept Pulse in touch with some eye-catching deflections and insane elevation to deny Loughborough possession around the top of the circle.
When Loughborough used the central channel to drive through court and feed their circle, the ball moved smoothly and at pace. Despite the great work of Pulse’s Lindsay Keable on Mary Cholhok to disrupt the feed and unsettle the towering shooter, the shooter to shooter interplay between the Ugandan international and England’s Ella Clark was simply too slick, and their height meant that they were always an option for an attacking rebound. which disrupted Lightning’s flow and unsettled their circle feeders. In the end Loughborough’s better connections through court ensured that they kept the scoreboard moving in their favour.
What needs improvement?
The error rate from both sides was high, but Pulse once again failed to turn the screw on their opponents when they had the opportunity to get back into the game, at the start of the second half. Too many passes were either too strong, heading off the court, or lifted laterally into the waiting hands of a Loughborough defender.
Where was it won?
As a defender, how do you solve a problem like Mary Cholhok? Despite the intense pressure placed on the Ugandan by Keable, which forced the Loughborough shooter into quicker and quicker shot taking, she still landed the bulk of Lightning’s shots, plucking feeds from the air at will despite the close attentions of two defenders. Her mobility and aerial strength make her a challenge that needs to be overcome if Loughborough are to be defeated.
Where was it lost?
Quite simply, Pulse made too many mistakes, and were slow to adjust to Loughborough’s close one on one defence through court. When the London side removed the cross court balls that Lightning snapped up time after time, they managed to generate some momentum, but against a side of this calibre, Pulse needed to stick to task and keep the ball moving at speed.
How did she do that?
Once again, Pulse’s Funmi Fadoju was the defensive star of the show, with a series of extraordinary interceptions and deflections which singlehandedly kept the London side in the game. For a young player, her anticipation and elevation were simply astonishing as she hassled and harried international players with more experience and years than her. She is the real deal.
Pulse: GS Tchine, GA Rademan, WA Rothwell, C Dekker, WD Everett, GD Fadoju, GK Keable
Lightning: GS Cholhok, GA Clark, WA Liverseidge, C Panagarry, WD Cobden, GD Odeogberin, GK May
Alice Harvey (Lightning): Ankle injury v Surrey Storm in Round 15 and unavailable for Round 16
Halimat Adio (Pulse): Lateral Meniscus tear – out for the rest of the season
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.
(after Round 16)
Team . Pld . Pts . Diff
BATH . 16. 45pts . +209
LIGHTNING . 16 . 42pts . +244
THUNDER . 16 . 39pts . +196
WASPS . 18 . 31pts . +88
RHINOS . 16. 27pts . +26
SIRENS . 16 . 26pts . -7
MAVERICKS . 15 . 25pts . +11
PULSE . 16 . 9pts . -95
STARS . 16. 9pts . -199
STORM . 16 . 6pts . -160
DRAGONS . 15 . 3pts . -313
Fri 28 May – 5:15pm – Dragons v Pulse
Fri 28 May – 7:15pm – Stars v Bath
Sat 29 May – 2:00pm – Lightning v Dragons
Sat 29 May – 4:00pm – Thunder v Stars
Sat 29 May – 6:00pm – Sirens v Bath
Sun 30 May – 2:00pm – Lightning v Rhinos
Sun 30 May – 4:00pm – Mavericks v Sirens
Sun 30 May – 6:00pm – Thunder v Storm
Mon 31 May – 5:15pm – Rhinos v Storm
Mon 31 May – 7:15pm – Mavericks v Wasps