Contributors – Zara Collings, Iona St Joseph, Rona Hunnisett and Ian Harkin
Photos thanks to Ben Lumley/England Netball
ONE SPOT LEFT…
By Zara Collings
Rounds 17 and 18 marked the first time the Vitality Netball Superleague was able to welcome crowds in over 400 days. A few hundred lucky fans, including some of your Netball Scoop UK team, were able to head to London’s Copper Box Arena to witness ten thrilling encounters, which had a significant impact on the remainder of the season and who would take the last remaining spot in finals.
Manchester Thunder became the third side to secure their place in this year’s finals series with a win over Severn Stars, 55-43. It was a strong showing from the Northern side, with each player stepping up to win their on-court battle against their opponent. Coaches Karen Grieg and Tracey Neville once again demonstrated the depth of talent that has come through their pathways, with all twelve players taking to court. This will be vital during the finals, as these young players know they have the trust from their coaching team and have proven throughout the season that they are capable of delivering under pressure.
Both Loughborough Lightning and Team Bath continued to prove their championship credentials with a further two wins each across the weekend. Despite being challenged till the final whistle by a dogged Leeds Rhinos side, Lightning maintained composure to eventually take an eight goal victory. Despite Donnell Wallam claiming seven offensive rebounds from her eight missed shots, Samantha May gave one of the most convincing performances against the Australian shooting sensation. Picking up eight deflections and five gains, May was able to use her front positioning to push Wallam towards the baseline and her impressive elevation put plenty of pressure on the take and shot. In celebration of the weekend’s matches coinciding with the first of Suncorp Super Netball’s Indigenous Rounds, as a proud Noongar-Kaniyan woman, Wallam proudly wore the artwork of Charlie Wanti on her trainers as a nod to her heritage and homeland.
With a finals spot already under their belt, Head Coach Sara Francis-Bayman took the liberty of experimenting with her starting seven against Celtic Dragons, with a move which saw Beth Cobden move in to Centre and Captain Nat Panagarry start the match in Wing Defence. Arguably one of Lightning’s most exciting weapons, the long arms and tracking of Cobden offer something completely different to speedy Panagarry. This is an exciting option for Lightning heading into finals, and with the return of Wing Attack Hannah Joseph and the option to bring Suzie Liverseidge out of the circle, Lightning are showing they have the depth and versatility to mix it up for impact.
It was another tough weekend for Celtic Dragons, who went down to both London Pulse and Loughborough Lightning by 21 and 24 goals respectively. This was further dampened by the news that Head Coach Tania Hoffman will be leaving the side to return to her home of New Zealand, where she will assume a coaching role with the Mainland Tactix. With only one win and the largest negative goal difference, it would be easy to write off the side’s season as a disaster. However, clear improvements have been made throughout the course of the season and key performers such as Amy Clinton and Abby Tyrrell have stood up and performed each week. One such improved player in former Sunshine Coast Lightning Goal Keeper Annika Lee-Jones, who had one of her best games of the season against none other than the League’s most prolific shooter Mary Cholhok. Lee-Jones made seven gains throughout the match, securing four defensive rebounds for her side.
The question still remains however, as to who will secure that all important fourth spot and extend their season into finals. You would be forgiven for losing track of who needed to win which games, as rounds seventeen and eighteen once again blew the race for fourth place wide open. Saracens Mavericks, Leeds Rhinos, Strathclyde Sirens and Wasps are all still in with a chance of securing the elusive spot, however each rely on other results falling their way in order to do so.
Wasps suffered another difficult loss this weekend, going down by four goals to Saracens Mavericks. Despite leading 24-20 at half time, they were unable to continue momentum and by the final quarter, appeared to lack the determination and commitment to push through. With thirty one points, Wasps currently sit in fourth position on the ladder, however have only one game left to play. They will face tenth placed Surrey Storm in Round nineteen on the thirteenth of June and must secure three points to continue any hope of making finals. A win against Storm would leave Wasps with 34 points, and without a match in the final round of the regular season, Round 20, Wasps will have an anxious wait to see what other results will mean for their season.
In fifth position and on 30 points, Leeds Rhinos are arguably the favourites to snap up the final opening. With two strong performances this weekend, Dan Ryan’s side will have a two week break, before facing both London Pulse and Celtic Dragons in Round 20. Despite what looks like another deeply unfortunate injury for Co-Captain Fi Toner, Rhinos will be determined to go all the way in their maiden season and have demonstrated they have the talent and firepower to do so.
On 29 points, Strathclyde Sirens will rue their two draws this season and sixth position as somewhat of a missed opportunity. However, the Scottish side have two more games against Celtic Dragons and semi-finalists Manchester Thunder and plenty of grit to keep their season alive. Returning from injury, keeping star Malawian Goal Keeper Towera Vinkhumbo fit and on court will be vital for the side if they have any hope of sneaking into the top four. With the midcourt trio of Beth Dix, Taylor Cullen and Gia Abernethy getting stronger every match, the season is most certainly not over for Sirens.
After a tough loss to Strathclyde Sirens in Round 17, Saracens Mavericks’ hopes of making finals were looking a little slim. Cue the most spirited and dynamic performance that has been produced all season in a four goal win against Wasps and the race was once again blown wide open. Britney Clarke secured her first start for the franchise after South African import Ine-Marie Venter was ruled out with injury, and proved to be the physically and mentally strong target under the most that the side needed. The Corbin sisters Kadeen and Captain Sasha brought their trademark flair and tenacity and were able to harness it into a match winning performance. With three matches remaining, against Team Bath, a spirited and improving London Pulse and Surrey Storm, Mavericks still have a mountain to climb in order to take that final spot. However, if they can channel the momentum and energy from Round 18, everything is very much possible.
Stats Leaders of the Week
Most Goals: 50 Mary Cholhok (Lightning v Rhinos)
Most Gains: 8 Towera Vinkhumbo (Sirens v Mavericks)
Most Offensive Rebounds: 7 Donnell wallam (Rhinos v Lightning)
Most Defensive Rebounds: 4 Annika Lee-Jones (Dragons v Lightning)
Most Intercepts: 6 Funmi Fadoju (Pulse v Dragons)
RESULTS AND MATCH REPORTS:
TEAM BATH 48 def STRATHCLYDE SIRENS 37
Match report by Iona St Joseph
It was Sirens who had something to prove today as they continue to battle for that hotly contested fourth spot. With Bath sitting comfortably at the top of the table, they have already secured their place in finals, but Sirens have already toppled some big names this season; could the underdogs add Team Bath to that list?
It was testament to Sirens’ performances so far this season that Bath named their strongest starting seven for this game, but Team Bath once again displayed why they have spent the season at the top of the table. Their athleticism and through-court connections means the ball moves so quickly down court, it can be hard for their opponents to find time to adapt.
With Sirens defensive stalwart Towera Vinkhumbo starting on the bench, the defence end lacked a little of the usual threat, and although the shooting end performed consistently, unfortunately the Scottish side couldn’t stop Bath’s run of wins.
When Bath were able to play their game, it was just seamless netball. The speed of the ball down court left Sirens chasing at points and Player of the Match Rachel Shaw provided a fantastic connection between the mid court and the shooting circle alongside captain Serena Guthrie.
Bath’s defence was as reliable as ever. Layla Guscoth and Eboni Usoro-Brown were a solid combination, as we’ve become used to seeing, and Wing Defence Imogen Allison finished the game with seven deflections, making it hard for the Sirens attackers to find an easy path to goal at points.
What needs improvement?
With Towera Vinkhumbo starting on the bench for Sirens, the Scottish side were without their strongest Goal Keeper and it showed. Vinkhumbo is the league leader for intercepts, and when she came on in the third quarter, Bath were kept to 18 goals in the second half of the game compared to 30 in the first.
With no Vinkhumbo on the court, there was more freedom for the Bath attack and Sirens struggled to adapt. Sirens Captain Gia Abernethy summed it up well at half time saying that they needed to keep matching Bath’s work rate, and that it was just a few silly decisions that meant they were behind.
It was by no means a bad game from Sirens, in fact they ended the match on fewer penalties (36 compared to Bath’s 40), more intercepts (7 to 4) and lower unforced errors (2 to 8) than their opponents, so there were certainly positives to take away from it.
Sirens have been a great team to report on this season as the connections that they have been building within the team over the last few seasons are really starting to pay off, and it’s testament to their hard work that we are now able to hold the team to a higher standard alongside the likes of Team Bath, making them a real contender for the top four.
Where was it won?
Bath felt like they had a point to prove in this game, following on from what Kim Borger admitted in her half time interview was a disappointing performance from them against Severn Stars in their previous game. They are one of the most experienced teams in the league and it showed against the Sirens. They stuck to their game plan and all Sirens could really do was try to stop the flow of the ball down court.
They weren’t without mistakes though, and they would be looking to improve on their turnover rate and number of unforced errors.
When was it won or lost?
Starting without Vinkhumbo was tough for Sirens. Sarah McPhail and Emily Nicholl started well in the defensive end, but they didn’t have the same presence that Vinkhumbo brings to the game, meaning that the Bath feeders weren’t as concerned about putting ball in to the shooters.
The Sirens shooting end was fairly consistent, with seven goals in the first quarter and 10 in each of the three quarters after that. Bethan Goodwin came on to replace Emma Barrie in the third quarter, giving the Sirens attacking end much more movement. Niamh McCall continues to deliver for Sirens in Goal Attack, and her ability to turn and shoot is underrated.
How did she do that?
Kim Borger was brilliant under the post for Bath. Not only did she shoot at 39/40 at 98%, her ability to pull in ball and the connection between Borger and Sophie Drakeford-Lewis in Goal Attack has to be one of the best shooting pairings in the competition.
Starting Line Ups:
Strathclyde Sirens: GS Barrie, GA McCall, WA Dix, C Abernethy, WD Cullen, GD MacPhail, GK Nicholl
Team Bath: GS Borger, GA Drakeford-Lewis, WA Shaw, C Guthrie, WD Allison, GD Guscoth, GK Usoro-Brown
LOUGHBOROUGH LIGHTNING 59 def LEEDS RHINOS 51
Match report by Rona Hunnisett
With only four rounds of the regular season remaining, the talk before this game was whether Leeds could challenge for a place in the semi finals – but to be certain of the outcome, they would need to win all their remaining matches. Leeds’ Australian shooting star, Donnell Wallam, has been one of the key talking points of 2021 – could Loughborough counteract her flair and accuracy and maintain their structures (surely the most overused word of the season?) to push on for yet another win.
What resulted was a masterclass of attacking netball, with both Wallam and Loughborough’s Mary Cholhok making it look deceptively simple to score goals, seemingly at will. Both the towering shooters put in impressive performances, but it was the work in the attacking third by Ella Clark, Nat Panagarry and Hannah Joseph which made the difference in the end for Lightning. Using disciplined drives to the circle edge, all three were impressive, but it was Clark’s pinpoint accuracy on the feed which allowed Cholhok to settle into a scoring rhythm which Leeds could not counteract.
Leeds must now regroup, win their final matches and hope that other results go their way if they are to make the playoffs in their inaugural season. The chance is still there for them, but their ultimate fate is now in the hands of others. Meanwhile, Loughborough power on, and are looking ominously good as the semi finals approach. Could this be their year?
While Wallam was good, Cholhok was electric, using all her height, reach and skill to snap up feeds which seemed to be heading for the first tier of the Copper Box seating with consummate ease. Her understanding with Ella Clark allowed the Ugandan shooter to settle into an easy rhythm towards the end of the first half, after a couple of uncharacteristic errors early on, and her agility and unorthodox style, plus the obvious height difference between her and Tuane Keenan for Leeds made her an easy target for the Loughborough feeders. There’s something about Mary which other sides find difficult to counteract, and the other play off contenders will undoubtedly be focusing on how to disrupt her game if they are to overcome the Lightning challenge this year.
For Loughborough, the injection of Ella Clark towards the end of the first half proved a masterstroke. While Susie Liverseidge had been quietly effective at GA, Clark’s pinpoint feeding and silky shooting action made her more of a challenge for the Leeds defenders, and her presence seemed to calm Cholhok, who had been guilty of rushed shots on occasion. Leeds had flashes of brilliance of their own, with Jade Clarke, Brie Grierson and Rhea Dixon providing Wallam with, on occasion, masterly first time feeds which left Sam May and Jas Odeogberin floundering.
What needs improvement?
Leeds were often guilty of hesitancy when feeding the circle, which allowed Loughborough,, and Sam May in particular, time to reposition and challenge for the feed into Wallam. In addition, their intensity seemed to drop at crucial periods of the game, allowing Lightning to take the initiative and put on a run of three or four goals, which made the Leeds task ever harder. For Rhinos, they seemed to lack confidence in their teammates at crucial points, but if Dan Ryan can build this up, and encourage earlier sighting of the feed into the tall Australian, it will pay dividends for Rhinos.
For Loughborough, there are still some unnecessary crosscourt balls and handling errors which coach Sara Francis-Bayman will want to eradicate. But it is clear that Lightning are running into form at just the right point of the season.
Where was it lost?
Starting the second half level with Lightning, Leeds started the third period very slowly, with lapses in concentration and unforced errors allowing Lightning make a decisive break after a nip and tuck first half. An ankle injury to Fi Toner, who had been in superb, hassling form for Leeds, disrupted the Rhinos flow through court midway through the quarter, and they never recovered from the loss of momentum which her departure from the court caused.
When was it won or lost?
The introduction of Ella Clark to Loughborough’s front line towards the end of the first half settled the Lightning ship, and gave the Midlands’ side’s attacking unit more structure and purpose. With Keenan giving up a huge height advantage to Cholhok, and Clark able to drive the front of the Lightning circle at will, Leeds had no answer to their skill and speed, and Loughborough put the game out of sight in the third quarter.
How did she do that?
Once again, Donnell Wallam proved why she is one of the most exciting prospects in world netball, with some effortless shooting, clever footwork and solid hands making her hard to counteract. But for sheer audacity, her offensive intercept at the top of the Loughborough circle, which led to a layup goal had the crowd inside the Copper Box whooping and showed that she is not just another immobile tall timber.
Starting Line Ups:
Loughborough Lightning: GS Cholhok, GA Liverseidge, WA Joseph, C Panagarry (capt), WD Cobden, GD Odeogberin, GK May
Changes / substitutions: during 2nd Q GA Clark, during 3rd Q WA Liverseidge, 4th Q GK Harvey
Leeds Rhinos; GS Wallam, GA Dixon, WA Grierson, C Clarke (co-capt), WD Toner (co-capt), GD Oyesola, GK Keenan
Changes/substitutions: 3rd Q: WD Hollingworth
SARACENS MAVERICKS 41 def WASPS 37
Match report by Iona St Joseph
Another hotly anticipated game in the race for the top four, this was a must win match for both sides. It’s been an inconsistent season for Saracens Mavericks, and Wasps haven’t quite managed to hang on to a place in the top four, so it was certainly going to be an exciting match up.
With notable omissions from both sides, Ine Mari Venter from Mavericks and Iona Christian out of the Wasps starting seven due to injury, it was an exciting opportunity for Britney Clarke and Leah Goss to be handed starts for each side respectively.
Neither team particularly dominated in this game and the quarter scores were fairly even up until the fourth. Wasps took the first quarter by one goal, and then pushed out their lead in the second half, but Mavericks kept their composure and never seemed like giving up. Although Wasps pushed out to a four goal lead at half time, Mavericks challenged them in the third quarter keeping that four goal difference going into the final quarter.
It was the fourth quarter that sealed the win for Mavericks, they managed to score 13 goals and keep Wasps to just five, turning over the lead and securing the win.
Overall, it was quite a scrappy game with both sides racking up turnovers and unforced errors but again, the numbers were split evenly between each team.
Britney Clarke put in a fantastic performance at Goal Shooter for Mavericks, her footwork keeping Josie Huckle busy for the majority of the game. Clarke scored 27/33 goals for her side (82% shooting accuracy), but the support and accuracy from Kadeen Corbin in Goal Attack (14/16 at 88%) meant that Mavericks were able to come back to win the game.
At the other end of the court, Raz Quashie and Josie Gibson were a formidable combination in defence. Gibson put fantastic pressure on Wasps Goal Attack Katie Harris, keeping her to just 4/8 goals (50%) which meant that Wasps were forced to rely on Rachel Dunn at Goal Shooter.
Saracens Wing Defence Gabby Marshall put in a player of the match performance at Wing Defence, providing fantastic backup across the court and keeping Wasps Wing Attack Leah Goss pretty quiet throughout the majority of the game.
What needs improvement?
Whilst Wasps have some fantastic connections across the court, they rely very heavily on Rachel Dunn in the shooting end. If they make it to finals, they need to ensure they have a plan b for what happens when the opposition shut down that route to goal. Dunn was kept to just five goals in the final quarter, and Harris struggled to provide that backup shooting option in Goal Attack.
Josie Huckle and Fran Williams had moments of brilliance in defence for Wasps, with Huckle picking up four intercepts across the game. Her ability to read the game helped Wasps pick up valuable ball and keep the lead across the first three quarters of the game.
Both sides will be looking to tidy up on the errors made in this game, and it’s certainly something they will need to address if they make it to finals.
Where was it won?
Mavericks put out a consistent game across court today, which is one of the things they have been lacking this season. When Jo Trip came on at Goal Defence after half time, moving Gibson into Wing Defence and Marshall into the Centre, Wasps started to lose the momentum in the shooting end. The hard work in defence was also supported through court down to the shooting end too, again in the final quarter, where Mavericks were able to outscore Wasps by eight goals to take the win.
When was it won or lost?
Sometimes it can be quite tricky to pinpoint where a game was won, and sometimes it’s just obvious from the first quarter, but it was the fourth quarter where Mavericks really turned it around, outscoring Wasps 13 to five.
The game was tied with just three minutes to go, so it really could have been either side taking the win on the day, but the consistently cool head of Brit Clarke and a couple of well-timed defensive rebounds from Jo Trip, who came on to replace Gibson at Goal Defence in the third quarter, helped Mavericks turn the score around and win by four goals.
The defensive pressure throughout the court was stepped up from Mavericks after half time, with Wing Attack Sasha Corbin picking up three intercepts over the course of the game and Goal Attack Kadeen Corbin adding one to her stat sheet as well.
How did she do that?
Player of the match Gabby Marshall talked about consistency in her after match interview, and it’s something this Mavericks side have struggled with this season, this game really showed what they can do. Marshall had a brilliant game, and seemed to be in the right place at the right time to back up her teammates and collect wayward ball.
The match up between Huckle and Clarke was brilliant to watch too. They’re both such agile players, so whether it was Clarke pulling in a couple of hospital passes from her feeders, or Huckle’s movement off the body to get in the right place for intercepts, it was great to watch and there wasn’t too much unnecessary physical contact which can sometimes be the case.
It was fantastic to see Britney Clarke get the start today, and also to watch her interview pre-match discussing the obstacles she has come up against when it comes to body image and the additional pressures she has come up against in her career so far.
Mavericks: GS Clarke, GA K Corbin, WA S Corbin, C Ecuyer-Dale, WD Marshall, GD Gibson, GK Quashie
Wasps: GS Dunn, GA Harris, WA Goss, C Flanagan, WD Catling, GD Williams, GK Huckle
Umpires: Gary Burgess and Kate Stevenson
Sunday, Jun 13
12:00pm – Storm v Wasps
2:00pm – Sirens v Dragons
4:00pm – Bath v mavericks
6:00pm – Pulse v Stars
Monday, Jun 14
5:15pm – Pulse v Mavericks
7:15pm – Lightning v Thunder