Contributors – Zara Collings, Rona Hunnisett, Eve Cobbett, Iona St Joseph and Ian Harkin
Photographer – Ben Lumley/England Netball
ALL GOOD THINGS MUST COME TO AN END…
By Zara Collings
After twenty rounds of fast-paced, captivating and athletic netball, the regular Vitality Netball Superleague 2021 season came to its conclusion in Round 20, as many teams took to court for their final match of the season.
With the announcement that Leeds Rhinos would be advanced to the semi-finals and were unable to play their remaining regular fixtures, Round 20 was not the thrilling race to the finish we anticipated earlier in the season, yet some team’s really had saved the best for last as we saw some outstanding performances throughout the court.
Saracens Mavericks ended their season on a high, with a win over Surrey Storm securing them fifth position on the ladder. This means that if any of the current top four teams were to show a positive Covid test before they take to court, Saracens Mavericks will be elevated into finals contention. In a season where nothing can be taken for granted, their commanding performance over Storm once again demonstrated the star quality within the side, who have struggled with inconsistency this season. Ine-Marie Venter had one of her best games since joining the league, shooting at 95% and picking up two offensive rebounds. Her personal consistency this season is difficult to fault, providing a strong and stable target for the Mavericks feeders.
Despite being on the losing side against Mavericks, Surrey Storm’s Felisitus Kwangwa produced an outstanding performance across both Storm’s matches this weekend to earn herself a spot in Tamsin Greenway’s team of the week. With two rebounds, four intercepts and seven deflections against Mavericks, Kwangwa’s efforts ensured the thirteen goal margin was not significantly higher. However, it was a different Surrey Storm that took the court against Wasps on Monday night, with each player firing on court to give Storm the win they have been searching for since Round 3, their third of the season. Once again, Storm were powered by defender Kwangwa, who won a well deserved Player of the Match Award, securing six turnovers for her team. Surrey Storm were patient in attack and were able to work the ball through court with much more ease and steadiness than seen in recent weeks. Coach and Centre Mikki Austin also had one of her best game’s of the season, taking the ball strongly and providing a constant source of encouragement and enthusiasm for her team on court.
The loss against Storm left Wasps to finish the season in seventh position, their worst result since their inception in 2016. It was certainly a disappointing season for the black and gold, who have struggled to find their groove in attack. Whilst losing two starting Wing Attacks throughout the season in Captain Sophia Candappa and English Rose Iona Christian is certainly less than ideal, Wasps lacked cohesion as an attacking unit and finish the season still lacking a consistently firing Goal Shooter/Goal Attack combination.
After capturing the hearts of so many with their antics on and off the court, Strathclyde Sirens were unable to execute one last upset against Manchester Thunder, suffering a heavy defeat 64-37. After a season that can fairly be described as a turning point in the club’s history, upsetting the defending champions was a stretch too far. An immense defensive effort from the Manchester side took all the space away from the Siren’s attackers, who found it increasingly difficult to penetrate the attacking third and reach the circle edge. However it has been a season of immense growth for the Scottish franchise and if they can keep the majority of this team together in the off-season, will undoubtedly be a force to reckon with in 2022.
Conversely, Manchester Thunder produced one of the best performances of their season and are looking to be reaching the form that saw them lift the trophy in 2019. Kerry Almond played an outstanding game at Goal Keeper, nullifying one of the league’s most exciting young shooters in Emma Barrie. Her defensive combination with Captain Emma Dovey and Laura Malcolm is proving to be rock solid, with all three able to grind down their opponent throughout the full 48 minutes. In attack, Joyce Mvula and Ellie Cardwell were solid under the post, averaging 93% accuracy. These are all great signs for Thunder heading into finals and are certainly looking to be the team to beat.
In what was dubbed a potential finals preview, Loughborough Lightning and Team Bath faced off in the final match of the season. Both coming in off the back of heavy defeats, a good performance here was vital for both teams to carry momentum into finals. Whilst Loughborough Lightning came out firing, Team Bath never really got out of first gear yet again, falling short by a massive nineteen goals. After being told the season was Bath’s to lose, they certainly are not looking in good shape heading into finals, with Lightning exposing the cracks in what was dubbed an impenetrable side. Kim Borger and Sophie Drakeford-Lewis struggled to find rhythm in attack, at times both exiting the circle to alleviate pressure on their midcourt, yet leaving nobody home under the post to take the shot. Their timing was significantly off and the connection between the shooters that had made them formidable in earlier rounds, was lacking. Summer Artman came on well against the league’s most prolific shooter in Mary Cholhok, yet her combination with Layla Gusgoth did little to halt the psychic connections between Cholhok and Goal Attack Ella Clark. Lightning simultaneously showed patience and flair in attack, as Clark confidently fed her shooting partner from throughout the attacking third. Lightning looked slick in attack and dogged in defense, a deadly form to be in only a week out from finals.
As we wrap up on the final Scoreboard for the regular rounds of VNSL, the end of any season is also a time for reflection and this season is no different, with the announcements of retirement this week from Surrey Storm’s Karyn Bailey, Saracens Maverick’s Jo Trip and Loughborough Lightning’s Sam May. All overseas athletes, they have made the UK and in particular, the VNSL their home in recent years. Their services to netball must be commended and on behalf of all at Netball Scoop, we wish each of you the best in your future endeavours.
Stats Leaders of the Week
Most Goals: 40 Mary Cholhok (Lightning v Bath)
Most Gains: 7 Felisitus Kwangwa (Storm v Mavericks) and Emma Dovey (Thunder v Sirens)
Most Offensive Rebounds: 4 Mary Cholhok (Lightning v Bath)
Most Defensive Rebounds: 4 Kerry Almond (Thunder v Sirens)
Most Intercepts: 5 Emma Dovey (Thunder v Sirens)
RESULTS AND MATCH REPORTS
SARACENS MAVERICKS 48 def SURREY STORM 35
By Rona Hunnisett
After an elite playing career which has seen her represent sides in both NZ and the UK, it was fitting that Saracens Mavericks defender Jo Trip retired from netball with a victory against one of her former teams, Surrey Storm 48-35. But in a match which symbolised the inconsistency which has plagued the Mavericks’ 2021 season, the Hertfordshire-based side were unable to take control for much of the first three quarters and only established their authority in the final period of the game. Mavericks’ coach Kat Ratnapala will be working hard in the off season to identify the reasons for her side’s erratic play, while for Storm, there is much to be hopeful about, with some promising performances from emerging players including Sophie Kelly and Grace Sullivan, who took full advantage of their time on court.
Storm brought the fight to Mavericks from the first whistle and played the more composed, structured netball for the first half, frustrating Trip and Gibson in the Mavericks’ defence with some pinpoint feeding of Karyn Bailey (playing her penultimate elite level match) from the circle edge. In such a close game, with such tight margins, neither team could establish an advantage and Mavericks allowed hesitancy to creep in, stifling their flow and enabling the
Storm defenders to reset and challenge for the ball. At the start of the final period, Mavericks seemed to gain second wind, stepping up the pace of ball movement and releasing into space first time, which rocked the Storm defence and allowed Mavericks to take control.
To start with, Storm’s patience and willingness to reset on attack and then drive to the top of the circle bore dividends, with Austin and Parsons able to provide pinpoint feeds in to Bailey which the Mavericks defence could not get a hand to. But as Gibson, Marshall and player of the match Ecuyer-Dale started to shut down the space available in midcourt, forcing the feeder to look in to the circle from greater distance, Mavericks turned the screw and the
errors started to come from Storm.
What needs improvement?
Storm undoubtedly started this game in a positive frame of mind, reducing their error rateand comfortable with resetting to the transverse lines if a forward move was not forthcoming. However, their concentration wavered, and with Gibson starting to dominate 16 year old replacement GA Sophie Kelly, the Surrey team needed a new game plan, which was slow to be implemented. For Mavericks, it was another game where their inconsistencies let them
down, and it was only a final quarter surge which saved them from losing another game they should have won.
Where was it won?
Mavericks’ talented line up finally discovered their confidence and ability to release the first time ball into space at the start of the final quarter, swiftly turning defence into attack to put on a string of unanswered goals. Ine-Marie Venter once again demonstrated why she is one of world netball’s emerging stars, with an impressive display of mobile, accurate shooting, while in defence, Jodie Gibson showed all the skill which has played her into contention for a possible Commonwealth Games recall after a lengthy injury break.
When was it won?
With two such evenly matched teams, the momentum shifts were subtle throughout much of the game, with only two or three goals separating the sides. However, at the start of the final quarter, Mavericks’ captain Sasha Corbin took a flying interception in midcourt which seemed to galvanise her side and with a flurry of first time balls and direct, swift off the ball movements, Mavericks soon started the scoreboard moving in their favour. Towards the end of the game, coach Kat Ratnapala even took the opportunity to empty her bench, giving valuable court time to the rest of the squad.
How did she do that?
In a game of such narrow margins, no one player was able to dominate and both team seemed strangely hesitant at times. But as the Mavericks’ confidence grew in the final period, they started to let the ball fly and show the skills which enabled them to beat table toppers Team Bath twice this season. There was no better example than midway through the final period, when Mavericks’ Kadeen Corbin, who had been strangely subdued for most of the game, unleashed a pinpoint-accurate pass into the circle to find Venter, despite the close attentions of both Storm defenders. More of that type of play and the gap between the two teams would have been much wider.
Starting line ups:
Mavericks: GS K Corbin, GA Venter, WA S Corbin (capt), C Ecuyer-Dale, WD Marshall, GD Gibson, GK Trip
Storm: GS Bailey, GA Magee, WA Parsons, C Austin (capt), WD Cooper, GD Kwangwa, GK Sullivan
Umpires: Louise Cole and Kate Mann
MANCHESTER THUNDER 64 def STRATHCLYDE SIRENS 37
By Iona St joseph
It was the final round of season 2021 and what a season it’s been! Not only has the league and each of the teams managed to navigate playing in a global pandemic, the race for the top four has been an absolute rollercoaster.
As a Sirens fan, a loyalty that was well and truly cemented in 2021, I was sad to see them miss out on finals, but there’s no denying they’ve stolen the hearts of fans across the country this season. With one final outing against Manchester Thunder, could they put out another trademark upset performance?
Thunder meanwhile will have their sights set on that trophy, and using this game to see how the can improve for finals. It will be exciting to see Thunder’s Joyce Mvula, the second highest goal scored in the competition, up against her international team mate and defensive powerhouse Towera Vinkhumbo, who is the league leader for intercepts.
Thunder showed their skill and experience with a clinical performance over Sirens. As the first quarter got underway, it looked like an evenly matched contest with turnovers and pickups from both sides but it didn’t take long for Thunder to really put their foot on the gas, keeping Sirens to just one goal in the last four and a half minutes of the first quarter.
It was an uncharacteristic performance from the Sirens side we’ve been used to seeing, particularly in the latter half of the season, but unfortunately for them Thunder dominated across court, and it really felt like they were getting ready to move onto finals.
The connections in this Thunder team continue to shine. It’s hard to believe that Kerry Almond had hung up her dress at the end of last season as she has been in blistering form in Goal Keeper alongside Emma Dovey in Goal Defence. The defensive relationship that they have built was showcased in this game by the sheer lack of ball making it to the Sirens shooters. Wing Defence Laura Malcolm put in another consistent performance, shutting down Sirens’ Wing Attack Beth Dix who is a key playmaker in the Scottish side.
It was great to see some of the up and coming Thunder players get good court time, the likes of Elia McCormick at Goal Keeper and Lois Pearson in Centre, and seeing Amy Carter, who we’re used to seeing as more of a defensive Centre, moving into Wing Attack in the fourth quarter.
What needs improvement?
Sirens captain Gia Abernethy summed up their performance at half time saying, “That first half just wasn’t Sirens netball.” Whether it was the difference in mentality, Sirens knowing it was their last game of the season and Thunder gearing up for a big finals run, or simply that it wasn’t Sirens’ day, it definitely wasn’t the brand of netball that we’ve been used to seeing from them.
It looked at times like Sirens were simply outpaced, chasing the ball as Thunder moved it through court, but we know from previous experience they’ve got the fitness to see out a full game.
The Glasgow side didn’t give up though, and there were glimpses of brilliance between Nicola McCleery, Bethan Goodwin and Niamh McCall in the attacking end in the second half, and Centre Gia Abernethy once again providing the engine in the middle, keeping her side’s heads up. The Sirens defence didn’t make it easy for Thunder either, Towera Vinkhumbo and Emily McNicholl creating havoc in defence and Taylor Cullen taking on O’Hanlon, trying to limit her access to the circle edge.
Where was it won?
Credit where credit’s due, you couldn’t fault Thunder’s energy during this game. It was by no means a perfect performance, and there were errors that they will need to tighten up if they’re going to lift the trophy this season, but with Joyce Mvula scoring more goals alone than Sirens put up for the whole game, their ability to bring the ball down court can be a masterclass.
The second half had to be about the small wins for the Sirens, and they managed to score more goals, but the buffer created by Thunder meant it just wasn’t enough.
Where was it lost?
Shooting has been an area where Sirens have struggled at points this season. Although Goal Attack Niamh McCall has been sinking some jaw dropping shots, it’s been inconsistent at times from Goal Shooter Emma Barrie, and her accuracy was off against Thunder, shooting just 11/15 at 68%. With 11 missed shots across the game, if Sirens want to be a serious contender next season, they need to convert the ball that their defensive end are picking up.
Volume was the biggest issue for Sirens, they just weren’t getting enough shots at goal. Abernethy mentioned at half time that they needed to match Thunder for work effort and work rate, which did improve in the second half, but it just wasn’t enough. Although Beth Goodwin offered more movement in the shooting circle and ended the game shooting at 81%, Sirens missed that tall target of Emma Barrie in the shooting circle at points.
When was it won or lost?
As Manchester Thunder pushed out the scoreline in the second quarter, you could really see the confidence increase across the court. With the buffer of around 15 goals, they were free to play creatively and it showed. The combination between Ellie Cardwell and Joyce Mvula in the shooting circle with the added flair of Caroline O’Hanlon and Amy Carter feeding was fantastic to watch. It’s never easy to watch when a scoreline blows out, but it’s always exciting to see how players showcase their skills when they don’t have the scoreline pressure.
How did she do that?
Thunder captain Emma Dovey put on an absolute masterclass in Goal Defence, a must-watch for any defender! Picking up five of her team’s 12 intercepts and five deflections, she also managed to keep the penalty count down to just six. Sometimes it can be tricky to pinpoint how a team manages to get such a high or low shooting volume, but with a performance like that Dovey was picking up ball for her team, whilst also ensuring she didn’t give away any opportunities for the Sirens shooters to capitalise one.
Thunder: GS Mvula, GA Cardwell, WA O’Hanlon, C Carter, WD Malcolm, GD Dovey, GK Almond
Sirens: GS Barrie, GA McCall, WA Dix, C Abernethy, WD Cullen, GD McNicholl, GK Vinkhumbo
LOUGHBOROUGH LIGHTNING 54 def TEAM BATH NETBALL 35
by Eve Cobbett
Loughborough Lightning took on Team Bath in what was a battle of the top two and a battle for the top spot. Last time these teams played each other, in Round 2, Bath came away with the win, beating Lightning by only 4 goals. Fast forward 18 rounds and the story couldn’t have been more different. Lightning were formidable in this rematch, taking the game by 19 goals and looking unlikely to lose from the very first quarter.
Mary Cholhok and Ella Clark dominated this game from the very first minute. The two Lightning shooters were confident from the first whistle, playing the ball with ease and flair between themselves. Clark in particular started the game by playing with incredible speed. This set the tone for the match and demonstrated from the off that it was going to be hard for Bath’s defence to get any ball from the two shooters.
Eventual player of the match Beth Cobden also dominated in defence. She was particularly effective at pushing her opponent to the sidelines, which then allowed her the opportunity to run for deflections and interceptions. She utilised her long arms to great effect, gettingher hand into everything and coming away with 9 deflections.
Although it was a bad day at the office for Team Bath, Summer Artman must be commended for doing a good job on one of the most efficient shooters in the league. She has sat on bench for the majority of the season behind Eboni Usoro-Brown, however when she was given her opportunity in this game she did a more than respectable job on Cholhok. Artman finished the match with 1 interception and 4 deflections, but most importantly combined well with Layla Guscoth at Goal Defence. This allowed the two players to pick up ball as a pair and keep applying much-needed pressure on Clark and Cholhok.
Lightning’s through court pressure was their real strength in this game. All down the court every Lightning player was putting hands over pressure over every pass and playing a tight
man-on game off the ball. This put pressure on the Bath players, limiting their vision and squeezing the Bath players either wide or into the middle of the court. This allowed players like Cobden and Odeogberin to come through for the interception, which eventually ground down Team Bath.
In attack the lifted balls and connection between Cholhok and Clark also worked exceptionally well. Although it’s not all about height, Cholhok and Clark exploited the height difference between them and Usoro-Brown, Guscoth and Artman to give shooter-to-shooter passes that were impossible for Bath’s defence to get a hand to.
What needs improvement?
Surprisingly, the main area for improvement for Bath lies in their shooting end. Kim Borger and Sophie Drakeford-Lewis are known for their great connection, however this connection seems to have gone missing in the past 2 rounds. Both shooters have started to play as individuals, not reading off each other. This means their timing has often been out and they have ended up in each other’s space. This needs to be looked at asap for Bath, as although they have Betsy Creak available on the bench, Borger and Drakeford-Lewis are undoubtedly their most experienced and effective combination.
Bath also need to improve on their goals from turnovers. Guscoth and Artman did a great job against Cholhok and Clark in this game, winning ball off a duo who are notoriously hard to get ball off. Bath, however, wasted a lot of this extra possession. If they want to make it to that Grand Final, Bath’s attackers must start rewarding their defenders.
Where was it lost?
Bath lost this game in their attacking end. Defensively they were getting more than enough ball, no mean feat against a very tough attacking end. That ball was too often wasted by Bath’s attackers. What’s more, Bath’s shooters are more prone to running flat behind their defenders. This is a huge worry when Lightning’s defenders are known for their incredible elevation and great reach. This made it incredibly hard for the likes of Guthrie and Shaw to feed Borger, Drakeford-Lewis and Creak as not only could they not see their shooters, they were hesitant to feed the ball over the top of May and Odeogberin.
When was it won or lost?
The game was lost for Bath in Quarter 2. Although they were only down by 8 goals at half time, a deficit that can be clawed back fairly easily in netball, at no point did Bath show any signs that they were capable of the comeback. They lacked fight coming out of half time, playing more of the same reactive netball, as opposed to attacking the game. They also did not look capable of creating the turnovers they so desperately needed to make in-roads on the score
Lightning: GS Cholhok, GA Clark, WA Joseph, C Panagarry, WD Cobden, GD Odeogberin, GK Harvey
Bath: GS Borger, GA Drakeford-Lewis, WA Shaw, C Guthrie, WD Allison, GD Guscoth, GK Usoro-Brown
Saturday, Jun 26
2:00pm – Lightning v Rhinos
4:00pm – Thunder v Bath