Contributors – Zara Collings, Eve Cobbett, Iona St Joseph & Ian Harkin
The mighty fall (a little)
By Zara Collings
I say this every single week, but what a weekend of Netball from the Vitality Netball Superleague. Round nine has well and truly shaken up the top four and the competition has been heating up at the other end of the table too. Manchester Thunder moved into second place after claiming six points this weekend, taking wins against their top four opponents in Loughborough Lightning and Saracens Mavericks with Mavericks ending Round nine outside the top four on goal difference alone.
The reign of our top two of Team Bath and Loughborough Lightning has come to an end, with a clinical Saracen’s Mavericks and a plucky Manchester Thunder causing some serious upsets. Whilst Bath by no means played badly, Mavericks put out a structured and spirited performance, with each individual leaving their all on the court in a thriller of a match that boiled down to a single goal. Sasha Corbin gave a true Captain’s Player of the Match performance and each and every Mavericks player stepped up throughout the match to gain the edge on their direct opponent. England Roses star, Goal Keeper Razia Quashie, went down early with an ankle injury that also ruled her out of Maverick’s second clash this weekend against Manchester Thunder, a blow which galvanized the defensive end of Jo Tripp and Jodie Gibson, whom together, were the first defensive unit to truly break the connection between Kim Borger and Sophie Drakeford-Lewis in the defining match-up of the game. Gabriella Marshall had a standout performance at Centre, with four deflections throughout the match and the introduction of Georgia Lees at Wing Attack gave Mavericks the pep in their step to close out the game. Whilst any team would be disappointed with a loss, this defeat arguably came at the right time for Team Bath, who needed to be fully challenged if they were to have any hope of closing out games come finals. Mavericks exposed Bath’s plan A, and it is now up to Head Coach Anna Stenbridge and her team to devise the Plan B and C that will be needed to carry Bath all the way this season. They were, however, unable to maintain this form in their second match of the weekend, going down by 22 goals to Manchester Thunder. The dynamism and freshness brought to court by the defensive pairing of Trip and Gibson was exposed by the Thunder attack
Taking away six points from the weekend, the two wins secured by Manchester Thunder cannot be underestimated in the context of their season. Whilst Thunder have certainly not put out poor performances in recent weeks, it has been their lack of consistency and fluidity that has attracted some arguably well-deserved criticism over the first half of the season. However, Manchester Thunder are a team of stars, led by two head coaches who, between them have already led the Northern franchise to three Superleague titles and were poised to bounce back at some point. Thunder really found their groove this weekend with the midcourt combination of Laura Malcolm in Wing Defence, Amy Carter in Centre and Caroline O’Hanlon in Wing Attack putting forward the strongest bid to suppress Thunder’s recent midcourt dilemmas. Malcolm’s defensive prowess shines most notably in the Wing Defence position, but it is her ability to bring ball through court and provide attacking options that gives her the edge over other Wing Defenders in the league. Similarly, O’Hanlon plays the Wing Attack position with the structure and doggedness of a Centre, able to stand strong against the league’s defensive units, bringing her own spin to the attacking role. Lightning certainly put up a strong fight, with Samatha May impressing in Goal Keeper after the introduction of Jas Odeogberin at Goal Defence. Holding a strong front position, Sam was able to use her elevation to pick off some vital balls against Mvula and Cardwell, yet this was not enough to secure them the vital three points.
Rookie of the Round: Rookie of the round makes a comeback this week as we simply cannot ignore the stand-out performance of Elia McCormick for Manchester Thunder. With Captain Emma Dovey ruled out for the upcoming weeks, Thunder were down one in their defensive end. After Rebekah Airey left the court due to a blood injury against Team Bath, McCormick picked up an incredible five gains in her time on court. So much so, that she was rewarded for this impressive performance by Karen Grieg with the start in Thunder’s second match of the double header against Saracens Mavericks. Beginning the game against international Proteas Goal Attack Ine-Marie Venter did not phase McCormick in the slightest, whose strength and read of the play led to Venter being removed as early as the second quarter. This is a huge positive for Manchester Thunder and a true testament to the strength of their pathways, that younger, inexperienced players are able to slot so seamlessly into the game day and starting line-ups. As Karen Grieg pointed out in a recent interview, Thunder lost four of the round’s matches in the lead up to clinching the 2019 Superleague title and at the half-way mark of the season and looking in a strong position to do so again.
At the other end of the table we were treated to a fierce battle between Severn Stars and Celtic Dragons, who are still searching for their first win of the season. Despite taking three points from their double header of Round 9, it was a tough ride for Stars who lost Wing Attack Bethan Dyke early in their first match against Dragons. With what sadly looks to be a serious knee injury for Dyke, Stars and netball fans alike will be keeping their fingers crossed as she awaits scan results this week. As both out and out Wing Attacks were unavailable for Stars through injury, Melissa Bessel was understandably somewhat frazzled by the end of the weekend after another tough match against London Pulse. Stars targeted this weekend as two must win games and will be disappointed in their inability to maintain consistency across the four quarters but ultimately proud of what they were able to produce under difficult circumstances. The return of Liana appears to still not be on the cards and Bethan will likely be out for some time, therefore the next few weeks and months will be a true test of Stars’ tenacity and determination. They proved that they have the talent and grit to fight back in the latter stages of the game, cutting the final margin against London Pulse from ten at half time to five, but the real test for Stars in the upcoming matches will be whether they can harness this gritty desire early enough to put out a consistent performance in all four quarters. Whilst the Stars defensive end impressed across the weekend, it was unusually their attacking line-up that seemed to struggle against the immense defensive pressure applied by London Pulse. Whilst the term ‘physicality’ was banded about by commentators and fans alike this weekend, particularly in reference to the Severn Stars v London Pulse match, this is something that is part and parcel of our ‘semi-contact’ sport at elite level and something that teams must learn to absorb and channel should they wish to go all the way in the competition. Some uncharacteristic dropped balls and weak holds enabled the Pulse defense to scramble the key turnover ball they needed to secure the win and the vital three points they needed to jump to eighth position on the Vitality Netball Superleague Ladder.
It was also announced in the aftermath of the Dragons v Stars game that Sophie Morgan of Celtic Dragons will not play any further part in the Vitality Netball Superleague citing “The extra training sessions recently added to the schedule with no additional support or leeway.” Difficulties in the Dragon’s camp are evident, yet it is job of the coach and playing group to draw upon these difficult circumstances and push forward to secure their first win. Dragon’s are a team brimming with talent, who will certainly be looking to shift the momentum as we enter the second half of the season.
Rounds 10 and 11 are set to be absolute crackers as we move to the Copperbox in London, where we will see which teams have learned the most from the first encounters with their opposition. Whilst both Mavericks and Wasps will be entering Rounds ten and eleven on equal points, Wasps maintain their elusive top four spot with a tremendous 58 goal advantage over Mavericks. Mavericks will match up against this Wasps side at 17.15 on Monday 12th April and this is a game that must not be missed! Both are vying to secure their finals position and have not yet taken to court against each other this year. This game will be won and lost in the shooting circles, as Mavericks will be hoping to ignite the combination of Venter and Kadeen Corbin that has been so effective in recent games, against a dogged and deadly Wasps defence in Josie Huckle and Fran Williams. After a poor performance against Thunder, Mavericks will be looking to secure all six points on offer in Rounds 10/11 to elevate themselves back into the top four and finals contention.
My game of the round however, will be Strathclyde Sirens matching up against Loughborough Lightning, a fixture we saw only a matter of weeks ago in Round 8. Loughborough took that match by five goals, 38-43, yet were pushed every step of the way by a Sirens team who very much are one of the ‘big guns’ this year. Despite some incredible performances that have gone down to the wire, Siren’s are yet to take points from any of our ladder leaders and will be hoping this is their game to do so. With Loughborough coming into the weekend off the back of a loss to Thunder and Sirens having finally had a weekend break, expect this match to get off to a bang early and fireworks come the final whistle.
Stats Leaders of the Week
Most Goals: 41 Mary Cholhok (Lightning v Thunder)
Most Gains: 8 Adi Bolakoro (Stars v Dragons)
Most Offensive Rebounds: 4 Mary Cholhok (Lightning v Thunder)
Most Defensive Rebounds: 3 Adi Bolakoro (Stars v Dragons)
Most Intercepts: 5 Adi Bolakoro (Stars v Dragons)
MANCHESTER THUNDER 59 def LOUGHBOROUGH LIGHTNING 50
Joyce Mvula 36/38 (95%)
Ellie Cardwell 23/25 (92%)
TOTAL 59/63 (94%)
Gains 13 (5 McCormick)
Mary Cholhok 41/47 (87%)
Suzie Liverseige 5/6 (83%)
Ella Clark 4/5 (80%)
TOTAL 50/58 (86%)
Gains 8 (4 May)
Player of the Match: Caroline O’Hanlon (Thunder)
Match Report – Thunder v Lightning
By Eve Cobbett
Game 1 of Round 9 saw Manchester Thunder take on Loughborough Lightning in a top of the table clash. A win would see Lightning shore up their 2nd place position, whilst for Thunder taking the 3 points would see them enter the top 4 for the first time so far this season. Thunder had a point to prove given their uncharacteristically shaky start to the season, but silenced the critics with this convincing win over Lightning.
Perhaps surprisingly, given the amount of noise surrounding Thunder’s midcourt options, it was Laura Malcolm and Caroline O’Hanlon who dominated this game. It was a sign of Malcolm’s strength when Sara Bayman commented specifically on Lightning’s inability to ‘pass the ball round arms’. Malcolm looked quiet on paper, with only 2 deflections, however it was her tight marking and arms over pressure that forced many of Lightning’s 10 unforced errors. Although Malcolm is a versatile player across the midcourt positions, it was in Wing Defence where she really shined in this game. O’Hanlon, on the other hand, showed how much she is improving in the Wing Attack position. What worked so well in this game was O’Hanlon’s unorthodox style of play. She managed to get the better of Beth Cobden, Cobden expecting her to move to certain spaces with O’Hanlon doing the opposite. In particular, O’Hanlon and Amy Carter used the pockets exceptionally, confusing Cobden and Nat Panagarry by driving away from the top of the circle and losing their defenders.
What really worked for Thunder in this game was Ellie Cardwell playing as a true Goal Attack. Cardwell put up 25 attempts to Joyce Mvula’s 38. This was similar to their win over Rhinos, where Cardwell only took 19 shots compared to Mvula’s 32. This decrease in shooting volume is a change from their Round 5 and 6 losses versus Bath and Wasps, where Cardwell was putting up more, or equal, shots to Mvula. Cardwell seems to be working out how to play as a Goal Attack again, taking on more of a feeding role and moving to make space for Thunder’s Wing Attack and Centre to feed Mvula. Even putting up a lower amount of shots in this game, Cardwell maintained her accuracy, shooting at 92%. This demonstrates that even playing as a ‘true’ goal attack, Cardwell can be trusted to score goals when needed. This worked well for Thunder against Lightning, ensuring their attacking line was more fluid and efficient.
What needs improvement?
Lightning can improve by maintaining intensity and focus for the full 48 minutes. Sara Bayman commented that Lightning were ‘poor…especially in the second quarter and fourth quarter’. Although a drop in intensity in the second quarter is often matched by renewed energy from Lightning’s players going into the second half, they are getting themselves into a somewhat worrying pattern. Regardless of the debates around which quarter wins games, Lightning cannot afford to drop any quarters given the form the teams below them are finding.
Where was it lost?
This game was a battle of the midcourt, a battle that Lightning lost. In the final quarter Lightning’s midcourt racked up 5 unforced errors, most of which came from their centre passes where Panagarry was too often left with no options. The Lightning midcourt were also guilty of forcing too many balls into Mary Cholhok, having to give balls that weren’t on due to the pressure Thunder’s midcourt were putting on Suzie Liverseidge and Hannah Joseph.
When was it lost?
This game was lost by Lightning in the fourth quarter. Going into the final 12 minutes Lightning were down by just 1, the score nearly tied at 42-41. However, they only managed to add 9 goals to their total in the final quarter, compared to Thunder’s 17. This drop in shooting volume came as a result of Lightning’s inconsistency, losing focus and intensity, despite being in a position to take the game after the first 3 quarters.
Thunder: GS Mvula, GA Cardwell, WA O’Hanlon, C Carter, WD Malcolm, GD Airey, GK Almond
Lightning: GS Cholhok, GA Liverseidge, WA Joseph, C Panagarry, WD Cobden, GD May, GK Harvey
SEVERN STARS 47 def CELTIC DRAGONS 35
Georgia Rowe 31/33 (94%)
Paige Reed 15/18 (83%)
Issy Eaton 1/2 (50%)
TOTAL 47/53 (89%)
Gains 18 (Bolakoro 8)
Amy Clinton 25/30 (83%)
Rebekah Robinson 10/15 (67%)
TOTAL 35/45 (78%)
Gains 9 (4 Tyrrell)
Player of the Match: Paige Reed (Stars)
WASPS 49 def LONDON PULSE 37
Tschine 12/12 (100%)
Rademann 12/13 (92%)
Sigi Burger 11/13 (85%)
Kira Rothwell 2/4 (50%)
TOTAL 37/42 (88%)
Gains 17 (4 Everitt, Adio)
Rachel Dunn 25/26 (96%)
Katie Harris 15/15 (100%)
Gazelle Allison 9/13 (62%)
TOTAL 49/54 (91%)
Gains 19 (7 Huckle)
Player of the Match: Amy Flanagan (Wasps)
SARACENS MAVERICKS 39 def TEAM BATH 38
Ine-Mari Venter 24/27 (89%)
Kadeen Corbin 15/20 (75%)
TOTAL 39/47 (83%)
Gains 11 (Marshall 4)
Kim Borger 27/28 (96%)
Sophie Drakeford-Lewis 11/13 (85%)
TOTAL 38/41 (93%)
Gains 9 (Guscoth 4)
Player of the Match: Sasha Corbin (Mavericks)
Match Report – Mavericks v Bath
By Iona St Joseph
Top of the table Team Bath faced off against fourth place Saracens Mavericks in what turned out to be one of the games of the round; both teams are absolutely packed with talent, with international stars throughout the court. Team Bath were going into Round 9 undefeated, could Mavericks be the ones to end their run of form?
This game was fascinating to watch. Undefeated Team Bath would have been the favourites to take the win, but they were outplayed by a clinical Mavericks side. All four quarters were pretty close (the biggest points difference was in quarter two, which Mavericks won by two goals) and it was a one-point win at the final whistle, but Bath looked like they were having to work so much harder throughout the whole game.
When Raz Quashie went off with an ankle injury in the first quarter, there was a moment of concern for the Mavericks defensive end, but moving Jo Trip back into Goal Keeper and Jodie Gibson back into Goal Defence, they didn’t miss a beat. The Mavericks defence had clearly done their homework, Trip shutting down the space along the baseline that Kim Borger is known for exploiting. Gibson dominated in Goal Defence, smothering Sophie Drakeford-Lewis, shutting down her drive into the circle and a number of goal scoring opportunities. Drakeford-Lewis took just seven shots, scoring five of them, in the second, third and fourth quarters combined.
At the other end of the court, the Mavericks shooters continue to develop their combinations. Kadeen Corbin started at Goal Shooter with Ine-Marie Venter in Goal Attack, which appears to be Mavericks’ go-to shooting line up, supported by player of the match Sasha Corbin at Centre and Georgia Lees at Wing Attack. Corbin was totally in control in this match, and Bath Goal Keeper Eboni Usoro-Brown seemed to struggle to shut her down. Similarly, despite racking up two intercepts and five deflections, Layla Guscoth didn’t have the impact on the game we have come to expect from her, which meant Corbin and Venter were dominating in the shooting circle.
What needs improvement?
Until this weekend, Bath were undefeated, winning all eight of their last games, so their game plan had obviously been working for them. As the game went on, it felt like this was the first real challenge they had faced over four quarters, and it couldn’t be solved by sticking to their game plan. At points we were left wondering where the change was going to come. Bath needed a plan b, but it felt like they were determined to turn it around using the brand of netball that had worked well for them so far. The feeders really struggled to get the ball in to Borger and Drakeford-Lewis, Rachel Shaw was totally shut down by Gabby Marshall, who started at Centre for Mavericks, but moved back to Wing Defence when Quashie left the court. There were a couple of unforced errors from Serena Guthrie, which seemed out of character for her, so whilst it wasn’t a poor game by any means, it would have been interesting to have seen how Team Bath could have injected some different players into the game.
Where was it won?
Mavericks put out 48 minutes of clinical netball, and their relentless determination won them the game. At times, it felt like they had 10 players on court because there were red dresses everywhere and the work they were putting in to pick up loose balls seemed to pay off every time. Corbin and Venter continue to work well together as a dynamic shooting combinations, but it was the Mavericks defence that really secured the win, making life really difficult for the Bath attackers, shutting down the space in the shooting circle and creating doubt in the minds of the feeders, which lead to a number of held balls.
Where was it lost?
It’s tricky to say where it was lost specifically, because Team Bath didn’t have a bad game. As we see each week, the players continued to work hard for each other, they know how to feed their shooters, and there were moments of brilliance in defence, particularly from Guscoth, it just wasn’t enough and Mavericks were able to capitalise on their mistakes. You could tell that Bath wanted to play the quick game that they’re used to, but this seemed to translate to impatience at times, especially when they were trailing.
Team Bath made just one change in this game, bringing Abigail Robson on to Wing Defence in the third quarter, which pushed Pavelin back to Goal Defence, Guscoth to Goal Keeper and Usoro-Brown to the bench for the remainder of the quarter. Whether that was tactical to allow Usoro-Brown to take a look at the game from the bench, or whether they weren’t happy with the change, Usoro-Brown was back on court for the final quarter.
It felt like Bath were trying to force a win from their starting line-up, but it would have been interesting to see how the injection of players from the bench could have made a difference.
When was it won or lost?
It was a tightly contested game across all four quarters, and at points it seemed like Mavericks might not be able to hold onto it, but their hard work paid off. With a team full of superstars, it has felt like Mavericks have struggled to pull together and put out a consistent team performance so far this season, but they will undoubtedly be thrilled with their game yesterday. It was great to see the combinations really working well together, and adds an extra element of excitement into that race for the top four.
Nothing really went Bath’s way on the day, but they seemed to struggle with the fact that the game that has served them well so far this season couldn’t secure them the win against fourth-place Saracens Mavericks. These are some of the best games and it’s why we love the sport – there’s nothing quite like a mid-season upset!
How did she do that?
It’s hard to stop waxing lyrical about the Mavericks defence, but they were brilliant. When Quashie went off in the first quarter, it could have been a turning point, but Trip, Gibson and Marshall stepped up. Trip and Marshall picked up seven of the team’s 11 gains between them, and whilst Gibson’s two interceptions don’t seem like anything to write home about, the work she did shutting down Sophie Drakeford-Lewis to the point where the Goal Attack scored just 11 goals from 13 attempts certainly does.
Mavericks: GS Corbin, GA Venter, WA Corbin, C Marshall, WD Gibson, GD Trip, GK Quashie
Bath: GS Borger, GA Drakeford-Lewis, WA Shaw, C Guthrie, WD Pavelin, GD Guscoth, GK Usoro-Brown
Umpires: Gary Burgess & Louise Travis
LONDON PULSE 41 def SEVERN STARS 36
Georgia Rowe 25/27(93%)
Paige Reed 11/15 (73%)
TOTAL 36/42 (86%)
Gains 5 (Herdman 3)
Sigi Burger 28/31 (90%)
Lefebre Rademan 13/13 (100%)
TOTAL 41/44 (93%)
Gains 11 (Everett 4)
Player of the Match: Halimat Adio (Pulse)
MANCHESTER THUNDER 59 def SARACENS MAVERICKS 37
Britney Clarke 22/26 (85%)
Kadeen Corbin 12/16 (75%)
Ine-Mari Venter 3/3 (100%)
TOTAL 37/45 (82%)
Gains 4 (Trip 2)
Joyce Mvula 35/38 (92%)
Ellie Cardwell 24/28 (86%)
TOTAL 59/66 (89%)
Gains 11 (Almond 4)
Player of the Match: Laura Malcolm (Thunder)
Catch up on the latest VNSL news, and hear from the people involved thanks to our friends at The Netball Show
(after Round 9)
Team . Played . Pts . Goal diff.
BATH . 9. 24pts . +137
THUNDER . 9 21pts . +117
LIGHTNING . 9 . 21pts . +106
WASPS . 9 . 19pts . +74
MAVERICKS . 9 . 19pts . +16
RHINOS . 9 . 15pts . -3
SIRENS . 9 . 11pts . -12
PULSE . 10. 6pts . -57
STORM . 8 . 6pts . -56
STARS . 10 . 6pts . -116
DRAGONS . 9 . 0pts . -204
Razia Quashie, Saracens Mavericks – Injured in Q1 v Team Bath and did not return to court. Consequently unavailable v Manchester Thunder and awaiting scan results on ankle.
Bethan Dyke, Severn Stars – knee injury in Q1 v Celtic Dragons and did not return to court. Awaiting scan results.
Imogen Allison, Team Bath – Injured ankle and out for an undisclosed period of time
Liana Leota, Severn Stars –
Injured arm and out for a number of weeks
Emma Dovey, Manchester Thunder – injured ankle and out for a number of weeks
Lynsey Gallagher Strathclyde Sirens – injured knee and hoping to return before the end of the season
Donnell Wallam, Leeds Rhinos – fractured radius bone, hoping to return in a few weeks
Fi Toner, Leeds Rhinos – achilles injury out for a number of weeks
Friday Apr 9
5:15pm – Sirens v Lightning
7:15pm – Rhinos v Bath
Saturday, Apr 10
2:00pm – Storm v Sirens
4:00pm – Bath v pulse
6:00pm – Dragons v Lightning
Sunday, Apr 11
2:00pm – Storm v Thunder
4:00pm – Dragons v Wasps
6:00pm – Stars v Mavericks
Monday, Apr 12
5:15pm – Wasps v Mavericks
7:15pm – Rhinos v Thunder