Vitality Netball Superleague preview: Round 15/16 – Big Easter Weekend

A HUGE weekend of Vitality Netball Superleague begins this weekend, with both Round 15 and Round 16 taking place over a big two days of the VNSL Big Easter Weekend round robin. Some potentially ladder defining games on Saturday could shake up the weekend, while two top five clashes on Sunday could all but confirm which sides will take part in finals.

This weekend will see all teams play twice, with Ricoh Arena and Emirates Arena hosting majority of the games, while one game will be played at an alternate venue on Saturday night. Emirates Arena will see home side Strathclyde Sirens play Loughborough Lightning and London Pulse over the weekend in Glasgow. The Sirens will also host Manchester Thunder at their home court but will escape the Thunder’s wrath for another week, with the Thunder taking on their same opposition. The standalone game of Saturday night will see the Severn Stars host Team Bath at University of Gloucestershire at 6pm, before heading to Ricoh Arena on Sunday to compete in the second day of the round robin. Wasps Netball will host the alternate round robin in Coventry at Ricoh Arena, taking on Surrey Storm and Celtic Dragons across the two days while also hosting Saracens Mavericks, Stars and Bath.

Round 15: Saturday 20 April

2:00 pm Sirens vs Lightning (Emirates Arena)
4:00 pm Pulse vs Thunder (Emirates Arena)
5:00 pm Wasps vs Storm (Ricoh Arena)
6:00 pm Stars v Bath (University of Gloucestershire)
7:00 pm Mavericks vs Dragons (Ricoh Arena)

The first game of the VNSL Big Easter Weekend will see Strathclyde Sirens host Loughborough Lightning at 2pm. The Lightning need a win this week after two losses on the trot, so will want to restore confidence in their partnership across the court with a big win to remain in the top four. The Sirens have struggled so far this season, only managing two wins for the year, but have shown some good improvement over the last few weeks. The likes of Gia Abernethy and Nicola McCleery put in a tough slog last round to push through the midcourt into attack so will need to keep up their intensity against a much stronger opposition this week. Missing Cat Tuivaiti in goals for the remainder of season 2019, Lynsey Gallagher and Emma Barrie will need to lift after a frustrating performance last round, especially coming up against the likes of Vicki Oyesola and Tuaine Keenan in defence.
Last time they met: Lightning only came out on top by 11 points, so the Sirens will want to beat that margin this time around and put their side in a good position to get a third win on the board. Lightning goaler, Mary Cholhok was her usual dominant self under the post, but defence has put the stop on her influence in recent weeks so she will need to lift her game and switch up her gameplay to ensure the Lightning do not come out of this weekend with another shock loss on their hands.

Next up at 4pm will see London Pulse host Manchester Thunder in a bottom versus top of the ladder clash, in a battle that the Pulse will likely prepare for in a similar way to their dominant performance against the Mavericks in Round 13. To make the Pulse’s life easier the Thunder suffered a shock loss last round, though the Thunder are renowned for bouncing back well week after week. The Thunder have dominated from early in the season, continuously improving week after week and are well deserved of top spot despite their slip up last week, so if Pulse do not put on the pressure from the first whistle the Thunder will surely come out on top. The Pulse have shown that they have the ability to overcome a team with similar accolades to Thunder, so will want to confidently come into this match but also not underestimate the intensity of the Thunder.
Last time they met: Thunder came out on top by 15 points with the likes of Liana Leota threading pinpoint passes into the circle, while the Pulse were still in the early days of cementing their connections in attack. The pairing of Chiara Semple and Shantal Slater at the post have been essential throughout the middle of the season, so will want to keep up their great shooting form against the intensity and crowding Thunder defenders, Emma Dovey and Kerry Almond bring to the circle.

At 5pm Wasps Netball will host the Surrey Storm for the first game of the weekend in Coventry. This is an intriguing matchup, with the Storm putting on the accelerator in recent weeks and fighting to get back to the top half of the ladder. Meanwhile, the Wasps are yet to dip below the top five so are unlikely to come out of this game with a loss. That being said, the Storm were exceptional against the Wasps’ fellow top four team, Lightning in Round 13, so the Wasps cannot afford to go into this game without caution. Sigi Burger has dominated at the post recently, so a big matchup will see Burger take on the likes of Josie Huckle and Fran Williams who will have to pull out all the stops to stop Burger’s influence. The Storm will want another win this week to continue their slow creep up the ladder, hoping to disrupt the Mavericks’ finals chances.
Last time they met: The Wasps dominated their Round 4 matchup, with the Storm coming out strong before dropping their game in the third quarter and only shooting six goals to 21. The Storm have shown great improvement this season, taking some big scalps and will want to pull out the big guns for a potentially season-defining performance. The Wasps need some big wins this weekend to jump Thunder on the ladder to be back in first, so will look to replicate their dominant defensive performance.

Severn Stars will host Team Bath at the University of Gloucestershire in another intriguing matchup, with the Stars coming into this match off the back of a phenomenal win over the Thunder in Round 14. The Stars are sure to give Bath a push, while Bath have had issues with consistency across games this season so will want to take this opportunity to string two wins in a row again and show the Stars why they are in the top three teams at this point of the season. Opposition goal shooters, Georgia Rowe and Kim Commane are both dominant players in their own right, so it will really be the midcourt battle in this match that could define the outcome, while both sides will want to bring their goal attacks into the match to take some of the pressure off their respective shooters.
Last time they met: A Round 4 replacement match in the middle of Round 11 saw Bath come out on top after a slow start from the Stars gave the home side a four point buffer at half time. An inconsistent second half kept the Stars in the game but saw Bath’s defensive prowess really show, especially when under the pump. Eboni Usoro-Brown and Summer Artman put on a show again last week in defence, and are in fine form with the exceptional partnership of Serena Guthrie and Imogen Allison through the midcourt.

In the final match of Round 15 Saracens Mavericks will take on the Celtic Dragons at 7pm. Earlier in the season the Mavericks may have been looking forward to an easy win this round, however the Dragons have fixed up some consistency issue in recent weeks while the Mavericks seemed to have lost some of their composure and balance across the court. In a turn of events the Dragons will come into this game off the back of a win, while the Mavericks have dropped three matches in a row so come into this matchup in dire need of a victory to keep their finals hopes alive. The likes of Razia Quashie will need to come out firing against Dragons shooters, Chelsea Lewis and Kalifa McCollin to ensure the Mavericks reduce opportunities at the post.
Last time they met: The Mavericks came out on top by 22 goals in Round 4, so the side will want to back up their dominant performance to get a much needed second win against the Dragons. Lewis and McCollin struggled with accuracy in their last match against the Mavericks, but have improved tenfold over the last few rounds to prove their prowess at the post. In comparison, George Fisher put on an exceptional performance in Round 4 so will want to put up her regular volume of shots to wash away the sloppiness of the last few rounds.

Round 16: Sunday 21 April

2:00 pm Wasps vs Dragons (Ricoh Arena)
2:00 pm Sirens vs Pulse (Emirates Arena)
4:00 pm Storm vs Stars (Ricoh Arena)
4:00 pm Lightning vs Thunder (Emirates Arena)
6:00 pm Bath vs Mavericks (Ricoh Arena)

After a big Saturday across the board, Round 16 will begin with two 2pm games, the first between Wasps Netball and Celtic Dragons. The Dragons will hope to come into this matchup with one more win under their belt in order to boost their confidence when coming up against the Wasps, who have continuously proven they are an exceptional side, and certainly one of the teams to beat. Matchups to watch in this game are the defensive pairing of Dee Bolakoro and Stacian Facey against the likes of Rachel Dunn and Katie Harris, with both duos showing more and more of their individual flair with the more time they get together.
Last time they met: Dragons hosted the Wasps in a disappointing match, with the Wasps coming out on top by 12 goals after a stellar middle portion of the game. The Dragons went goal for goal with the Wasps in the first and final quarters, so will want to combine their improved consistency with the volume of shots Lewis has been putting up in recent weeks to find it in them to take home a big win. Bongi Msomi was key for the Wasps’ win in Round 6, so will want to ensure she puts on another dominant performance at the circle edge to feed to shooters, Dunn and Harris.

Also at 2pm is the big match between Strathclyde Sirens and London Pulse, two teams that are sitting at the bottom of the ladder currently on the same amount of points. The Pulse have shown great improvement throughout the season, seemingly improving their teamwork and error management every single week, and have really started putting the pressure on their opposition. The Sirens have had issues with consistency all season but put on some good performances over the last few rounds – most impressively pushing Bath to the very end in Round 11 and their big win over the Mavericks in Round 13 – and proving that they could be a big threat if they had the ability to put on the pressure for a full four quarter effort. The Pulse have gelled a lot since last playing the Sirens and shown that despite their countless losses, they have the ability to improve and evolve from their early season issues on court.
Last time they met: The Sirens came out on top in Round 6, with that win their most recent for the season. The six goal victory saw the Pulse stay on par with the Sirens in the first half, before a 32 to 26 goal second half saw the Pulse struggle, swapping out goalers to try and find some resemblance of their first half performance. The Sirens once again had Cat Tuivaiti on court last time these sides played, so Pulse will want to exploit the lack of Tuivaiti’s experience at the post and put some pressure on Sirens’ goalers. Though this is likely to be a closer match than their last, the outcome leans in Pulse’s direction considering the continued improvement of the side and communication between Shantal Slater and Chiara Semple in the circle.

Another two games will take place at 4pm on Sunday, with big battles on both courts that could change the course of the rest of the season. Surrey Storm will take on the Severn Stars, with both teams again sitting on the same win-loss ratio (at time of posting), though the Stars sit lower in points due to a points deduction in Round 5. A win for either team would bring them into almost touching distance of fifth, with two massive final rounds to come. Both teams have brought the pressure throughout the middle of the season, slowly but surely sneaking up the ladder and pulling off surprise wins to prove that no team is safe this season. With both sides knocking off top sides this season, this game is sure to be an exceptional matchup. The efficiency and experience of Mikki Austin has boosted the Storm over the last few rounds, so the Stars will need to shut Austin down and settle through the midcourt, as the Storm have the ability to take advantage of errors quickly and effectively.
Last time they met: Storm proved too strong for the Stars in Round 6, coming out on top by nine goals after setting up the win with a 31 goal to 24 first half. Storm’s Lorraine Kowalewska and Shadine Van Der Merwe were dominant in defence, creating turnovers and limiting the Stars’ access to Georgia Rowe at the post. At the other end Stars defender, Sam Cook was exceptional against the likes of Sigi Burger, who has shot the lights out in recent weeks and kept the Storm contesting every game.

Also at 2pm is one of the biggest games of the weekend – a top four clash between Loughborough Lightning and Manchester Thunder. The Thunder are one of the most consistent and well-formed teams in the competition while the Lightning continue to surprise week in and week out, so this matchup is sure to entertain as both sides put in the hard yards to come out on top. Lightning and Thunder both came out second best in Round 14, so are sure to come back fighting over the weekend with only a few more rounds left in the season. Both sides have been pipped at the post by improving teams in recent weeks so will want to lift their composure under pressure, especially in such a high-stakes match.
Last time they met: Round 6 saw the Lightning deal Thunder their first loss of the season, a feat which turned Lightning’s average start to the year around with six consecutive wins to follow. Lightning’s four quarter pressure kept the Thunder on their toes all game, while the likes of Vicki Oyesola and Tuaine Keenan were on fire in defence, putting the normally composed Thunder shooters under the pump at every opportunity. Joyce Mvula and Mary Cholhok were in excellent form in their respective opposition shooting circles, doing their job in the ring with flair at the post. Since that round the Lightning’s confidence has continued to grow, while the Thunder have proved their strength with some big wins of their own, despite losing to the Stars in Round 14.

The last game of VNSL’s Big Easter Weekend will see Team Bath take on Saracens Mavericks in a do or die battle for both sides. The Mavericks need another win ahead of the final stretch to put them in the running for a finals position, so will do anything they can to put on a show against their top five rivals. Bath have had issues with their consistency across games this season, so will want to back up some of their good form with another win to keep them in the run for finals. The midcourt battle will be the one to watch in this match, with the likes of Sasha Corbin, Georgia Lees, Serena Guthrie and Imogen Allison likely to take the court in their respective pairings.
Last time they met: Round 6 saw the Mavericks run over Bath, with a 23 goal win giving them a huge confidence boost and rocketing them into second on the ladder with four wins and two losses. The Mavericks of recent weeks have not been as impressive as their early season dominance, which is something Bath will want to take advantage of to overturn their last matchup result. Bath will also go into this match a lot more confident with the likes of Guthrie and captain, Eboni Usoro-Brown in the side, after the impressive pair missed Round 6 through respective illness and injury.

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