Vitality Netball Superleague wrap: Round 11

ROUND 11 of the Vitality Netball Superleague saw a big rejig of the ladder, with three close matches making the difference between ladder positions and the Manchester Thunder moving a game clear with a second win over Wasps Netball. Round 4’s replacement match between Team Bath and Severn Stars took place this week on top of the regular fixture, meaning the ladder is now fully up to speed and all teams have played an equal amount of games.

Round 11 opened with Team Bath hosting Strathclyde Sirens in the first of a few close matches for the weekend. The top five side only managed to beat the struggling Sirens by four points after a hotly contested match (51 – 47). Bath’s slow start almost led them downhill, only shooting nine goals in the first, but the side was lucky to come away with a win after a controlled 29 – 23 second half. Credit to the Sirens for staying in the game and keeping Bath on their toes, with the likes of Serena Guthrie and Imogen Allison well in control of the centre third, making it difficult for Sirens to penetrate their attack. Bath’s full court defensive prowess proved to be the game changer yet again, with Eboni Usoro-Brown and Summer Artman backed up well by players across the court. However making the most of turnover ball continued to be an issue for Bath often throwing away their hard work. Sirens shooters, Bethan Goodwin and Niamh McCall were clinical early in the match, outshooting their Bath counterparts in Sophie Drakeford-Lewis and Kim Commane in the first term, before Bath defenders got in the way. Credit to Sirens’ defensive movement in the first half, with Emily Nicholl and Hayley Mulheron putting in the hard yards against Bath’s consistent attacking pressure, while captain, Gia Abernethy was efficient through the centre, carrying the ball down well to produce scoring opportunities.

Next up saw Manchester Thunder host Wasps Netball for the second time in a number of weeks. The Thunder came out victorious in front of a feisty home crowd and now sit a game clear in top spot on the VNSL leaderboard. Knocking the Wasps down to third after their one goal win. (50 – 49) It was a close match and a tale of two halves, with the Thunder convincingly taking out the first and final quarters, while Wasps almost nabbed the win with a strong second and third quarter comeback to lead by five points at three quarter time. A defensive last quarter from both sides saw only 20 goals conceded, with dominant Wasps goalers, Rachel Dunn and Katie Harris reduced to only seven goals despite taking the lead ahead of half time. The Thunder fought hard to regain their early lead, giving the shooters a tough time in the dying minutes and bumping up the pressure to get under the skin of the usually composed shooting pair. Kerry Almond showed off her game smarts against Dunn, proving to be a game breaker for the Thunder as she was clinical in her every move to regain possession in defence. Joyce Mvula and Kathryn Turner showed great composure at the post to take the lead in the final term, aided by the exceptional feeding of wing attack, Liana Leota who controlled the attacking third well throughout. The Lightning did well to shake the Wasps, creating turnover ball from unforced errors and rotations through positions, however to the Wasps’ credit, their defensive strength outweighed their attacking play, making them almost unrecognisable compared to their usual flawless offense. Josie Huckle and Hannah Knights proved dominant through defence in the middle terms, doing all they could to interrupt the Thunder’s silky ball movement, while Bongi Msomi’s speed through the midcourt and skill at circle edge saw the Wasps shooters not left wanting for ball into the goal area.

Mavericks moved up to second on the ladder after another win took them up to eight wins, with a good performance against a fighting Surrey Storm. The Storm went in hard to the match but were unfortunately unable to capitalise on their strong start, leading by two goals at half time before a slow second half left them with an eight goal loss, (58 – 50) but the scoreboard did not accurately reflect the closeness of the match. Storm shooters, Sigi Burger and Yasmin Hodge-England were impressive early, shooting at 100% in the first term and sharing the load well. Shadine Van Der Merwe was once again prolific in at wing defence for Storm, producing deflections and intercepts to disrupt the Mavericks’ flow, forcing changes across the Mavericks camp come quarter time. Mavericks shooter, George Fisher was dominant once again with 34 shots from 38 attempts (89 per cent), showing her strength in the side and not losing her composure even against the Storm’s constant first quarter barrage in defence. Fisher played out majority of the match in goal attack, adding another game to the tally to show off Fisher’s versatility in the goal circle. Karyn Bailey took the court at half time to hold up well in goal shooter, with 17 from 18 at 94 per cent. Michelle Drayne took out the Mavericks player of the match credit to her class with the ball in hand, producing turnover opportunities and feeding well through the attacking third. The Mavericks showed consistency in the match with their two 29 goal halves, but were well held to their 58 goal score, as a side that often outshoots their opposition if given the opportunity. Credit to the Storm for keeping the scoreline at the deficit it was, given their sloppy second half in front of goal and the strength of Mavericks goal keeper, Razia Quashie.

A goal on the buzzer to Loughborough Lightning’s Mary Cholhok saw the Lightning win their sixth game on the trot, with a one point victory over the Severn Stars on Saturday (53 – 54). It was an electric start to the match for the Lightning, with a 32 goal first half setting up a strong second half. Despite a solid match, the Stars were unable to make a convincing attempt on the win, with Lightning’s tight defence proving too much as they struggled to shoot more than 14 goals in a quarter. To the Stars’ credit they kept tight in the match, making Lightning work for the win and reducing the visitors to only seven goals in the final quarter. This matchup proved that the Stars have what it takes to compete with the higher positioned teams and have the potential to push sides to their limits. It was a clinical full court effort that almost got the Stars the win, with the Stars defenders standing out among a number of impressive performances. Jodi-Ann Ward and Sam Cook showed their defensive prowess, pulling off potentially game breaking intercepts in the dying minutes to help the team close the margin. Stars shooter, Georgia Rowe was on fire in the final quarter, chipping away at the Lightning’s eight goal lead to reduce the margin, while midcourter, Iona Darroch dominated feeds into the goal circle, as her silky passes threaded the needle to Rowe and her partner in crime, Maryka Holtzhausen. The Stars’ composure seemed to shake the Lightning, forcing frequent changes to the side as they struggled to match the consistency. Lightning’s strength off the ball was their greatest asset in the final quarter, managing to hold onto the win despite pressure down both ends of the court. Hannah Joseph and Emily Hollingworth kept the ball in contention throughout the final quarter, refusing to bow to the Stars’ intensity and snatching the ball out of the air to create scoring options for Cholhok, who was backed up well by Ella Clark and Lucy Parize in goal attack. Zara Everitt took the court in the second half in goal defence, doing a stellar job to keep the margin clear with her good reach and movement around the circle.

The London Pulse will be rueing yet another loss for the season after a slow start led to an 11 point deficit to the Celtic Dragons on Monday night (62-51). With the slow start came a difficult second half, as the Pulse shot convincingly but conceded two 18-point quarters, making it a tough fight back. The Pulse’s four quarter effort has been an ongoing issue this season, with a first quarter deficit often meaning the side is chasing to catch up for majority of the game. Credit to the Dragons however, with their second half clinical in extending their lead after a dominant second quarter saw the Pulse get within five points at half time. A ripper effort from Dragons goal shooter, Chelsea Ellis saw her come away with 40 goals from 44 attempts, sitting at 91 per cent and deservingly named Dragons player of the match for her strong effort. Lewis paired well with Dragons’ midcourt interchange Bethan Dyke, who was impressive with 30 feeds. In a strong comparison to the Dragons’ clinical start to the match, Pulse could not seem to settle, unable to feed through the tight defence and long reach of Stacian Facey and Dee Bolakoro in the circle. Chiara Semple came on at quarter time to help settle the shooting circle and was backed up well by Ash Neal at wing attack, pushing the Dragons a lot more to produce a closer matchup and winning the second term for their efforts. Sibling rivalry was rife on court as Neal came face to face with her older sister, Kyra Jones, and while the Pulse were unable to get the job done they surely put up a good fight throughout after a sloppy first term. This match saw the Dragons win their fourth match for the season and only their first home win, but shows great strides for the side as they aim to continue their form in their best season since 2014.

Though not a Round 11 match, this week saw Team Bath host Severn Stars after a weather warning led to the Round 4 match being postponed. It was a tight turnaround for both sides, but despite an even start Team Bath were able to get the winning points and get their fifth win in a row to slip into the top four after a 53 – 43 strong effort. The usual suspects proved strong for Bath, with the defensive quad of Guthrie, Allison, Artman and Usoro-Brown taking the reins down back, while the Stars made Bath work for their win in especially the first and third quarters, keeping the usually composed side second guess their efforts. The third quarter saw the Stars push their way back into the match, however despite their efforts they were unable to pull off a win as a 16 – 8 goal final quarter saw Bath race away for a 10 goal win. The insertion of Beryl Friday into attack opened up Bath’s opportunities, while Stars shooters, Burger and Holtzhausen once again shot well despite strong efforts from Bath defence to disrupt circle movement.

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