Vitality Netball Superleague wrap: Round 13

TWO major upsets bookended Round 13 of the Vitality Netball Superleague and clouded the competition over the weekend, with top five sides, Loughborough Lightning and Saracens Mavericks both going down by less than five points apiece to teams on the lower end of the ladder. Two top five sides dropped big winning streaks along with losing their respective matches, while London Pulse has finally returned to the winners list after a shock victory over the Mavericks. The top five will stay the same for another week, while Surrey Storm have rocketed into sixth to lead the bottom end of the ladder.

In a shock opening to Round 13, the London Pulse were finally rewarded for their improvement over the season with a three goal win against finals contenders, Saracens Mavericks (62 – 59). This was the Mavericks’ third loss in the past four weeks, so they will want to tighten up ahead of the run home this season. The Pulse put up a dominant performance, coming from behind at three quarter time to register only their second win of the season, shooting 16 goals to 11 in the final quarter to get a big win in front of their home crowd at Copperbox Arena. Pulse shooters, Chiara Semple and Shantal Slater were firing on all cylinders and combined for an exceptional 86 per cent shooting accuracy. The pair have really found their form over the last few weeks, pushing their abilities and efforts to the limit to give their side the best opportunity for victory. Despite constant positional changes, the work rate across the board for the Pulse was second to none as they continued to force turnovers from the Mavericks, who did not seem to be putting their best foot forward on court. Ama Agbeze took the court for the first time in a number of weeks, putting in the hard yards defensively in the second half against her England Roses teammate, Kadeen Corbin. Vital errors plagued the side, with Corbin being sent off for two minutes, leaving the Mavericks one player down in attack and giving the Pulse vital opportunities to capitalise, making a win harder to come by for the Mavericks. The Mavericks also had issues forward, with sharpshooter, George Fisher starting in goal shooter, however only played out the first quarter before Australian, Karyn Bailey took the court in her place, putting up a strong effort under the post in Fisher’s absence. Defensively, Razia Quashie and Michelle Drayne worked tirelessly for the Mavericks, but could not get through the Pulse’s midcourt barriers in the final quarter, put up by the home side to keep the Mavericks under the pump.

Next up was a big win by Manchester Thunder, who are sitting pretty on top of the ladder after dominating the Celtic Dragons by 27 points (73 – 46). The Dragons have shown some great improvement over the last few weeks, however could not hold up to the intensity of the Thunder’s ball movement and defensive structure. The Thunder, to their credit, put on a dominant performance, proving they are well deserving of their top spot on the ladder with a full court effort a key attribute of their play. The Thunder were ruthless at the post, shooting a massive 40 goals to 20 in the first half, setting up a strong lead ahead of the second half and giving the Dragons little opportunity to pull back into the game. Thunder played all 12 listed players again this week, giving their young talent an opportunity to take the court and prove their ability. Joyce Mvula was superb under the ring with clean hands and accuracy to boot, while Ellie Cardwell and Liana Leota also dominated offensively. Dee Bolakoro and Stacian Facey put in the hard yards defensively, however could not compete with the volume of shots put up by the Thunder. The Dragons, to their credit, put up a strong final quarter shooting 17 goals, almost equaling their first half score and winning the quarter to prove that their ability is far greater than their performance this round. Kalifa McCollin and Chelsea Lewis put up a good effort against the strength of Emma Dovey and Kerry Almond in the goal circle, however struggled to compete with the intensity and pressure the exciting Thunder defensive pairing maintained throughout the match.

The Severn Stars asserted their dominance in the lower half of the ladder on Saturday night with a nine point win over the Strathclyde Sirens, 49 – 40. The Sirens put up a tough fight, only down by two goals at the final change, before shooting only six goals in the last quarter to come away with a margin non-reflective of the game’s intensity. This marks the Stars’ first back to back win of the season, a feat likely to build confidence going into the final few weeks of the season. A tight start to the match saw both sides struggle to get ball to post, with defenders at both ends putting on a show and bumping up the pressure across the court. The likes of Sam Cook and Ella Powell-Davies paired well to confuse the space for Sirens in attack, giving opportunities for intercepts as they continuously forced the Sirens to pass the ball around the circle for better options on goal. Georgia Rowe was efficient at the post for the Stars but was held well by Hayley Mulheron of the Sirens, while goal defence, Emily Nicholl put in the hard yards against Maryka Holtzhausen to disrupt the flow through attack. Gia Abernethy was strong through the centre court for the Sirens, putting pressure on the loose ball and maintaining fluidity coming back through the centre into attack. The Sirens seemed to lose their steam in the final quarter, only shooting six goals to the Stars’ 13, so will want to work on maintaining their intensity coming into the final rounds of the season.

The second last match of the round saw Wasps Netball host Team Bath in a battle for second on the ladder. With a six match winning streak on the line for Bath in front of a 1,468 strong crowd they failed to capitalise. It was a high stakes game, with the potential to drop down for both teams, but Bath were pipped at the post after an average first half saw them chasing for the rest of the match, losing by 15 points (61 – 46). Team Bath will be rueing the missed opportunity of jumping into second on the ladder, however will also be feeling fortunate that both Loughborough Lightning and Saracens Mavericks dropped their Round 13 matches, meaning the top five stays the same for another week. Defensively the Wasps dominated, rivaling Bath’s full court defence with their own brand of intensity and hands over pressure. Katie Harris and Rachel Dunn saw plenty of the ball with the likes of Jade Clarke and Bongi Msomi on fire, as Clarke disrupted the midcourt, pairing well with Msomi who’s precision feeding was on show. Despite some tough pressure from the likes of Eboni Usoro-Brown and Summer Artman, the Wasps went in hard early to evade Bath’s full court defensive efforts. Bath shooters, Kim Commane, Sophie Drakeford-Lewis and Beryl Friday did a good job sharing the load, however did not put up the volume of shots to overcome the Wasps’ fierce and agile defensive system. One of the great matchups of the game was between England Roses teammates and VNSL opposition, Clarke and Serena Guthrie, a lineup that saw both players put their bodies on the line for the ball and fight hard to turn over possession wherever possible.

The final match of the round saw Loughborough Lightning’s seven game winning streak come to an abrupt end, with an average first half leading to a disappointing loss to Surrey Storm (59 – 63). The Storm were far to strong from the beginning, sprinting off the blocks to a 20 goal haul in the first quarter, with South African sharpshooter, Sigi Burger shooting at 100 per cent in the first term. Burger finished with an astonishing 57 goals from 62 attempts to earn player of the match honours, while the likes of Lorraine Kowalewska and Katy Hughes pulled out all the stops to keep the ball away from dominant Lightning shooter, Mary Cholhok down the other end. Hughes and Kowalewska put on a defensive clinic in crowding the goal circle, confusing the space and giving Kowalewska room to leap for deflections against Cholhok, despite easily being 15 centimetres shorter. Kowalewska’s ability to read the play was second to none, while her vertical leap forced the Lightning to adapt their typical attacking structure around the circle. In comparison, it was a lack of intensity in defence that was the Lightning’s woe in the first half, with Tuaine Keenan struggling against the tall and agile target of Burger under the ring, while Vicki Oyesola was quiet in the first half before pulling out an exceptional effort in the second half to pull back the margin. Oyesola put on a show in the third quarter with her closing speed and commitment to the intercept, repeatedly picking up deflections credit to her positioning on the inside line of the ball and pressure on the receiver. Lightning long bomb shooter, Ella Clark took some time to work into the match, with her work rate not quite up to scratch in the first half and struggling to draw the attention off Cholhok in the circle. Fortunately she lifted early in the second half to help draw back the margin to three goals after being down by 10 at half time. Lightning’s transition through the midcourt improved tenfold in the second half, with the volume of shots lifting as the work rate went up – Lightning only put 29 shots up in the first half, but lifted their tally to 44 goals from 51 attempts by the end of the third term. Overall, it was the Storm’s early confidence that propelled them to their fifth win of the season, with a strong final term the icing on the cake after the Lightning’s second half fight back.

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