VNSL 2021: Round 16 – Sunday wrap

THE finals race continues to heat up in the 2021 Vitality Netball Superleague (VNSL), and Sunday’s Round 16 matches were no different as a couple teams made major breaks for the top four and Team Bath secured the first finals spot.

 Severn Stars (41) defeated by Leeds Rhinos (63)

Player of the match: Vicki Oyesola (Leeds Rhinos)

The Rhinos continued their hunt for an elusive top four position with another win on the board, bouncing back well from their loss to Team Bath last round and effectively blowing the Stars out of the water with a 22-goal victory. The Rhinos kept the Stars to single digits in both the first and last quarter in a complete performance, continually building on their lead and forcing error after error from the Stars. Whilst the two sides were relatively even on the stats front, registering similar numbers for intercepts (Stars 14-13), deflections (7-7) and turnovers (15-16), the Stars were much more heavily penalised (58-43).

It was a classy defensive performance from the Rhinos, as player of the match Vicki Oyesola unleashed with Tuaine Keenan holding ground down back. Oyesola (three intercepts) and Keenan (six) blocked options within the goal circle and forced errant passes and errors from the ever-classy Liana Leota, causing issues for Georgia Rowe at the post, who received a caution following deliberate contact to Oyesola. Paige Reed struggled to assert herself on the contest, seeing Jane Taylor take her place and put up nine from 10 in a solid effort. The Rhinos were uncharacteristically error-ridden at the post, missing 12 goal attempts credit to pressure from Lucy Herdman and Malysha Kelly, however Leeds tall timber in Donnell Wallam proved crucial with seven rebounds to go with her 52 goals from 57 attempts. Rhea Dixon was tested by Iman Thomas and put up just nine from 14, while Brie Grierson and Jade Clarke continued their excellent form with little fear propelling the ball into Wallam.

Team Bath (55) defeated Surrey Storm (39)

Player of the match: Imogen Allison (Team Bath)

Team Bath is the first side to secure a top four finish on the VNSL ladder, and an inevitable finals position too following a comprehensive victory over Surrey Storm. Despite consistency from the lower-ranked side, it was Bath’s excellent start and ability to remain ahead of the eight-ball that allowed the side to build on their lead and not allow Storm to sniff their way back into the contest. Storm were heavily penalised throughout the contest and, despite registering one more intercept, were bogged down by unforced errors which allowed Bath to retain control. Bath piled on 18 deflections throughout to put doubt in the Storms’ feeders, coming out well-deserved 16-goal winners.

Player of the match Imogen Allison was an absolute pest around the loose ball, negating every move from speedster Yasmin Parsons and continuously forcing errant passes with her ability to apply hands over pressure. The wing defence racked up three intercepts and allowed Layla Guscoth and Eboni Usoro-Brown the freedom to do their job down back, combining for nine deflections (seven gains) as Serena Guthrie ravaged the midcourt with five deflections of her own, with Mikki Austin unable to maintain intensity against the formidable centre. A combined seven offensive penalties between Karyn Bailey and Frankie Wells did the Storm attacking circle no favours, and while they both remained fairly accurate (Bailey with 27 goals from 31 attempts and Wells with 10 from 12), there was little to be done against the impeccable defensive pressure stemming from Bath’s backline. Bath’s frontline was similarly on point, seeing Kim Borger pile on 37 goals and Sophie Drakeford-Lewis assist well with 12 from 14.

 Wasps Netball (39) defeated by Strathclyde Sirens (44)

Player of the match: Gia Abernethy (Strathclyde Sirens)

The Sirens are gaining on their higher-ranked opposition, with plenty of belief amongst this year’s playing group really paying off as they registered the Sirens’ first ever win over Wasps. With a draw last time they met the Wasps, the side clearly had no doubt they could collect the win here, and despite a shaky first half, the side came out flying in the third to come from a three-goal deficit to lead by six at the final change. Phenomenal midcourt transition and cleanliness in the back-end were how the Sirens got the job done, only winning the one quarter throughout but doing enough in the 15-6 third term to claim the 44-39 victory.

The combination of Emma Barrie and Niamh McCall continues to flourish and this match was no different, as the duo missed just three shots between them. While Barrie had three unforced errors to her name – as did Beth Dix and player of the match Gia Abernethy – she made up for it with 25 goals from 26 attempts as McCall piled on 19 to really test Wasps defenders Fran Williams and Josie Huckle and force the ball-hungry defenders to not just focus on Barrie at the post. Abernethy’s two intercepts and ability to find Barrie and McCall was critical, using her clean hands and vision to combine with Dix on circle edge as Iona Christian and Lily-May Catling struggled to compete with their one-two punch. Towera Vinkhumbo did not quite have the same impact on the stats sheet as usual but certainly put doubt in the feeders’ minds, as clinical efforts from Rachel Dunn (24 goals from 26 attempts) and Katie Harris (13 from 13) were not enough for the Wasps to clinch the win.

Manchester Thunder (60) defeated Saracens Mavericks (42)

Player of the match: Amy Carter (Manchester Thunder)

Manchester Thunder well and truly blew the Mavericks out of the water in their clash to finish off Sunday’s proceedings, flying out of the blocks and never looking back in a clinical 18-goal victory. To the Mavericks’ credit they did not stop trying, however they really lacked the intensity the opposition brought in spades, with the Thunder’s stars standing up again and again to propel back any chances of a Mavericks comeback. While Razia Quashie made her return to the bench, the Mavs missed Jo Trip‘s ball-winning ability as the side was continuously outclassed by the Thunder.

Amy Carter was a deserving recipient of the player of the match award, clinical in her midcourt approach and using her change of direction and burst of speed to dismiss Sasha Corbin time and time again. With two intercepts to her name, Carter was pivotal – alongside strong efforts from Laura Malcolm in her regular wing defence role – as the defensive end starred. Emma DoveyKerry AlmondRebekah Airey and Elia McCormick all had their time in the defensive spotlight and combined for 12 turnovers in a classy effort, making it tough for Ine-Mari Venter (32 goals from 38 attempts) to find the ball with ease, as both Kadeen Corbin (three from three) and Chloe Essam (seven from nine) had issues finding the post. Jodie Gibson impressed with eight deflections and two intercepts (four gains) but was outclassed by Joyce Mvula, who starred with a whopping 45 goals from 48 attempts, as Ellie Cardwell played an assisting role with nine from 10.

Picture credit: Ben Lumley Photography

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