VNSL 2021: Round 17/18 – Sunday/Monday wrap

A HUGE end to the final double round of Vitality Netball Superleague action saw five matches play out across Sunday and Monday, with Manchester Thunder officially earning its entry to the finals series and both Leeds Rhinos and Saracens Mavericks winning critical matches heading into the final rounds.

Loughborough Lightning (59) defeated Leeds Rhinos (51)

Player of the match: Mary Cholhok (Loughborough Lightning)

It took a huge third term for the Lightning to overcome the rampaging Rhinos in a huge top five clash, with the second ranked Lightning eventually claiming an eight-goal victory. But it was a testament to the Rhinos for remaining in the contest for majority of the clash, sitting 26-apiece at half-time but unable to rally in the final quarter to claim the comeback win. The Lightning’s defence was tight forcing more missed attempts than usual from the typically accurate Rhinos, in turn forcing errors down the court in a classy finish.

Player of the Match Mary Cholhok was critical for the Lightning, piling on 50 goals and rendering Tuaine Keenan out of the contest with the goal keeper unable to keep the Ugandan away from the post. Both Suzie Liverseidge and Ella Clark earned court time out in goal attack and played a great assisting role, feeding with ease to Cholhok as Hannah Joseph had a similarly critical role in wing attack. Fi Toner was influential marking Joseph and keeping her away from circle edge, although a caution to Vicki Oyesola did the side no favours with the goal defence on fire but not boasting her usual cleanliness. The match saw another impressive performance from Australian Donnell Wallam who piled on 48 goals, but missed eight of her attempts and created four unforced errors as Rhea Dixon struggled to impact credit to the work ethic of Jas Odeogberin. Roses talents Nat Panagarry and Jade Clarke forged a huge battle through the midcourt, at times evening the other out, while Sam May had a game to remember with five turnovers from her eight deflections.

Saracens Mavericks (35) defeated by Strathclyde Sirens (41)

Player of the match: Beth Dix (Strathclyde Sirens)

A huge clash was always expected between the Mavericks and Sirens, with both sides vying for an elusive top four spot and a draw in the bank from their last encounter. A highly defensive first quarter was what kept the Sirens ahead throughout the contest, limiting the Mavs to just six goals in the opening term before they bit back in the second, trailing 16-19 at the main change. This time it was the Sirens who got bragging rights though, controlling the second half to cement the 41-35 victory and creating turnovers aplenty – and most importantly capitalising off them – to claim a crucial victory in the scheme of finals.

It was the Sirens’ 19-9 ration for turnovers, with six of the seven starters putting their defensive cap on to earn at least one to their name. Defensively, it was another impressive effort with Towera Vinkhumbo‘s five intercepts contributing to her eight turnovers as Emily Nicholl and Taylor Cullen continued their excellent form to combine for seven turnovers and piling on the pressure against Kadeen CorbinChloe Essam, Britney Clarke and Georgia Lees out the front. The return of Razia Quashie to the starting seven was crucial and the goal keeper impressed in combination with Jodie Gibson, forcing a couple of missed attempts from Niamh McCall and Emma Barrie, although the two goalers appeared to have sticky fingers relinquishing just one unforced error apiece. The difference was Sirens’ Beth Dix who was excellent on the assist, finding circle edge with ease to continually propel ball into the circle and earn Player of the Match for her efforts.

Manchester Thunder (57) defeated Surrey Storm (41)

Player of the match: Joyce Mvula (Manchester Thunder)

It was one of the Storm’s better performances for the season in their 16-goal loss to Manchester, but a huge loss nonetheless as the Thunder ran away with victory credit to a consistent four quarter performance to officially lock down their spot in the finals. It was a well deserved victory the way of the Thunder though, who were clinical throughout only registering five unforced errors throughout the contest, but will be concerned at their huge penalty count registering 50 to the Storm’s 22, with the away side to their credit staying in the contest as much as possible.

It was the Joyce Mvula show out the front for the Thunder, with the goal shooter piling on the offensive pressure with 44 goals from 48 attempts credit to her ability to position to advantage of her feeders in Caroline O’Hanlon, Ellie Cardwell (11 from 13) and Amy Carter. That did not mean it was not a tight contest between Mvula and Alima Priest though, with the Storm goal keeper only relinquishing nine penalties throughout the full four quarters, registering five turnovers from her three rebounds and two intercepts, using her excellent reach and cleanliness to have an impact time and time again. Karyn Bailey was consistent as ever piling on 33 goals from 35 attempts, as both Frankie Wells and Emma Magee had their turn in goal attack but were tested by the ever-impressive backend duo of Kerry Almond and Emma Dovey, who combined for eight turnovers, as Carter impressed with three intercepts.

Leeds Rhinos (49) defeated Surrey Storm (39)

Player of the match: Emily Hollingworth (Leeds Rhinos)

This matchup between Rhinos and Storm was another tight clash from the get-go, with both sides coming in off the back of a loss and carrying plenty of energy and intensity from the starting whistle. But it was the classy Rhinos that pressured their way through the contest to register a 10-goal victory, staying ahead at every turn but in particular putting on the accelerator in the second and never turning back. Defensively, the Rhinos were on fire and retained their hunt for the ball throughout the entire encounter, while the Storm put on another excellent performance showcasing just what they’re capable of, despite sitting at the bottom end of the ladder.

It was another comprehensive effort from Wallam, with the goal shooter finding form from the get-go and piling on the offensive pressure as Felisitus Kwangwa brought plenty of energy to the back-end as Clarke and Mikki Austin created an exciting midcourt battle in transition. Oyesola and Keenan created a huge battle at the other end with Bailey and Well under a wealth of pressure from the get-go, while a game-changing effort from Emily Hollingworth made all the difference for the Rhinos with Toner sitting out, well and truly proving how capable she is picking up the wing defence bib and getting on with it. Hollingworth registered four intercepts, three turnovers and two deflections in an excellent effort out the front, having a day out against the ever-reliable Yasmin Parsons, who by no means had a shaky game, and showcasing the depth of talent across the competition.

Saracens Mavericks (41) defeated Wasps Netball (37)

Player of the match: Gabby Marshall (Saracens Mavericks)

It was the Mavericks who claimed the must-win encounter to finish the blockbuster round of action, upsetting the Wasps who required a victory here to ensure their entry to finals contention. It was a come from behind effort from the Mavericks who trailed at every change, and four at three quarter time, but forged ahead in a massive 13-5 final quarter effort to put a damper on the Wasps’ spirits to claim the four-goal victory. It was a historic maiden win over the Wasps, with a full court effort allowing the side to remain in the hunt for the finals.

The Mavericks goal circle continues to rotate, with Corbin and Clarke starting and finishing in goal attack and goal shooter respectively, retaining control throughout the contest. Despite a wealth of pressure applied by the likes of Fran Williams and Josie Huckle, the Mavs attack line worked in overdrive to make use of turnovers effectively and keep ahead of the Wasps’ movement. That being said, Rachel Dunn and Katie Harris starred out the front for their own side, continuously putting goals up and boasting plenty of experience to keep doing so, testing Gibson, Quashie and Jo Trip for speed time and again. Gabby Marshall was a revelation, starting in wing defence before standing up even better in centre, and was a real catalyst in the dying stages of the match alongside Sasha Corbin, creating something out of nothing to produce turnovers aplenty to steal the victory.

Picture credit: Ben Lumley Photography

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