What is Loughborough Lightning’s recipe for success?

IT has been a season to remember so far for Loughborough Lightning with the side holding firm in top spot on the Vitality Netball Superleague (VNSL) ladder and only getting better each time they step out on court. With composure to boot and quality players across the court, the Lightning have an aura they have not had before and will be looking to bat deep in hope to secure a finals berth.

Loughborough have only lost one game so far in 2021 and that was to fellow top two rival, Team Bath – who are yet to drop a game. The loss was only narrow, going down by four goals in the opening round and a lot has changed since then with the connections coming to the fore and really developing a strong wall through the midcourt. The Lightning have showcased their explosive ability to score with great ease and apply impressive defensive pressure to worry opposition sides out of quick transitions down the court, often forcing stalemates and allowing players to come screaming across and pick off intercepts.

Arguably Lightning’s best win came following their performance against Team Bath, downing the highly touted Wasps side by a mere goal (44-43). Their composure and ability to withstand the immense pressure was second to none, overcoming the experience of the likes of Rachel Dunn in at goal shooter and Fran Williams down back. Their confidence was riding high from that performance and subsequently trickled into their Round 3 outing against Saracens Mavericks where they made light work of their opponents, securing a 25-goal thumping. Since then, Lightning have mustered up dominant wins against lower placed sides in Leeds Rhinos, Severn Stars, Surrey Storm and London Pulse and are currently sitting on a six-game winning streak. With their tails up and week off heading into Round 8, the ladder-leading side will be eager to maintain that level of dominance over the competition with their newfound connections and attacking game plan allowing their dominance thus far.

Spearheaded by the likes of captain Nat Panagarry through the middle, the Lightning are lucky enough to have a consistent figure that re-offers time and time again. Panagarry can flick from defence to offence within the blink of an eye and is not afraid to put her body on the line, but most importantly she controls the overall tempo of the game. With patience aplenty and impressive vision she is able to deliver the ball on a silver platter to the shooters an often joins forces with wing attack Hannah Joseph. Their combination has only blossomed since the beginning of the season with the two working in tandem to balance the play around circle edge and use their cuts and drives to draw the attention of defenders.

Another key midcourter for the Lightning is Beth Cobden with the wing defence utilising her fancy footwork and deceptive closing speed to shut down her opponent. A nimble and agile centre court player, Cobden puts in plenty of defensive work while also proving to be a threat in transition with her silky ball movement. Her connection with Panagarry is electric as the two combine to fire the ball from one end of the court to the other, leaving many teams in the lurch.

Ugandan prodigy and goal shooter Mary Cholhok leads the league for goals with a whopping 262 from seven games, and averages 37 goals per game which highlights just how much of a commanding presence she is. Cholhok is never out of the contest, always re-positioning and using her upper body strength to compete in the air and reel in the high ball to score. Her composure under the post is vital to the Lightning’s surge up the ladder as is her partnership with Ella Clark. The duel-athlete boasts sheer athleticism, able to rotate into goal shooter when needed or run rampant out the front credit to her endurance and game smarts.

The Lightning have arguably one of the most underrated defensive units with Alice Harvey headlining the backend of the court thanks to her unassuming nature. A silent assassin on court, Harvey simply gets the job done and uses her read of the play to inflict pain amassing 17 intercepts and featuring in the top five in the VNSL. Alongside her is Samantha May who has steadily developed and made her presence more imposing in 2021. May is a cool, calm and composed customer that creates opportunities for her teammates to pick up loose passes and mounts pressure with her niggling style of defence.

With dominant figures across the court the bench depth from the Lightning is what gives them that extra edge with Jas Odeogberin a star in the making. The defender boasts an arsenal of tricks and is able to come on and change the course of the game credit to her sticky hands and aerial presence. Suzie Liverseidge is another livewire for Loughborough as is youngster Lucy Parize with the duo able to fill that attacking role competently when called upon.

All in all, the Lightning have developed a multi-pronged squad filled with versatility and an incredibly strong core that is able to control the flow of the game. Having beaten some of the top contenders already in 2021, Loughborough are shaping up nicely and could be a huge threat if they are able to maintain this level of composure and smarts to play the ball around with the right level of caution and boldness.

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