What is the key to Team Bath’s 2021 success?

WHEN it comes to the Vitality Netball Superleague, one thing for sure is that there are teams that have continuously been up there on the ladder and some that have been knocking at the door for finals contention over the past few years but have not quite hit the mark. One of these sides is Team Bath, with the team historically featuring a strong squad and strong starting seven. But what is it during season 2021 that has allowed the side to step up to be undefeated from five matches and successfully dismantled two of their top competitors in Loughborough Lightning and Manchester Thunder?

Bench depth and versatility are the key to success

Something that Team Bath does not shy away from is its bench depth and willingness to let players test their abilities, consistently playing its developing athletes and allowing the developing names to ply their trade. While this has been evident in 2021, it was much more clear in season 2020 despite the season cancellation, with Imogen Allison and Summer Artman two of the major standouts who took centre stage with Serena Guthrie and Eboni Usoro-Brown both taking time away from the sport. Regardless of how little of the season was played, the development of the aforementioned duo created a wealth of confidence stepping up under pressure and stamping their authority on the competition despite their relative youth. Even now, Bath continuously utilises its bench players with Rachel and Jess ShawBetsy Creak and Tash Pavelin some of the regular fixtures on court, with that belief from the coaching staff crucial for Bath’s continued success this season. Being able to win continuously with a starting seven is a credit to a team’s connections, but winning with a versatile lineup dependant on the opposition is a whole other ball game and appears to be doing the job for Bath. Factor in how the side would cope with injury fairly well given its willingness to switch up combinations, and there is very little to complain about.

No team has a better full-court defensive unit than Team Bath

While other teams have comparable defensive pressure within the circle and are fairly consistent, there is no doubt Team Bath take the cake for the way they go about their defensive pressure with it starting in the goal circle and travelling all the way up the court. Hands over pressure is paramount to Bath’s success, while the defensive efforts of Guthrie and Allison through the midcourt backs up the hugely creative backline of Layla Guscoth, Usoro-Brown and Artman. All influential in their own right, the back three combine seamlessly regardless of who takes the starting mantle, utilising their respective height, strength and aerial abilities to force errors and wreak havoc. Something else the defensive line can boast is its cleanliness, leaving the penalties to the likes of Guthrie outside the circle. The side is not necessarily relaxed on court, but it does not rely on physicality to get the job done, instead utilising its dynamic midcourt defence to stop their opposition in its tracks before the ball gets into the circle. Being able to defend the space and confuse the feeder is something that Guscoth, Usoro-Brown and Artman have continuously proven they are capable of doing. Backing that up with the one-on-one under the post and implementing aerial leaps showcase the side’s flexibility and willingness to assert themselves on the contest to be a real force to be reckoned with.

Reliable and creative attack sets the tone for success

When it comes to Team Bath, accuracy, volume and reliability are the first words that come to mind with the combination of Kim Borger and Sophie Drakeford-Lewis hard to stop when they get going credit to their experience together and ability to step up under pressure. While the two are significantly different players with very different styles, they combine effortlessly in a way that showcases each of their best assets, with Borger’s strength and clean footwork complementing Drakeford-Lewis’ agility and playmaking skills. Throw in the adaptability and clean hands of Creak, who can combine seamlessly with both players at the post, and the side’s winning circle combination can change within the blink of an eye and have little to no impact on the flow or movement of the game at hand. The Shaw sisters out the front in attack are some of the unsung heroes of the squad, stepping up when the likes of Guthrie and Allison are focusing on the defensive aspects of the game, plying their trade on circle edge and driving the ball down to provide pinpoint accurate passes into the goalers.

One thing for sure is that Team Bath has a hugely consistent and exciting squad, backed up by a wealth of talent and bench depth which helps the side maintain intensity throughout each and every contest. While a couple of England Roses talents certainly help the side hold their mantle and intensity out on court, there is no doubt that the side is far more than its starting Roses players, rallying around each other to continuously step up to the task at hand with the intent of making finals this season and beyond. With leaders all over the court, the blue and gold squad has no shortage of star players who influence outcomes, and create a winning atmosphere at the franchise.

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