VNSL 2021: Round 13/14 – Friday/Saturday wrap

A HUGE first half of the Vitality Netball Superleague (VNSL) round has played out over Friday and Saturday, with a social media blackout across the league not stopping any team from piling on the pressure and the Celtic Dragons from getting their maiden 2021 victory on the board.

Surrey Storm (39) defeated by Celtic Dragons (48)

Player of the match: Clare Jones (Celtic Dragons)

The Dragons came out with a vengeance and put on a show in an impressive performance against a shellshocked Surrey Storm, piling on the offensive pressure to record their first win of the year by nine goals. The see-sawing encounter saw neither side able to maintain the lead across the first half, with plenty of intensity seeing both sides remain in the hunt, and having plenty to prove. But whilst the Dragons tightened up in the last quarter, that was where it fell apart for the Storm who failed to apply the scoreboard pressure after holding on all day, eventually going down 39-48 thanks to the Dragons’ excellent 15-8 final term.

Whilst the Dragons were certainly the more penalised side, it was the defensive pressure across the court that got the job done for the side. With three defensive rebounds to zero, as well and two intercepts, four deflections and five turnovers, the Dragons kept it simple and played a hard brand of netball to stop, led by Clare Jones through the midcourt who was unstoppable in a player of the match branded performance. Amy Clinton (29 goals from 30 attempts) and Rebekah Robinson (19 from 21) starred out the front, whilst Annika Lee-Jones and Abigail Tyrrell may have been physical, and rightly penalised for it, but also created errors from Karyn Bailey and Emma Magee, who failed to have their usual impact out the front. Leah Middleton created four deflections in a solid outing, however could not limit the footwork and silky movement of Robinson.

Saracens Mavericks (47) defeated by Loughborough Lightning (55)

Player of the match: Mary Cholhok (Loughborough Lightning)

It was a game of missed opportunities for the Mavericks against the Lightning, keeping the scoreline close up until an impressive defensive effort saw the Lightning skip away in the final term to register the eight goal victory. Physicality was the talk of the day from the Mavs who piled on the penalties, while neither side was at peak accuracy credit to the dare and hunt from both defensive ends. The class of both sides’ backends was immense, combining across the court for 11 intercepts, 33 deflections and 28 turnovers all up, however it was the Lightning’s cleanliness with ball in hand that lended them the victory in a tight clash.

Ine-Mari Venter and Mary Cholhok had days out under the post for their respective teams, with the former piling on 40 goals from 47 attempts as the latter won the player of the match award for her more accurate 41 from 44. It was the Lightning’s midcourt that really sparked up though, as Beth Cobden continued her stellar form with two intercepts, four deflections and four turnovers, aided by Suzie Liverseidge and Nat Panagarry who created three deflections apiece. Defensively, Mavericks’ Jodie Gibson (five deflections, five turnovers, two intercepts) and Jo Trip (seven turnovers, six deflections and four intercepts) put on a show, forcing unforced errors from the usually composed Lightning frontline. Despite that though, the Lightning still pulled through for their 11th win of the season, seeing them briefly leapfrog Team Bath into top spot with the blue and gold side yet to play this round.

Surrey Storm (39) defeated by Severn Stars (46)

It was a frustrating weekend all round for the Storm, who fell to the Stars as their combinations faltered. While the match started out close, consistency proved key in the final result as the Stars’ ability to maintain pressure for the full four quarters came to the fore, whilst the Storm once again were rendered inefficient, not making the most of their turnovers. Whilst accuracy was not an issue, the side had real trouble propelling the ball into the circle, with another high penalty count not doing the side any favours.

It was the shared load in attack that allowed the Stars to be so potent out the front, with Georgia Rowe and Paige Reed pairing seamlessly and using their easy combination and communication to whittle down the defence. Reed took on the bulk of the load to finish off with 24 goals from 28 attempts with Rowe’s 19 from 20 nothing to sniff at, as Liana Leota continued to have an influence on return and Kyra Jones continues to impress despite time away from the sport with retirement. Lucy Herdman was excellent down back with six deflections and five turnovers, limiting Bailey from finding too much ball and forcing Magee and Frankie Wells to take their chances, with the two goal attacks combining for just eight goals to add to Bailey’s 31. Whilst Alima Priest was solid for the Storm limiting Rowe’s impact, Middleton had trouble shutting down Reed as the zippy goal attack had things all her way.

London Pulse (38) defeated by Strathclyde Sirens (48)

The Sirens have continued their exciting season, downing the Pulse in an impressive 10-goal victory to remain in the hunt for a potential finals berth. Despite staying in the match throughout the second half, it was a sloppy six-goal first quarter that let down the Pulse, who struggled to reduce the early margin. Despite trailing by eight at half time and realistically still within their chances, the Pulse could not capitalise off a 12-11 third quarter as the Sirens tightened up after the final break to clean up for the 48-38 victory.

The matchup of the game was between Towera Vinkhumbo and Sigi Burger, and this time around it was most definitely Vinkhumbo who got the winning end of the stick forcing Burger off the court such was her hefty defensive effort. Vinkhumbo’ combination with Emily Nicholl and Taylor Cullen just continues to impress, with the trio stepping up once more to create a combined four intercepts, 12 deflections and eight turnovers – a feat which saw Olivia Tchine (18 goals), Burger (10), Lefebre Rademan (six) and Kira Rothwell (four) all rotate through the attack line as the Pulse looked for an answer out the front. To the Pulse’s credit, Lindsay Keable and Halimat Adio were no slouches, though livewire Funmi Fadoju was at times outclassed by Beth Dix who starred out the front, feeding into Emma Barrie (27 from 28) and Niamh McCall (21 from 26) with ease.

Saracens Mavericks (59) defeated Celtic Dragons (39)

Whilst the Dragons came in with a point to prove after a monumental first win, they were outclassed by a Mavericks outfit that was just as hungry for a victory – if not more, with finals on the line. With a tight first half once more showing how much the Dragons have improved, it was once again the second half where things came undone as the Mavericks piled on the goals, outscoring the Welsh side 36-19 to extend what had been just a three goal advantage at half time (23-20) to a 20-goal victory when the siren sounded.

After an excellent Friday night effort, Venter was rested as Britney Clarke shot the lights out for the Mavs with 30 goals from 31 attempts, while Chloe Essam (18 from 21) and Kadeen Corbin (11 from 14) both extended the lead in a full court Mavs effort. Gabby Marshall was hard to stop in wing defence, racking up three intercepts, three turnovers nd two deflections for just four penalties throughout, and combined well with Gibson and Trip who continued their excellent combination. For the Dragons it was not a question of workrate, but a question of fatigue and errors as the penalty count remained high. While Clinton and Robinson shared the workload out the front fairly accurately once more, the likes of Laura Rudland and Shona O’Dwyer struggled to find easy passage into the goal circle resulting in turnovers and the disappointing result.

Image credit: Ben Lumley Photography

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