Loughborough Lightning sit firmly in the top of the Vitality Netball Superleague after a convincing 66 – 51 victory over Scottish side, Sirens.
On Saturday night Lightning welcomed Sirens to Sir David Wallace Arena at Loughborough University, where they were greeted by over 800 roaring fans. An unchanged starting line-up meant Lightning were able to pick up where they left off from last week’s game against Wasps. Having travelled almost 300 miles, Sirens too were ready to make an impact in the East Midlands.
Quick off the blocks Sirens caught the home side by converting three centre passes in a row. A stunned Lightning had to swiftly react to the oppositions fast start using star shooter Peace Proscovia as their safety net.
Currently the league’s top goal scorer, Lightning fans needed only worry about getting the ball to the edge of the circle as the confident shooter’s skills eased the ball through the net. A rocky start to the game saw Lightning trail by three at the end of the first quarter.
With the confidence and support of their fans, Lightning stepped back on court with a tough game ahead of them. For the first time this season they began the second quarter behind the opposition with a fight on their hands.
Having arguably faced the four toughest teams in the league at the start of their campaign, Lightning were beginning to feel the heat of a fierce four week schedule. The second quarter however saw the Lightning we all know and love begin to find their feet again, applying pressure to Sirens key points on the court.
With just two minutes to go they finally broke ahead of Sirens thanks to a great interception from powerhouse Oyesola. With added support from Walker, who fought hard to remove her defenders dominance from the circle, this left Proscovia with the freedom to plant her feet directly under the post.
Q2: 28 – 26
Ahead by only two points Lightning began the second half keen to overwrite the slow start of the first thirty minutes. With steely determination the centre court trio began to shine, showing the crowds some of their international experience, delivering the ball calmly and confidently to the waiting shooters.
This sudden boost caused cracks to appear in Sirens attack as Lightning defence also stepped up the pressure, using the new ‘contest not contact’ rule to continuously hassle the shooting circle. Panagarry and Joseph’s lightning reactions picking up loose balls also gave Lightning those crucial turnovers needed to gain yet more advantage on the away team.
Q3: 45 – 39
With just 15 minutes on the clock and larger safety barrier on the scoreboard, Lightning pushed on, extending their lead by eight in just two minutes. A heightened intensity on Sirens centre passes saw the Scottish side looking for back up due to the impenetrable barriers of Cobden and Oyesola.
Twelve minutes into the final quarter saw Head Coach Atkinson call time on Walkers performance for the night, allowing Olivia Mason the chance to make her 2017 debut for Lightning. No stranger to the crowds of Sir David Wallace Arena, Mason slotted into the team effortlessly.
With little adjustment needed to the changed line-up, Lightning picked up the pace on a tiring Sirens to finish the game 15 goals clear. Lightning now sit firmly at the top of the league, having won all five of their games so far this season.
Full time: 66 – 51
An elated Head Coach Karen Atkinson shared her reflection on the game;
“There’s no secret to our success so far, we’re working hard off court, especially on building team spirit and unity. The players are embracing that and really working hard for each other and themselves.
There’s a long way to go with 18 league matches. We have talked all week about how tough it was going to be playing against Sirens. We think they’re a quality outfit, which they showed today coming out of the blocks really strongly and I think their shooters were superb under the post. I was really pleased however how the girls persevered with the game plan and stuck to tasks. We knew opportunities would come so we just had to be disciplined with our game.”
A stellar performance from Captain Natalie Panagarry saw her take home the MVP award for the night;
“I’m so proud of these girls, so proud to be part of this squad, I couldn’t ask for any more. There’s so many teams out there that could win and I’m so happy that we’re doing so well at the start of the season.”
Lightning now look ahead to their next fixture against Hertfordshire Mavericks on Saturday 25th March. They return home on Easter Monday where they face Team Bath at 4pm. Tickets are on sale now so why not treat the family to a spectacular showcase of sport this Easter.
Tickets can be bought online at: www.loughboroughlightning.com
Image courtesy of Jessica Northfield