Loughborough Lightning kick started their 2018 season in style on Saturday, securing a 55-44 win over visitors UWS Sirens.
Having topped the 2017 table, Lightning were keen to claim a crucial victory in their opening round of the Vitality Netball Superleague and boy did they do just that.
Under the new leadership of Head Coach Anna Carter, a fresh and raring Lightning took to the court in the hope of treating the 800 strong crowds to their famous quick feet and powerful play.
Travelling to Loughborough University from Glasgow, UWS Sirens brought with them a few familiar faces in Loughborough University Alumni Vanessa Walker and Ella Gibbons, along with ex-England powerhouse Sara Bayman. With key signings such as those for 2018, an element of the unknown circled the match, leaving fans eager to see what was in store.
The game began with speed, power and flight, neither side letting up even for a second. Both sides claimed the points for their centre passes for much of the first few minutes, however the new defensive duo of Jamaican international Sterling and Loughborough student Oyesola saw a crucial turnover and with it the chance for Lightning to take the early lead.
The first quarter continued with the ball moving swiftly down the court through centre court trio Panagarry, Cobden and Grierson before landing seamlessly in the hands of the 2017 top shooter Peace Proscovia.
Having been named in the starting line-up for the first time since her season ending ACL injury last year, Clark was welcomed warmly onto court and with her famous long bombs sinking through the net, it was like she never left.
The first half ended with a comfortable lead of nine points for the home side however left no option to relax as Sirens powered on.
Half-time: Lightning 32 – 23 UWS Sirens
After a few changes, Sirens returned to court trailing but determined to close the gap. Lightning meanwhile continued with their opening seven and quickly found their rhythm to press on.
The final quarter saw a turn of events that may have faltered Lightning’s lead when new recruit Brie Grierson was shown the bench after a third caution was awarded. Down to just six players and with three minutes remaining on the clock, Lightning found their reserve of energy to power on and maintain their lead right up to the final whistle.
Having narrowly missed out in last year’s Grand Final, Lightning seamlessly picked up where they left off in this weekend’s game. Uncertainty surrounded the squad ahead of the 2018 , with a new coach at the helm and an injection of new players but with their gritty play and a steely determination, this weekend’s performance makes it clear that nothing can stand in the way of Lightning in 2018.
Final score: Lighting 55 – 44 UWS Sirens.
Speaking to Head Coach Anna Carter on her first outing with Lightning she was keen to shed light on the win;
“Lightning showed determination and grit today which are all very important characteristics at this level! I think today was about finding out about where we were and what combinations work. It is early days and we’ve got a long way to go, there are a few areas that we need to look at and we’ll focus on bettering those areas ahead of next week’s game. Tonight reminded us all how exciting the Superleague can be and I’m really glad everyone at the match got a good taste of what we have to bring in 2018.”
After a stellar performance, England Roses star Beth Cobden was deservedly awarded the Player of the Match;
“It was a really good effort from the girls tonight and a great game from Sirens. They really pushed us till the end but overall we’re just really happy to get the win.”
Lightning are back in action next Saturday when they travel to Team Northumbria for round 2. Witness them in action back on home soil on Saturday 24th February when they welcome Celtic Dragons to Loughborough University.