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Anna Stembridge gives orders to her team

Stembridge will step down as Team Bath head coach at the end of the season. Image: Ben Lumley

Team Bath’s Anna Stembridge is one step closer to a storybook ending.

Stembridge is stepping down from the Blue & Gold helm at the end of the season after seven years of service in her second spell coaching Team Bath.

Last weekend, her side once again sealed qualification to the play-offs—but Stembridge insisted she’s simply focused on ending the season on a high, in whatever form that may take.

“I want the team to finish on a positive note and put out the performances that they feel proud of,” said Stembridge.

“It’s been a challenging year like it has been for so many clubs, and to get ourselves in this position and keep fighting until the last whistle, for me that’s more important.

“I absolutely want to be in that Grand Final, I’d love that fairy-tale ending but I also know there are a number of other teams that also want that.

Stembridge will hand the reins to Asha Francis, whose appointment was announced on Wednesday. The University of Bath alumna won three Superleague titles with Team Bath as a player and has served as a technical coach with the club this season.

“I just really want to enjoy the last few games,” said Stembridge.

“This is my last couple of games in Superleague for now and I want to enjoy it and I want the players to enjoy it.

“I don’t want them to get too ahead of themselves, let’s focus on the game at hand and see where we’re at.”

Last year’s beaten Grand Finalists have had a mixed regular season but have overcome a number of hurdles to seal fourth place ahead of Saracens Mavericks.

And with tickets now booked for next Sunday’s Grand Final day at London’s Copper Box, Stembridge is relishing the prospect of going up against the very best sides in the Vitality Netball Superleague.

“When you make finals, the slate is wiped clean. The gloves are off, it’s knockouts,” added Stembridge. “No matter what’s happened before, it’s all about looking forward.

“You can take confidence from having played or having beaten teams that are in that group, but ultimately the pressure is on, the eyes are on you and it really matters because its knock-out netball.

“The aim, the ultimate goal, hasn’t changed from the start of the season to now, even with the many challenges in particularly the first half of the season that got thrown on us.”

Despite the setbacks, the Blue & Gold have put in plenty of strong performances to ensure they are still in with a shout of reaching the Grand Final once more, and Stembridge is hoping her side can take advantage of those with knowledge of playing in the play-offs.

“We’ve had this experience before, we’ve been in this position before,” said Stembridge.

“The previous seasons where it has gone to the last few games, you draw upon those experiences.

“I’ve been saying probably from halfway, every game matters, every goal matters and we’ve tried to embrace that and not back off the challenge.

“I’ve seen massive steps forwards from the girls in terms of the second half of the season, both in terms of their connections on court, they keep demanding more from each other and themselves, and that ability to just ride the wave.

“We’re just trying to embrace the challenge and I want the girls to enjoy it and have fun because that’s ultimately why we play and love the sport – so let’s not forget about that!”

Stembridge is hoping that both 2021 stalwarts and some of her younger players stepping up to the plate will be key to any victory.

“We’re very fortunate to have a number of leaders across the squad,” she said.

“You always look to those that have had those experiences to draw upon those experiences in those moments.

“Those that haven’t, it doesn’t mean they step off the challenge, they need to try and embrace it and try and absorb the emotions they’re feeling, the experiences that they’re having and every opportunity just learn from it.

“The thing that has been most pleasing for me is those athletes that you probably wouldn’t pick up because they’ve not played Superleague that long or they don’t play internationally – their development for me has been extremely rewarding.

“Kirsty Harris has played a lot of minutes and last year was the first season she’d ever played – I’ve been really happy with the likes of Kirsty and others that have stepped up.”

For Stembridge, whatever happens, next Sunday will be her final game courtside for the time being. She hopes she’s left Team Bath in a good place as she embarks on some well-earned time off.

“I’d always like to believe that you have a positive impact on the environment, the people that you work with,” said Stembridge.

“I see it as a real privilege, you’re in their lives for a huge part of their week and you get to know them on a real personal level.

“As long as I feel I have left it in a more positive manner, players are better from the training sessions, the conversations that we’ve had, the programmes we’ve put in place, the opportunities they’ve been given, I’ll walk away happy and I’ve got some wonderful memories.

“I’m going to get at least 10 hours back of travelling a week which blows my mind!

“I’m really looking forward to having a bit of a rest. I’m looking forward to spending some real quality time with my family and my friends.

“My children are only young so they’re going to get their mum back a bit more – hopefully they’ll enjoy that!

“I’m looking forward to being a bit of a fan, getting behind the team at the Commonwealth Games, just enjoying that time – we’ll see what happens, I might be bored and be back within a month or two!”

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Grand Final tickets are available HERE.

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