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Netball Super League Round 17: Youth shines in tough battles

The top four may be decided but every team battled for wins in Round 17 of the Netball Super League.

Defending champions Manchester Thunder were pushed all the way by Team Bath, as Surrey Storm squeezed through against Celtic Dragons.

London Pulse pushed past a determined Strathclyde Sirens as Saracens Mavericks got one over on Severn Stars with Loughborough Lightning the only comfortable winner.

Teenage dream for Team Bath despite defeat

It has been a year of transition for Team Bath under new head coach Asha Francis, and there were plenty of positive signs for the Blue & Gold despite a 67-63 defeat to Manchester Thunder.

Teenage trio Jayda Pechova, Sophie Kelly, and Phoebe Maslen all impressed in front of a 1,700-strong crowd on Friday night and will surely be around whom Francis builds her side moving forward.

Maslen, 19, picked up the Gilbert Player of the Match award for her outstanding showing at wing defence.

Her recent emergence in mid-court adds to the superb seasons at either end of the court from goal attack Kelly and defender Pechova, meaning the future looks bright in the West Country.

The Blue & Gold led Thunder 38-33 at the break as they pushed for a fourth win of the season, but the defending champions showed why they have already sealed their top-four spot with a strong second half to edge out the victory.

For Thunder, the three points also came with the welcome return of defender Shadine van der Merwe from injury just a month before the Grand Final.

Storm narrowly escape Dragons’ wrath

Sophie Drakeford-Lewis was the match-winner for Surrey Storm, as her last-gasp goal decided a dramatic contest against Celtic Dragons 48-47.

Dragons have struggled so far this term, with just one win to their name compared to a Storm side who have already booked their semi-final tickets, but there was nothing to choose between the two sides in Cardiff.

A strong first half saw Dragons push out their lead to six goals, with circle pairing Rachel Dunn and Gabby Sinclair making hay from the feeds of Hannah Leighton and Shona O’Dwyer.

But Storm have their eyes on a third NSL title come the middle of June, and responded exactly how prospective champions would hope to, clawing back the deficit before going goal for goal throughout the second half.

And with just seconds left, Drakeford-Lewis was the calmest person in the House of Sport as she slotted home from under the post to seal all three points for Mikki Austin’s side.

Lightning extend winning streak

Loughborough Lightning took their winning run to seven matches with a comfortable 72-56 victory away to Leeds Rhinos.

Lightning were run close by Severn Stars last weekend, letting a comfortable lead slip and requiring a late flurry of goals to get over the line, but had no such issues against Rhinos, who failed to repeat their performance against Manchester Thunder last week.

It is exactly what head coach Vic Burgess will have hoped to see as Lightning tune up as they push for a spot in June’s Grand Final, where they will look to reclaim the crown they won in 2021.

Mary Cholhok claimed another big haul on her return to the circle with 54 goals, with Rhea Dixon and Emma Thacker both providing excellent foil at goal attack as they fought against the continually impressive Vicki Oyesola.

But the defender was unable to stem the flow of Lightning attacks and head coach Liana Leota rued a lacklustre showing.

“I just don’t think we turned up today, both physically and mentally,” said Leota.

“We knew it was going to be a tough task, but we wanted to weather the storm in the first half and then to grind out to the end.

“There was moments of brilliance when we turning over ball but in attack we just weren’t scoring or taking care of position.”

Pulse pushed all the way by Sirens

London Pulse returned to the top of the Netball Super League but were made to work for their 53-46 win over Strathclyde Sirens.

The hosts led 14-11 after the first quarter before Sam Bird’s side produced a huge second quarter to swing the momentum of the game in their favour.

Pulse’s impressive depth once more came into the equation as Bird emptied the bench at half time, with only Funmi Fadoju and Olivia Tchine going back out for the second half.

Sirens refused to go down easily, fighting back to level the score in the third quarter but Pulse eventually had too much and sealed a comfortable win.

It will give Bird plenty of food for thought ahead of the semi-finals, with all 12 of Pulse’s players putting their hand up for a starting spot.

For Sirens, it is a sixth defeat in seven, but Lesley McDonald will once more take plenty of encouragement from how her side went toe-to-toe with a top-four side, with only fine margins and small errors letting them down.

Mavericks get revenge on Stars

Severn Stars set out their stall for this season with a stunning 59-55 victory over Saracens Mavericks at the Season Opener, but Camilla Buchanan’s side exacted their revenge in Round 17 with a 54-50 win in Worcester.

Mavericks have suffered from slow starts this season but were quick out the blocks on Saturday, establishing an 18-13 lead after the first quarter.

Stars fought to close the gap, Grace Namana sinking a number of long bombs with partner Sigi Burger there to mop up any loose efforts while Jo Trip and Jas Brown impressed at the other end.

It meant the gap closed to just two heading into the final quarter, but Mavs dug deep and produced a huge fourth quarter to re-establish their lead and take all three points.

The win continued Mavs’ encouraging finish to the season, with the return of Razia Quashie from injury again reaping rewards, as the goal keeper earned another Player of the Match award.

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