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Mary Cholhok and Jayda Pechova battle for the ball

Mary Cholhok and Jayda Pechova battle for the ball. Image: Ben Lumley

Loughborough Lightning sealed a home semi-final against Manchester Thunder as the 2023 Netball Super League regular season came to a close. 

Round 20 continued to bring the action as Dragons and Rhinos played out only the second draw of the season while Lightning posted another huge total.

There was also an impressive victory for Mavericks, with Thunder continuing their strong form ahead of their battle against Lightning on Friday.

Cholhok fires Loughborough to dizzying heights

Top of the charts with no signs of slowing down, Loughborough Lightning’s Mary Cholhok steered her team to an 82-57 victory over Team Bath in Round 20.

It sealed a home semi-final for Lightning, who head into Friday’s clash with Manchester Thunder as the league’s highest scorers fresh from another 80-plus performance on the board.

Cholhok claimed her 800th goal this season, sinking 61 against the Blue & Gold at the David Wallace Sports Hall.

There was also an emotional return to court for Beth Cobden, who made her first appearance of the season to thunderous applause after lengthy battles with injury as her team stormed to an early 21-11 lead in the first quarter.

The defender made an interception, two deflections and two turnovers as they battled against Asha Francis’ exciting young Bath side.

Sophie Kelly impressed as goal attack, claiming 26 goals while Annie O’Rourke and Lily Jones both made strong impressions in the final quarter.

Despite a strong second quarter comeback from the visitors, Lightning were in full control and ensured they would be back a week later for their 2022 Grand Final rematch against Thunder.

Mavericks stun Pulse 

The final game of the 2023 regular season produced one of the upsets of the season, as Saracens Mavericks beat leaders London Pulse 52-46 at the Copper Box.

It was the perfect send off for retiring captain Sasha Corbin, who signed off from her 18-year career with a win.

Victory also secured a fifth-place finish for Mavericks in Camilla Buchanan’s first season in charge, pipping Severn Stars to a place in the top half and capping a perfect end to a strong second half of the season.

It was just the second time Pulse have tasted defeat this term, bringing an end to a 13-match winning streak.

Monday night’s match was the first of three visits to the Copper Box for Pulse, with Sam Bird once again taking the opportunity to ensure all 12 players got plenty of court time ahead of the season finale this weekend.

All eyes will now turn to Friday night’s semi-final against Surrey Storm, where Pulse will hope to secure a third win of the season over Mikki Austin’s side and qualify for their first-ever Grand Final.

Rhinos and Dragons finish as equals

Celtic Dragons and Leeds Rhinos ended their 2023 Netball Super League seasons on equal terms with a thrilling 59-59 battle in Wales.

From start to finish, fans witnessed a brilliant back and forth game of netball, teasing victory for both sides before Dragons’ Rachel Dunn sealed a draw in the last few seconds.

One of the longest standing athletes in NSL history, Dunn joined Dragons for their Round 7 match against Surrey Storm and closed her season with a hard-fought draw on home soil.

Despite an early lead for Rhinos due to Vicki Oyesola’s defensive talents and Paige Reed’s incredible aim, the hosts refused to be put in a box and charged back in the opening quarter.

Player of the Match Gabby Sinclair was a force to be reckoned with under the post, with Ellie Bird matching her efforts on the other side of the court for Rhinos in her final game before retirement.

The Welsh side continued to hold a narrow lead for the majority of the game before a final push by Rhinos led to an exciting see-saw battle.

As Dunn sunk the final goal, she handed Rhinos their second draw of the season, having previously drawn with Strathclyde Sirens in Round 5.

Big guns return for Thunder

Kerry Almond and Shadine van der Merwe made their returns to court as Manchester Thunder downed Strathclyde Sirens 61-40 in Scotland.

Although they fell short of a home semi-final, the return of the defensive duo is a huge boost for Karen Greig as Thunder look to defend their title this week.

But competition for places in the defensive circle is seriously high, with goal keeper Josie Huckle shining with seven rebounds and nine turnovers.

Sirens were unable to score inside the opening five minutes as Thunder raced into a ten-goal lead, before strong play from Kelly Boyle and Beth Dix finally prised the circle open.

But the pinpoint accuracy of Thunder attacking trio Lenize Potgieter, Lois Pearson, and Nat Metcalf saw the lead run away from the hosts, who finished their season in eighth.

For Thunder, it was an encouraging warm-up ahead of Friday night’s trip to Loughborough, where they will look to continue their back-to-back dreams.

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