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Mikki Austin excited for Big Easter Weekend

Surrey Storm head to Coventry buoyed by two fantastic wins and excited at the prospect of a Big Easter Weekend on the road.

Storm face joint Vitality Netball Superleague leaders Wasps Netball on home turf at the Ricoh Arena on Saturday, followed by Sky Sports’ live game against Severn Stars on Sunday – and Mikki Austin is feeling the nervous anticipation as the season draws to a thrilling climax.

“It’s really stressful, I won’t lie,” she only half-jokes at the prospect of preparing for two games in 24 hours. “I’m sure it’s a bit of an unknown quantity for us all, but you have to get behind any event where we can showcase the ferocity and intensity of our sport, so I’m looking forward to it.”

Austin knows that both games will provide a stern test of Storm’s excellent recent form but, she recognises, the pairings have also provided valuable opportunities. “Luckily, we’re playing two opposition who play slightly similar styles, so our game plan will be more based around us and our ability to execute better in our core areas. When we’re facing two completely separate opposition, we can’t break them down this closely back-to-back.”

The old adage of letting the opposition worry about you surely also applies, after two hugely impressive wins earned in contrasting circumstances, against Loughborough Lightning and London Pulse.

“I was probably more proud of our victory versus Pulse, for completely different reasons,” admits Mikki, who saw her team come from behind to snatch a late win for the first time in 2019. “We went to Lightning with zero pressure, but then Pulse was one of the most topsy-turvy games we’ve been in this season. We’re really impressed that we managed to grind out a performance and for the last four minutes click our minds into gear!

“For that I’m really proud, and I told the girls that we will learn more about ourselves and each other from winning that game than we will any other game.”

The next two fixtures follow a similar pattern – one side, Wasps, chasing Vitality Netball Superleague glory; the other, Stars, finding form after a disappointing start to the season – and Mikki is well aware that the end of the season will perhaps come at the wrong time for Storm.

“After this weekend we’ve got two games left and that’s it. I can’t believe that! It’s that old wives’ tale of not wishing your life away,” she laughs. “But it’s ‘shoulda woulda coulda’… had we have found our form marginally earlier, what would we have done? I don’t think we’ve ever lacked form in the whole, I think it’s just been tying that together for 60 minutes.

“I’m looking forward to the challenge of the next four rounds. There’s a lot of stress in making sure we’re well prepared and we see improvement. We constantly want more, but what happens in two weeks’ time when I don’t have a game to prepare for? To be honest, I’m a little bit scared of that.”

At least this weekend offers up a rare first in Mikki’s 10 years in the Vitality Netball Superleague – the prospect of an overnight stay and a chance to enjoy the company of her team-mates away from the court.

“We’ve literally never had a Storm sleepover! At NPL level you tend to go away and stay over but you don’t really ever do it in the Vitality Netball Superleague, because you’re all working full time, so I’m really looking forward to that.”

Inevitably, though, Mikki’s attentions will soon turn back to Sunday afternoon rather than which Saturday night film to enjoy.

“I’ve tasked a couple of the girls with games night or movie night, whilst I’ll be really unsociable doing video analysis and stats. That’s why I get to call myself the Director, unfortunately… it’s a blessing and a curse all wrapped up into one!

“But I’ll be good it’ll be good for us to spend some time together away from netball, to give us that mental refresh going into the second game,” she highlights, knowing that fatigue can be in the brain as much as in the body.

“As seriously as we take it, it’s important that we give ourselves a mental break and have that downtime, because then ultimately they give me and the team their best when they step out onto court. This league is brutal and unforgiving, and being able to give that extra one percent might be the difference.”

Tickets for both days of the BIG Easter Weekend are still available – click here for full details.

Image credit: Surrey Storm 

Jodi-Ann Ward 3 - credit Andrew Taylor

Jamaican international Ward looking forward to double-header

Severn Stars defender Jodi-Ann Ward says the team is really positive going into this weekend’s matches against Team Bath and Surrey Storm.

Severn Stars have been preparing for the Vitality Netball Superleague Big Easter weekend as they take on Team Bath on Saturday 20 April (6pm centre pass) at the University of Gloucestershire Sports Arena before travelling away to the Ricoh Arena in Coventry to play Surrey Storm on Sunday 21 April (4pm centre pass).

After three wins on the bounce, including an away win against top of the table Manchester Thunder last Saturday (13 April), 24-year-old Jamaican international Ward says the squad are in a buoyant mood.

“Beating [Manchester] Thunder is a great accomplishment for the team,” she said. “We are very pleased with the performance of the entire squad. We played for each other from start to finish. We still had a few rough patches on court and we fixed them on court, which was one thing we didn’t do well in most of our previous games.

“At the moment we are really motivated and positive going forward. Bath and Storm are both strong teams but we were struggling in a few areas when we last played them. With those areas fixed we should perform well against them this time around.”

Ward, who won a bronze medal with Jamaica at the Commonwealth Games in 2018 and developed a love for the sport over a number of years when she started playing for Moneague Primary School in St. Ann, joined Severn Stars this season. Ward said: “For me I think the team have come a long way from when we started the season. The connections have grown a lot within the team. The links from defence through court to attack have improved significantly and our circle connections both in attack and defence have improved as well.”

Talking about the playing for the Severn Stars, Ward said: “I had to adjust to the way the team plays, which I feel I’m doing well at. I think the best thing about playing for Severn Stars is that everyone is open to changes and new ideas. And the players are [there] for each other.

“Playing in the UK took a lot of adjusting, mainly with weather. I’m not a fan of the everyday cold but I think I am adjusting well. I know what to expect daily – always walk with a jacket!”

Tickets for the Severn Stars’ home games can be purchased via www.ticketline.co.uk/netball-superleague-severn-stars#bio

Tickets are still available for the Vitality Netball Superleague Big Easter Weekend!

Make sure you’re following the Vitality Netball Superleague on Twitter for the latest news and updates!

Image credit: Andrew Taylor

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Wasps out to secure top-four finish

Wasps Netball are looking to secure a top-four finish this Easter weekend in a Vitality Netball Superleague double-header at Ricoh Arena.

The Black and Golds are currently in second position in the table and trail league leaders Manchester Thunder on goal difference.

Mel Mansfield’s side face Surrey Storm on Saturday 20 April (5pm centre-pass) and challenge Celtic Dragons the following day (2pm centre-pass) – with both games taking place at Ricoh Arena.

The fixtures form part of the bumper Big Easter Weekend in Coventry, which will see six teams compete in five matches across the weekend.

Head Coach Mansfield says her team come into the weekend in fine form and in the perfect position with four games remaining in the regular season.

“We’re in a really good position and it’s in our hands,” said Mansfield.

“To go into Easter weekend joint-top, with two goals separating us from the league leaders, you can’t ask for more than that.

“The win against Saracens Mavericks on Monday was huge. Beating Team Bath prior to that was vital too. We have played some brilliant netball recently and the team are very confident right now.

“Now we’re looking to keep that momentum going. Our performances have been by no means perfect, and it’s up to us to fix that in training so we are at our best come the semi-finals.”

This weekend will be the only occasion this season that Wasps have played Superleague fixtures on consecutive days.

The two matches will mark the final regular season games of the campaign at Ricoh Arena for Wasps.

Mansfield is looking forward to the challenge and says it will give her players a chance to spend time with each other away from the court.

She said: “It’s a great opportunity for us to have some social time together in Coventry.

“One of the reasons why this group has seen success in the last couple of years is that they all enjoy each other’s company – which contributes to a strong team culture.

“We’ve got great strength in depth in our squad and that is a big bonus for us this weekend. It allows us to use that depth to give players adequate rest and recovery.

“We’re well aware that facing Surrey Storm and Celtic Dragons will be tough fixtures as we look to secure that top-four spot.

“Storm come into the weekend in good form and Dragons are coming off a win too. They will both throw everything at us and we have to be ready for that.”

Saracens Mavericks and Celtic Dragons will feature in the second match on Saturday, with Surrey Storm v Severn Stars and Team Bath v Saracens Mavericks completing the schedule on Sunday.

Tickets are available for the Big Easter Weekend at Ricoh Arena from www.ticket.englandnetball.co.uk

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Q&A: Sirens’ Claire Maxwell and Cat Tuivaiti

Strathclyde Sirens blazed their trail onto the Vitality Netball Superleague scene two years ago and are out to shake things up in 2019.

They laid down a marker at Super 10 with an impressive 56-38 victory over Surrey Storm before suffering a 55-45 defeat to five-time champions Team Bath in Round 2.

We caught up with Claire Maxwell and Cat Tuivaiti to talk female icons, their thoughts on the team’s strengths and the Vitality Netball World Cup.

Who are your female icons and why?

Claire: I love Serena Williams because I feel like she’s a strong female in the world. She’s very powerful, very dominant and she does it in her own way as well. She’s had some hard press in her life and she’s pushed through and she’s determined and she’s the best in the world at what she does.

Cat: There’s a New Zealand shot putter called Valerie Adams, she’s very successful. I think I admire her a lot because I couldn’t possibly imagine being in a sport where you only had yourself. I think I spend a lot of time leaning on my teammates and management and everyone else. She’s been in a solo sport for so long and been so successful, she’s overcome some pretty big barriers and she’s been the best at her craft for around 10 years so I admire everything about her, she’s pretty incredible.

What do you think your team’s main strengths are?

Claire: We’ve got that grit and determination that’s never short of our game and I think it’s part of our trademark so you know whoever we’re against we’re going to fight for that ball for the full 60 and never give up and I’m really proud that that’s one of our key strengths as a team.

What are your expectations for the team?

Cat: I think I hold learning quite high on the list. I think there are some very young girls coming through and a number of Scottish players which is really good for Scottish netball at the moment with the Vitality Netball World Cup coming up as well. We just want to rock the boat, we want to shake up the competition a little bit – it’s going to happen.

With the Vitality Netball World Cup fast approaching, what impact will this have on the league?

Claire: The league is getting bigger and bigger in terms of the amount of people that are actually watching our sport and taking note of it, which is fantastic. There are so many people who come for the first time and then they love it which they don’t expect to do which I think is such a thing about our sport. Something we can be really proud of is that we take people by surprise with how athletic it is so the audience is growing and growing. I think that’s going to become even more evident at the Vitality Netball World Cup and with so many players bidding for a World Cup place – whether it’s in the England team, ourselves, etc. – you know it’s going to make it one of the best leagues in the world.

Get your tickets for the Vitality Netball Superleague Big Easter Weekend!