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Mixed Easter weekend for Team Bath Netball

It was a mixed Easter weekend for Team Bath Netball, who recorded an excellent derby victory over Severn Stars but missed a first chance to secure a Vitality Netball Superleague semi-final spot when they were edged out in a close contest against top-four rivals Saracens Mavericks.

A busy 48 hours, which saw all ten Superleague teams play on both Saturday and Sunday, ended with the Blue & Gold still sitting third in the table with just two games of the regular season to go.

The netball Bank Holiday bonanza began with Team Bath making the short journey to the University of Gloucester Arena to face a Stars side full of confidence after an away win over league leaders Manchester Thunder, their third successive victory since losing by ten goals at the Team Bath Arena in March.

However, it was the buoyant Blue & Gold who quickly took control of proceedings as an excellent first-quarter performance saw them open up a 17-12 advantage.

They continued to dominate during the second quarter, stretching their lead to 34-22 to half-time, before superb defensive pressure right across the court restricted Stars to just five goals in the third period as Team Bath went 46-27 clear.

With the following day’s game against Mavericks in mind, the visitors took the opportunity to give all 12 of their players a run-out and Stars were able to close the gap but only to 53-42 as Team Bath registered an important victory.

The only negative was an injury to wing-attack Rachel Shaw, which meant she had to sit out the televised Easter Sunday showdown at Coventry’s Ricoh Arena against a Mavericks side who – following Loughborough Lightning’s victory over Thunder – knew they had to win to maintain any realistic chance of reaching the semi-finals.

A fast, physical and competitive match saw Team Bath, with Mia Ritchie replacing Shaw at WA, open up a 12-8 lead in the closing stages of the first quarter, only for Mavericks to draw level going into the break.

It remained nip and tuck during the second period but Mavericks managed to edge into a 24-22 lead at half-time and the gap stayed at two during an absorbing third quarter.

Team Bath continued to battle during the final 15 minutes but Mavericks clinically took advantage of a couple of errors to gain some breathing space and went on to record a 51-45 victory.

That moves them back to within three points of the Blue & Gold and fourth-placed Lightning, both of whom are in turn just three points behind Thunder – Team Bath’s hosts in their penultimate match on Saturday (April 27, 5pm).

After the Mavericks game, Team Bath Netball Head Coach Jess Thirlby said: “It is small margins in this top five so it is an opportunity lost but we’ve got two more matches left to play.

“We had the opportunities, particularly early on, to stamp a bit of authority on the game and we didn’t which allowed Mavericks to grow in confidence.

“It was very even throughout and the kind of game we were expecting. I think Mavs are fantastic defensively, they close down space really well particularly inside the circle and I think we were left wanting a little bit.

“There were moments in the game where I thought we were very good but ultimately both teams spilled a lot of ball and we ultimately didn’t capitalise enough on Mavs’ errors.

“We’ve got to find a way to close out games like this. The error count is still too high and it’s costing us. We know that and we’re working on it but we’ve got two matches left and it’s time to put it out there now.”

After the trip to Manchester, Team Bath wrap up the regular season with a potentially decisive home match against Vitality Netball Superleague newcomers London Pulse on Saturday, May 4 (6pm centre-pass). Tickets are selling fast for the big match and can be purchased at netball.teambath.com or by calling 0844 888 4412.

Tickets are now available for the Vitality Netball Superleague Grand Final!

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

Image credit: Andrew Taylor Photography

Stars v Storm 4 - clivejonespr.com

Pivotal second quarter sees Stars beat Storm

A pivotal second quarter for Severn Stars saw them take the win against Surrey Storm in their second match in as many days.

After a sluggish start to the match, Stars found their momentum in a pivotal second quarter, as they took a 25-23 lead.  Though Storm continued to battle, threatening to steal the lead from Stars several times, Stars stayed strong, with a stellar defensive display and clinical attack.

Stars went into the game at the Ricoh Arena, as part of the Vitality Netball Superleague’s Big Easter Weekend, which saw all the teams in action twice, with everything to prove against an in-form Storm, after a disappointing loss to Team Bath the day before.

But they found themselves on the back foot from the off, as Storm took an early 2-0 lead. Stars defender, Sam Cook, provided a pivotal defensive stop allowing Stars to level the scores at 3-all after shooter, Maryka Holtzhausen, found fellow shooter Georgia Rowe with a beautiful pass under the post.

Stars defenders, Leah Kennedy and Cook, applied pressure making it hard for Storm to convert to goal but Storm held strong and extended their lead to two goals once again. Their defenders limited space for Stars, who struggled to convert in the attacking third, and Surrey led at the end of the quarter 15-12.

The second quarter opened with a Storm intercept on the Stars’ centre pass, but Cook responded instantly with an emphatic block on Sigi Burger’s shot, preventing them from extending their lead.

Stars looked to build momentum as Lucy Harris found Rowe alone under the post after clever play by Holtzhausen pulled the Storm defenders out of the circle, opening the space and allowing Stars to bring the score to 17-15.

Ward and Kennedy swapping positions in defence proved pivotal for Stars, allowing them to find their rhythm and space towards the end of the quarter and take the lead for the first time. Defensive pressure made it extremely hard for Storm to convert to goal and Stars went into the half-time interval 25-23 ahead.

It was goal for goal at the start of the third quarter, but it was Stars who pushed ahead and extended their lead to three (26-29).

Storm mounted a comeback and minutes later levelled the score. Stars responded to the pressure and regained control of the game, taking a three-goal lead after beautiful up-court play. Multiple mistakes from Stars allowed Storm to even up the score again, but once again Stars responded. Cook produced two consecutive defensive stops, but the quarter finished finely balanced, with Stars ahead 37-36.

After a cagey start to the fourth quarter from both teams it was Stars who edged ahead, taking advantage after defender, Cook, produced a flying defensive stop. Shooter, Rowe, was clinical under the posts, giving Stars a slim three goal lead after a defence splitting pass from Holzthausen. But Storm continued to plug away in defence, producing multiple defensive stops, to bring the score level at 42-all.

Holtzhausen fed a beautiful long-range ball into Rowe, giving Stars the lead once again and this provided the spark they needed to see out the game. Two quick fire goals allowed Stars to take a five goal lead with two minutes to go and this proved too much for Storm to come back from, giving Stars the victory, 51-46.

Stars’ Head Coach, Sam Bird, said: “I’m delighted for the squad to take an impressive win against Storm. We have been hit in our camp with sickness and injuries ruling out a number of our squad. However, I knew that, despite the loss against Bath, the performance had been good and we knew if we carried that forwards into the Storm game we would take the win. There were outstanding performances from Maryka, Jodi-Ann and Sam Cook – but also credit to the mid courters who had never played in that combination before and battled so well against an experienced Storm mid court. We now have four wins from five matches and want to push on for the last two.”

Stars next face Saracens Mavericks away on Saturday (April 27, 4pm), then return to the University of Worcester Arena to play Wasps Netball on May 4. For tickets visit www.ticketline.co.uk/netball-superleague-severn-stars#bio.

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

Image credit: Clive Jones

vicki oyesola lg

Lightning do the double over Thunder

Loughborough Lightning secured a resounding 60-57 victory over top four rivals Manchester Thunder on Sunday night, claiming them a second win in as many days for The Big Easter Weekend in Glasgow.

The opening quarter brought speed, ferocity and a hunger from both sides to secure that all important first lead. Going goal for goal for much of the first five minutes, the two sides seemed fairly evenly matched until Thunder turned the ball on a Lightning centre to gain that all important advantage for the first time. However, the away side only revelled for a moment as Lightning fought back and pulled the scores level. Next it was time for the home side, sporting white away dresses, to steal wide passes on the edge of Thunder’s circle for their own and send it down to a patiently waiting Cholhok to sink.

The second quarter started with even more intensity than the first. With neither side safe and all to play for, it was Lightning this time that took the early lead, securing the opening three points and giving them a slight edge. Far from happy with the errors that caused this lead, Thunder quickly recovered, retaliated and brought the score back. With both sides fighting tooth and nail to cause error and turn the ball, the physicality switched up a gear and it was contact calls that allowed Thunder to finish the half ahead by just two.

Looking to put out their third quarter magic, Lightning returned to court unchanged, with skipper Nat Panagarry leading the way at centre whilst young gun Everitt took up the WD bib. Flying interceptions from Panagarry matched with the speed of Oyesola who claimed loose passes on the edge of the circle, Lightning kept their focus and went through the game matching Thunder shot for shot. Taking a two-goal lead in the dying embers of the quarter, Lightning fell fault to an error in the defensive circle giving Thunder the opportunity for an on the buzzer shot to put them ahead by just one going into the final quarter.

With just 15 minutes left on the clock and a place in the final four on the line, Lightning stepped onto court with a surprising calmness. Thunder meanwhile increased their speed, with each turn of attack they used their years of team history to fire the ball into the circle, eager to put a gap between the two sides. However, coming together, staying calm and focusing on the task at hand, Lightning shut down all intentions of the opposition. Sticking to their game plan, each combination worked hard to create space, look after the ball and open up opportunity. Keeping their heads, Lightning put a three-goal lead on the board and as the clock ran down were named winners.

Head Coach Sara Bayman expressed her delight in the side’s victory: “It was a tense game, we knew it was going to be tight against thunder, it was backwards and forwards in terms of the lead and then we managed to get ahead in the final quarter and hold on which was really pleasing.

“The focus will now turn to Pulse, its always been about taking what’s in front of us and keeping our destiny in out own hands. Pulse are a real danger to us and we’ve got to go to them at home so it’ll be business as usual in preparing for that match.”

Captain, Nat Panagarry credited the team’s ability to focus as the key to the win: “I think believing in the process and what we can do and having the coaches telling us to keep to our task and the score will take care of itself really helps during the game, especially before that fourth quarter.”

After a stellar performance on court, Goal Keeper Tuaine Keenan was deservedly awarded Player of the Match.

Lightning are back on the road next weekend when they face London Pulse on Saturday at 4pm. They head home for the final round of the regular season on Saturday 4th May when they welcome Celtic Dragons to Loughborough University. Tickets are selling fast so secure your seats now to avoid disappointment. www.loughboroughlightning.com

Tickets are now available for the Vitality Netball Superleague Grand Final!

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

Image credit: Ben Lumley

hannah knights

Wasps Netball secure top four spot

Wasps Netball secured a spot in the Vitality Netball Superleague semi-finals with a 64-48 win against Celtic Dragons to round-off an Easter double-header at Ricoh Arena.

The league-leaders led throughout but were forced to battle for the three points in what was a physical contest.

The win completes a successful weekend for Mel Mansfield’s side, after defeating Surrey Storm 76-42 on Saturday evening.

Mansfield said: “We’re really happy with our performances this weekend and we’ve come out of two tough games without any injuries too.

“It was a good battle out there with Dragons. There were quite a few stoppages in play and that really affected the flow of the game.

“It was a great squad performance, Fran Williams and Jade Clarke had fantastic games.

“Our shooters battled well, they were under some pressure today and responded really well.

“That’s the semi-final spot secured now. We’re up in Scotland to face Sirens on Friday and that won’t be an easy fixture.”

Wasps scored four unanswered goals to open the game, with Jade Clarke proving the catalyst for success in the mid-court.

Kalifa McCollin scored the first goal of the game for Dragons, which sparked a run to bring the visitors back within three of their hosts.

A stoppage in play brought a halt to the Dragons’ momentum, as Clarke was forced to leave the court for treatment.

Fran Williams was the star for the home side throughout the first-quarter, highlighted by a series of interceptions to keep her side in the lead.

Both sides continued to go goal-for-goal until the close of the quarter and Dragons were able to sneak in a goal on the buzzer.

Clarke returned to the court for the second-quarter and inspired a run which saw Wasps lead by double-figures.

Rachel Dunn and Katie Harris battled with Dragons’ defenders Stacian Facey and Dee Bolakoro – as they tussled for space in the shooting circle.

Wasps’ shooting duo were able to come out on top, consistently scoring under pressure.

Sam May joined the action for the Black and Golds and immediately forced a turnover – helping her side to a 12-goal half-time lead.

Wasps maintained their momentum to start the second-half, with a flying interception from Clarke.

The third-quarter quickly became a physical battle, as Dragons looked to work their way back into the fixture.

Facey impressed at Goal Keeper for Dragons, doing well to disrupt the Wasps shooters. Play was halted for a second time due to blood on the court, with Josie Huckle replacing Fran Williams for the hosts as the quarter came to a close.

Wasps opened the fourth-quarter in clinical attacking form, with Harris and Dunn seemingly unable to miss when presented with opportunities.

Clarke and Msomi proved integral in creating space for the shooting pair, as Wasps stretched their lead to 17.

Tamsin Moala was introduced with two minutes to play, as the Black and Golds registered a 64-48 win.

Williams was named Player of the Match for the first time in her Vitality Netball Superleague career.

Tickets are now available for the Vitality Netball Superleague Grand Final!

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

Image credit: Clive Jones