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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

twitter-In-Stream_Wide___Image 2 - credit Mark Pritchard

Stars victorious over league leaders Thunder

Severn Stars took three points from table toppers Manchester Thunder in a continuation of a rollercoaster Vitality Netball Superleague season. An all-round composed performance from the whole squad saw them earn the away victory at the Belle Vue Sports Village.

Head Coach, Sam Bird, praised her players on their current form, “A super third win in a row for the squad. I’m particularly proud of the performance as beating Thunder in Manchester is always a challenge, but the squad executed the game plan to the best of their ability and it paid off.”

After winning against Dragons and Sirens in recent matches, Stars travelled to Manchester on Saturday, April 13th determined to keep their run of wins. They came out firing in the first quarter with familiar turnovers from Sam Cook and Jodi-Ann Ward converted by Georgia Rowe. Stars took a small lead of two goals, but this was quickly reversed by top of the table Thunder converting three in a row to end the first quarter 13-11.

Lucy Harris moved to centre and Iona Darroch to wing attack into the second quarter, but Stars started poorly and went down by five goals early on with the score at 19-14. More turnovers from the Stars defensive unit, incredible spring from Ward and repeated shooter contact on Cook meant that Stars went on a scoring streak, taking the lead to 19-20 with seven consecutive goals against the home side.

Despite changes in the Thunder circle Stars took a convincing lead, 21-25.

Thunder made several substitutions going into the third quarter and Stars kept their format, extending their lead to 28-33. The away side lost their flow and brought on Shona O’Dwyer at wing attack, moving Darroch to back centre but Thunder didn’t miss their chances and the score was neck and neck at 36 all.

With a huge 15 minutes to play for both sides Harris came back to the court at wing attack and Thunder took the lead for the first time since the second quarter, 37-36. After thrilling end to end netball it was down to Stars to stay composed, protect the ball and convert their chances. They did just that and with more spectacular turnovers from Cook, Stars earnt the 47-50 victory.

Sam Bird said, “We knew we had to disrupt Thunder’s rhythm and isolate key players and we did that well. A good day for the club and we look to continue to work hard this week as we approach the double header weekend.”

Stars next face Team Bath on Saturday, April 20 (6pm) at the University of Gloucestershire Sports Arena. Tickets are sold out, however tickets are available for their last home game of the season versus Wasps on Saturday, 4th May (6pm) at the University of Worcester at 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: Mark Pritchard

Severn Stars v Thunder 2 - clivejonespr.com

Any team can win on the day, says Stars’ Coach

Severn Stars’ Head Coach, Sam Bird, has acknowledged that her team go into their match against top of the table Manchester Thunder as underdogs, but says any team on its day can triumph.

Her side come to the match at the Belle Vue Sports Village, in Manchester, on Saturday (April 13, 5pm) full of confidence following their first back-to-back wins of the season, against Celtic Dragons and Strathclyde Sirens.

“Manchester Thunder are performing well at the moment and are deservedly at the top of the table,” said Bird.  “We are underdogs for this match but, as we have already seen this season, any team on its day can take the win.  Historically we have always enjoyed our matches against them and we have run them close in previous occasions. We are looking forwards to taking them on at the weekend.”

Though Thunder came away the victors at the match at the University of Worcester Arena in February 49-62 and will be looking for a win to maintain their three point lead over Wasps, Bird said her players have been working hard to finish the last few games of the season on a high.

The training paid off last weekend when they delivered a 49-40 victory over Strathclyde Sirens at the University of Gloucestershire Sports Arena.  The team maintained a narrow lead throughout the match, then pulled away in the final quarter.  This followed a thrilling win against Celtic Dragons.  Five goals down with the final quarter to go, Stars staged a comeback with a nine goal run unanswered to lead the match at one point by four goals with four minutes to go.  They went on to take the win, 52-53.

“We have had back to back wins ourselves and the players are still keen to push on with stronger performances in the next phase of the season,” added Bird. “We have been focusing on our transition play and capitalising on scoring off ball we win.”

Tickets for the next Stars home game against Team Bath, at the University of Gloucestershire Sports Arena, on April 20 (6pm), are available at www.ticketline.co.uk/netball-superleague-severn-stars#bio.

Tickets are now 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!

Photo credit: Clive Jones