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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.

For Big Easter Weekend tickets at the Ricoh Arena click here

Storm vs Pulse - Steve Porter

Surrey Storm edge out London Pulse

Surrey Storm edged a tight, tension-filled game at the Sports Park arena to record a second vital victory of the week.

The lead changed hands several times throughout an enthralling 60 minutes but a resurgent Storm finally came out on top for a win which Mikki Austin declared perhaps more impressive than Monday’s win against Lightning.

Storm raced into an early 10-6 lead but seemingly within seconds Pulse had reduced that to one goal and thus it remained. Storm led 17-15 at the end of Q1 but steadily the visitors wrestled back control through Q2. They edged in front for the first time midway through the second period but the introduction of Rhea Dixon at GA helped to redress the balance somewhat.

Pulse led by three at half-time but that only spurred Storm into a comeback of their own. Within five minutes of the restart they had turned a three-goal deficit into a five-goal lead as Pulse managed to add just one to their total.

Grierson replaced Wells in attack for Pulse and they clawed their way back into the game to give Storm just a one-goal lead at the end of Q3. Then it was Pulse’s turn to force their way in front going into the final ten minutes but steadily Storm rose for one final time.

Mikki Austin’s bullet pass fed Burger to put Storm in front, 54-53, with two-and-a-half-minutes remaining and excellent game management allowed the hosts to see out the closing stages with a degree of control. Appropriately, it was Burger who netted the final goal to send Storm into next weekend’s Big Easter double-header with huge confidence.

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: Steve Porter