Of the three matches took place on Saturday, looking at the results with last season’s finishing positions in mind, there were no real surprises.
Manchester Thunder continued their quest for back-to-back titles with a 65-56 over Severn Stars; Loughborough got their first win on the board beating Strathclyde Sirens: 59-53 and Team Bath also made it two-from-two as they overcame a plucky Celtic Dragons to win: 71-52.
But on closer inspection, none of the matches was smooth sailing affairs for the winning sides. In fact Stars, Sirens and Dragons were all within the touch of their competitors throughout the game.
Manchester Thunder 65-56 Severn Stars
Straight out of the gates and Thunder, in much the same manner as they did against Wasps one week prior, got on the scoreboard quickly. The connection between Eleanor Cardwell and her centre court was quickly apparent and it wasn’t long before Stars were 8-3 down. Sensing a need for greater defensive cohesion Stars began to apply more pressure and too, work the ball more effectively into goal. Overcoming much of the deficit before their Stars trailed by only one at the end of the first quarter: 13-14.
Early substitutions saw Caroline O’Hanlon come on for the reigning Champions, whilst Stars brought on Lucy Herdman. Stretching their legs it was Thunder who came out on top of a bitterly fought second quarter, 26-30.
Former Thunder playmaker Liana Leota continued to pull the strings for Stars in the attack, keeping her side in contention at the University of Worcester Arena. It wasn’t until the fourth quarter that Thunder were truly able to quell the Kiwi’s impact. With six minutes to go Stars had resiliently bought the goal difference to within six, but fighting the clock as well as the 2019 champions proved too tall an order for home team and with Joyce Mvula consistently providing the shots, Thunder extended their lead to take the win.
Loughborough Lightning 59-53 Strathclyde Sirens
With both teams having lost out in round one the quest for redemption was apparent in the Sir David Wallace Arena and it was Sirens that answered the call first. Causing all sorts of problems for Loughborough’s attack the Scottish side seized the initiative and established an impressive nine-goal lead after the whistle for quarter one sounded: 16-7.
Sensing a need for some change, Lightning’s head coach Sara Bayman introduced Vicki Oyesola to the court at wing defence. Bolstering the defensive unit and offering much-needed fluidity in the attack, Oyesola’s impact with significant from the get-go, contributing to three unanswered Lightning goals. Surely undoing the deficit it wasn’t long before the half time arrived and the scores sat at 25-25 apiece.
The second half presented a test of the psychological resilience of Sirens. With Ella Clark and Mary Cholhok being well fed by the Lightning attack there was little the away team could do to stop the hosts inching ahead.
Sensing that it was theirs for the taking, the fourth quarter opened with Lightning extending their lead. With a last gasp of effort Sirens at one stage reduced the difference between them and Lightning to just six, before the clock entered the fray and had its say. The three points ultimately went to Loughborough Lightning.
Team Bath 71-52 Celtic Dragons
In the opening minutes it was Dragons who took the early lead. Much like their start at Arena Birmingham, they pounced on the opportunity to go ahead, made possible, of course, by Dragons’ newest import Latanya Wilson. However, it wasn’t long before the visitors got going and once they did things evened out. The score at the end of the first quarter was 13-all.
How the rest of the game unfolded after the tight contested of the first quarter was determined by a series of contact calls given against Wilson. In the third quarter, as Bath began to assert themselves, the Jamaican was sent to the sin-bin for two minutes. Abby Tyrrell alone in the circle did well to stop Bath making too much of the six-player side.
Back on and keen to prove her worth Wilson was again called for contact after a dangerous arm found the opposition’s neck and per the system of escalation Wilson was sent off leaving Dragons with just six players for the rest of the game.
The score-line eventually blew out. Tyrrell, awarded player of the match no doubt for her valiant one-person efforts, could not quell the rising Bath tide. The fluidity of their attack now as sharp as it was last weekend. The visitors made it two-from-two leaving Dragons empty-handed.
Monday’s games were expected to be closer affairs and in every way, they delivered but of course, with twist and turns.
London Pulse 51-50 Surrey Storm
It was a triumphant start for Pulse, so much so it caught nearly everyone by surprise, not least Surrey Storm. Playing with real confidence in attack and captain Halimat Adio pairing ruthlessly with Lindsey Keable in defence, the home side fell quickly away from the visitors and the score at the quarter’s end was 19-6.
Desperately needing change, Storm bibs were swapped around. Sophie Hankin came into the goal attack position and Lorraine Kowalewska into the goalkeeper, and together these two switches fundamentally changed the course of Storm’s fate. With Kowalewska taming Sigi Burger at goal shooter and Hankin opening up Karyn Bailey it wasn’t long before the despairing home crowd had something to cheer on. The storm brought things to within four at the end of the half.
Streams of unforced errors from the London outfit meant that invitation to close the gap from Storm stayed present. Urged on by a sold-out crowd Storm seized the lead from Pulse for the first time in the game, leaving the tables suddenly turned; the fourth and final quarter was anyone’s game.
Reverting Pulse’s attacking unit back to its starting formation, things looked to be brighter for Pulse but the player of the match Kowaleswka was still having her say, and still turning things in favour of Storm. At one point six goals was the difference between the two sides, and it looked to be insurmountable as the clock wound down. Cue 17-year-old Funmi Fadoju. Two matching-winning interceptions appeared seemingly out of nowhere and with patient play and delivery Pulse took back the lead with 55 seconds remaining. They then went on to win the utterly breathless encounter.
Wasps Netball 57-53 Saracens Mavericks
With both teams keen to assert themselves as title challengers this showdown at the Ricoh was always set for big things. It was Wasps who started out strong, establishing an early three-goal lead, but the visitors promptly responded with their own string of three goals. Backwards and forwards the ball continued to go with very little in it until an intercept from veteran Jade Clarke enabled the Black and Gold to take a two-goal lead into the second quarter: 14-12.
Coming out of the break firing, Mavericks showed early intent putting up three goals straight away drawing things back to level. However, with the help of the new partnership between Rachel Dunn and Alexia Baker Wasps were able to find the energy they needed to resurge and with some interceptions coming out of Fran Williams in the home side’s defence, Wasps were able to pull away from Mavericks.
In a similar pattern to the second quarter, Mavericks undid the six-goal deficit before them drawing things back once more to level in the third quarter. Responding to the challenge, Head coach Mel Mansfield made a game-changing call in introducing Katie Harris in at goal attack and sending Baker to wing attack. The connection between the three was immediately apparent and with some turnover ball offered by Amy Flanagan in the centre court, Wasps found the lead once again.
The final quarter was one that belonged to the Wasps defence. Williams and captain Hannah Knights were able to help their team extend their lead and keep the visitors at bay. This time, there was no fightback from Mavericks and as the whistle blew their fate was sealed.
Turning ahead to this week, here is the fixture list you need to stay up to date:
- Friday 6th March:
- Surrey Storm v Strathclyde Sirens
- Team Bath v Wasps Netball
- Saturday 7th March:
- Saracens Mavericks v Severn Stars
- Manchester Thunder v Loughborough Lightning
- Monday 9th March
- London Pulse v Celtic Dragons
- Casey Stoney and Kelly Smith return to the pitch
- UEFA announce venues for 2022 and 2023 Champions League finals
- Marta Tejedor has left Birmingham City by mutual agreement