With Lightning riding high in the league and the Dragons having a tough season so far, this was an ideal opportunity to try out different things and two young players, Jo Harten and Sarah Jane Sullivan, both had their debut performances at home in Lightning colours.
The opening performance of Harten, England’s young shooting sensation, recently transferred from Team Bath, didn’t disappoint a capacity crowd. Harten, at just 18 years of age, has had an impressive netball career already, having represented England in the under 17, 19 and 21 teams. Last season she played for the Mavericks and scored the winning goal against Lightning in the semi-final playoffs.
The crowd were surprised to see Harten on the Lightning bench for the first quarter but the impressive way James (GS) and Stephenson (GA) started made the crowd wonder when, or if, Harten may get on. Lightning’s team play was crisp and sharp, movement was good and the ball was finding its way in to the attacking zone with ease. Once in the circle James and Stephenson were on song shooting at 88% for the quarter and racking up 21 goals. Defensively Kara Luck was having another strong game and Sarah Penny took full advantage of her chance to get court time by dominating the Dragons GS.
The second quarter saw Stephenson leave the court to give Harten her first run out for Lightning. Almost immediately she linked well with James and together they gave the Dragon’s defence with a torrid time. At the other end of the court Jade Clarke (WD), in her first home game since the World Championships, looked strong as part of Lightning’s defensive trio, picking off balls outside the shooting circle. With Lightning’s mid-court controlling play it was one-way traffic and they didn’t miss a single shot, netting another 21 goals to finish the half 42-15 ahead.
The second half saw the home debut of Sullivan (WA) in place of Hampshire amongst a string of Lightning team changes. Not surprisingly the fluency slipped a little moving forwards and occasionally the ball went astray as new combinations struggled to find each other. However Lightning coach Rosie Port must have been happy to see her team put away another 17 goals despite the unease.
The final quarter saw Port rework the mid-court again with Clarke returning in place of Murphy (C) and Stephenson (GA) coming back on. At this point Lightning stuttered slightly in relation to their outstanding play in the first half. Clarke and Sullivan didn’t immediately gel with Stephenson and Harten, but they were still the dominant team. Lightning’s defence restricted the Dragons to only 11 shots, allowing Lightning to take the quarter 14-8, sealing an emphatic 73-34 win.
Player-coach, Olivia Murphy said, “This was a strong team performance made all the more impressive by the use of so many different combinations and new players. We were delighted to have Jo Harten slot in to the attacking line-up so well and shoot at 90% accuracy in her first game. Sullivan’s performance at WA also showed her potential for the future and the depth of talent we have in the team. This win lifts us closer to the top of the table as Northumbria dropped a point against Hurricanes.”
Lightning’s next game is away against Team Northumbria, on Saturday 26th January. The next home game is on Saturday 2nd February against Northern Thunder. Tickets are available in advance on the ticket hotline, Tel: 01509 226250, or through the website: www.loughboroughlightning.com or on the door (depending on availability) at Netball Centre. At £5 a ticket for adults and £3 for concessions, the game works out as a bargain priced night out for all.