If the Co-operative Netball Superleague was crafted by Hollywood scriptwriters, then they would have ensured that Surrey Storm versus Hertfordshire Mavericks would go head to head in the penultimate match of the season. It has history, rivalries (players and management), divided loyalties, top-level competition, a much wanted prize and often goes down to the wire - this proved no exception
Tamsin Greenway got the scoring underway and it was followed a Mavericks miss at the other end to take the home 2-nil up and they kept that two goal gap for another 50 minutes or so of the match. Storm had learned a lesson from the week before and got straight down to business. Mavericks were launching their trademark fast, flat passes down court and into skipper Louisa Brownfield. Their hosts were having a bit of trouble with the precision needed to lob goalkeeper Amanda Newton while giving shooter Rachel Dunn a decent punt at goal. This was real tussle and on a day when the netball refused to drop first time. Clearly, Amanda Newton had her game face on.
For fans of the fine art of defending this match was as good as any, with Newton especially displaying Bobby Moore-like skill in dispossessing her opponent and turning the ball round. When the ball headed towards the Storm circle in anything less than a controlled manner, the former England international was there to halt it with velcro fingertips and gather it safely in. Rachel Dunn was determined to get to the ball first, so much so in one case that a sprint for the ball off court almost saw the pre-fab TV studio demolished.
First centre was to Mavericks in the second quarter, but an interception from Janet Coulbourne circle-side allowed Storm the chance to extend their lead which they took. The players on both sides picked up from where they left off and that meant a battle for every ball. Every pass was hotly contested; the teams may have only been 20 minutes into the match but anyone just starting to watch could have been forgiven for thinking the clock was counting down. Everyone was being forced to work hard with the ball to find space and the pass, Rachel Dunn was still having an off-day by her high-standards. The quarter ebbed and flowed with first the home side, then their visitors edging it. Nothing much decided in that one.
There was some clever play in the third quarter. Netball can be a thinking game, as well as being instinctive and physical. The whistle started a bit of a mind match in the second half. In one play Natasha Hampshire outwitted the Mavericks defence to find Tamsin Greenway under the post, only to have the wily Mavericks keeper snaffle back the turnover. Storm had blasted out of the break and pushed another two goals in front, but failed to push home advantage and it was Mavericks who bagged the quarter win.
And so to the final countdown. Surrey Storm were defending their lead and only needed to stay in control and stay goal for goal with the team renowned for upping the ante in a knockout competition. Mental toughness is needed for pressure situations like that. Hertfordshire Mavericks have been there before, several times and prevailed; the previous week’s game against Thunder the most recent example .
With ten minutes on the clock and Mavericks landed two goals one after the other to pull level with Storm for the first time since the first whistle. This was now high-octane netball. No flinching from Louisa Brownfield, who netted all her shots in the quarter. The visitors then went ahead, Storm were playing catch up now. With six minutes on the watch they needed a turnover but it was not forthcoming in fact it went the other way and more precious seconds ticked by.
After such an outstanding season it was difficult to watch Rachel Dunn suffer agonies under the post, as she undershot three attempts to move the team back within one goal - every effort fell short and the hesitancy seemed to briefly infected her shooting partner , as Tamsin Greenway went on to also miss the kind of ‘sitter’ either usually could land with eyes closed. That sealed the result Storm ran out of puff with two and a half minutes to play and Mavericks were able to add three more and book a place in the Grand Final with a five goal win.
“It was a really good game tonight, but I think Mavericks always do it the hard way round.” said captain Louisa Brownfield who denied suggestions that a last quarter push is how they choose to grab the win. “It’s not a plan, definitely not a plan but what works for us works for us if we come out with the win I don’t think we’re that fussed about how we’ve done it.”
“We were dominating for about 55 minutes,” admitted Storm coach Mary Beardwood, “and the last five we didn’t play too well under pressure, basically.”
Hertfordshire Mavericks head coach Maggie Jackson is not the biggest fan of the ‘leave it late” tactic. She said “I can honestly say I do not want any more heart attacks on the bench”.
“I’m just very very proud of them today, I was proud of them last week and just think that gradually they’re coming together more and more.”
Hertfordshire Mavericks progress the Grand Final at Nottingham’s Trent FM Arena on 15th, May, 2010, where they will take on the reigning champions TeamBath.
By Lisa O’Sullivan
photo Getty Images
photo Getty Images