Report by Rona Hunnisett
Reigning champions TeamBath were made to battle all the way as they eventually edged past Mavericks 53-45 to retake the title at the Grand Final of the 2006-7 competition at the Guildford Spectrum centre this evening.
TeamBath, who came into the game with a perfect 14 wins from 14 matches this season, were forced to dig deep as Mavericks harried and hassled them into errors from the first whistle. Mavericks GK Janet Coulburne put in another storming performance, unsettling TeamBath and England GS Rachel Dunn from the first whistle, while her shooting partner Pamela Cookey was uncharacteristically subdued early on, taking only five shots in the first period. Meanwhile, for Mavericks, WA Karen Atkinson began an enthralling battle against TeamBath's WD Natalie Seaton, with both players well matched for speed and vision. Young Mavericks GS Jo Harten settled the nerves with an early goal, and with Dunn unable to settle, Mavericks moved out to lead 5-1 and 7-4 early on. However, the champions applied some pressure of their own, and worked their way back into the game. International colleagues Cookey, Dunn and Greenway drew on all their experience and patience to craft shooting opportunities, and with the shots now dropping for TeamBath, they trailed by only two goals 10-12 at the end of the first period.
TeamBath came out in determined fashion at the start of the second quarter, making an immediate interception, but were then rushed into uncharacteristic error by their opposition, and this exchange set the tone for the quarter. With both sides exerting immense pressure in defence, the crowd was treated to a feast of end to end action. TeamBath's Sara Bayman and Mavericks' Deb Jones refused to give an inch to each other in centre court, and with Natalie Seaton making a crucial interception to deny Mavericks in the final minute of the quarter, which Cookey converted, the champions had closed the gap to a single goal, 21-22, at the half time interval.
Team Bath coach Jan Crabtree replaced Sara Bayman with Jo Binns at the start of the third quarter, and her pace and anticipation had an immediate effect for the champions. Binns tipped several balls as Mavericks' centre court attempted to feed their circle, and her understanding was crucial in releasing Cookey into space in the Bath attacking third. Cookey responded with 7/8 for the quarter, and with GK Geva Mentor making a number of key turnovers to deny Mavericks shooting opportunities, the champions went ahead for the first time in the match. However, the challengers refused to be overawed, and with Brownfield scoring 9/9 for the quarter, and Atkinson continuing to swarm across the attacking third to support her shooters, the lead was only one goal 36-35 in favour of TeamBath with 15 minutes remaining.
GA Brownfield scored to take the scoreboard level once more at the start of the final period, but Mavericks could not capitalise on their next possession, with Mentor once again stealing possession to deny Harten a shooting opportunity, which was converted at the other end by Cookey. The period was nip and tuck, with neither team able to dominate, until the final four minutes of the period. After an injury time out, with the scores level at 45 all, Bath returned to the court with steely determination, and a frenzy of interceptions followed. Bath captain Billy Bowers, who had been inspirational all day, stole the ball from Harten, and Dunn obliged by converting to edge the champions ahead. With the crowd roaring and the atmosphere electric, Bath regathered their resolve and sensed that the win was theirs for the taking. Despite the best efforts of Mavericks, the champions could not be overhauled, and it was fitting that a Mentor interception was converted by a trademark piece of Cookey magic as the whistle blew. Final score TeamBath 53 Mavericks 45.
Coach Jan Crabtree was thrilled with her team's efforts: "Massive respect to Mavericks for the way they took us on today. I knew our opportunity would come, and it was then up to the team to take their chance, and I'm delighted that they did so with such control. It has been a superb season, and they should be very proud of their achievements."
For Mavericks, coach Maggie Jackson was philosophical: "It was a great game, and all credit to TeamBath, because they came out and won the match in the final minutes. I was really pleased with the way Mavericks came out and never stopped working at what we asked of them."
Starting line ups:
TeamBath: GS Rachel Dunn, GA Pamela Cookey, WA Tamsin Greenway, C Sara Bayman, WD Natalie Seaton, GD Billy Bowers, GK Geva Mentor Changes/substitutions: 3rd Q: C Jo Binns
Mavericks: GS Jo Harten, GA Louisa Brownfield, WA Karen Atkinson, C Deb Jones, WD Naomi Siddall, GD Amanda Newton, GK Janet Coulburne No changes.
TeamBath: Cookey 22/26, Dunn 31/41
Mavericks: Brownfield 28/34, Harten 15/19
Player of the Match: Geva Mentor
Umpires Bill Alexander and Judith Groves (Jo Kelly, reserve)
photos Janos Schmidt