A magnificent second half fight back brought Mavericks a third time lucky prize last night, when they defeated Loughborough Lightning in the Grand Final of the Co-operative Netball Superleague at the K2 Crawley. The win ends Mavericks’ losing streak in Grand Finals, after they lost the previous two to TeamBath.
But the Hertfordshire based side was made to fight all the way by a spirited Loughborough Lightning side, who led 21-14 at half time, thanks to some superb shooting and mesmerising all-court work by 19 year old Jo Harten, who belied her youth with an exceptional performance that will have caught the eye of the England selectors who were watching ahead of the forthcoming Malawi test series. For the first half, Harten appeared to be everywhere, taking interceptions in midcourt and driving confidently into space in the circle to keep the scoreboard turning in Loughborough’s favour. At half time, Lightning were in control and appeared to be cruising to victory.
However, Mavericks reverted to a simple yet devastatingly effective game plan, using a direct long-ball into GS Louisa Brownfield to keep the Loughborough defence guessing. Karen Atkinson, in her final game before travelling to Australia to play for the West Coast Fever in the ANZ Championships, was in sparkling form, outwitting her opponents with a devastating turn of pace and used her first time release to keep the Loughborough defensive combination of GK Reid and GD Tomlin on the back foot. Meanwhile, in defence, the Mavericks’ England trio of Elsley, Newton and Siddall started to get the upper hand against Olivia Murphy, Jo Harten and Alex Wood, and slowly the tide started to turn Mavericks’ way. They outscored Loughborough 8-1 in the first seven minutes of the third quarter in a whirlwind of precision attacking, and closed the gap to only three with 15 minutes to play.
The capacity crowd was on the edge of its seat in the final quarter, as both teams gave their all to take the win. The teams went goal for goal at the start of the quarter before Jade Clarke made what could have been a key interception on the Mavericks’ attacking third line which, if scored, would have edged the advantage back to Loughborough. However, Atkinson was alert to the threat and stole the ball from Loughborough almost immediately, to give the initiative back to Mavericks. They took full advantage, drawing level at 34 all before establishing a six goal lead thanks to some clinical finishing from Louisa Brownfield and Michelle Hall. Loughborough surged once again, but Mavericks kept calm, and with Atkinson and Deb Jones playing patient possession netball in attack to find exactly the right feed, Lightning could not gain enough momentum to take victory.
Speaking after the match, Mavericks’ assistant coach Kendra Slawinski was thrilled: “What a fantastic result! Loughborough started really well but head coach Maggie Jackson and I always tell the girls to focus on one goal at a time and they did exactly that. The squad has worked extremely hard all season, and thoroughly deserves the win.”
Mavericks ended the regular league season in fourth place in the Co-operative Netball Superleague, having been without internationals Amanda Newton, Louisa Brownfield and Karen Atkinson during England’s World Netball Championships campaign. They defeated reigning champions TeamBath 50-37 in the first round of the play offs, before beating Team Northumbria 52-34 to take their place in the Grand Final. Amanda Newton was named Co-operative Player of the match for a superb defensive display.
Catch all the action on Thursday night, when the Grand Final will be shown on Sky Sports Xtra at 5.30pm on Thursday 10 April.
photo Getty Images
photo Getty Images