The East Midland’s premier netball team, Loughborough Lightning, has finished the Co-operative Netball Superleague in pole position, three points clear of second place Northumbria, who they will face in the first of the playoff matches this Saturday (15 March).
The first quarter started rather scrappily, similar to Lightning’s previous two games. Neither side could create any rhythm and whilst Lightning was certainly creating turnover ball they weren’t converting enough to build a lead. In attack, Lightning looked fluent for the majority of the quarter but small unforced errors kept gifting the ball back to Hurricanes, keeping them in hot pursuit. At times Lightning took its lead out to four goals but Hurricanes consistently pulled it back. The first quarter ended with Lightning 15 -13 in front.
Alex Wood came off the Lightning bench for the second quarter, allowing Harten to move to GA. Lightning started to create more space around the edge of the attacking circle, but again, too many balls were going astray at the final feed in to the circle. The Lightning defence was working hard but with the ball being spilled as often as it was Hurricanes kept coming back. Vicklyn Joseph was having a great game for Hurricanes at GS and made the most of every opportunity that came her way. The quarter finished 11 all, which gave Lightning a two goal lead at half-time.
With such a small goal difference, going in to the third quarter, it could have been anybody’s game, but there was a real sense that Lightning had it in them to stretch the lead at any point. The expectant crowd finally saw Lightning put together a dominant display, moving the game out of Hurricanes reach. Becky James replaced Alex Wood in Lightning’s attacking line and fluency returned to their play across the court.
Kara Luck was having an impressive game at GA against Australian Lara Welham. Welham, normally a prolific scorer for Hurricanes, could only manage eight shots for the whole game and was shut down almost completely in the third quarter. Lightning’s attack put together a run of eight unanswered goals whilst the defence kept Hurricanes goalless for an entire five minutes, lifting the away team significantly clear for the first time. The third quarter ended 16-5, giving Lightning an overall lead of 13 goals.
The Hurricanes knew their chance had been and gone, but kept pressing all the way to the final whistle. Joseph continued to impress with her accuracy at GS but Hurricanes simply couldn’t get the ball to her enough to make a difference. Lightning was the stronger team in the final period but didn’t re-create their third quarter dominance. A few errors crept back in to their game but Lightning knew the match was won and minds were already turning to the play-off challenge this weekend. The final score was 58-40.
Player – coach Olivia Murphy said, “The error count in this game didn’t please me or coach Rose Port much, especially with the play-offs looming, but our defensive effort, which restricted Hurricanes to just 43 attempts all game, was very solid. If we can lift our game mentally just a notch or two against Team Northumbria this weekend we could be in with a chance of making the Superleague final.”
Lightning face Team Northumbria in the first playoff in Sheffield this Saturday (15 March). Tickets are available through www.englandnetball.co.uk. The winner of this game will then play in the Grand Final on 5 April. Other teams in the playoffs are two time champions Team Bath and last year’s runners up Mavericks.