Despite a phenomenal team effort, the East Midland’s premier netball team, Loughborough Lightning, couldn’t quite take the Co-operative Superleague title last weekend (5 April).
Lightning’s opponents, Mavericks, who have made all three Superleague finals but lost out to Team Bath in 2006 & 2007, were determined to take the win at the K2 in Crawley. The result was a surprise after the Lightning ended the regular season on top of the league, with two wins over Mavericks to their credit.
Lightning were fastest out of the blocks in a match which started at a furious pace. However, neither side could settle in to a rhythm as both defences played with breathtaking intensity in the opening minutes. Interceptions and errors at both ends of the court kept the crowd on the edge of their seats before Lightning shooter, Jo Harten, sank the first goal of the match. Loughborough then began to settle and their defensive pressure created two critical turnovers which Harten converted to push her team to a 9-6 lead at the end of the first quarter.
Harten’s efforts throughout the match, which included numerous midcourt interceptions as well as 24 of her side's goals, should have caught the eye of the international selectors, who were watching ahead of naming the England squad to face Malawi in a three-match Test series in two weeks' time.
Lightning’s all court pressure continued to yield results in the second quarter. Hannah Reid and Verona Tomlin played superbly in the Loughborough defence, whilst Mavericks struggled to find Brownfield, their international shooter. With a towering frontline of Harten and Alex Wood, introduced in place of Becky James, Lightning were also edging the contest at the attacking end. Their lead edged out to nine goals midway through the quarter, and the Lightning side appeared to be on top.
However, Mavericks drew on all their experience in the third quarter and slowly started to turn the momentum their way. Lightning’s all court defence slipped down a gear and Mavericks seized their chance. A run of five goals without response closed the gap to only five, and while Harten netted one in response, the momentum had swung to the Hertfordshire side.
The scores were level at 22-all six minutes in to the third quarter and Lightning’s lead had gone but they dug deep to keep the Hertfordshire team at bay. Trading turnovers and goals, the rest of the quarter was nip and tuck, but Lightning’s mental strength saw them through to take a 31-28 lead in to the final quarter. The sense of anticipation within the K2 was amazing as both teams stepped out for the final period of play.
The final 15 minutes were packed with action from some of the country’s best players, but sadly it was Mavericks who took the upper hand. Mavericks international defence of Amanda Newton and Naomi Siddall made life very difficult for the Lightning attack, physically contesting every ball and muscling their way to a series of turnovers. However Lightning kept fighting, despite going six behind at one point they never gave up. With the crowd roaring them on, Loughborough gave everything and scored four goals without reply to cut the lead to two. However Mavericks were not to be denied in their third final and they held their nerve to take the game 43-39.
Player-coach and former England captain, Olivia Murphy, said, “We were all distraught after the final whistle but the whole team should take pride in their performance. This was the best game of netball of the season, played between the two best teams in the Superleague.
“The Mavericks side was packed with experienced internationals in all areas of the court but we kept the result in doubt until the final minute. We produced a stunning display of powerful netball that would have blown away any other team in the country but on this occasion it wasn’t quite enough.”
Lightning will now be looking to regroup for next season and, having had a sniff of the title, be striving to get back to the final again.