Finishing in 4th in the regular season last week, Lightning secured themselves a place in the play-offs after beating Celtic Dragons in their final home game of the season. The 2019 league has kept netball fans on the edge of their seat’s week in week out with surprise losses and wins in every round. Wasps were the only side going into the final round to have secured a place in the top four, leaving four teams to battle it out for the remaining three.
Wasps and Lightning carried a huge history and rivalry into the semi-final with Lightning losing out on the Grand Champions status twice to the side in as many years. This season saw Lightning suffer a heavy loss in the opening round before coming back to defeat the fellow midlands side by just one point in the return leg. This meant the semi-final match really could go either way, thus drawing in a sell-out crowd of both Lightning and Wasps fans, eager to cheer their side to victory.
A fast and furious opening to the game saw what was quite possibly Lightning’s best start to a match all season where they turned up the heat, closed down Wasps attack and left the home side slightly shell shocked as they struggled to find openings and convert their goals. New addition to the Lightning side this year, Mary Cholhok, who made the move from Uganda, look calm and collected despite the importance of the game and began to tot up points on the clock, ignoring the increasing pressure from Wasps experienced defence.
Down at the defensive end, Keenan and Oyesola, kept close to their shooters and pushed them wide on the circle, whilst Panagarry and Shaw battled for each and every ball, leaving Wasps no option but to attempt the shot. The combinations of this attack put Lightning in the lead at the end of the opening quarter.
With the game far from over, Wasps returned to court with a ferocity in their step and used their physical nature, speed and history with one another to shut down Lightning’s game plan and take the lead they’d initially hoped for. Plenty of rough and tumble saw England stalwart Jade Clark and fellow Roses teammate Nat Panagarry go head to head a number of times in a desperate attempt to turn the ball for their side. Wasps ended the first half ahead by just three.
(Photo by Ben Lumley)
The third quarter of the match saw Lightning make vital turnovers only to follow with unwanted error, allowing the home side further opportunity to increase their lead. With Wasps turning up their physicality levels once again, Lightning began to look frustrated at the speed in which Wasps converted their turnovers before returning to their own centre passes. Joseph’s expert feeds and ability to pause the game and wait for the shooters to move into position however meant that Cholhok and Clark continued to sink the shots despite Wasps increased lead.
With a gap of nine and just 15 minutes keeping them from a place in the Grand Final, Lightning faced a huge challenge on their hands. Making changes to her side, Bayman switched up the defence and centre court moving Everitt to WD and switching Panagarry into C in an attempt to add a new combination and a new challenge for the opposition to adjust to. With Cholhok calling for injury time, Clinton also took to the court in the final minutes which gave Wasps yet more opportunity to push on and widen their lead whilst Lightning regained momentum with new groupings. Amidst the noise of the sell-out crowd, Wasps showed grit and determination, eager to get to a third Grand Final and claim the opportunity to defend their title and in doing so, took their lead to a whopping twenty goals. With the clock ticking down, it was too little too late for Lightning, leaving the coaching team with the opportunity to give bench players vital court time.
In Head Coach Sara Bayman’s first year with Lightning and indeed first year as a coach, after making the switch from player before the season began, her success with the side should be noted, after many critics ruled the side out of top four contention early in the season. The young side (75% of the side are under the age of 25) took large defeats in the opening round before going on to secure seven wins in a row, putting them firmly back in the game and a danger to the more established, experienced sides.
“We went into this match as the underdogs and it wasn’t a bad position to be in, there’s less pressure and you can go in and have a crack and that first quarter showed that. Wasps are a quality side, they tightened up their defence and we just gave too much ball away.
“It’s been great to be able to give most of the players court time throughout the season, there’s been times when we haven’t been able to get everyone on as much as we’d like. Tonight, we needed to change things, the fresh legs gave us an injection of energy even though it didn’t get us to where we wanted to be.”
Having captained her side to three consecutive semi-finals, Nat Panagarry was keen to remind everyone of the progress the side have made this season;
“I think it was a great first half in what was a very intense game. In that second half it wasn’t good enough from there were too many balls given away, we just didn’t have that connection and it wasn’t meant to be unfortunately.”
“Despite this, this squad has come so far this season, we lost to Wasps by thirty goals on that first day and a lot of people wrote us off getting into top 4. There are a lot of teams this year that would kill for this position and we’ll still be there next week fighting for that third sport. To say that we’ve come this far and with Sara coming in as a new coach it’s been amazing to have gotten to where we have. I’m really proud of the team and there’s so much potential and definitely more to come from us in the next few years.”
Lightning have one final hurdle to jump before the season closes as they now prepare for the 3rd/4th playoff which takes place just hours before the Grand Final next week. Travelling to the Copper Box Arena, Lightning will aim to secure third place for 2019 and will face Team Bath at 3pm. Both fixtures will be shown live on Sky Sports, however fans are still encouraged to make the journey and show their support for one last time this year.
Tickets can be purchased here: http://po.st/z3ky6z
Q1: Loughborough Lightning 15-14 Wasps
Half-time: Loughborough Lightning 30-33 Wasps
Q3: Loughborough Lightning 44-53 Wasps
Full-time: Loughborough Lightning 54-74 Wasps
GS: Mary Cholhok
GA: Ella Clark
WA: Hannah Joseph
C: Jess Shaw
WD: Nat Panagarry (C)
GD: Vicki Oyesola
GK: Tuaine Keenan
Replacements: Caroline Tarnowski, Amy Clinton, Lucy Parize, Zara Everitt, Rosie Harris