A physical encounter from the get go saw both sides out of the blocks, eager to push ahead in the first fifteen minutes. A first open doors fixture in front of their adoring home crowd, Lightning took to court minus Harvey, Vimbela and Williams who were absent due to their recent Quad Series campaign with the Vitality Roses.
Sirens took the opening centre pass converting quickly to take the first score on the board. A quick response from Lightning saw the board level, with much of the opening quarter remaining level. Keen to shake off the physicality from the opposition, Lightning kept their cool and delivered safe ball to the circle for Cholhok and Thacker to convert. Lightning finished the quarter ahead by three.
Q1: Loughborough Lightning 17 - 14 Strathclyde Sirens
Just one change to Lightning’s side for quarter two saw newcomer Rhea Dixon switch into goal attack in place of Loughborough University student Emma Thacker. A team wide defensive effort saw Lightning build a wall that Sirens struggled to penetrate, taking vital minutes to get the ball through court and into their attacking circle. Lightning stalwarts and Vitality Roses mid courters Panagarry and Joseph worked tirelessly to remain patient and create space into the circle. Rotating the circle edge and taking her defence with her, Dixon opened up vital opportunity for the ball to be delivered to the towering Cholhok. An eight-goal lead saw Lightning end the first half on top.
HT: Loughborough Lightning 34 – 26 Strathclyde Sirens
Using the clash as a perfect opportunity to test combinations and give additions to the 2023 squad vital court time, Head Coach Vic Burgess reaped the changes going into the second half. Switching up the midcourt, Hannah Joseph who returns in 2023 for her tenth season in purple, stepped in the centre spot whilst Panagarry dropped into wing defence. Needing no time to adjust to the changes, Lightning pushed on and with Suzie Liverseidge taking to the court for the first time at WA followed during the quarter by fellow Future Roses teammate Bella Baylis, the attacking circle soon found its groove and continued to add points to the board. Not ones to lie down easily, visitors Strathclyde Sirens continued to apply the pressure both physically and vocally, closing the gap to just four as the championship quarter drew to a close.
Q3: Loughborough Lightning 49 - 45 Strathclyde Sirens
A final fifteen minutes approached and changes once again saw Liverseidge switch into the goal attack position and Joseph returned to wing attack. Lightning U21 defender Katie Fisher also returned to the goal keeper spot. Having spent the off season competing in the World Fast five series and a series of fixtures for England A and Futures, Emma Thacker’s experience gained was clear for fans to see, dominating the circle and continuing to keep Lightning’s scoreboard ticking over with her impressive long bomb shots. Inserting new signing Ugandan goal attack Stella Oyella to the mix, Sirens slowly closed the gap, capitalising on Lightning’s errors to trail by just one with 5 minutes left on the clock. Remaining calm and collected, Lightning pushed through and increased their lead once again stealing a resounding seven goal victory after a whole team effort.
Full-time: Loughborough Lightning 65 – 58 Strathclyde Sirens
Head Coach Vic Burgess noted the importance of pre-season fixtures leading into the new season;
“It was good to get as many of the squad on court and test them out in different situations to see how they adapted. We made lots of changes in close quarters, it was a good game, well contested and for us it was about problem solving and getting the opportunity to see what we need to work on heading into our final two-week training block.
“As coaching staff, today gave us the chance to see where the gaps are and how we can use the depth of the squad in different situations and I’m really pleased with how well the girls took on their roles and ground out the win.”
Looking ahead to the start of the season, Burgess commented on the side’s excitement to get underway:
“Pre-season is always a long run in and we’re looking forward to having the rest of the squad back from international duty this week for our final push and focus on the first round.”
Scoring 100% of her shots in the final quarter, Emma Thacker was deservedly awarded the Long Tall Sally Player of the Match award;
“It was great to see today how quickly the side has come together and I’m so excited for the season ahead. We just want to keep developing, keep learning and applying everything we’ve been working on out on court in front of our incredible fans.”
“We’re really going to have to put out our best performance against a strong team Bath in round one but with our international players returning this week it’s shaping up to be a great clash and one I’m really looking forward to.”
Their final outing of pre-season now complete, Lightning will now undertake final preparations ahead of the 2023 Netball Season Opener which takes place in front of a sell-out crowd at Nottingham’s Motorpoint Arena on Saturday 11 February. Lightning kick start the day’s proceedings against Team Bath from 11am.
They return to Loughborough University for round 2, welcoming Celtic Dragons to campus on Saturday 18th February.
Tickets to Lightning’s 2023 home campaign are on sale now and can be purchased here.
GS: Mary Cholhok
GA: Emma Thacker
WA: Hannah Joseph
C: Nat Panagarry
WD: Jas Odeogberin
GD: Alex Johnson
GK: Katie Fisher