In a repeat of the 2022 Netball Super League final, Loughborough Lightning welcomed their old foes Manchester Thunder to the Sir David Wallace Arena for this showpiece semi-final between two giants of English netball. Having defeated last year’s champions 65-57 during the regular season, Lighting sort to further their title credentials with another dominant performance over their northern rivals and in doing so, book their place in the big dance on Sunday. Aided by drums, and in front of a particularly raucous home crowd, the stage was set at the world’s best sporting university for this blockbuster clash.
Manchester Thunder got us underway with the first centre pass and immediately Lighting turned the ball over after a brilliant read from Jas Odeogberin. Hannah Joseph was her usual combative self and found Rhea Dixon in space consistently to stretch Lightning lead. Thunder gave an immediate response through Lenize Potgieter who found good space under the post and converted nicely. The Thunder defence continued to make life difficult to Mary Cholhok to find and hold space under the post, making Lightning utilise the versatility and dynamism of Rhea Dixon to create space under the post. An end-to-end quarter finished with great sustained defensive pressure from Alice Harvey, which provided a flying interception from Fran Williams to take Lighting into the first break leading 17-14.
End of Q1: Loughborough Lightning 17 – 14 Manchester Thunder
Thunder came out the blocks quickly and put an immediate stamp on the quarter, forcing Lightning errors through the middle. Thunder fought back and eventually took the lead in the game, with Lightning working hard to stay in the game through patient play around the attacking circle. Possession went back and forth, and the game became transitional. Experienced mid-courters Nat Panagarry and Hannah Joseph continued to find attacking options for this year’s Netball Super League top scorer Mary Cholhok consistency levelling the score for Lightning. Thunder took a very narrow one-goal lead heading into half-time meaning it was anyone's game for the taking heading into the final two quarters.
End of Q2: Loughborough Lightning 30 – 31 Manchester Thunder
Head Coach Vic Burgess made her first substitution of the game bringing on experienced Beth Cobden in place of Jas Odeogberin who put in a performance to be proud of. It was Thunder who made the brighter start to the quarter following an interception in the mid-court after a long, forced pass by Lightning. Lightning maintained their cool and kept the game going goal-for-goal. Another tweak to the defensive circle for Lighting saw Zan Vimbela replace Alice Harvey at goal keeper. It was an interception from Nat Panagarry that changed the flow of the game completely. Mary Cholhok also found her rhythm and provided the Lightning fans with her beloved trademark lay-up to extend Lightning’s lead. Beth Cobden then got in on the act with a great defensive tip to set Lightning away to extend their lead. Right at the end of the quarter, Lightning were left with 3 seconds to feed Mary Cholhok to head into the break with a 6-goal gap; she coolly converted right on the buzzer bringing the crowd at Sir David Wallace to their feet.
End of Q3 Loughborough Lightning 49 - 43 Manchester Thunder
It was a battle of the noise with both sets of supporters chanting loudly for their respective team. It was the home crowd that got behind Lightning to do as much as they could to help bring it home. The quarter quickly became scrappy and untidy, with both teams making errors. It was Lightning’s defensive pair, Zan Vimbela and Fran Williams who were relentlessly making tips and interceptions to set Lightning off on their attacks. Thunder struggled to respond to Lightning’s relentless pressure and Lightning continued to flourish in attack. The crowd raised their volume an extra notch during the final minutes as Lightning continued with their patient play around the circle through Rhea Dixon, Hannah Joseph and Nat Panagarry. It was a fitting end as the ball was fed to Mary Cholhok right under the post and she saw Lightning take the win with a magnificent trademark lay-up. Sir David Wallace erupted in celebration for Lightning who came away winners after a performance full of pride.
End of Q4 Loughborough Lightning 65 - 59 Manchester Thunder
After a dominant performance through the middle court, Lightning captain Nat Panagarry was awarded Gilbert player of the match and celebrated with her team in front of an ecstatic Lighting crowd. Zan Vimbela was also awarded the Long Tall Sally Player of the Match after a fierce defensive display.
Head Coach, Vic Burgess was immensely proud of her squad following the win:
“I’m unbelievably proud. I don’t know where to start, I’m so pleased with them. We started well, they gave us something to think about in the second quarter and at half time we said we just need to want it more. These guys, they bring it every time and I’m just so proud of them and happy at the same time”
Lightning will now head down to the Copper Box Arena this Sunday to play in the Grand Final against top of the table London Pulse at 4:15pm, live on SkySports and Youtube.
GS: Mary Cholhok
GA: Rhea Dixon
WA: Hannah Joseph
C: Nat Panagarry
WD: Jas Odeogberin
GD: Fran Williams
GK: Alice Harvey