Loughborough Lightning started the evening just a point behind Netball Super League leaders Surrey Storm, with 4th placed and title challengers, Manchester Thunder, welcoming them to the Belle Vue Arena in a highly anticipated Friday Night Netball event. With Lightning scoring over 60 points in all of their first three outings this season, this match was set to be an entertaining spectacle in a packed out and lively arena.
Lauren Nicholls replaced Hannah Joseph for the fixture, with the latter unavailable for selection due to a small injury.
A quick start from Lightning saw Mary Cholhok do what she does best, with a nicely taken finish under the post. The quarter maintained its fast tempo, with competitive attacking play for both teams keeping the score goal for goal, making life difficult for opposing defence.
It was a number of forced errors that gave Thunder momentum, a handful of turnovers early on had Lightning facing an uphill climb. Despite strong long-range shooting from in-form Emma Thacker, Thunder marched to 5-goal lead early into the game.
With resolute turnovers from the Lightning defence, and Emma Thacker and Mary Cholhok spearheading the attack, Lightning pegged their way back in to contention late in to the first quarter with only 1 goal difference between the sides. Despite Manchester Thunder extending the lead through a late turnover, some excellent last-minute play from Loughborough saw them advance up the court and score right on the whistle.
End of Q1: Manchester Thunder 14 – 12 Loughborough Lightning
The second quarter brought a huge shift in momentum for Thunder following a positive start for Lightning who managed to level the scoring from a Fran Williams intercept. Despite Lightning managing to fight and remain in contention, it was forced errors that allowed Thunder to punish Lightning and extend their lead.
Thunder showed intensity and dominance in attack, with their mid-court moving the ball and real speed and shooters remaining clinical, setting a real challenge for Lightning in defence. Lightning still managed to put up a fight and found success through being patient in the final third. But, it was the shear speed of Thunder in transition that created difficulty for Lightning.
Vic Burgess had to act quickly, and did so by switching Zan Vimbela for Alice Harvey, and Rhea Dixon for Emma Thacker ahead of the half time break.
End of Q2: Manchester Thunder 33 – 24 Loughborough Lightning
Lightning came out fighting in the third quarter. With the rotation allowing Zan Vimbela and Rhea Dixon opportunites to make impacts.
Rhea Dixon and Mary Cholhok started to find their rhythm together in the circle, combining with trickery to keep Thunder’s defence on their toes. The attacking effort was backed up in the mid-court tempo and defensive marking. Zan Vimbela quickly made her mark on the game, her two steals combined with Fran Williams’ trademark interceptions allowed Lightning to move the ball through the court to chase down Thunder’s lead.
Lightning continued to apply pressure to Thunder, forcing errors in their midcourt with Panagarry, Williams and Odeogberin working tirelessly to keep Lightning in the game. A strong response brought Lightning back within 5 points of Thunder, setting themselves up for a competitive last 15 minutes.
End of Q3: Manchester Thunder 45 – 40 Loughborough Lightning
Vic Burgess made another substitution for Lightning at the start of the final quarter. Bella Baylis entered the court in place of Hannah Williams at wing attack as Loughborough looked to close the gap on Manchester Thunder.
A cagey start to the quarter saw some patient play all over the court. Mary Cholhok took her opportunity to hit back for Lightning with 3 huge conversions, making for an interesting final 10 minutes. However, it was Thunder who fought back, moving the ball with real intensity and hardly missing a shot making the challenge all the more difficult for Lightning. Six goals behind with 5 minutes to go, Thunder manage to slow the tempo of the game down, thwarting Lightnings attack, leaving them with little time to close the gap.
With victory falling out of reach, Lightning did not stop fighting and continued to put pressure on Thunder but ran out of time and Thunder took the points from what was a highly competitive fixture.
Final score: Manchester Thunder 62 – 55 Loughborough Lightning
After the game, Vic Burgess commented on the need for Lightning to tighten up on errors:
“We didn’t get the start we wanted, second quarter they took it away from us a little bit and I think we came back really strong in the third quarter.
So, we’ve just spoken there about what we can take away from it and what we can learn from it. We also made some mistakes, we made some errors when decision making wise, had a real impact when we had possession of the ball
So, for us it’s all about learning in those pressured moments to look at all of our options, not fall into traps and learn from it quickly.”
Next up, Lightning return to campus on Sunday 19th March at 4pm and welcome Leeds Rhinos. Tickets are available to purchase here.
GS: Mary Cholhok
GA: Emma Thacker
WA: Hannah Williams
C: Nat Panagarry
WD: Jas Odeogberin
GD: Fran Williams
GK: Alice Harvey