England were crowned champions of U21 Netball Europe after three excellent performances at the University of Worcester Arena last weekend.
The hosts looked in top form throughout the competition which also saw Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales compete for the title.
England took home the trophy with Wales securing silver, Scotland coming third and Northern Ireland finishing fourth.
All four teams produced a high standard of netball and treated the crowd to six highly-competitive matches over the three days.
The tournament brought the best young players in the United Kingdom and this was evident on the first day of action
Scotland and Wales opened proceedings on Friday evening with the latter looking highly-impressive in an intense affair. The Welsh showed poise, focus and maturity against a talented Scotland side – which included Player of the Tournament Niamh McCall – to win 56-48.
Following this result, the hosts took to the court against Northern Ireland hoping to get their U21 Netball Europe campaign started with a victory.
England U21 Head Coach Karen Greig was able to draw from a strong starting squad which held four players who won Netball Europe Open a week prior. All 12 of the squad got court time and each player heavily impressed as they comfortably dispatched of their opposition 83-20.
The English showed their quality throughout the spine of their team with the likes of goal defence Funmi Faodju, captain Hannah Williams and goal shooter Emilia Roscoe looking particularly impressive.
The two winners on the opening day would meet on Saturday evening following Northern Ireland’s clash with Scotland.
The Northern Irish provided a stern test for Scotland in Worcester and found themselves ahead after ten minutes. The Thistles responded in emphatic fashion and managed to end the first quarter 13-9 in front. Rachel Cremin’s side continued to pull away and, after leading by eight at half-time, ran out 52-37 winners.
At Netball Europe Open last month, England and Wales produced a stellar game of netball which ended all square at 51-51. While it never came as close, this encounter was arguably the best of the competition.
After the game, Fadoju said that Wales had made them ‘work for the win’ right from Alicia Scholes’ first centre pass. Goal keeper Miquie Walker-Jones did well to regularly press England’s shooters and similar pressure failed to wain across the court.
Despite an average age of just 18, England’s quality shone through and they ended the first quarter 16-18 ahead. Their opponents came out with more vigour after the first interval but superb feeds from the mid-courters into Berri Neil meant it was difficult to contain the hosts.
A ten-goal lead was enough to put England at ease for the remainder of the game and they only continued to increase their advantage in an energetic final 30 minutes. The home side showed great professionalism to see out the game and drive home a 56-28 victory.
Not to be deterred by the result, Wales showed great mental resilience on the final day as they weathered an improved Northern Ireland performance. A competitive match was rewarded with a standing ovation for both teams as a determined Northern Ireland ran Wales to a hard-fought 56-40 win, which guaranteed the victors a silver medal.
This result meant England needed at least a draw to secure a second Netball Europe gold in as many weeks. Ten of the athletes selected are part of the U21 long squad working towards the World Youth Cup in 2021 it was clear to see why as England went into half-time with a 34-18 lead.
Grieg had quality on the bench to draw upon throughout the tournament and fresh legs in the second half proved beneficial as the likes of captain Hannah Williams had a positive impact on the game.
Thanks to some excellent intercepts from Scholes and Williams, England were able to maintain possession for the majority of the second half and ended their final match of U21 Netball Europe as 75-21 victors.
The tournament concluded with England receiving their gold medals from England Netball president Lindsay Sartori on Sunday.
Head Coach Karen Greig said: “We’ve had a tough few days but we’ve managed to get all 12 players out on court across the whole tournament.
“For us, this is just the start of our preparations building towards the Netball World Youth Cup in 2021 so the fact that we’ve been able to expose so many athletes this weekend is a really good start and a good benchmark for us moving forward.”
Hannah Williams said: “I just want to say a massive thank you to all four countries that have come. All four teams have put on a massive display of netball. There are a lot of new girls in the dress so well done to all the girls that have played.”
U21 Netball Europe results:
Fixtures and timings
Friday 4 October
Scotland 48-56 Wales
Saturday 5 October
Northern Ireland 37-52 Scotland
Sunday 6 October
Northern Ireland 40-56 Wales