Lightning and Bath book VNSL Grand Final spots

The Vitality Netball Superleague (VNSL) Finals Weekend kicked off on Saturday with two captivating semi-final clashes at the Copper Box Arena. 

Loughborough Lightning 58-38 Leeds Rhinos 

Loughborough Lightning fired their way to a fourth VSNL Grand Final after an impressive win over Leeds Rhinos in Saturday’s opening match. Rhinos’ preparations were disrupted by an enforced isolation period that meant they hadn’t taken to court since May 31. However, Dan Ryan’s side began aggressively and were up by three at one stage before Lightning reduced the deficit to one by the end of the quarter. A couple of big turnovers enabled Lightning to charge into a commanding lead in the second period as Rhinos’ attacking fluency waned. From a goal down, Lightning now led by eight and they approached the third quarter with similar intent despite Gilbert Netball Top Scorer Mary Cholhok limping off with a knock to her ankle. Rhinos improved in the closing minutes with a few good intercepts, but it wasn’t enough to contain a rampant Lightning side who moved 16 goals in front. Cholhok returned in the final 15 minutes to allay any fears she would miss Sunday’s Grand Final, while Sara Francis-Bayman began rotating her team ahead of the showpiece event with Nat Panagarry and Vitality Player of the Season Beth Cobden subbed off. It didn’t disturb their rhythm, though, as the lead was extended to 20 to round off a convincing victory.

Computacenter Player of the Match: Sam May 

Lightning Head Coach, Sara Francis-Bayman: “It’s huge for the club and for this team.

“It’s always tough to win a Superleague and if you’re going to do it, you need to beat the best teams.” 

Lightning captain, Nat Panagarry: “When you play netball, you play it because you want to be with your friends.

“This is absolutely as good as the first (Finals Weekend appearance) and I’m just enjoying all the opportunities that me and the squad get.”

Rhinos Head Coach, Dan Ryan: “We’ll keep things in perspective and look to improve things tomorrow. 

“We’ll reflect on the game as a group and look at the key areas we can address.” 

Rhinos captain, Fi Toner: “We probably didn’t really show up entirely for the game.” 

 

Manchester Thunder 38-41 Team Bath Netball 

Team Bath Netball defeated 2019 champions Manchester Thunder for the third time this season in a thrilling semi-final encounter. Bath arrived at the Copper Box Arena off the back of two consecutive losses and were three goals down early on before Netball UK Player of the Match Serena Guthrie came up with a crucial intercept to halt the slide. Anna Stembridge’s side gradually reeled their opponents back in to lead for the first time with four minutes to go and the quarter ended with Thunder trailing by two. There were opportunities for Karen Greig’s team to turn the score around, but they were wasteful after reclaiming possession. And a brilliant intercept from Layla Guscoth in the final minute allowed Bath to extend their lead to four before Thunder pulled it back to three on the buzzer. After halftime, Bath could have put themselves in a more comfortable position, only to squander the chance presented to them by Guthrie’s turnover. The Blue and Gold were seeking to restore a four-goal lead in the closing moments, but they were penalised for a held ball giving Thunder seconds to score at the other end as time ran out. The fourth quarter was goal for goal as Thunder searched for a moment to spark a turnaround. The chance to level the score eventually came but they were thwarted by the irrepressible Guthrie and Bath maintained their grip on the contest thereafter with no mistakes to scupper the win.

Netball UK Player of the Match: Serena Guthrie

Thunder Head Coach, Karen Greig: “Unfortunately we couldn’t quite get it over the line today but we’re a proud team and we’ll try put out a good performance tomorrow.”

Thunder captain, Emma Dovey: “I think we’ve got to remember that that game doesn’t define us, we’ve still had a brilliant season.

“We just need to make sure we go hard and finish on a positive performance tomorrow.”

Bath Head Coach, Anna Stembridge: “It was a real gutsy performance and one we would hope and expect from each other.”

Bath captain, Eboni Usoro-Brown: “This is what we’ve been working towards.

“The point to prove was to ourselves only.” 

Watch all of the weekend’s action on Sky Sports’ YouTube channel!

Head to the Vitality Netball Superleague website for upcoming fixture details.

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