Team Bath have won the Fast5 Netball All-Stars Championship for the first-time defeating Saracens Mavericks 23-17 in a tense final at the Copper Box Arena, London.
Bath, led by Anna Stembridge, delivered an immaculate performance with poise and tactics at the very heart of victory seeing off London Pulse twice before a nail-biter against Wasps Netball to set up the final with Mavericks despite a hiccup against Manchester Thunder.
The day started with a shock as defending champions Loughborough Lightning were first out of the tournament losing out to Strathclyde Sirens in the opener before suffering at the hands of a Kadeen Corbin inspired Mavericks performance as they ran out 51-30 winners to kickstart their journey.
Bath lived dangerously in their opener as Pulse pulled it back t0 26 all in the last 30 seconds but on the final whistle, All-Star Lucy Herdman of Severn Stars struck with a winning goal point to send her team’s bench into euphoria and one match away from the semi-finals.
Manchester Thunder had sent out early warning signs beating Leeds Rhinos 43-15 with Eleanor Cardwell on form meaning they met Bath for the first semi-final spot, but it was Thunder who seized the advantage during their Golden Buzzer two minutes to secure passage by 20 points at 36-16.
With the double-elimination group format in full flow, Bath found themselves back against Pulse knowing they needed to win to set up a semi-final tie with 2018 champions Wasps Netball who were led by the imperious-looking Rachel Dunn. This time, it wasn’t as tight, but they did enough (23-17) as Stembridge guided them through a tight final few minutes where it did look it could slip away from them.
Led by MVP Layla Guscoth, Bath’s focus was on the core that she steered so effortlessly at times, and that defensive work came in clutch against a free-scoring Wasps side. Half measures aren’t in Bath’s DNA though and it showed as Herdman struck late again in the one-point goal area to book a final place 28-29.
When it came down to the final, proceedings were tight even with the golden buzzer in action. At six minutes to go, it was Mavericks who had the advantage 6-3 but they turned a corner from then on, first using their own golden buzzer moment to perfection. Those closing moments did seem tense, but it didn’t faze a Bath side who finished third in the 2021 Vitality Netball Superleague campaign. Long bombs are the aim of Fast5 especially when double points arise, but Stembridge rewrote the rulebook as Bath secured their first title.
After being named MVP and winning the title, Guscoth said: “All credit to Tash and Molly. It was a hard day but good day. It was all worth it to come away with a gold medal. We loved it. I am the old one in the team, these guys kept me going.
“We loved it. Thank you so much to everyone that came out to support today. It is fun but it’s nice to come away with a win and hopefully, it gives our players plenty of confidence to come away with.”
Stembridge said: “It’s been great; it’s been so much fun. We’ve tried to embrace the rules and we’ve loved it.
“There are close games. It’s great for the spectators but not great for my hairline.
“Lucy Herdman has been brilliant – she has come in and fitted in so brilliantly. Ultimately, you play a game to win, we also talk about having fun and the culture and we wanted to do that.
“Having that loss against Thunder put the fire in the belly and it meant we could control the narrative.”
DOUBLE ELIMINATION GROUP STAGE
LOUGHBOROUGH LIGHTNING 23 – 28 STRATHCLYDE SIRENS
SARACENS MAVERICKS 33-48 WASPS NETBALL
MANCHESTER THUNDER 43-15 LEEDS RHINOS
TEAM BATH 27-26 LONDON PULSE
WASPS NETBALL 35-29 STRATHCLYDE SIRENS
MANCHESTER THUNDER 36-16 TEAM BATH
LOUGHBOROUGH LIGHTNING 30-51 SARACENS MAVERICKS
LEEDS RHINOS 2-21 LONDON PULSE
STRATHCLYDE SIRENS 17-20 SARACENS MAVERICKS
TEAM BATH 23-17 LONDON PULSE
MANCHESTER THUNDER 11-27 SARACENS MAVERICKS
WASPS NETBALL 28-29 TEAM BATH
SARACENS MAVERICKS 17-23 TEAM BATH