Severn Stars narrowly miss out in thrilling season opener
Severn Stars narrowly missed out on a win in their 2018 season opener against Manchester Thunder, with a goal in the final seconds of a dramatic match.
The home side had led from the first whistle in front of a record number of fans at the University of Worcester Arena on Saturday (February 10), and at the half-way point were in front by 10 points.
But Thunder managed to close the gap and as the clock counted down Stars succumbed to a 47-48 defeat.
From the outset, the signs for Stars were promising, as they started the stronger of the two teams.
Thunder, who came third in last year’s Vitality Netball Superleague, opened the match with a missed basket, which allowed Stars’ goal shooter Eleanor Cardwell to net the first goal.
Defensive pressure from Stars’ South African national goal keeper Phumza Maweni and goal defence Sam Cook, coupled with consistent shooting from Cardwell and goal attack Maryka Holtzhausen, saw the Stars end the first quarter 18-14 in front.
The home side carried this momentum into the second quarter, going seven points up early on, after capitalising on a number of penalties. A strong defence helped Stars maintain the lead in the second quarter, particularly thanks to Player of the Match, Jodie Gibson at wing defence.
Thunder players struggled to find their rhythm throughout the remainder of the quarter, and Stars went into the half-time interval with a 30-20 advantage.
Following a number of changes, Thunder came out much stronger and instantly cut Stars’ lead by four.
Responding to this pressure, Stars’ Head Coach, Sam Bird, switched Cook for youth player Dominique Ford-Gordon before the close of the third quarter, which ended with Stars still leading 39-34.
Further changes saw Holtzhausen replaced by former Team Bath shooter Rosie Allison going into the final quarter.
But Thunder chipped away at Stars’ lead in the opening minutes, narrowing the lead to just 40-38, before Stars’ wing attack Iona Darroch was carried off with a knee injury. This seemed to give Stars an extra bit of motivation as they extended the lead to 43-38.
However, a resilient Thunder cut the lead and in the last minute of the game the teams were tied at 47-47.
The ball was knocked out of bounds with a contact call, which meant that the ball fell to Thunder’s Amy Clinton, who calmly gave her team the lead with just seconds on the clock, not giving Stars enough time to respond.
Head Coach Bird said it had been “a game of two halves”, but that the team had shown it could perform well.
“We were outstanding in the first half as the players kept their structures, kept their heads, played with purpose, backed each other up and did really well,” she said.
“Thunder knows how to win and we knew they were going to come out hard. Unfortunately, we were not clinical enough in that third quarter and the belief went a little bit amongst the players. Keeping possession and retaining their structure is something we have to work on.”
Stars face reigning Superleague champions and Midlands rivals Wasps in their next league game at the University of Worcester Arena on Saturday, February 17 (6pm).
“We have shown we can perform well and the players need to have that belief and take it into the Wasps match,” said Bird. “Let’s see if we can cause some surprises.”
Tickets for the next home game against Wasps are available at www.severnstars.co.uk.
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Image credit Andrew Taylor