There are certain sports that rarely grab any headlines outside an Olympic or Commonwealth cycle.
Despite being outstanding athletes right at the top of their sport, young women such as Kate Richardson-Walsh, Alex Danson and Maddie Hinch were largely unknown to the casual sports enthusiast – until that memorable day in Rio two years ago, when Team GB won hockey gold and they became household names overnight.
Netball is not an Olympic sport (another debate altogether), so it is the Commonwealth title that the elite English athletes have striven for since the sport was first included at Kuala Lumpur in 1998.
Sunday’s final between the England Roses and the all-conquering Australian Diamonds provided every bit as much skill, athleticism and drama as that Rio hockey final – a one-point victory being secured by England’s Helen Housby in the very last second of a pulsating final quarter. The celebrations that followed were fantastic to watch, and it was great to see a “minority” sport grab deserved media headlines.
For England’s Geva Mentor, at her fifth Commonwealth Games, it was a moment when years of dedication and hard work were rewarded with the ultimate prize; but on the same day, on the other side of the globe, Grangetown Netball Club created its own wonderful piece of history.
Relegated to the third division of the National Premier League in 2016, the club regrouped and returned to the second tier of English club netball at the first time of asking. The new-look squad worked hard during the off season and consistently proved themselves to be the fittest team in a hugely competitive division.
More than that though, it quickly became apparent that they were also one of the most talented sides, after a couple of early reverses were followed by a string of impressive victories.
The two teams that led the division for most of the season, Hucclecote and Turnford, both included a number of players from franchised Super League clubs and once their seasons started, so performances dipped; but Grangetown simply kept on winning.
At the end of the regular season, Grangetown had two unfulfilled fixtures (both previously cancelled due to adverse weather conditions), and the equation was simple. Victories away at Chester and then Clan would see the Teesside club promoted into the top division as champions.
Despite their opponents lying bottom and second-bottom respectively, hard-fought games were expected, but Grangetown were quite simply too strong. A reasonably comfortable win in Cheshire was followed by a comprehensive victory in Buckinghamshire, and the final hooter was the catalyst for more celebrations, as the girls in black and orange hugged and danced their way into Prem 1.
It was the biggest game in the club’s history and a massive achievement for Head Coach Gel Williams, club captain Vicky Rees and the whole squad.
Defensively, Grangetown were outstanding all season; Ireland internationals Genevieve Slater and Katie Walton, alongside Team Northumbria squad member Jenny Mrozik proved more than a match for almost every attack in the division.
Through the centre of the court, the experience of Vicky Rees and Ria Small was absolutely crucial in creating scoring opportunities for the attackers. Abbie LeBrocq developed into a confident and assured shooter, and once Team Northumbria’s Ash Neal linked up with the squad, the jigsaw was complete.
Harriet Baxter, Hannah Raine, Kate Hill and latterly Catherine Hewitt all made valuable contributions, and with a number of other talented young prospects coming through the ranks, an exciting future beckons.
For now though, it is time to reflect on a remarkable promotion season, which has seen Grangetown effectively become one of the ten best clubs in the entire country. In an area where team sport is dominated by football, it is actually a group of talented, dedicated and determined netballers who have brought success to the region – and that is something that really deserves to be celebrated.
Grangetown Netball Club’s elite squad are now just sixty minutes away from securing a place in National Premier League 1 after a comfortable 60-43 success at Chester on Sunday.
Despite a round trip of 300 miles, the fixture at the County Sports Club represents Grangetown’s “local derby”, and having beaten the league’s bottom club in the recent home fixture, it was a confident but focussed Grangetown squad that made the three-hour journey to Cheshire.
Head coach Gel Williams was forced into one change, as club captain Vicky Rees was unavailable for the game – a significant blow after Vicky’s outstanding Player of the Match performance in the home win over Chester. Her place in the squad was taken by Sophie MacFarlane.
Grangetown took to the court with Ash Neal at centre, and Harriet Baxter alongside Abbie LeBrocq in attack. Ria Small was at wing attack, and the starting seven was completed by the dependable defensive trio of Jenny Mrozik, Genevieve Slater and Katie Walton.
Grangetown held a five-goal lead at the end of the opening period, a good start, but not as dominant as they had been in the reverse fixture when they had led by 13 goals at quarter time. The advantage was increased by just one further goal by half-time. It had been a patchy 30 minutes, with some of the squad’s trademark flowing netball being interspersed with several misplaced passes and unforced errors.
In fact, some of the best attacking netball came from the hosts, who produced several superb moves down the length of the court for Evie Brereton to convert. In those moments, it was hard to believe Chester had won only one game all season; but Grangetown’s superior fitness and relentless defensive pressure forced a number of turnovers, and as the game progressed into its later stages, the visitors gradually eased further ahead.
The visitors were 12 goals to the good at the end of the third quarter, and that lead quickly increased to 20, but Grangetown’s intensity dropped during the closing minutes, and Chester’s efforts were rewarded with late goals that reduced the final winning margin to 17.
Ash Neal was named the official Player of the Match, but in a game where it was actually quite hard to pick one stand-out performance, I would have chosen Jenny Mrozik for a really strong sixty minutes at the heart of the Grangetown defence.
Home victories for both Turnford and Hucclecote saw Grangetown’s rivals end their respective seasons with 74 and 72 points, meaning that victory at Clan this weekend would guarantee promotion both and the Prem 2 championship for the Middlesbrough club .
Such a possibility would have seemed unthinkable back in May 2016, when Grangetown were relegated through the play-offs to Prem 3. However, the squad has bonded brilliantly, and the blend of experience and youth coupled with months of hard work in training has created what has been a winning formula during the 2017/18 campaign; and what a wonderful position for the players to have the club’s destiny in their own hands.
The fact that this Sunday’s opponents, High Wycombe-based Clan currently lie second bottom with five wins from their 16 games thus far will have no bearing on the outcome of the game. The huge distances the teams have to travel for away games means that squads are often depleted when on the road, but invariably full strength at home; and Clan have some talented and experienced players within their ranks.
That said, Grangetown have suffered fewer defeats – just three - than any other team in the division, and they have plenty of experience of their own: Genevieve Slater is the current Ireland captain, Ash Neal is an integral member of Team Northumbria’s Super League squad, and club captain Vicky Rees will be back for the trip to Buckinghamshire.
The players will be prepared, both physically and mentally, for the biggest game in Grangetown’s history. There will be no complacency, only a desire to display their athleticism and skill, and channel the excitement and nerves into a mind-set that allows them to deliver just one more high-quality performance … and achieve the win that would be a fitting end to an incredible season.
Grangetown completed their home fixtures in Mizuno Premier League 2 with a comfortable 53-38 victory over the division’s bottom club Chester on Sunday.
It was Grangetown’s eighth win from their nine home games, with the only defeat coming at the hands of a Hucclecote side which included several players from the Severn Stars Super League squad.
Hucclecote (from Gloucestershire) and Hertfordshire-based Turnford had been runaway leaders for virtually the whole campaign, but both have faltered recently – quite possibly due to players becoming unavailable due to Super League commitments. Grangetown, however, have maintained their run of fine form and with two games to be rearranged, they are closing in on the leading pair, who both have only one remaining fixture.
Although Grangetown will have to travel for those two outstanding games, their opponents (Chester on 8 April and Clan on 15 April) currently fill the division’s bottom two places. Both teams will present a difficult challenge on their home court, but the simple equation is that two wins would guarantee Grangetown’s promotion into Prem 1.
To be ranked amongst the country’s top ten clubs would be a remarkable achievement, especially given the fact that Grangetown played in Prem 3 last season, after having been cruelly relegated through the 2015/16 post-season play-offs when no fewer than five of the squad were unavailable due to international call-ups.
A new-look 2016/17 squad containing a blend of experience and a number of young faces gelled extremely well, and the club earned promotion at the first time of asking, albeit by the narrowest of margins in an incredibly tense end to the season.
With an almost unchanged squad for 2017/18, the realistic aim would surely have been to consolidate a place in the competition’s second tier, but after two defeats in their opening four games, Grangetown have suffered just one further reverse. They have arguably the fittest squad in the division – testament to an intense pre-season programme– and that strength, coupled with an unwavering determination has served the players well in a number of close games.
Katie Walton and Genevieve Slater are team mates at club and international level, and with Team Northumbria squad member Jenny Mrozik alongside the Ireland duo, Grangetown has a defence to rival any club in Prem 2.
Vicky Rees and Ria Small are two of the most experienced members of the squad, and both have led by example throughout the season. Both had fine games against Chester, with club captain Vicky rightly being named Player of the Match for an all-action performance (in attack but even more notably in defence) in the Centre role.
Abbie LeBrocq perhaps typifies Grangetown’s development as much as any other player. Since her arrival at the start of last season, Abbie has grown so much in strength and confidence. She is a real presence in the attacking circle and her 100% shooting success in yesterday’s brilliant opening quarter was another reflection of just how far she has progressed.
Harriet Baxter and Tasha Grylls have made telling contributions at Goal Attack, but the arrival of Ash Neal has made a very real difference. The Australian, who is an integral member of Team Northumbria’s Super League squad, is a superb athlete – skilful, incredibly quick, but calm and assured under the net. She has fitted seamlessly into the squad, and her presence on court seems to have a positive impact on all the players around her.
Netball is very much a squad game, and although they have not been regulars in the starting seven, Kate Hill and Hannah Raine have done really well whenever they’ve had the opportunity, and another of Grangetown’s seemingly endless conveyor belt of talented teenagers, Catherine Hewitt, gained some invaluable experience against Chester. Catherine is still only 15, but she showed no outward sign of nerves during an impressive fifteen minutes on court.
The result of Sunday’s clash with Chester was never in doubt after Grangetown raced into a 10-3 lead after just seven minutes. That advantage had extended to 20-7 at the end of a ruthless opening period, but to their credit the visitors battled hard, and lost the remaining three quarters by a total of just two goals.
Chester played some excellent netball in patches, deservedly won the second quarter by four goals, but made a few too many unforced errors as they tried to find a way back into the game. They looked particularly strong at each end of the court, their Goal Shooter and Goal Keeper both having really strong games.
But it was Grangetown, superbly led by Vicky Rees, who claimed the points. Having gained such a big lead so early in proceedings, Head Coach Gel Williams was able to shuffle her pack and give the whole squad some time on court; and although unable to replicate the level of first-quarter dominance, this was still an impressive squad performance, as well as being ideal preparation for those two crucial remaining fixtures.
Grangetown’s latest fixture in Mizuno Premier League 2 was about as far removed from a local derby as it is possible to get as their opponents, Sussex Thunder, made the 630-mile round trip from their Brighton base to face a Grangetown squad that has been in excellent form.
After ten fixtures, Grangetown were placed third in a very competitive division, having won seven games. In contrast, Sussex, who were promoted as Division 3 champions last season, occupied ninth position, with their only two victories coming against Ryland, and bottom-placed Chester, the only team yet to record a win so far this season.
When the sides met back in October, Grangetown returned from Sussex with a hard-fought and narrow 45-41 success, so despite being separated by seven places and 21 points in the table, the visitors were still expected to pose a serious challenge.
Grangetown were without Jenny Mrozik, but their Ireland defenders Genevieve Slater and Katie Walton were joined by a third current international as Scotland’s Hayley Mulheron made her first appearance for the club since the 2015/16 season, having recently been part of the Scottish Thistles squad that secured their place in the 2019 World Cup through the regional qualifiers.
Katie Walton GK Tish Biddolph
Hayley Mulheron GD Rebecca Miller
Gen Slater WD Ellen Franks
Vicky Rees C Beth Franks
Ria Small WA Chloe Spong
Ash Neal GA Sophie Jackson
Abbie LeBrocq GS Tess Waterfall
It was the visitors who made the brighter start, scoring from their opening possession. Katie Walton made an early interception, only for Beth Franks to win back the ball and set up an easy chance for Tess Waterfall.
A contact penalty on the tall Sussex shooter then enabled Vicky Rees and Ash Neal to exchange passes for the Team Northumbria goal attack to halve the arrears, and the pair then combined again to level the scores.
The next four goals were shared, with both sides making a number of errors, before Thunder moved into a three-goal lead. Firstly, Tess cleverly flicked a shot rebound to her attacking partner Sophie Jackson. Tess then plucked a high pass out of the air to score, before some great work from Chloe Spong reclaimed possession and created another chance that was successfully converted.
Tish Biddolph was unfortunate not to complete an interception, and Ash scored from the resulting restart. At the opposite end of the court, Tess used all of her 6’ 4” height and skill to gather a high ball and draw a contact penalty to maintain the three-goal advantage.
Grangetown replied with two quick goals, but then conceded an attacking penalty and despite intense pressure from both Grangetown defenders, Sophie was able to find the net. A lightning quick interception from Katie turned over possession and lovely interplay from Vicky and Ria Small set up Abbie le Brocq. Moments later Abbie scored with a perfectly flighted long shot, and once again the scores were tied.
Hayley Mulheron claimed a rebound, followed by an excellent interception and the home side edged in front for the first time, although Thunder were rather unlucky when the umpire blew her whistle seemingly for a foul on a Sussex player, only for Grangetown to be given possession from the restart after the ball bounced out of play.
Abbie found the net to make it 12-10; both sides then scored a goal apiece, but the advantage at quarter time was just one goal as Tess scored with the last play of the period.
Grangetown made a couple of changes during the interval, with Kate Hill coming on at centre, and Vicky replacing Gen Slater at wing defence.
Sophie Jackson brought parity to proceedings in the opening moments of the second period, however the next three goals all came from Grangetown. Hayley and Kate combined for Abbie to score, then Hayley’s superb catch set up some neat interplay between Ria and Ash Neal – Abbie once again finishing the move. The home side then took advantage of a Sussex miss to work the ball down court and Abbie scored at the second attempt.
Sophie’s next goal was cancelled out by a long effort from Ash, but Sophie duly responded with a successful shot from even longer-range. Abbie showed great strength under pressure from Rebecca Miller and, although Thunder replied, Ash ignored a shooting opportunity and flicked a clever pass to her left for her better-placed partner Abbie to find the net.
Sophie and Beth Franks then produced some excellent play to open up the Grangetown defence for Tess to bring the visitors back to within two goals; but that would be the closest Thunder came to catching their hosts.
Abbie scored twice, the second goal coming after a replayed ball penalty against the visitors. Importantly, that goal came against the Sussex centre pass, and when Ash floated the ball into the net after impressive interplay with Kate Hill, the advantage was now five.
Ash drilled a pass to Abbie, which was brilliantly taken, and the subsequent goal was the fourth in another unanswered spell. Grangetown were in sublime form; their attacking play was fluent and Sussex were being pressured right across the court whenever they had possession.
Another well-taken shot from Sophie Jackson made the score 28-20, but the next seven goals all went the way of the home side. The second of those goals saw Ria and Ash combine superbly to feed Abbie; Katie then picked off a Sussex pass, and Ria fired a ball right through the defence to find Abbie completely unmarked under the net.
A footwork call handed possession back to Grangetown, and even though some of the shooting was falling just short, all the rebounds were going the way of the home side, and Grangetown were in total command. The half-time hooter sounded, with Grangetown 14 goals in front, after having won the quarter 22-9.
Sussex introduced Kim Cook at wing defence and also made a change at centre, but unsurprisingly, Grangetown stuck with the same seven who had produced such an excellent period of netball.
To their credit, Sussex did make early inroads into the Grangetown lead, reducing the gap to eleven goals at one stage. One of the main features of the visitor’s play was the shooting of Sophie Jackson, who seemed to be able to find the net at will from almost any distance. However, the highlight of the opening few minutes of the third period came from Grangetown’s Kate Hill, who fired a delightful pass inside the Thunder defence for the onrushing Ash Neal, who caught the ball and calmly found the net.
Hayley, Ria and Vicky all played a part in turning over possession in mid-court, however the resulting shot from Abbie bounced off the ring of the net and was collected by the Thunder defence. A rare miss from Sophie turned into a perfect pass for Tess to score, but after Abbie had cancelled out the goal, Hayley got a decisive hand to the Sussex centre pass and her efforts were rewarded when Abbie converted the ensuing shot.
Another defence-splitting pass, this time from Ria Small, enabled Ash Neal to maintain Grangetown’s sizeable lead, and scorer turned provider as Ash found Abbie totally unmarked as the home side’s attacking movement attracted the attention of both defenders.
During a brief stoppage, Tess Waterfall was replaced by Lauren Pedelty, whilst Grangetown took the opportunity to bring on Tasha Grylls at wing attack. Lauren’s first involvement was a successful shot, but Thunder’s next attack saw Hayley block Sophie’s attempt, with Katie Walton grabbing the rebound. The ball found its way to Abbie who scored from long range.
Kim Cook did well to nudge the ball out of play, as Grangetown mounted another attack, but from the restart Abbie once again netted from distance. Thunder’s next goal came from Lauren, another from long-range, but Abbie repaid the compliment with the last short of the quarter; a fine goal that saw Grangetown reach their half century.
50-34 to the good, Grangetown shuffled their pack for the final period; Gen Slater returning to the court in place of Hayley Mulheron, Harriet Baxter coming on at goal shooter and Ria replacing Kate Hill, who had played particularly well at centre.
Beth Franks went back to centre for the visitors and immediately produced an excellent interception. Sussex were unable to make the most of the possession though, and Grangetown rattled off five quick goals to give them a lead of twenty – a figure that no one would have imagined possible after such a hard-fought opening quarter.
Rebecca Miller’s excellent interception came to nothing as possession was lost inside the Sussex half, and Harriet Baxter opened her account at the first attempt after collecting a rebound. Tasha Grylls then produced a lovely pass to find Harriet free under the net, but in a game which had seen some excellent shooting from distance, Lauren Pedelty was desperately unlucky to see a shot from right on the edge of the circle ruled out for an infringement.
By this stage the result was not in doubt, but Grangetown refused to relax their defensive pressure and some great work from forced Sussex into a long shot that was safely collected by Gen Slater. The ball went straight down the other end and Tasha fed Ash for another score.
The home side kept up the momentum right through until the end of the game and at full time, the score was 67-40 in Grangetown’s favour. There were excellent performances all over the court, with Sussex picking Ash Neal as their player of the match, and Vicky Rees picking up the award from the competition sponsors Mizuno. For good measure, I thought Ria Small was the best player on court, but in a fine team performance, Kate Hill also deserves a mention for her display at centre in the middle quarters of the game.
For their part, Sussex certainly didn’t look like a side languishing towards the bottom of the division during an opening period in which they more than matched their hosts. For me, their best player was Sophie Jackson whose link up play with Tess Waterfall during the first quarter was fantastic, as was her shooting throughout the whole game. However, as the match progressed, the strength and energy of the Grangetown defence really stifled Thunder’s attacking options in what was a fine performance and an important win for the home side.
Grangetown Netball Club’s first Premier League fixture of 2018 was a third versus first clash as Grangetown played host to current league leaders Hucclecote.
When the sides met down in Gloucestershire in the opening round of the 2017/18 season, Hucclecote ran out convincing winners; but after eight games, the teams had identical records of six victories and two defeats, with the Cheltenham-based club boasting a better ratio of goals scored against conceded.
Grangetown had been in fine form before Christmas, winning their previous four games, whilst the visitors were on a three-match winning streak, averaging almost 66 goals per game. However, with neither club having played a competitive fixture in over a month, predicting a winner was no easy task.
The hosts were boosted by the return of Ireland defenders Gen Slater and Katie Walton, both of whom had enjoyed excellent Nations Cup tournaments in Singapore during December. And with fellow defender Jenny Mrozik having been included within the Team Northumbria Super League squad, the defensive unit looked particularly strong; which it would surely need to be against such a free-scoring attack.
The second Team Northumbria player in the Grangetown squad, Ash Neal, was also available, however Hucclecote were able to draw on the services of no less than four members of the Severn Stars Super League squad: Samantha Cook, Ella Powell-Davies, Shona O’Dwyer and Rosie Allison.
The starting sevens were as follows:
Katie Walton GK Kellie Hull
Jenny Mrozik GD Sam Cook
Gen Slater WD Ella Powell-Davies
Vicky Rees C Lauren Brooks
Ria Small WA Shona O’Dwyer
Ash Neal GA Thea Thompson
Abbie LeBrocq GS Rosie Allison
The visitors made a bright start, and good interplay between the two shooters secured a goal against the Grangetown centre pass. A successful long-range shot from left-handed goal attack Thea Thompson gave Hucclecote an early advantage, but Sam Cook was then really unlucky when she put a foot out of play in attempting an interception. Ash Neal scored from the next play, and after Katie Walton claimed possession, an excellent pass from Vicky Rees allowed Abbie le Brocq to level the scores.
The next eight goals were shared between the teams; great movement and a fine feed from Ash set up Abbie, before Rosie Allison produced a clever dummy to draw away the Grangetown defence, allowing Thea to find the net with a looping shot. At 6-6, Ash’s feigned shot and blind pass found Abbie under the net, but when a speculative pass was picked off by Kellie Hull, Thea floated the ball to her attacking partner to bring the sides level once again.
Some neat interplay between Ria Small and Ash Neal saw the Australian find the net from long range. A goal against the centre pass followed; and Grangetown’s next attack saw a ball that was heading out of play bounce fortuitously back to Abbie off the post, but the chance was not converted.
Shona O’Dwyer then found Rosie with a looped pass, but after the goal, Thea Thompson was forced to leave the court, and was replaced by Yas Hodge-England. Ash netted, before a well-read interception by Sam Cook gave Hucclecote the possession from which they narrowed the gap to a single goal; and seconds later, the visitors tied the scores once again.
The final two goals of a pulsating opening quarter came from Grangetown, who led 12-10 as the hooter sounded.
Ria Small replaced club captain Vicky Rees at centre, with Tasha Grylls coming on at wing attack.
Hucclecote opened the scoring, then applied great pressure which resulted in a three-second penalty and a chance to bring parity to proceedings. Abbie then scored twice, and Grangetown’s next goal came from great work by Ria Small, who recovered the ball in the defensive third, and then supplied a bounce-pass to Ash, who duly fed Abbie for a simple finish.
Yas Hodge-England converted from long-range, before Rosie showed great strength to hold off the home defence and find the net. Katie Walton’s brilliant airborne interception claimed possession and Abbie’s long shot rattled the net ring, but counted. Abbie’s next goal left the scoreboard reading 17-15, but the next few minutes would completely change the course of the game.
Accurate shooting from Rosie and Yas was supported by some outstanding defensive work, with Sam Cook using her height and athleticism to claim two interceptions. Sarah Adams, who had come on at wing defence also cut out a Grangetown pass, and with Lauren Brooks and the livewire Shona O’Dwyer making the most of all the possession, Hucclecote scored no less than nine unanswered goals.
Ash broke the run with an assured finish, but literally seconds later, Rosie netted to preserve the seven-goal lead. The next four goals were shared, before Ash scored right on the half-time hooter and the teams left the court with Hucclecote leading 21-27 – a significant advantage given how close the opening twenty-or-so minutes had been.
It really was an impressive spell from the visitors, who took clinical advantage of every Grangetown mistake. Coach Gel Williams brought Vicky Rees back into the fray, with Kate Hill taking over at wing defence and Gen Slater replacing Jenny Mrozik. For Hucclecote, Laura Tildesley was introduced at wing defence.
The visitors missed their first shot of the third period, with Katie Walton securing the rebound. Not for the first time however, possession was surrendered and Shona O’Dwyer’s looped pass saw Rosie Allison score at the second attempt.
Ash Neal reduced the arrears before a lovely run attracted both Hucclecote defenders, freeing Abbie for Ria’s feed into the circle. A rare miss from the 6’2” shooter enabled the visitors to score next, but Abbie netted moments later, and Kate Hill’s long ball led to an easy opportunity for Ash. It was a vital score against the centre pass, which brought Grangetown to within five of their opponents, but once again, possession was carelessly squandered and Hucclecote took full advantage and quickly reeled off four more goals.
One of Grangetown’s main qualities is their fighting spirit, and they immediately replied with a four-goal burst of their own, with Vicky and Ria both making telling contributions to set up the shooters. Gen Slater’s interception was crucial to the fourth of those goals, another against the centre pass; but Sam Cook then produced another spectacular interception just as Grangetown were gathering some momentum.
The contest between Sam Cook and Ash Neal was one of the features of the game. Both Super League players were excellent throughout, two superb athletes, whose respective skills in defence and attack were to the fore throughout the game. Ash netted twice as Grangetown continued to claw their way back into the game. When Gen Slater’s pass set up her fellow Australian, the lead was down to just three goals, but the subsequent Grangetown centre pass flew disappointingly over the sideline, handing the initiative straight back to the league leaders.
Thea Thompson returned to the court to replace Yas Hodge-England, and Thea’s first involvement was to score with a perfectly-judged long-range shot.
Ash then threw a quite sublime blind pass backwards over her left shoulder, straight to Abbie. Another outstanding piece of defensive work from Sam Cook denied Grangetown the chance to narrow the gap, but Ash’s goal right on the hooter meant that Grangetown had actually won the quarter and Hucclecote would only take a four-goal advantage into the final period.
Harriet Baxter and Hannah Raine both took to the court for the last fifteen minutes. Grangetown scored the period’s opening goal, but a pass to a double-marked shooter was easily collected and Rosie Allison again showed great strength to net under pressure.
Vicky combined with Harriet for the shooter to score with her first attempt, a goal which was quickly cancelled out by yet another from Rosie. In Hucclecote’s next attack, there was a moment reminiscent of the film The Matrix as Thea leant backwards on the edge of the court, improbably managing to keep her balance and keep the ball in play.
The visiting goal keeper Kellie Hull latched on to a pass from Gen Slater, and possession was converted into a score that extended Hucclecote’s lead to seven. Still the hosts refused to back down, and as the clocked ticked into the final two minutes, a high-looping shot from Harriet actually reduced the arrears to three goals.
For a few seconds, it looked like the crowd would be treated to a dramatic conclusion, but a Grangetown error handed the ball to Hucclecote and the resulting goal effectively sealed the result.
It was perhaps fitting that one of the last bits of action in a high-quality and entertaining game was one last interception from Sam Cook. The final score was 48-54, a well-deserved victory for a fine Hucclecote side, but to their credit, Grangetown battled right to the final hooter and played some really good netball, but when they review the game, they will probably rue too much wasted possession and the concession of those nine consecutive goals in the second quarter.
Ash Neal was Grangetown’s best performer, but my player of the match has to be Sam Cook.
Round 7 of the Mizuno Netball Premier League Division 2 saw Buckinghamshire side Clan make the journey north to face Grangetown in what looked an intriguing clash. Both sides had identical records with four wins and two defeats from their opening six fixtures, but Clan were one position above their opponents in the table courtesy of a losing bonus point earned earlier in the season.
Grangetown were looking to record a third successive win, having followed up victory over The Downs with a great result away to Ryland. Clan’s recent record was arguably even more impressive, as they had won their previous four matches, including a notable win at Hucclecote in round 4.
The visitors included former Surrey Storm Super League player Katt Ainsworth within their squad, and Grangetown were boosted by the addition of Ashleigh Neal, an Australian shooter who has also had Super League experience with Surrey Storm and Hertfordshire Mavericks.
Katie Walton GK Sophie Short
Jenny Mrozik GD Jade Forbes-Wattley
Vicky Rees WD Ella Patrick
Hannah Raine C Natalie Brookes
Ria Small WA Katt Ainsworth
Harriet Baxter GA Suzie Liversedge
Abbie LeBrocq GS Chrissy Munro
The opening four goals were shared, before Grangetown gained the early initiative after a penalty was awarded against the Clan defence, although Sophie Short looked to have completed a fair interception. The shot was converted and the lead was doubled when Katie Walton and Jenny Mrozik played the ball out of defence despite strong Clan pressure. Ria Small looped a pass to Abbie LeBrocq and the shooter, who was celebrating her birthday, made no mistake.
Natalie Brookes fired a neat pass through the home defence for Chrissy Munro to score, and seconds later, the visitors levelled the scores. Abbie found space from the centre pass to score with a free shot from under the net, and Grangetown then forced a turnover which Harriet Baxter converted and when Abbie netted at the second attempt, Grangetown led 7-4.
Clan responded with a tremendous seven-goal burst, which began with a lovely long shot from Suzie Liversedge. Chrissy Munro scored twice as Clan drew level, before Grangetown twice gifted possession to the visitors, who duly took full advantage. At 7-9, Jenny managed to get a hand to a pass to allow Katie to complete the turnover. Ria fed the ball into the circle, but the ball was knocked out of play by Sophie Short. Strangely, possession was awarded to Clan, who scored the next two goals, the second coming from a great pass that found an unmarked Chrissy Munro under the net.
Grangetown finally broke the sequence, and when Katt Ainsworth was penalised for an early break from a Clan centre pass, Harriet made a great run, which attracted both defenders, and Ria’s long pass found Abbie free to score unchallenged. More good play by Vicky Rees gave Grangetown the chance to reduce the deficit to a single goal, but Clan ended the period strongly and they led 10-14 when the whistle brought an end to the opening quarter.
Gen Slater, who will be captaining Ireland in the upcoming Nations Cup in Singapore, was brought on alongside her international defensive partner Katie Walton for the second quarter. Jenny Mrozik moved to wing defence, and Vicky Rees took over at centre.
Great pressure from Vicky twice came close to earning a three-second penalty, but a time violation was called against Clan moments later, and Grangetown moved the ball down the court and Abbie’s long shot found the net off the far edge of the hoop. Clan quickly responded and when Chrissy Munro scored having claimed an excellent rebound, the gap was now five goals.
An off-the-ball penalty put Grangetown back under pressure, but Clan surrendered possession and excellent interplay between Ria, Harriet and Abbie resulted in an important goal. Clan reopened their five-goal advantage, but were unlucky to be penalised after another Grangetown mistake looked to have handed over the ball.
Grangetown tried to force the play, but Sophie Short easily picked out a long ball into the circle. Nice interplay between Natalie Brookes and Chrissy Munro followed as the High Wycombe side maintained their lead. At 14-19, Katt Ainsworth athletically kept the ball in play, but possession was surrendered, and a fine finish from Harriet reduced the gap to four.
Jade Forbes-Wattley was penalised after what looked an excellent interception. Harriet again took advantage, and following more good work by Katie Walton, two goals from Abbie meant that Clan now only led by one.
Some indecision in the Grangetown ranks led to a misplaced pass, but Clan’s attack broke down when an attacking pass was thrown wildly out of play. Clan did score next, but the goal was quickly cancelled out after Jade Forbes-Wattley and Abbie challenged for the ball, which somewhat fortuitously ricocheted off the post straight back into the safe hands of the Grangetown shooter.
There was just time for the home side to score one more goal, but it was crucial because it brought the sides level for the first time since the early stages of the opening quarter.
It had been a hugely entertaining thirty minutes of netball. Grangetown had shown their battling qualities to fight their way back into the game, whilst Clan will probably feel as though they had done just about enough to deserve an interval lead.
The visitors shuffled their pack at half-time, whilst Grangetown’s only chance was Ashleigh Neal’s introduction at goal attack.
The Australian made an immediate impact after Jenny Mrozik’s interception had turned over possession. Quick passing in and out of the circle gave Ashleigh the opportunity to register her first goal for her new club. Abbie missed her next shot, but regathered forcefully and found the net at the second attempt.
When Katie gathered a rebound at the other end, there was a sense that momentum was starting to swing towards Grangetown and with Ashleigh cleverly drawing a contact foul and converting the subsequent shot, the home side had suddenly taken a four-goal lead.
A superb interception by Jade Forbes-Wattley followed by Katt Ainsworth’s defence-splitting cross-court pass saw Clan open their account in the third quarter. Some great movement and a well-disguised pass by Ashleigh set up Abbie for an easy score, before Katt Ainsworth was penalised for what appeared another perfectly good interception; the Australian showing her understandable disappointment and being cautioned for dissent as a result.
Ashleigh Neal’s speed of movement and thought was quickly becoming a feature of the third period; she provided an injection of pace, but also a calming influence as the hosts gradually extended their lead. One perfect example saw Ashleigh feed Ria, her off-the-ball run attracted both defenders, allowing Ria to loop a pass to Abbie who was totally unmarked in front of the net.
Some fantastic work by Vicky Rees and Gen Slater managed not only to keep the ball in play, but also secure possession. The ball was moved down the court and the goal that followed made the score 33-25.
On Grangetown’s next attack, Ashleigh feigned to shoot, but instead fed Abbie who was perfectly-placed to further extend Grangetown’s advantage. Harriet netted from a rebound right on the whistle and after two tight and hard-fought quarters, Grangetown found themselves ten goals to the good with only one quarter remaining.
It had been a quite superb period from the whole Grangetown seven, but there is no doubt that the catalyst was the appearance of Ashleigh Neal. The result had been hanging very much in the balance at half-time, but just fifteen minutes later, the eventual outcome was effectively beyond doubt.
Despite a number of unforced errors and turnovers, there was no lack of endeavour from both sides in the closing quarter, but as the clock ticked towards the ten-minute mark, the size of the advantage had increased to fifteen goals, and afforded Grangetown the luxury of giving two more of their talented younger players, Tasha Grylls and Kate Hill some valuable court time.
There was still enough time for Ria Small to produce two sublime passes into the shooters, only for both chances to be squandered. To their credit Clan kept going right to the final whistle and had clawed back five goals by full time; the final score reading 47-37.
Katie Walton was named the Mizuno Player of the Match for another commanding sixty minutes at goalkeeper, but my vote would have gone to Ashleigh Neal, whose performance in that third quarter completely changed the course of the game. Overall though, this was a fine team effort from a Grangetown side that has gelled together really well and is producing a consistently high-standard of exciting netball.
Grangetown hosted The Downs in the fifth round of the Mizuno Premier League 2nd Division. With the season still in its early stages, Grangetown had won two of their opening four fixtures and, although the club lay in eighth position, only one point separated them from the top four.
The two defeats came against the sides filling the league’s top two positions in the lead-up to week 5, and with The Downs occupying third place, it could hardly have been a tougher reintroduction to the second tier for Grangetown following their promotion through the play-offs.
The Surrey side was relegated from the top flight last season, but travelled up to the north east with a record of three wins and one defeat, their latest outing being a comfortable home success over Sussex Thunder.
Three current England internationals, Ebony Beckford-Chambers, Rachel Dunn and Hannah Reid all represented The Downs on their way to international honours; and Grangetown can boast two current internationals of their own, with Genevieve Slater and Katie Walton (pictured below) both being named in the Ireland squad for the forthcoming Nations Cup in Singapore.
The starting line-ups for the game were as follows:
Grangetown The Downs
Katie Walton GK Lorraine Kowalewska
Jenny Mrozik GD Alima Priest
Gen Slater WD Fiona Bateman
Hannah Raine C Kate McGinley
Ria Small WA Mel Boodt
Harriet Baxter GA Neala Brennan
Abbie LeBrocq GS Abi Caple
The game started with Gen Slater and Hannah Raine both coming close to interceptions, before the visitors opened the scoring. A neat pass from Grangetown’s 18-year-old centre enabled Harriet Baxter to get the home side onto the scoreboard, before Harriet and Ria Small combined to give Abbie LeBrocq the chance for Grangetown to score against The Downs’ centre pass.
The Guildford-based side soon took advantage of a fumbled pass to restore parity and were slightly unfortunate when Mel Boodt was given offside after a collision with Gen Slater knocked her into the circle. The teams traded goals until a frenetic passage of play saw The Downs grab a two-goal lead. Grangetown turned over possession from their centre pass; only to be handed back the ball after a three-second violation. A speculative pass failed to find Abbie LeBrocq and Alima Priest’s long diagonal ball opened up the court and the visitors netted after a foul was called against Katie Walton.
Grangetown again conceded possession after a long pass went over the backline, only to receive the ball back after a footwork call against the visitors. Defensive pressure was forcing Grangetown into rushed passes and eventually it took some nice interplay between Harriet and Ria Small to set up Abbie for a straightforward chance.
With The Downs on the attack, Lorraine Kowalewska was penalised for obstruction at the opposite end of the court. It was a stroke of luck for the hosts, but the umpire blew for an early break from the resulting centre pass, and the visitors duly netted to maintain their two-goal margin.
It had been a closely-fought opening quarter, but The Downs had been slightly the better side and deserved their narrow advantage, however as the period neared its conclusion, Grangetown suddenly clicked into gear and scored six unanswered goals to leave the score 13-9 at quarter time.
Gen Slater fired a superb pass to Harriet, whose run attracted both visiting defenders. Harriet was able to feed Abbie LeBrocq who was totally unmarked under the net. An almost identical pass gave Abbie another free shot to level the scores, before Katie and Jenny Mrozik both claimed possession, firstly by intercepting a long pass, then regathering the ball after a shot rebounded off the ring.
Grangetown missed two shots of their own, but seconds later, Ria found Harriet free on the left of the circle, and the shot was duly converted. Three goals came in a frantic final minute; Abi netting three times, with the final goal coming literally seconds before the hooter sounded. The opening quarter had been entertaining, and Grangetown’s run of goals arguably belied how even a game it had been.
An unchanged Grangetown side then scored the first three goals of the second period, the third coming following an off-the-ball penalty against Lorraine Kowalewska, whose tussle with Abbie LeBrocq was one of the features of the entire sixty minutes.
Ria Small nearly pulled off a fantastic interception, but The Downs were denied a goal when great marking from Katie Walton drew a penalty. Unfortunately, the pass out of defence was dropped, and The Downs finally opened their account after nearly four minutes of the quarter.
The next four goals were shared, but Grangetown claimed a turnover after a long looped pass had been superbly caught by Katie Walton; it should have been an even contest for the ball, but as soon as the pass was in flight, there was only ever going to be one outcome. The ball travelled quickly down the court; Abbie netted, but the goal was ruled out. Abi Caple then scored from long range, before converting an easier chance from Neala Brennan’s cleverly disguised pass.
Abbie scored the game’s next three goals, but The Downs still looked dangerous, with centre Kate McGinley really coming to the fore with her ability to find space out wide and feed excellent passes into the attackers.
Lorraine Kowalewska did well to turn over possession and the subsequent goal reduced the margin to five, but she was immediately cautioned for what was seen as deliberate obstruction on Abbie LeBrocq, who had no trouble converting the shooting opportunity.
Yet again, as the quarter drew to a close, Grangetown’s outstanding fitness levels were very much in evidence. Another flurry of goals saw Grangetown go into the half-time interval 27-18 in front; it was a sizeable advantage, but one that the home side had worked incredibly hard to earn.
Hannah Raine was withdrawn during the interval, after putting in a really good shift at centre. Ria Small replaced Hannah, with Kate Hill being introduced at wing attack, and club captain Vicky Rees coming on at wing defence.
Although Grangetown scored first in the third period, following really quick interplay between Ria and Harriet Baxter, the quarter was essentially dominated by The Downs. Grangetown lacked the cohesion of the preceding half-hour, conceded far too many penalties, and the visitors were more than capable of converting the chances that came their way.
Vicky Rees and Ria Small combined to leave Abbie with an easy shot from right under the net to make the score 30-21, but the next six goals were all scored by The Downs, whose fightback was both quick and impressive. Grangetown eventually replied through the trusted Small-LeBrocq combination, but it was Harriet Baxter who really caught the eye towards the end of the quarter.
Her movement and link-up play were superb; she looked like she’d played alongside her team mates for years rather than just a handful of games; and as well as a number of excellent feeds into her shooting partner, Harriet also found the net on a number of occasions.
At the end of what had been a difficult quarter, Grangetown had managed to hold onto a five-goal lead. It was clear that there would be changes to the on-court personnel; and Gen Slater duly returned to the fray, with Vicky Rees and Ria Small combining in mid-court.
There are some talented youngsters in the Grangetown squad, but there is also a great deal of experience; and the final fifteen minutes was all about composure. The hard work had been done in the first half; a more than useful advantage had been maintained despite a strong third period from the visitors; now it was a question of remaining strong and focussed.
The first goal was created by Hannah Baxter, who took a ball from Vicky Rees and drilled a pass to Abbie at a pace she didn’t look like she was expecting. However, Abbie managed to keep her poise and once again found the net.
Katie Walton and Jenny Mrozik both played the full sixty minutes and had excellent games. They secured numerous interceptions and rebounds, and restricted the visiting attack to just five goals in the fourth period. In contrast, Grangetown recovered the fluidity they had temporarily lost in the previous quarter, and if there had been any nervousness, it certainly didn’t show as both Abbie and Harriet scored from close-range and longer distance in the closing moments of the match.
Kate McGinley, who was The Downs’ best player on the day produced one of the best passes of the afternoon to take both Grangetown defenders out of the game and set up a straightforward shooting opportunity, but Grangetown were relentless and the goal difference had reached double figures when the final hooter brought proceedings to an end.
The final score was 48-37. It was a tremendous performance from Grangetown, who showed real maturity to see out the game after The Downs had rallied so strongly. The visitors will be disappointed by the size of the defeat; and they showed enough to suggest they will be one of the division’s stronger teams. Katie Walton and Jenny Mrozik’s efforts in defence must be highlighted, but the player of the match was Harriet Baxter (below), who had an outstanding afternoon at goal attack.
Grangetown Netball Club faced a difficult opening home fixture following last season’s promotion back to National Premier League 2. Visitors Telstars travelled up from Kent having won a close encounter against Sussex Thunder in round one; whereas Grangetown had suffered a heavy defeat away to Cheltenham-based Hucclecote.
Prior to the game, Grangetown unveiled their new 2017/18 kit, but the squad contained many familiar faces from the previous campaign; the only new addition being Harriet Baxter in attack.
Grangetown started the match with a strong defensive unit of Jenny Mrozik, and the club’s two Ireland players Katie Walton and Gen Slater. Club captain Vicky Rees (centre) and Ria Small (wing attack) were the experienced mid-court pairing, and shooting duties fell to two of the younger members of the squad; Tasha Grylls and Abbie LeBrocq.
The Telstars line-up featured Amoy Clark who, at 6’5”, was always going to test the Grangetown defence, but it was the home side who opened the scoring, before Clark got on the scoresheet. Grangetown then took advantage of a penalty awarded against the visitors from their second centre pass with Abbie LeBrocq making no mistake following a looped pass from Ria Small.
One of the main features of the opening period was the way Grangetown attempted to deal with the presence of Amoy Clark. The Telstars game plan was as obvious, as it was effective, until Katie Walton picked out another high feed into the circle. Grangetown were unable to convert the turnover, but Katie made two further interceptions in the first quarter, and with chances being taken at the other end of the court, Grangetown had a six-point lead when the hooter sounded.
Grangetown had made a strong start to the game; the speed through the court was very much in evidence, although there were one or two occasions when play did become slightly frenetic, and possession was surrendered. For their part, Telstars could count themselves slightly unfortunate as a number of umpiring decisions went against their defensive pairing of Fran Beach and Caroline Hills; and Abbie and Tasha were more than happy to take advantage.
The second quarter started with an excellent piece of skill from the visitors to not only keep the ball in play, but find an unmarked shooter. The ball was erroneously ruled out of court, and Tasha duly netted from distance before Kate Hill (who had come on at wing attack) fed an excellent long ball for Abbie to extend the lead. Kate then provided a lovely floated pass to Tasha, whose shot rolled in off the outer ring to maintain the 8-goal difference.
There was then a spell of errors and turnovers from both sides. Grangetown eventually managed to score when Tasha confidently converted from the edge of the circle, before Telstars reeled off four goals without reply to half the deficit.
Grangetown were briefly, but clearly rattled. With the scoreboard reading 23-19, three forced passes gifted possession back to the visitors. It needed a nice piece of skill by Ria Small, who recovered the ball from inside the circle, whilst keeping her feet away from the line, to give Abbie an opportunity to calm the home side’s nerves.
A brilliant read from Jenny Mrozik resulted in the interception of a centre pass and another goal for Abbie. The teams traded goals until the end of the half, with Grangetown still having a five-goal cushion.
The second quarter highlighted the potency of Telstars’ style of play. Strong pressure at the back of the court, quick transitions and accurate feeds into their tall shooter. It wasn’t difficult to see how momentum could quickly turn their way. However, Grangetown rallied really well after that four-goal burst; and by the end of the period, they had certainly reasserted some level of dominance.
It was no shock to see Vicky Rees return for the third quarter to add some extra assurance to proceedings, but Amoy Clark’s withdrawal was something of a surprise. Without her, Telstars had little in the way of attacking options, and play had been underway for almost six minutes before they registered their first goal.
By then, Grangetown had scored six times. Gen Slater and Jenny Mrozik were well in control in defence; the Rees-Small-Hill trio displayed some great pass variety, and the shooting from Abbie and Tasha was exemplary. The attacking play was especially noteworthy, because Fran Beach and Caroline Hills were an athletic and uncompromising duo, and were probably the visitors’ best players on the day.
As a contest, the game was effectively over at 38-25. Hannah Raine and Harriet Baxter were introduced for the final fifteen minutes; and both made some telling contributions as the goal difference was maintained, with Grangetown eventually claiming victory by 49-36.
Even this early in the season, the squad looks extremely fit and cohesive. In previous years it has taken some time to gel, but that would be an unaffordable luxury in a division packed with so many strong teams. Grangetown showed plenty of resilience when put under intense pressure and hopefully all these positive qualities will continue to be in evidence over the next few months.
This was an excelled team performance, but my player of the match is Abbie LeBrocq, not just for her shooting, but for the way she dealt with the challenge posed by two excellent defenders.
Sussex Thunder made the long journey from the south coast to Grangetown for today’s top-of-the-table clash in National Premier League 3.
The visitors had won 13 of their 15 games and had suffered just a single defeat during the campaign, whereas Grangetown’s reverse at Poole the previous weekend had left them with a record of 9 wins and 6 losses.
Grangetown were without Jaydene Robinson, Kate Hill and Hannah Raine, but Team Northumbria’s Brie Grierson was able to start, and head coach Gel Williams was able to welcome Ellen Wright for her first full match.
The game began with two penalties being called before a pass had been completed, and Thunder duly opened the scoring. Jenny Mrozik’s first interception of the afternoon regained possession after Grangetown had lost the ball from their first centre pass. Ria Small’s looped feed to Abbie Le Brocq allowed the home side to level, and set the pattern for a closely-fought and high-quality opening quarter.
Pressure from Jenny Mrozik saw Thunder overthrow a pass after the visiting goal defence had claimed another attempted lobbed pass. Abbie Le Brocq levelled proceedings before finding the net again to give Grangetown the lead for the first time. Unfortunately a three-second call gifted possession back to Sussex, who scored a superb goal after a wonderful piece of skill to tap the ball back into play was followed by an instant pass into the circle to give the shooter a straightforward chance.
A successful long shot put Thunder back in front, and Gen Slater was then penalised for footwork; the subsequent score putting the visitors two goals in front. Great work from Jenny Mrozik and Irish international defender Gen Slater turned over possession and an outstanding catch and flick by Brie Grierson to Abbie Le Brocq offered the 6’ 2” shooter an easy opportunity to cancel out the goal against the centre pass.
The sides then traded goals, with Vicky Rees recovering possession by forcing a wayward pass with some excellent defensive pressure after Grangetown had initially turned over the ball after another three second violation. At 9-9, Grangetown managed to edge in front, but the visitors’ goal defence produced a fine interception to enable Thunder to equalise; however Abbie Le Brocq rounded off an excellent fifteen minutes of netball by netting her tenth goal from ten attempts to give Grangetown the narrowest of advantages at the hooter.
Gel Williams shuffled her pack during the break with Tasha Grylls coming on at goal attack, and Ellen Wright replacing Ria Small at centre.
Grangetown gave up possession straight from the opening centre pass, but Thunder’s long range shot was off the mark, and the hosts managed to work the ball down the court with Tasha Grylls maintaiing her side’s 100% shooting accuracy. A contact penalty against the Sussex shooter handed Grangetown the chance to extend their lead; the ball was lost, but Jenny Mrozik’s excellent rebound was followed by an equally impressive long shot from Abbie Le Brocq.
Thunder then produced an excellent spell of play and scored the next five goals, but Grangetown were possibly a bit unfortunate as more excellent work from Vicky Rees went unrewarded, and a string of penalties were awarded against the home side, including a tough call on Gen Slater for footwork after what looked a brilliant interception.
Grangetown replied with a wonderful length-of-the-court move, which included a series of quick passes and a quite superb catch and feed from Ellen Wright.
A couple of Grangetown misses followed, but a crucial three-second call against Abbie Le Brocq in the act of shooting allowed Thunder to restore a three-goal lead, which was increased to four as the hooter brought the half to a close.
The third quarter provided fifteen pulsating minutes of thrilling netball. Thunder scored three goals in the opening seventy seconds and the advantage was increased to double figures as the visitors assumed total control of the match. It took another Jenny Mrozik rebound and some great work from Ria Small to break the sequence, but Sussex immediately turned over Grangetown’s subsequent centre pass and looked supremely confident as they scored to make the score 18-28.
From the sidelines, it looked as though a number of Grangetown heads momentarily dropped, but what followed was a truly remarkable fightback that rattled the league leaders, and showed the very best of this young Grangetown squad.
18-28 became 24-28 as Jenny Mrozik picked off a telegraphed cross-court pass, before seventeen-year old Tasha Grylls made a couple of telling contributions both outside and inside the circle. Thunder had a temporary reprieve when a shot from Abbie Le Brocq rolled round the rim of the net, but did not drop; and then another three-second penalty was given against the Grangetown shooter.
To her credit, the teenager kept her composure to score with her next attempt. Two further goals followed and at the end of the quarter, the Sussex lead had been reduced to a single goal.
It was a remarkable comeback and when the hosts netted twice in the early moments of the final period, Grangetown were in front for the first time since the start of the second quarter. Thunder levelled, and nudged back in front after Abbie Le Brocq had a goal chalked off by the umpire.
Grangetown kept their focus and immediately equalised from Thunder’s centre pass, before taking the lead once again. Sussex are top of the division for a reason though, and with Natalie Miller and Sophie Jackson in particular producing some superb plays under pressure, a run of five quick goals looked to have secured the win for the visitors.
Incredibly, before the next goal was scored, Grangetown were on the wrong end of two further three-second penalties, the fifth and sixth of the game; and with probably four of the decisions being at best fifty-fifty calls, this aspect of the game undoubtedly cost Grangetown a lot of crucial possession.
Sussex continued to pass and shoot really well under pressure, but Grangetown kept pressing and reduced the arrears to two. Abbie Le Brocq had a chance to narrow the gap to a single goal, but the shot was missed and Sussex showed their skill and fitness with some superb passing and movement to run down the clock and claim the win 37-39.
Sussex Thunder are the best side to have visited Grangetown this season. They played some tremendous netball, and yet Grangetown left the court feeling it was a game they could and should have won. For those watching, it was a tremendous match, played in a good spirit between two fine sides. Along with results elsewhere, Grangetown have slipped down to third position, but only two points separate the four clubs vying for play-off places behind the runaway leaders.
The Mizuno Player of the Match was Ellen Wright, but my votes went to Jenny Mrozik and to Thunder’s Sophie Jackson.
The second of consecutive home games for Grangetown Netball Club saw the second-placed side in National Premier League 3 face Manchester-based club Dominoes.
Having overcome a determined Cumberland squad the previous week, Grangetown went into the Dominoes match without Jaydene Robinson and Brie Grierson, who were both unavailable due to their Super league commitments with Team Northumbria; but Ireland defender Gen Slater travelled over from Dublin to take her place alongside fellow international Katie Walton for the opening quarter.
Dominoes scored first, before Abbie le Brocq cleverly drew a contact foul to net with her first shot of the game. The teams traded goals until a neat pass from Gen Slater to Ria Small, gave the centre the opportunity to bounce a pass to teenage goal attack Tasha Grylls, who put the home side in front for the first time.
A stroke of luck saw Grangetown extend their lead after possession was retained when an overthrown pass hit the post and ricocheted out of play off the visiting goal keeper. Dominoes recovered quickly, and a lovely long ball into the circle was converted by the goal shooter to make the score 6-4 to Grangetown.
However, a poor pass immediately gifted possession back to Grangetown, and instead of shooting, Tasha cleverly passed to Abbie who restored the three-goal advantage.
Katie Walton’s second interception of the quarter went unrewarded as the subsequent pass into the Dominoes circle was overthrown. Kate Hill at wing attack then neatly fed Tasha who calmly netted from distance.
Some excellent interplay between the visiting wing attack and shooter should have brought Dominoes to within one goal, but the shot was missed; Katie Walton grabbed the rebound, and the ball was moved quickly down court for Abbie to score the first of three quick goals. The second of those came from more good work from Dominoes, but another missed attempt was gathered by Gen; and the third came from a fortunate rebound fell to Tasha, and Abbie netted at the second attempt.
A goal right on the hooter brought the advantage back to five, and Grangetown’s 13-8 lead was a fair reflection of the balance of play in the first fifteen minutes.
Head coach Gel Williams brought on Jenny Mrozik in place of Katie Walton for the second quarter, and after an early miss from Grangetown, Dominoes made the most of the umpires missing a ball caught out of play to score against Grangetown’s centre pass.
After Jenny was on the wrong end of another incorrect call when she was ruled to have taken the ball out of play, Dominoes netted again; and a couple of minutes later after their goal attack did extremely well to hang onto a long pass, her successful shot put Dominoes into a lead that had looked so unlikely at the end of the previous period.
Abbie restored parity, then Gen’s interception saw Grangetown’s 6’2” shooter score with a long-range effort that bounced in off the front of the hoop. Tasha’s next goal, following an interception from Ria and excellent work from captain Vicky Rees opened the gap to two; but some scrappy play and a series of misses allowed the Manchester side–who went into the game six places below their hosts–to regain the lead again.
The teams were tied at 18-18 with just over a minute remaining, but three goals in those final moments, the third from a spectacular interception from Tasha, saw Grangetown leave the court with a half-time advantage that didn’t really represent how well Dominoes had played.
Hannah Raine was introduced in place of Kate Hill for the third period; some welcome court time for the sixteen-year old who has recently recovered from a knee injury.
Tasha drew a contact foul to open the scoring, before two more goals from Abbie (one from a very good feed from Hannah Raine) meant that Grangetown had scored six without reply. Dominoes quickly halved the arrears, but the next three goals again came from Grangetown, with one turnover being brilliant secured by Gen’s shot block.
At 27-21, Vicky was very unlucky not to secure possession with some great defensive play, but the visiting wing defence was equally unfortunate when she did superbly well to keep the ball in play; only for the umpire to rule she had gone out of court. She then completed an excellent interception, but Dominoes missed their subsequent shot and Abbie converted at the second attempt to maintain Grangetown’s six-goal lead.
Gen Slater brilliantly claimed possession and a lovely move down the Grangetown right freed Abbie to score against the Dominoes centre pass, but the visitors rallied and two late goals left the score at 32-26 at three-quarter time.
If there was any thought that the six-goal lead was decisive, Dominoes certainly had other ideas, and they capitalised on a string of Grangetown errors to bring the visitors to within one goal. Moments later it was 33-33, and when a telegraphed diagonal pass was easily intercepted by the goal defence, the Dominoes shooter took an impressive one-handed catch and scored the goal that put the visitors in front
With under five minutes remaining, and with the scores level, Kate Hill returned to the court in place of Hannah Raine, and her first involvement was to set up Abbie to edge Grangetown back in front. Dominoes equalised but Tasha (twice) and Abbie both found the net under intense pressure, and when Jenny Mrozik forced a shooting error to turnover possession, the victory was finally secured.
Two more goals, one each from both the Grangetown shooters, made the final score 41-36.
It was a tense, but nevertheless enjoyable game and ultimately the differences between the sides were arguably Grangetown’s superior fitness, and the fact that over recent weeks, they have simply become used to winning. The players will probably agree that this was not their best performance of the season; but this is a talented squad, Vicky Rees and her players lack nothing in belief and determination, and this hugely important win consolidates their position behind runaway leaders Sussex Thunder.
Player of the Match – Gen Slater (below)