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.