Grangetown played host to Team Jets in Sunday’s Premier League Division 2 fixture. The visitors made the 900 mile round trip from their base in Jersey lying fifth in the table, with six wins and forty points from ten fixtures; three places and nine points ahead of Grangetown.
Team Jets had been in excellent form since before Christmas, winning four and drawing one of their five previous fixtures; their most recent outing being a thrilling single goal victory over a very useful Worcester Reds side. In contrast, the home side’s last game had ended in a narrow defeat at Telstars, despite Grangetown having held a nine-goal lead at half-time.
Grangetown were able to welcome Scottish internationals Gemma Sole and Jo Pettitt, both players having been unused members of the Team Northumbria squad that had lost its Super League opener to Manchester Thunder the previous evening—interestingly, the Thunder’s starting seven included Tameside’s Ellie Cardwell, who had been so impressive against Grangetown earlier in the season.
The home side started strongly, with captain Vicky Rees producing a superb interception to help set up Jo Pettitt for the second of her opening three goals. The Jets’ goal keeper soon picked off a speculative Marie Ewing pass to earn possession from which the visitors opened their account; the St Helier-based side then produced some excellent interplay on the edge of the circle and although Katie Walton was able to knock the ball out of court, the Jets netted from the restart.
The game was being played at a furious pace, and it was Grangetown who were able to make the most of a number of Jets’ errors and missed shots to open up a six-goal advantage. The attacking combination of Jo Pettitt and Gemma Sole was working particularly well, and at the opposite end of the court, both Jenny Mrozik and Katie Walton were making life hard for the Jets’ shooters.
From 10-4 however, the visitors seized the initiative and scored four goals without reply. Lynsey Pitman scored with a fine looping shot following a swift exchange of passes with centre Jacy Brown. Without the ball, the Jets pressed the player in possession and forced an error from which the deficit was narrowed to two. An offside call against Grangetown centre Ria Small offered the Jets another chance, but the resulting shot was missed and Jenny Mrozik gratefully collected the rebound.
It was a decisive moment, as Grangetown scored the quarter’s final three goals; the last coming right on the hooter to make the score 13-8.
The home side quickly added to their advantage at the start of the second period, although one goal came following a well-defended centre pass that seemed to have been delayed beyond three seconds. No question mark over the next goal though, which was created by some great movement and passing by Marie Ewing. Ria Small then showed sublime handling skills to feed Jo Pettitt, whose floated pass to Gemma Sole enabled her fellow Scottish Thistle to maintain the seven-goal margin.
The Jets rallied once again, and Lynsey Pitman remained at the heart of most of the visitors’ best attacking moves. By no means the tallest goal attack in the division, Lynsey’s speed of thought and movement were superb to watch; and her shooting accuracy was impressive throughout.
The brief revival then sparked a spell of flowing netball from Grangetown that was as good as anything the squad had produced all season. Ria Small was having a magnificent game at centre, and the host’s international shooters kept converting. Some of Grangetown’s approach play was irresistible, and it says much for the quality in the Jets’ side that the quarter ended with their own best play of the first thirty minutes; some wonderful movement drawing both defenders away from Team Jets’ goal shooter who scored unchallenged from right under the post.
With the scoreboard reading 29-18, Grangetown coach Linzi Filiata made a couple of changes during the half time interval, Lesley Mouat being introduced at wing defence; and Jenny Mrozik and Vicky Rees forming the new defensive pairing.
The eleven goal advantage was quickly extended to eighteen, with Ria Small continuing to be instrumental in much of Grangetown’s best work. To their credit, the Jets never stopped pressing and a Jacy Brown interception was the catalyst for a five-goal burst that was interrupted by a solitary response from Jo Pettitt. Grangetown needed a moment of inspiration of their own, and it came courtesy of an outstanding turnover claimed by Lesley Mouat, with Jo Pettitt subsequently converting Ria Small’s looped pass.
Lesley made two more telling interceptions in the final quarter, and Katie Walton produced one amazing shot block; and as the teams traded goals, Linzi Filiata was able to give court time and invaluable experience to Tasha Grylls and Hannah Raine, both of whom are just sixteen years of age. Team Jets narrowed the gap significantly in the closing minutes, but the two biggest cheers of the day from the home spectators were reserved for Hannah’s athletic interception and pass whilst heading out of court and Tasha’s goal, which completed the scoring and a richly-deserved 50-40 victory for Grangetown.
For Jo Pettitt and Gemma Sole, it had been a busy twenty-four hours, having both been in Birmingham with the Team Northumbria squad the previous evening: “The atmosphere was electric,” Jo smiled.” It was unbelievable to be there in front of eight thousand people—so exciting. We know everyone’s always going to be fighting to be in the starting seven, but even to be part of the squad is an honour.
“As for today, I thought it was a really good game. The intensity was good, we stuck to our structures well, and the girls are pleased to get the win.
“Personally I was happy with how things went. Gemma and I play together all the time, and it’s great when you know how the other shooter will react to what you’re doing, and I thought that Ria was fantastic; she was looking into the circle early and using fakes to create space for us, which makes such a difference.”
And from the Team Jets perspective: “We didn’t start very well,” conceded club captain, Lauren Devine. “Grangetown came out and brought the game to us, which was credit to them. We started to claw it back later in the first quarter—we got the gap down to two at one stage—but trailed by five at the break.
“We really lost the game in the second quarter, I think. We dug in deep, but it was too little too late. Grangetown punished us when we made errors, but we weren’t able to do the same when they made mistakes. Their shooting accuracy was very good and they put on a lot of pressure through the court so it wasn’t easy for us to bring the court down and penetrate through the middle.
“I think we should be proud of how we finished the game, but we need to go back to the drawing board about the start....
“Overall though, this season has been a wonderful experience. It’s been a bit up and down; obviously we didn’t start very well, but we’ve been really pleased with our recent performances. I’ve probably enjoyed this season more than the last, even though we’ve lost more games. We’ve been challenged and pushed; we’ve come up against internationals, Super League players... you can’t get better unless you meet people like that; and we’ve certainly learned a lot from Grangetown today.”
Sunday’s result may not have gone the Jets’ way, but there is certainly a lot to admire about the progress the club is making both on and off court, as Lauren explained: “On Thursday, we were named ‘Team of the Year’ in the Channel Islands for the second year in a row, which obviously gets us a lot of publicity. The papers and the radio are very good to us, as are our sponsors and the crowd. The support has grown so much over the past couple of years; it can be a bit daunting at times at home where we might be playing in front of five hundred spectators, but it’s amazing and we’re so proud to be part of it.”
Jo Pettitt 27
Gemma Sole 22
Tasha Grylls 1
Official Player of the Match: Gemma Sole
My Players of the Match: Ria Small (Grangetown) and Lynsey Pitman (Jets)
Grangetown Netball Club returned to Premier League action after the Christmas and New Year break, with a home fixture against fourth-placed Worcester Reds.
Both teams had lost their final fixture of 2015; Grangetown away to the Reds’ local rivals Ryland, whilst Worcester were on the wrong end of a narrow reverse against Kent County. One week earlier, Grangetown had defeated the Kent side, so everything pointed to a close encounter at Middlesbrough Sports Village.
The Reds arrived on Teesside with the best defence in the division, having conceded just 346 goals in their ten fixtures—a better record even than the unbeaten league leaders Tameside.
Grangetown went into the game without captain Vicky Rees, injured centre Jill Reah, Scottish international shooter Jo Pettitt, and the Republic of Ireland duo Jan Hynes and Genevieve Slater, but this enabled coach Linzi Filiata to hand a first Prem start to Tasha Grylls, who had celebrated her sixteenth birthday the previous day. Tasha took her place on court at goal attack alongside Scottish Thistle Gemma Sole, as Grangetown looked to improve on their seventh position in the table.
The visitors were quickly into their stride, scoring the game’s first three goals, before Gemma Sole registered Grangetown’s first success.
Grangetown produced a number of excellent defensive interceptions, with Katie Walton and Lesley Mouat prominent in the opening period, but on a number of occasions, hard-won possession was given away, and with Reds’ goal attack Lucy Heardman in particular looking composed in the circle, the home side were unable to get back on level terms.
A superb long shot from Gemma Sole brought the score to 8-9, but after great defence from Jenny Mrozik had forced the turnover, Grangetown were unable to capitalise, and three quick goals extended Worcester’s lead to four at the end of the first period.
The Reds’ momentum continued into the second quarter, and they scored ten of the next thirteen goals to take their advantage into double figures. The visitors were dominating the centre of the court; their movement and the passes into the circle were outstanding at times, and both Lucy Heardman and Kelly Hull were making the most of their shooting opportunities.
Following an injury time-out, Grangetown made changes, with Ria Small and Marie Ewing swapping positions to centre and wing attack respectively, and Tasha Grylls being replaced by Faye Summerhill. It had been a tough baptism for the teenager, against an experienced and uncompromising defence, but Tasha is both a gifted young athlete and a very exciting prospect, and she will have gained a great deal from the experience.
In the closing minutes of the half, Grangetown narrowed the gap slightly, as they produced their best netball of the opening thirty minutes. The final goal of the second period was a flowing move that swept the full length of the left-hand side of the court, and resulted in Gemma Sole converting her sixteenth goal, with the half-time score reading 17-25 in favour of Worcester Reds.
The visitors made the perfect start to the third quarter, scoring five unanswered goals. Grangetown’s effort could not be faulted, with Lesley Mouat, Jenny Mrozik and Katie Walton, who was having an outstanding game at goalkeeper, again forcing interceptions or errors, but with the hosts trailing by thirteen goals, it was hard to foresee anything other than a comfortable victory for Worcester.
But this Grangetown squad lacks nothing in character, and they produced an almost irresistible passage of play to score five consecutive goals of their own. The momentum was broken by a Reds’ injury time-out, but Grangetown responded to the subsequent concession of a couple of quick goals with another tremendous five-goal burst.
It has been an amazing fifteen minutes, memorable not only for some wonderful attacking netball by Grangetown, but also for two spectacular athletic interceptions from Worcester goal defence Rachel Sweet.
With the gap now down to six goals, Marie Ewing and stand-in captain Ria Small were instrumental in dictating play driving Grangetown forward in the final period. A fortunate rebound off the post allowed Gemma Sole to open the scoring, but a missed shot and a harsh-looking three second penalty enabled the Reds to extend their lead to seven.
Grangetown’s comeback was far from over however. Gemma Sole netted four times in quick succession, before recently-introduced Sarah Sainty rounded off a lovely move with her first goal of the afternoon to make the score 33-35.
Unfortunately, that was as close as Grangetown came to producing what would have been a stunning result. There was still time for Katie Walton to round off a tremendous personal performance with yet another interception, and Gemma Sole to score her thirty-third goal of a thoroughly entertaining and occasionally physical encounter; but in the end, Worcester Reds held on to record a hard-fought and deserved 37-40 victory.
After the game, Scotland shooter Gemma Sole reflected on the afternoon’s events: “We knew they were going to be physical,” Gemma admitted, “and they really brought it to us, but we’re physical and strong too. The girls have been doing a lot of training, and strength and conditioning work. They’ve built really strong bodies, so we handled that aspect of the game well.
“It was refreshing to see a lot of different combinations tried out today too, and all the players who came on made a real impact.
“The last two quarters were amazing,” she continued. “Personally I didn’t realise that the deficit had grown that large. There would have been times when we might have lost our heads, and that would have been game over; but the fact that we pegged it back to three goals at the end shows just how far the girls have come, not just physically, but also with their winning mentality, and it’s brilliant to be a part of it.”
For Worcester’s Cathy Bedney and Laura Gale, it had been a long, but hugely rewarding trip.
“We travelled up yesterday;” Cathy explained, “it’s a long way to come, but it’s a fantastic facility and it was nice to play in front of a vocal crowd as well. It’s always hard playing away from home, but we got off to an excellent start. Grangetown made some really good tactical changes in the second quarter, which had an immediate impact, and we were a little bit on the back foot going into the third quarter.”
“That’s probably the first time we’ve flowed in attack right from the outset,” Laura agreed, “although Grangetown’s changes worked and did interrupt the flow that we had. I thought their wing attack [Marie Ewing] was outstanding; the way that she moved the ball around; she was definitely Grangetown’s main playmaker into the attack. And their shooting was good for most of the game too, so we couldn’t rely on getting a rebound if we’d lost possession.
“During the second half, I think their attack flowed better than ours. They seemed to find each other really easily; we’ve got a really strong defence and our goals against record is excellent, but there were times when their players just made the game look really easy.”
“They made a lot of changes in attack,” Cathy added, “and each new partnership seemed to work well, which kept our defence thinking and meant we could never settle.”
There had been a number of excellent performances amongst the visitor’s squad, with Lucy Heardman perhaps being the pick, and Laura Gale was quick to praise the efforts of her team mate: “Lucy was immense at goal attack. She almost seems to come from behind the player to collect rebounds; she’s certainly not in the dominant position to get the ball or win a penalty, but she was fantastic today. There have been games when our shooting percentages have been lower than we would have liked, but today our shooting was spot on, and it just gives the rest of the team so much confidence when they know the ball is going to go in almost every time we get to the circle, so I think both Lucy and Kelly Hull deserve a lot of credit.”
“And I thought that Rachel Sweet made a real impact at goal defence,” added Cathy, “which is probably her natural position in this league. And bringing Laura [Gale] back on for the last quarter helped us to drive forward and dictate the space much better after Grangetown had come back into the game.”
Grangetown return to Prem action in a fortnight, with a long journey down to Dartford in Kent, to face Telstars.
Well so far so good; I’m already 15 hours into “Dry January”... only 729 hours to go. Walk in the park...!
A short netball blog to start off 2016. I can’t wait for Grangetown Prem squad’s next home match on January 10—seems ages since I saw the girls out on court. I will be reporting on the rest of the season’s home fixtures, but I think it’s also high time I did a couple more Grangetown interviews.
I’ve already spoken with Vicky, Ria, Faye and Jenny, as well as two of our internationals, Gemma and Jan; so there are still plenty of potential victi... er... subjects for the next few months. This is therefore an open invitation to any members of the Prem squad (including up-and-coming juniors) to drop me a message if you want to have a half-hour (or so) chat that will I will then transform into an article which will be posted on this site and shared in whatever way possible to raise the profile of the club.
I was going to say “form an orderly queue”, but I think I’ll settle for “please get in touch....”
I am looking forward to continuing my unofficial arrangement with Netball Ireland, and will be catching up with Gen Slater and Trish Fanning in the not too distant future; and I definitely want to talk to our players who hail from north of the border as well (with permission from Netball Scotland).
From a fundraising point of view, there will be another twelve hour solo darts marathon (possibly in May), where I will be aiming to hit more 180s and raise more money than last year. I’m sure the venue will be The Cleveland again (thanks Gel x), and when a date is finalised, I will try to get some really good raffle/auction prizes—all I ask is that whenever the event is held, a few of you will come down to be part of the day (and enjoy a drink or two afterwards).
Well I think that’s all for now. Happy New Year and best wishes to everyone involved with Grangetown Netball Club.