Grangetown Netball Club began their National Premier League 2 season with a narrow 37-42 defeat to Ryland.
The match was played at the new Middlesbrough Sports Village, which will host all Grangetown’s home Prem2 games, and in amongst the crowd was the British Darts Organisation world ranked no.1 player Glen Durrant, who is originally from Grangetown.
The home side included Ria Small and Marie Ewing, both of whom were members of last season’s Team Northumbria Super League squad, and Gemma Sole, who scored more than a hundred goals during Scotland’s recent World Cup campaign in Australia. The visitors had travelled up from Bromsgrove in Worcestershire the previous day and were playing their first game in Prem 2, having been promoted as champions from the third division.
Grangetown had slightly the better of the early exchanges, during which they opened up a two-goal lead. Under pressure from a strong, uncompromising defence, Faye Summerhill and Kate Williams shared the goals during that period, but at the other end of the court, the Ryland shooters also looked equally assured.
At 11-9, the difference had been two outstanding turnovers by Grangetown captain Vicky Rees, however the balance of the game swung very much in favour of the visitors with a run of eight unanswered goals either side of the end of the first quarter to give Ryland what would be a decisive lead. Ryland’s spell of dominance was typified by excellent shooting and one piece of good fortune when the goal keeper got a hand to a Grangetown pass, deflecting the ball onto the post and straight back into her arms to spark another attack.
For their part Grangetown had their fair share of the ball, with Jenny Mrozik, Jill Reah and Vicky Rees all claiming excellent interceptions, but for the hosts, the second quarter was all too often a story of wasted possession and missed opportunities and Ryland led 17-24 at half time.
Coach Linzi Filiata shuffled her pack during the break, but Ryland maintained their advantage during the next fifteen minutes. There was an obvious sense of frustration as a number of calls from the umpires went against Grangetown, however the home side played well enough to reduce the arrears to just five goals at one point, before a number of errors handed Ryland possession and their more clinical finishing saw the Bromsgrove side re-establish their advance in that third quarter.
Throughout last season, Grangetown had demonstrated high levels of fitness and an ability to produce some memorable fightbacks during the final period For a time, it looked like the increasingly vociferous crowd might be treated to another thrilling finish as Grangetown battled to within four goals of the visitors. There was very real momentum with the home side, but one crucial call denied Grangetown possession; Ryland scored next and played well enough to put the game out of reach before another late rally left the sides separated by five goals at the final hooter.
It was an understandably disappointing result for the Grangetown players and coaching staff, but although they will rue the amount of lost possession and missed chances, the squad’s attitude was excellent throughout; they looked fit, and will undoubtedly improve for their first outing at their new home. For the division’s newcomers, it was a great result; Ryland were very mobile through the centre court, tough in defence and in goal shooter Kaya Wilson, they had the game’s most influential player.
“It was a hard match,” Kaya reflected afterwards. “We’d been in Prem 3 for three years and we knew all the other teams, but the games in Prem 2 are going to be much more of a challenge.
“Our goal attack is new to the club and this was the first time we’ve played together. It went well, although from a personal point of view today wasn’t one of my best performances. The two girls who played at goal keeper for Grangetown [Jenny Mrozik and Katie Walton] were really tough and quite physical. I actually thought they were a bit unlucky with some of the calls, but you often get that as a defender....
“Our ambition is to make it into Prem 1. We now know how strong this division is, but we’ll just keep training ,working as hard as we can, and try our best to go straight up.”
Club Man of the Match: Ria Small
My Man of the Match: Vicky Rees
Vicky Rees (capt)
Game photos by Sarah Raine
Grangetown Netball Club’s National Premier League 2 season gets underway this Sunday with a home fixture against Bromsgrove-based Ryland; and club captain Vicky Rees (pictured) is relishing the challenge.
“We’ve been working hard all summer to prepare for the new season and the girls are ready to take on Ryland, who have just been promoted to this league. It’s also our first match at the new Middlesbrough Sports Village and we are really excited to get onto the court.
“Netball New Zealand Coach Development Officer Linzi Filiata arrived in the country on Friday and she will be leading the team, along with our Head Coach Geraldine Williams. We’ll have a loyal group of supporters at the match, and we’re also delighted to be welcoming the current BDO world no.1 Glen Durrant, who is originally from Grangetown.
“We have a strong, fit squad, including Gemma Sole who represented Scotland in the recent world cup, and we will be looking to get the season off to a winning start.”
There is free parking at Middlesbrough Sports Village, which can be accessed from Ladgate Lane. The game starts at 12:30 and all supporters are welcome.
Last season, Grangetown Netball Club had the benefit of the services of Gemma Sole, a Scottish international whose father David was a fine sportsman in his own right, having captained his country to Rugby Union Grand Slam success in 1990. But Gemma was by no means the only member of the squad with an impressive sporting heritage.
Whilst Grangetown’s Goal Keeper Jennifer Mrozik‘s father played a high standard of Australian Rules football, her maternal grandfather Ernie Ashton, had a career in Rugby League that resulted in fourteen appearances for England or Great Britain, as well as a meeting with King George VI at the 1948 Challenge Cup final, in which Ernie helped Wigan to an 8-3 success over Bradford Northern. It was actually the first game of Rugby League to be televised, and also the first to be attended by a reigning monarch.
“My Grandfather passed away shortly after we [Jen and her twin sister Hannah] were born, but I know that he held us both in his arms. I remember my Mum telling us that he was a well-known face around Wigan, who went into coaching and ran pubs after he’d finished playing. Apparently when he died, as well as the news being featured in the papers, there was also a procession in the town, so he must have been a popular man by the sound of things.
“I’ve got a lovely box of things like his glasses, press cuttings, family photos and cards; souvenirs from his tours, special pens, caps, and a fantastic picture of him shaking King George’s hand. There are lots of lovely letters that he’d written to my Nana when he was away on tour as well. Back in those days they would travel by ship, so he’d be swanning round Australia while Nana was stuck at home trying to manage things with four daughters! It’s sad but I don’t really remember Nana either because she passed away when my sister and I were only three.
“Mum never made a big thing about Grandad being well-known, but when we were five or six, I played a video and the tape got chewed up in the machine. It turned out that the video was of Grandad playing rugby and I remember Mum being really upset....
“Dad grew up in Australia; he was a lifeguard and a fantastic swimmer as well as playing a lot of Aussie Rules. The name Mrozik comes from eastern Europe. Dad’s family were of German descent, but his own Dad had grown up in Poland. After the [Second World] War, my Dad and his sister emigrated to Australia. I think they had three choices, America, Canada or Australia—they actually opted for Canada but ended up going to Australia.”
For Jennifer Mrozik, the start of her netball career was many miles away from where her father had enjoyed his sporting youth. “My first local team was actually Coatham [in Redcar]. When Hannah and I were younger we were always very sporty: athletics, netball, cross country. During school I was more of a runner, whereas my sister was always more talented at netball. I can recall playing against Ria [Small] and Faye [Summerhill] when Coatham played Grangetown—they may have been a bit bitchy about us... they don’t come across like that do they...?!!
“I am joking, by the way!
“We had a bit of a break from sport at college; we still went to the gym, but we were focussing on our GCSEs at the time and decided to take time out from netball. Looking back, I feel like I missed out on learning and improving a lot of technical netball skills and taking that break is a bit of a regret, especially when you see the likes of Ria, Vicky [Rees] and Faye who are such skilful netballers.
“I then went to Northumbria University—on a bit of a whim actually; I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do with my life. I was studying Psychology, because it was the subject in which I got the best grade at A level. When I arrived, I didn’t know how just how big netball was at the University. I suppose Bath or somewhere like that might be bigger, but there was actually a very strong netball set-up at Northumbria. I decided to go along to training, even though I didn’t even have the right trainers at the time. I just thought it would be good to get involved from a social point of view as well as getting back into sport.
“I was selected to play for the third or second team, but at the time the first team was mainly made up of players from Oaksway’s elite squad. I should thank their manager because there was some issue to do with the timing of training; Oaksway wanted their players to prioritise the club and their manager basically pulled all of them out of the Uni squad. That left an opening for me, and all the other girls who moved up as a result. Anita Navin spotted me and maybe she saw a bit of potential; she gave me a chance and from there the whole of my time at University revolved around netball—my degree was almost secondary.
“The whole ethos of being part of a sports team was massively character-building; I’d do weights at six o’clock in the morning, train Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday, and there were lots of social events as well. I started playing for the talent squad in the Northumbria Super League and it went from there really. I had a bit of a break when I had my daughter, but I really missed the netball. I wasn’t sure if I’d ever get back to playing the level I had been, but I e-mailed Gel, gave her my background and she invited me along to Grangetown. I’m a big believer in fate and that everything happens for a reason and after I joined things just seemed to come together. Ria and Faye, who are both younger than me, were already really strong players. Lesley [Mouat] joined at the same time as me, and from playing Northern League and Regional, the club was able to push through to Prem.”
Asking anyone to identify their strengths is a question usually reserved for a job interview; but I asked Jen anyway! “My main strengths are probably my athleticism; and I work hard on my fitness. I’ll keep going until I collapse or try to run through a wall to get the ball; and I also think I’ve got some presence on court as well. I’m vocal and I think it’s really important as a defender to have that presence and make sure the shooter knows you’re there. I would like to think I’m quite a good team player and try to encourage the rest of the girls—I just hope I don’t pull too many faces or curse too many times.”
The Grangetown defensive unit is built around Jen, Vicky and Katie Walton; and it was interesting to get Jen’s assessment of the various combinations and how the defenders try to deal with the different attacking styles in Prem 2. “Vicky is a fantastic netballer; she’s our captain and has so much experience. There’s a different relationship dynamic because I suppose Vicky carries me at times and directs me in a lot of ways. Certainly when I first came into the squad I relied on Vicky to encourage me and teach me, and I’m not saying I’m Vicky to Katie—Katie’s a fantastic keeper in her own right—but I try and give her as much encouragement as I can.
“There are so many different types of shooter at Prem level and you have days when things just don’t go how you would like, but we’re able to swap players around and mix things up Certainly being able to change and adapt my style during a game is something I want to learn about and work on.
“Vicky and I tend to man-mark a lot, but perhaps with me and Katie our strength lies in zone work because we’re both tall; and if the opposition has a big, tall shooter, I am able to move forward because Katie’s just as big, and I know it’s safe to leave her to get that ball.
“One of the toughest girls I’ve come up against was a shooter who played for Telford, who I think were promoted into Prem 1 a couple of years ago. She was only young, but very tall and really difficult to get the ball from; her arm span was just absolutely ridiculous. With young players, normally it’s quite easy to get into their head, to rile or intimidate them, but this girl just didn’t budge. She just laughed and as a defender there’s nothing worse. There’s a girl at Telstars who’s well over six feet and really difficult to mark. After a while I think Katie and I were able to find a way of dealing with her, but when I first came up against her, I found it really hard.
“We also played against Jamaican national side before last year’s Commonwealth Games—they were unbelievable. Their shooter is called Romelda Aiken and she’s something like six feet five, and I remember being told: ‘Just get on your toes a bit Jen’; but I’d have needed stilts or springs in my feet. She was really difficult to mark. I took the time to watch some of the matches involving the Sunshine Girls [at the Commonwealth Games] and seeing how the defence would sometimes drop two on one, or looking at the off-the-ball work, the build-up round the circle and how to pressure the feed into the shooter because once that feed’s on there’s nothing really you can do against someone who’s that tall. It’s about trying to hassle the attackers and making sure they don’t have the set-up; that they’re not standing where they want to stand. If you can take a player out of their comfort zone and they miss a shot, it just puts more pressure on the next shot.
“Gel [Williams, Grangetown Head Coach] always says if you can get an intercept, a block or stop a run three times, that’s when someone’s head starts to go. Obviously if they score two or three goals in quick succession, that can have an effect on the defenders as well; it’s not a nice feeling and it can be quite hard to compose yourself and get back into the game. It’s the same if you’re on the wrong end of a few calls from the umpire, but you just have to learn to manage it really.
“If the ball’s going down the court really quickly, it’s obviously harder to get the opportunity to intercept, but you can try and create situations by maybe having an awareness of a player’s position and almost tempt the opposition into making a pass that you’re actually confident you can get to. One of the key things is that you know the centre will be looking for the wing attack, and it’s being prepared to run out for the ball—and that’s something I’d like to work on. I tend to stick to my player a lot and stay in the circle because there’s nothing more embarrassing than running out and having the ball lobbed over your head to give the shooter an easy shot.
So is an interception as good as a goal?
“In many ways I think an interception is better than a goal. The good shooters will score all day, but when you get an interception it can completely change every player’s state of mind.”
As well as her physical skills, Jen is able to use her knowledge and experience of psychology to help her game, as well as offering support and advice to some of the younger members of the club.
“I’ve always been interested in psychology in sport,” she explained, “and I do try and apply certain techniques to my training or to games. I also took a few sessions with the kids before the nationals this summer.
“I think with psychology it’s about whether you want to buy into it, if you want to use it; because most interventions are not going to work if you don’t believe they will. You’ve got to match the intervention to the player but I do try and focus on mindfulness techniques... of being ‘in the moment’—something I think I’ve always done quite naturally actually.
“There are a lot of famous athletes who have that rock solid belief that they’re better than their opponents, that they’re going to succeed no matter what. I suppose if you have that kind of unshakeable belief, you’re halfway there.
The recently-ended Netball World Cup offered the world’s best players the opportunity to showcase their skills on the sport’s biggest stage (including four girls who have played at Grangetown), although for those relying on terrestrial television, live coverage was sadly limited: “I tried to watch some of the World Cup but I don’t have Sky, so I had to settle for videos that were posted on Facebook. It’s quite surreal when you watch the likes of Kielle Connolly from Trinidad & Tobago, and you see the pictures of Hayley [Mulheron], Gemma [Sole] and Jo [Pettitt] being out there in Sydney and what a fantastic experience it was for them; and it’s just such a cool thing to say that I’ve played with those girls at Grangetown!
“I only played once alongside Hayley but that was when we beat the top of the league [Viper Blades]. Everything just gelled that day, but I’d actually been poorly on the Thursday and Friday and hadn’t eaten a thing. I turned up on the Sunday and said that I hadn’t been well. I was drinking a can of coke to rehydrate, and Hayley said: ‘What are you doing? You shouldn’t be drinking that?!’ I told her I’d been really poorly and she just replied: ‘So why are you playing then?’ She’s always straight to the point, but I just came back with ‘Well I really want to play with you!’ She didn’t really have a response to that; she just laughed I think!
“I think that’s an example that you can’t always tell how things are going to work out; that was probably the worst preparation ever, but I had a really good game. Hayley and I played really well together. I think they [Viper Blades] came up thinking the game would be a bit of a walkover but in the end it was a really convincing win for us—and a really good experience.
The new season is now a little over a month away, and training at the team’s new matchday home, Middlesbrough Sports Village is well underway. It’s a time to consider what the future may hold... not just for the forthcoming season, but also the years to come: “I get really anxious about what I’m going to do after netball,” Jen admitted. “I’m hoping I’ve got another five years at this level, but I don’t know what I’ll do once it’s all over. I don’t think I would want to be involved in managing a team... it’s so stressful; and I’d know all I would want to do was be out on that court.
“We’re all training hard; we’re all ready and up for it. Hopefully we’ll get some support from the Scottish girls; we’d certainly benefit from having more availability in terms of player back up and they do make a real difference when they’re on court.
“I do think we’re capable of getting to Prem 1. My only reservation is having the depth in the squad and the ability to rotate players; if someone was to get injured, I’d worry that we’re already pretty thin on the ground, but we’ve definitely got the talent and some of the kids that are coming through are absolutely amazing. Physically they’ve still got some growing to do, but the skill, the thinking, the attitude they have is fantastic.
“For me the club has got Prem 1 written all over it. We’ve got great facilities and perhaps we just need a couple of good early results, and maybe a little bit of luck to go our way, but we definitely have the ability and desire.
“And away from the court, I can see Grangetown making an impact on the community in terms of the culture of the club; the work that Gel and the girls do is incredible, and having women as role models in the north east who are fit and athletic would be brilliant—honestly the potential here is huge.
“I have made some loyal and supportive friends at the club; they have helped me through some difficult times, which I really appreciate. We have a good time in each other’s company; my face often aches from laughing so much after a few hours with the squad. The jokes are often at my expense, but that’s got to be a good thing, right?!!”
Grangetown Netball Club made a whistle-stop visit to the Republic of Ireland yesterday to take on Northern Ireland under 21s and the full Irish side at Tallaght Leisure Centre in Dublin.
It was a chance for members of Head Coach Gel Williams’ Premier League squad to gain some valuable match practice in the build-up to the new season, which starts on September 27; and also a wonderful opportunity for some of the club’s talented teenagers to have the experience of playing against international opposition.
The Northern Ireland elite squad was ranked number twelve in the world prior to the recent World Championships, so their under 21 side was always likely to provide a stern test for Grangetown. The Northern Ireland coaching team had brought a large group of seventeen to Dublin, and would be using the weekend’s fixtures to help finalise their squad for October’s European Championships, which are being held in Aberdeen.
The opening exchanges were closely-fought, with both defences working hard to force mistakes. Jess Doyle controlled play well from the centre of the court and Katie Sargent’s fast, agile movement and accurate passing at wing attack were features of the first quarter, at the end of which Northern Ireland held a slender one-goal advantage.
Without a senior shooter, fifteen year-old Tasha Grylls spearheaded the attack, and with the Super League experience of Ria Small helping to create most of the scoring opportunities, the teenager responded with a number of impressive long-range goals.
Northern Ireland extended their lead to three by half time, although two of those goals came in the final thirty seconds of the quarter. For their part, Grangetown centre Jess Doyle continued to impress and the team displayed some wonderful skill in both attack and defence, including one sublime retrieval from an airborne Ria Small, to retain possession when the ball had seemingly bounced out of court.
Jenny Mrozik and Vicky Rees, Grangetown’s regular Premier League defensive pairing produced a number of rebounds and interceptions to turn over possession, but the Northern Ireland side maintained pressure on the passer and Grangetown struggled to create clear openings.
In the third quarter however, Grangetown stepped up a gear and produced a tremendous fifteen minutes of netball. Having played the second quarter at centre, fifteen year-old Hannah Raine was moved to wing attack and showed why she is one of the club’s most highly-regarded juniors. An outstanding natural athlete with excellent hands and vision, Hannah helped to set up Tasha Grylls on several occasions, and the understanding between the pair was obvious as Tasha scored nine goals to bring the scores level at 22-22.
The fourth of the youngsters, Annike Jinadu, was introduced at wing defence in the third quarter. She was forced to play out of position with Jenny Mrozik and Katie Walton defending inside the circle, but Annike worked particularly hard and acquitted herself extremely well during that period, helping restrict a strong under 21 international squad to just six goals.
Grangetown scored the first three goals of the final quarter and an upset result suddenly appeared a real possibility, however Northern Ireland battled back thanks to a combination of defensive pressure, more accurate shooting and one outrageous piece of luck when a ball was slapped backwards into play by one of their attackers, and flew straight into the grateful arms of a team mate standing right underneath the post. That goal brought the scores level once again, and despite the Grangetown defence securing a couple more late rebounds, the all-important goals did not materialise and Northern Ireland held on to earn a 27-29 victory in what had been an excellent game of netball.
The man of the match was Tasha Grylls, who scored all except one of Grangetown’s goals. Purposely played as a lone shooter, supported by Premier League players at goal attack, Tasha took on shots from all parts of the circle; and converted a more than acceptable percentage. As well as her shooting skills, she already possesses a steely determination and an apparent ability to ignore pressure, both of which are great attributes for someone so young.
After a break of less than three hours, Grangetown were back on court, this time to face the full Republic of Ireland side, which is currently ranked no.26 in the world. The Irish squad had even less time to recover, having defeated the Hull Chevrons immediately prior to taking on Grangetown.
The game could hardly have got off to a worse start for the Teesside-based club as Ireland raced into a 1-9 lead. They looked well-organised during a first quarter that was dominated as much by the umpire’s whistle as by Ireland’s defensive qualities and consistent shooting.
The feature of the first quarter from Grangetown’s perspective was a long-range goal from stand-in shooter Ria Small, but at the end of the fifteen minutes, Ireland led 3-11. That advantage was extended to 8-21 by half-time, but despite the scoreline, Grangetown goal keeper Katie Walton was having an excellent game, getting hands to Irish passes and managing to gather a number of rebounds.
After playing six full quarters, Tasha Grylls was replaced and Grangetown’s new shooting partnership was Vicky Rees and Jenny Mrozik, more normally seen at the opposite end of the court. Both scored during a third period that Grangetown only lost by two goals, with the scoreboard now reading 18-33.
Katie Sargent and Annike Jinadu were on court at the end of the game and both did well during those final fifteen minutes; but with Irish captain Níamh Murphy dictating the pace of the game and fatigue clearly setting in amongst the Grangetown players, the hosts ran out comfortable and worthy winners by 27-45.
The stand out player on court was the Ireland goal keeper Genevieve Slater, who seemed to be able to pick off passes and rebounds almost at will, but it was her counterpart Katie Walton who was Grangetown’s man of the match.
To play two games in a matter of hours straight after a lengthy bus journey and flight is an incredibly tough challenge, and it was perhaps unsurprising that the pace and intensity that Grangetown demonstrated against Northern Ireland under 21s could not be maintained against Joan Young’s Republic of Ireland side. That said the time on court in proper match conditions can only benefit club captain Vicky Rees and the members of her Premier League squad; and Gel Williams will have taken a lot of positives not only from the performances of her elite players, but perhaps equally encouragingly, from the excellent contributions made by the four teenagers, all of whom look to have exciting futures ahead of them.