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.