Grangetown Netball Club began their Premier League division 3 season with a narrow home defeat to London-based Leyton.
With head coach Gel Williams having secured the services of four talented teenagers, the new-look squad is very much a blend of youth and experience. Club captain Vicky Rees, Jenny Mrozik and Ireland international Katie Walton form a strong defensive trio, but seven out of the remaining nine members of the Grangetown squad for the opening game were under twenty years of age.
Jaydene Robinson and Brie Grierson, both members of the England under 21 squad, took their places in the starting line-up; and after the opening fifteen minutes, the home side led 11-8.
There was plenty of ebb and flow to proceedings in the first quarter, Grangetown recovering from a spell where they scored just once against seven goals from the visitors, to record five successive goals of their own. The last of those was scored by Brie Grierson, following great interplay with Jaydene Robinson, finishing off a move that had started at the other end of the court with Vicky Rees and Katie Walton combining superbly to claim possession and keep the ball in play.
There was plenty of skill on view from both sides in what was a fast, physical game; and there were a number of outstanding defensive plays to complement some incisive passing.
Straight after the restart, Leyton regained the initiative and quickly reclaimed the lead.
With the score tied at 13-13, Leyton produced some great passing to create a shooting chance, but Grangetown’s movement and defensive intensity was every bit as impressive; the shot was missed and Brie Grierson netted at the opposite end to give Grangetown a narrow advantage.
The physical aspect of the game continued, with the Leyton players being particularly quick to exert pass pressure; and there appeared to be a sense of frustration amongst the Grangetown squad, as a couple of umpiring decisions went against the home side.
Jenny Mrozik and Katie Walton both claimed important interceptions; and when Brie Grierson finished off a superb length-of-the-court move, it looked like Grangetown would take a narrow lead into the break, but Leyton responded with an outstanding goal of their own to leave the scores level 16-16 at half-time.
Tasha Grylls replaced Sarah Sainty at goal shooter, and Kate Hill was brought on for her debut as Gel Williams shuffled her pack during the interval.
The sixteen-year old shooter found the net with her first two attempts, but Leyton scored the next eight goals and dominated the remainder of the third quarter. The visitors visibly grew in confidence as their pressure and speed around the court led to a series of mistakes; and with Taylor Oram in particular having an outstanding match, Leyton maintained what looked a decisive eight goal advantage at three-quarter time.
Jaydene Robinson left the court towards the end of the period, after a hugely encouraging debut. She was replaced by Hannah Raine, the second of Grangetown’s talented sixteen-year olds; and when she was moved from wing defence to wing attack for the final fifteen minutes, Hannah injected fresh impetus into the attack alongside centre Ria Small, as five quick goals suddenly changed the complexion of the game.
All the momentum was now with Grangetown, but to their credit, Leyton’s shooters stayed calm and converted enough opportunities to stay in front. There was one brilliant passage of play during which Leyton’s Rowena Dowding claimed a fantastic interception, which was almost immediately matched by Kate Hill; Brie Grierson then fed a sublime pass to her shooting colleague and Tasha Grylls duly netted to reduce the deficit to one.
Unfortunately for Grangetown they were unable to draw level and Leyton eventually won by three goals, the final score being 36-39 in favour of the visitors.
For Grangetown it was obviously a disappointing result, but given the average age of the squad and the fact that it will take a couple of fixtures for the new line-up to gel, there was still much to admire; not least the way they fought back after such a poor third quarter to almost overhaul what had looked an unassailable lead.
My Grangetown player of the match was Katie Walton (just ahead of Brie Grierson and Jenny Mrozik), but for me the best player on court was undoubtedly Taylor Oram, whose pace and skill were a feature of a fine all-round performance from Leyton.