Grangetown Netball Club had the opportunity to record their second double of their Premier League 2 season with today’s visit of Telstars. Back in October, Grangetown travelled to Kent and secured a 43-35 victory, but the Dartford-based side arrived in the north east lying in fifth position in the table, having won all four matches since a narrow defeat to the highly-regarded Clan in November.
The hosts were looking for their sixth victory of the season, and a return to winning ways following last weekend’s defeat to Premier Romans. The Grangetown squad was boosted by the inclusion of Scottish international Gemma Sole, and Club captain Vicky Rees was under no illusion as to the importance of the match: “Looking at the table, today is a must win game for us. Telstars will be tough opponents, so we will have to be on form right from the first whistle.”
When the game got underway, Grangetown took an early 2-1 lead, thanks to goals which, unusually, both followed rebounds off the post. Most of the first quarter was dominated by the visitors though. Their Goal Shooter was well over six feet tall, and much as Telstars relied on the high ball into the circle, the tactic proved effective as both opposition shooters continued to find the target. At one stage, Telstars held a four goal advantage, but thanks to some great attacking passing from Grangetown’s Team Northumbria pair Marie Ewing and Ria Small, the home side was able to reduce the arrears to just one goal at quarter time.
There was a reshuffle in the Grangetown defence during the break, with Vicky Rees having sustained an ankle injury. Jennifer Mrozik moved to Goal Defence, with Katie Walton assuming Goal Keeper duties, and Katie had an immediate impact, making an interception with her first touch of the ball. The home side then had an inspired spell during which they overturned the Telstars’ advantage and moved into a three goal lead, with the pick of the goals being scored by Gemma Sole from a superb looped pass from Ria Small, which took the opposition Goal Keeper completely out of the game.
Soon after a stoppage for an injury to Jennifer Mrozik, the balance again tipped in favour of the Kent side, who scored ten of the last fifteen goals in the quarter, to take a 28-31 lead into half-time. By then, Grangetown had suffered another injury blow with Marie Ewing being forced from the court; Jill Reah replacing her at Centre.
The scoreline did not reflect the great work that Grangetown’s defensive pairing had done, and their efforts were arguably rewarded when Telstar’s Goal Shooter was withdrawn with half an hour still to play. The third quarter saw a number of errors from both sides, but Grangetown continued to put pressure on the opposing player in possession. Although the Telstars’ shooters maintained good percentages, they were slowly being starved of opportunities, and with the home attacking pairing of Gemma Sole and Faye Summerhill gelling really well together, Grangetown gradually took a firm grip on the game, scoring four unanswered goals to lead 41-38 at the end of the third period.
Despite holding a narrow advantage, the outcome of the game was far from decided, and Grangetown needed a strong start to the final quarter. Early interceptions from Katie Walton and Jill Reah set the tone for the next few minutes, and with Faye Summerhill shooting particularly well, the hosts extended their lead to seven goals. Telstars rallied bravely, but briefly, and it was Grangetown whose strength, fitness and character were all amply displayed as they totally dominated the final few minutes; the eventual margin of victory being eleven goals, with the final scoreline reading 57-46.
It was a superb all-round team effort, in which every single player made a telling contribution. The Mrozik-Walton partnership, along with Wing Defence Lesley Mouat worked tirelessly to force errors, some of Ria Small’s attacking passes were sublime, Faye Sumerhill’s influence grew as the game progressed, and Gemma Sole’s all round play was nothing short of exceptional; but my Man of the Match vote goes to Jill Reah.
Jill replaced the ever-influential Marie Ewing at a crucial stage in the match, but picked up the pace of the game immediately. From the pivotal Centre role, Jill distributed the ball well, but she also made a number of tremendous defensive interceptions in the third and fourth quarters that helped to provide the spark which her team mates then ignited into a memorable performance, and a vital victory.
Soon after the game had ended, Faye Summerhill was able to offer this insightful reaction: “As a squad, we all realised today’s match was a must win game, against tough opposition, who have a lot of versatility in their squad. Although we knew they had the threat of their 6 feet 7 inch shooter, they did not start her in the away fixture, and therefore we could not really anticipate their tactics for today's game. But all the squad have been working particularly hard this week, as a team and individually, so we were all feeling mentally strong.
“After an annoying ankle injury two weeks ago, I was determined to give a good performance and, although I felt it took me a while to put it to the back of my head and to play strong, I think that as the game progressed the attack flowed really well in all combinations, and I hope we weren't predictable, and kept mixing up our tactics to avoid them being read by what was a really tough defence.
“I really enjoy playing with Gemma in the circle, and playing with an international player has been a brilliant experience; one I hope will continue for future seasons. My on-court telepathy with long time team mate Ria also showed itself today with some of our passing exchanges, and reminded me of when we used to play when we were younger all those years ago - when we were two of only a handful of juniors at Grangetown. Now that we're both coaches, it's amazing to see how far we’ve come and how big our junior section has grown, and I'm just waiting for the day when one of them is selected for the Prem squad - so I can retire!!
“We're now faced with two more crucial games against Hornets and Dominoes; so back to tough training tomorrow, and rehabilitating my ankle!"