Following a two week break, Loughborough Lightning travelled to the impressive Surrey Sports Park to face Surrey Storm on Saturday 5thMarch 2011 in the Fiat Netball Superleague. Storm, fresh from their victory over Leeds Carnegie earlier in the week, were looking to close the gap on table leaders Mavericks, who had beaten Glasgow Wildcats earlier in the day.
Lightning on the other hand, had not won in five, and after pushing Storm to the limit at the netball centre a few weeks previously, were looking to defy the odds and earn themselves their third league victory. However, despite one of their best performances of the season, Storm edged it 58-53.
Olivia Murphy had been given a ‘nice’ coaching headache prior to today’s game, as she had a fully fit squad at her disposal.
After impressing in recent BUCS games for the University, 20 year old student Nicola Caunt returned to the starting seven at goal defence, with school teacher Emma Bliss providing experience alongside her at wing defence. The ever committed Afrika Morris completed a solid defensive line up, as Lightning looked to cut off the supply from Storm’s wing attack Tamsin Greenway to England shooter Rachel Dunn; a problem which had caused Lightning many problems in the previous fixture.
At the other end of the court, the Lightning line up remained unchanged as Jo Harten made up a mouth watering team sheet for England shooting fans.
As the game got underway, both teams stated their intent early on with impressive movement in attack matched by equally tight defending. The sell out crowd in the Surrey Sports Park, which included television presenter and self confessed Surrey Storm fan Tim Lovejoy, sensed the tension and increased their volume to match the tempo.
Lightning looked impressive in attack, culminating in moments of brilliance from Harten and Becky James under the post. Caunt and Morris remained vigilant in defence, not allowing Dunn and Gemma Constentino the space they wanted in the attacking circle, and as a result took many turnover balls.
However it wasn’t until the score reached 7-7 that Lightning finally made their breakthrough, and despite impressive play from Storm, Lightning finished the quarter the stronger team. Quarter time score, Lightning led 15-13.
The teams remained unchanged for the start of the second quarter; both coaches evidently happy with their sides’ effort in what had been an enthralling opening quarter.
It was, however, Storm who started the quarter the stronger, scoring three unanswered goals. Lightning responded well though, and continued to match Storm throughout the court. They showed character and resilience, clearly believing that victory was not beyond them. James and Harten continued their impressive form under the post, as Morris ignored the cries from Dunn to the umpire against her.
It was too little to late though as Storm, unlike in the first quarter, did not falter and regained composure, to take over the lead. Half time score 29-27.
The pace of the game, as well as the physicality, continued into the third quarter, as Lightning looked to hunt Storm down and regain the lead. Briefly, it looked as if their mission was to be successful as they pulled the scores back to 32-32.
However as the quarter continued, Lightning appeared to tire, as Storm showed why they are chasing the play offs, capitalising on Lightning mistakes throughout the court. James, again, was the pick of the Lightning players with impressive shooting, however it was matched at the other end by Dunn for Storm, as they again won the quarter. At the end of the third quarter, the score stood at Surrey Storm 44 – 38 Loughborough Lightning.
Going into the final quarter, Lightning looked to reshuffle in an attempt to halt Storm’s progress. Talissa Haynes came at wing defence, as Bliss moved into goal defence. Alex Sinclair also came on at goal keeper, as Morris and Caunt earnt themselves a well deserved final quarter rest.
Storm were not to be caught though, as they kept their focus and pressed Lightning throughout the court. Dunn, again, proved to be the difference between the sides, as her failure to miss saw Surrey convert almost every attack.
Despite a brief Lightning fightback in the dying minutes, a clinical Surrey Storm took the game 58-53.
In what will be dubbed by many as one of Lightning’s best performances of the season to date, Coach Olivia Murphy surely has a lot more to smile about.
“I am very pleased with today’s performance, as we were in the game from the first whistle until the end.
“We started the dreaded first quarter well, and it was disappointing that we couldn’t break that 6 goal barrier.
“In particular, we were brilliant in attack. We moved the ball to the circle edge really well and our feeding into the fantastic Jo and Becky was impressive.
‘We think we can beat the big teams, and today I think we have proved that we can at least compete with them. It’s just a shame we don’t play these teams later in the season!’
She was also looking forward to Lightning’s next match on the 21stMarch, which is being played at the Sir David Wallace Sports Hall, live, in front of the television cameras.
“I am looking forward to Wildcats. They have improved since last time, but so have we. We have worked hard in training, and will continue to, until we beat these teams.”