Following another short break in the Fiat Superleague Season, Loughborough Lightning returned to their second Loughborough home of the Sir David Wallace Sports Hall to entertain Glasgow Wildcats.
Lightning were looking to do the double over Wildcats, who still have yet to win this season, and they did not disappoint as they recorded their third win of the season in front of the live Sky TV cameras, 61-43.
Olivia Beveridge returned to the starting seven for Lightning at Goal Aattack, partnering the ever present Jo Harten in attack, who was hoping to celebrating her 22nd birthday with a win. Emma Bliss also returned at Wing Defence, and having formed an impressive partnership in recent BUCS matches, Afrika Morris and Nicola Caunt made up the defensive circle.
As the whistle went for the start of the game, the anticipation could be felt amongst the crowd, with many donning purple wigs for the occasion. Both teams started well, sharing the goals in the opening minutes. However, with the scores at 6-5 Lightning upped their game, with Harten starting, as she does so often, to dominate the circl, effortlessly plucking balls out of the air.
Similarly, the defence found their rhythm, with Caunt and Morris making crucial interceptions to knock Wildcats’ shooters Lynsey Gallagher and Lesley Macdonald off their game.
As Wildcats rued their missed opportunities, Lightning extended their lead, making the quarter time score 14-10.
Following a brief injury to Macdonald in the dying seconds of the first quarter, she returned for the second with her ankle strapped, but still her Wildcats could not break Lightning down. Thanks to a combination of numerous unforced Wildcats errors, and hard work throughout the court, Lightning quickly extended their lead to seven.
However, as Lightning have done so many times this season, they did not make it easy for themselves, and a spirited Wildcats had levelled the score to 20-20 just two and a half minutes later.
Having struggled with Harten in the first quarter, Wildcats tried their upmost to mark Harten out of the game. However, Lightning’s attack started to show patience and agility, with Olivia Murphy and Sarah Jane O’Sullivan working some sublime balls in to the fast moving Harten and Beaveridge.
And with that, the game again changed direction, as Lightning increased the tempo, going in at half time 30-22 up.
However it was the third quarter that really showed the difference in class between the two teams. As Caunt came off, Bliss moved into the shooting circle, with Masego Moutang making a rare appearance at wing defence. Becky James also replaced Beaveridge at goal attack.
As the crowds noise in the Sir David Wallace Sports Hall rose so did Lightning’s performance.
They started the game with 2 unanswered goals and grew from there, with Murphy feeding some impeccable balls into Harten, who, even by her high standards, was having an outstanding game. James too slotted in perfectly with impressive long distance shots.
Despite a spirited fightback from Wildcats, Lightning made numerous turnovers and brought the ball down the court at pace, as they exploited Moutang’s speed in the centre third. The only thing interrupting Lightning’s masterclass was a midquarter Wildcats injury that caused a reshuffle.
However, while Sky disputed if it was allowed, Murphy’s Lightning remained focused and finished the quarter extending their lead to 19 goals. Quarter time score 48-29.
Feeling that possibly victory was within their sight, Murphy, who had again stood out in the Lightning attack, made way for first year student Sophia Candappa to come on at centre, with O’Sullivan moving to wing attack.
Lightning struggled to maintain the impressive form they had shown in the third quarter, with Wildcats having more of the possession. However, with a shooting partnership of Harten and James on song, there was no let up for Wildcats.
The young Candappa impressed in front of the cameras, battling hard throughout the court, and in defence Bliss made some crucial turnovers, hassling Wildcats’ substitute Samantha James well.
As the full time whistle went, the crowd went crazy as Lightning recorded their third victory of the season. Despite being pushed to their limits at times by a resilient Wildcats, Lightning’s refusal to let up, combined with their prowess in the final third, had been too much for them to handle. Full time score, Lightning 61 Glasgow Wildcats 43.
Player-coach Olivia Murphy had more than one reason to smile, as she was named Sky’s player of the match and when interviewed after the game, she said, ‘First and foremost, I’m pleased with the victory. However, we are still throwing away balls and need to offer more alternatives throughout the court.
“We also need to tighten up in defensively, to stop teams getting the ball into the circle. In the second half, we did tighten up and in particular Mas (Moutang) corrected this well at wing defence.
“However we got the win, which is sometimes hard to come by when you are on the back of a losing sequence. We were particularly impressive in the third quarter, as we created space and even made it look easy
“We have a difficult weekend coming up, with Thunder away and then Bath here on Sunday. However, we know they are beatable now, and we can see from today that if we get the ball into Jo and Becky they will score.
“The fans were fantastic today, we needed it for the boost and with the cameras here, so thanks to all of the people who helped get them here.”
Loughborough Lightning face Northern Thunder away on Saturday before returning to the Loughborough University Netball Centre on Sunday at 4pm to face Team Bath.