Loughborough Lightning went into their final Fiat Superleague home game of the season knowing their playoff hopes were no longer intact following Surrey Storm’s victory last weekend.
However, due to the tight nature of this season’s Fiat Superleague, Lightning found themselves caught up in a tight battle with Celtic Dragons for fifth place, with only goal difference separating them at the start of play.
As a result, a sizeable victory would be top of their agenda. And they did not disappoint, dominating a hard working Leeds Carnegie side 65-47.
Player coach Olivia Murphy opted to go for an even more youthful squad than the norm for Leeds’ visit, naming Jade Forbes Wattley on the bench for the first time.
First year student Sophia Candappa was also handed a place in the starting line up ahead of the absent Sarah Jane O’Sullivan. Talissa Haynes also started at wing defence. Murphy would have also been pleased to be able to have star captain Jo Harten back following her trip to Jamaica with England for the World Championships.
Lightning started brightly converting their first centre pass, making their intentions for the game clear. With Harten back at the spear head of their attack, they had their target woman back and appeared to be brimming with confidence.
However, Leeds were not going to lay down without a fight, and with Lightning’s tally reaching 14, they started what initially appeared to be a fight back.
However, fortunately for Lightning, Leeds struggled to find their own talismanic shooter Jo Walker, and, as a result were unable to capitalise on their possession. At the end of the first Quarter the score was 16-9 to Lightning.
The second quarter saw both teams replacing their wing defences, with Lightning replacing Haynes with Masego Motaung.
And the energetic 19-year-old slotted in perfectly, adding to Lightning’s quick, effective play.
Leeds, despite another brief mid quarter fightback, were being punished for every mistake they made. Following an injury to Lightning’s Becky James with just under 11 minutes of the quarter remaining, Lightning regrouped, and by the end of the quarter, their lead was extended to 31-19.
Leeds came out a reinvigorated side for the start of the second half, as they finally started to find Walker in attack.
Fans may have been forgiven for wondering if they were going to be forced to witness another Lighting collapse, following the manner in which the purple and whites had led a 10 goal lead slip against Northern Thunder just two weeks previously.
Fortunately, thanks to hard work from substitute Forbes Wattley and Caunt in defence, Leeds were unable to get a foot hold in the game and find a way back. As a result they led 47-33 going into the final quarter.
It looked as if Lightning had a weight lifted off their shoulders following their ‘survival’ of the dreaded third quarter demise and they started the final quarter with a new found purpose.
Harten, who had moved out to goal attack, collected the ball beautifully from outside the circle to feed tall substitute goal shooter Lianne Badmin on numerous occasions, mixing the passing up to tease the Leeds defence.
Crucial to Lightning’s victory was Murphy playing a rare full game, and a combination of her skill and Candappa’s determination throughout the 60 minutes ensured Lightning’s attack never let up.
With Caunt intercepting a final Leeds attempt to feed into the circle, the whistle went, ending Lightning’s 2011 home campaign with a comfortable 65-47 victory.
Player coach Olivia Murphy beamed with pride following her side’s seventh victory of the season. She was, however, realistic about her team’s performance.
“I thought the game showed how exciting this group of girls are-there were some real ‘wow’ moments! There was also a real hunger to challenge for the ball and not take a backward step.
“By no means are we perfect yet, we went away with plenty of food for thought but we are pleased with the manner in which we took the victory.”
She was also soon to dismiss the claim that there could be a lack of motivation within the squad following the realisation they can no longer make the play offs.
“There was no lack of motivation- the girls were desperate to put on a display for the fans and most importantly for each other. We really want to maintain our position in 5th and have some pride in our final performances. Also the girls are still taking their opportunities at the end of the year to gain some valuable experience.”
When asked about the emergence of so many youngsters, who were on show in today’s game, Murphy was again full of praise.
“It’s great to see the emergence of the youngsters. They have grown all season in confidence", said Murphy. "I thought Sophia hung onto some balls that no-one else in our team would have been able to, and Nicola challenged for ball throughout the game. Jade has spent a fair bit of time on and off the physio bed this year, so I'm pleased that she has finally got her opportunity to shine.”
And finally following her public thanking to the crowd after the game over the PA, she was quick to reiterate the key part the fans have played in her team’s campaign.
“The crowds this year have boosted the girls no end. It's great having such loyal supporters and vocal ones too. Hopefully next year we'll give them even more to shout about!”