Loughborough Lightning vs. Manchester Thunder
18th February 2017
Loughborough Lightning kicked off their Vitality Netball Superleague season in style on Saturday, after a thrilling 59 – 45 victory over Manchester Thunder.
Familiarity was clearly in their favour, with five of the starting seven returning to the court for another season with Lightning. In the midst of a changing league, with many of the crowd favourites opting to travel down under to play in the Australian superleague and the addition of two brand new franchises, Lightning boasted a high retention of players this season.
After a long pre-season the first whistle was highly anticipated, with both contenders eager to make their mark on the court. Previous league runners up Thunder used their first centre advantage to quickly put some points on the board and were leading by four after just two minutes. A quick turnover from captain Panagarry however, saw a flame ignite in Lightning and they were soon catching up to their opposition. A contact call against Thunder’s defence gave Proscovia her first open shot at goal and Lightning’s first points on the board. The first ball through the net was all the home side needed and they began to gain momentum, scoring three perfect goals in succession. Lightning’s centre court trio then took flight, their experience through the England senior programme clearly on show, as they eased the ball down the court, effortlessly ending the opening quarter 14 – 12.
Q1 Score: 14 – 12
The second quarter opened up with another Thunder centre pass, however with a quick turnover the ball was soon played into the hands of the home team. Lightning’s sharp reactions became their most valuable asset with Oyesola and Walker firing down the court to a patiently waiting Proscovia, who sank the ball cleanly through the net. The calm and collected shooting circle rapidly began to interfere with Thunder’s defence however, as numerous penalties saw Lightning push ahead with a seven point lead. Yet to be phased by the pressure of the opposition, the dynamic duo of Walker and Proscovia continued to dominate the circle, moving around each other with much ease and familiarity to end the quarter eight points ahead of Thunder.
Half Time Score: 28 – 20
Not ready to bow down, Thunder stepped onto court for the third quarter with fire in their eyes. Failing to allow a turnover, both teams stepped up the pressure each scoring consecutive goals. A substitution to Thunder’s shooting circle allowed Lightning the opportunity to press harder on the pedal as Thunder quickly tried to adapt to the fresh line-up. Lightning’s defensive duo Trip and Oyesola played to their weakness, with Thunder struggling to find an opening in the circle, forcing long balls across the court. A quick interception from Thunder with two minutes on the clock saw them inch closer however, ending the quarter just three points apart.
Q3 Score: 39 – 36
With 15 minutes left on the clock and all to play for, an explosive start to the final quarter of the game saw crowd favourite Proscovia claim the first goal. Seemingly un-phased by such a small lead, Lightning continued to play with confidence, even as Walker called time due to an injury. Replacing the goal attack was Chloe Essam, who ran out on court with a mixture of nerves and excitement on her face. At just 17 years old this replacement saw Essam make her debut in the VNSL, becoming one of the youngest players to feature in the league. Despite the changes, Lightning ran down the clock in a manner perfect for their 800 strong crowd, with Thunder putting up a fight right to the last second.
Full Time Score: 59 – 45
Speaking to Head Coach Karen Atkinson after the game;
“It was really nice to kick start the season with a win, the pre-season has been really long and a bit disjointed, with some of our international players away. We’ve been working really hard to create a really good team this year, it’s not about individual superstars it’s about how we work for each other and I think as we progressed we saw a glimpse of that tonight.”
After making her first appearance for Lightning, England U21 defender Vicki Oyesola was rightfully named Player of the Match after a powerful performance on court.
“It was definitely a tough game to start out against Thunder. They’re a really strong side but we really pulled together as a team today and got the result we wanted.”
Lightning are back in action next weekend on Saturday 25th February where they face Severn Stars at the Genting Arena, Birmingham, as part of the league’s Super Ten event.
You can next catch them in action at home on Saturday 18th March as they welcome Sirens to Loughborough. Tickets are on sale now and can be purchased from www.loughboroughlightning.com
GK – Jo Trip
GD – Vicki Oyesola
WD – Beth Cobden
C – Natalie Panagarry
WA – Hannah Joseph
GA – Vanessa Walker
GS – Peace Proscovia