Loughborough Lightning claimed runners up last night after falling short in the 2018 Vitality Netball Superleague Grand Final. Missing out on the top prize, Lightning fought right to the very end, losing out by a mere four points in a 51-55 defeat to Wasps.
Heading into the final, both sides had bragging rights, Wasps were eager to defend their title after topping the league this year whilst Lightning, eager to rewrite the heartbreak of last year’s loss, came into the match with twelve consecutive wins behind them.
As the opening whistle sounded both sides were noticeably full of nerves and began the game with a slow but steady pace. Delivering the ball safely through the court it was Lightning that took an early two point lead with skipper Panagarry sailing the ball past Wasps defence into a raring Proscovia. Teamed with Oyesola, recently awarded Player of the season Shamera Sterling soon began to rattle Dunn snatching the ball from her fingertips on more than one occasion. A pause in play whilst Cobden exited the court for injury allowed Lightning a slight breather as Nicholls took up the WD place. A late surge from the opposition, with two minutes left in the quarter, meant that the scores remained level.
Quarter 1: Loughborough Lightning 12 – 12 Wasps
Despite a change to their initial line up, a fiercely determined Lightning side returned for the second quarter with a fire in their bellies. Continuously hassling the opposition and forcing sloppy passes they pushed on once again. Sterling proceeded to treat the crowd to her defensive magic whilst Lightning’s ‘silent assassin’ Clark dropped long bomb after long bomb through the net, remaining as calm and collected as ever. After a number of penalties in the circle it was Wasps who ended the half with a slight lead but all was not lost.
Half-time: Loughborough Lightning 24 – 28 Wasps
With the temperature rising and the crowd levels heightening, both sides fought tooth and nail throughout the entire third quarter to break the gap and get ahead. Despite increased pressure in the shooting circle, Proscovia and Clark worked seamlessly together to pick up rebounds and sink the shots needed to keep Lightning in the game. With Sterling and Oyesola continuing to wreak havoc in the defensive end it was down to Joseph, Panagarry and Nicholls to deliver the ball quickly and safely. Calling on their defensive tactics the centre court trio managed to create holes in the oppositions play to close the four point gap to three at the end of the quarter.
Quarter 3: Loughborough Lightning 40 – 43 Wasps
With the memories of last year’s defeat helping to gain momentum, Lightning stormed back in the final quarter, levelling the scores once again with just nine minutes on the clock. Far from relaxed, Wasps continued to use their defensive prowess to shut down Lightning’s attack, causing the match the heat up and the aggression to spiral. With Wasps pushing ahead by two in the final minutes, the atmosphere in the arena was electric despite many of the crowd holding their breath in anticipation of the final score. Lightning gave it their all, leaving everything out on the court but it was Wasps who once again claimed the win, as the final buzzer sounded, and successfully defended their title.
Full time: Loughborough Lightning 51 – 55 Wasps
As her final outing with the Lightning side before departing from the Head Coach role, Anna Carter had nothing but praise for her squad’s hard work and determination;
“The girls are gutted, as am I and everyone that’s worked with Loughborough this year. We all have so much belief in what they could do and what they were capable of and we were all hopeful that we could take that extra step this year. The side are upset right now but that doesn’t take away from the success we’ve had this season, they’ve all grown as people and players, we will now aim to learn from this experience, improve and use it to develop ourselves.”
Captain Nat Panagarry has now led her side to two successive Grand Finals;
“I think getting to the final alone was a massive achievement, it was always our aim from the start to get here and we did that twice in two years which is an absolute credit to the girls and all the hard work they’ve put in. We’ve had some fantastic players come in this year and it’s been a pleasure to lead the side. I can’t thank the franchise enough for all their support and belief in us, unfortunately it just wasn’t our year again.”
Lightning ended the season in second place just three points behind Wasps, recording a whopping sixteen wins from nineteen. They will now take a well-earned break before returning to court in October to defend their British Fast 5 All Stars crown!