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Lightning take second place after a nail biting Grand Final

Vitality Netball Superleague Grand Final 2017
Sunday 11th June 2017
Loughborough Lightning vs. Wasps
Barclaycard Arena, Birmingham

Loughborough Lightning took home second place at the Barclaycard Arena on Sunday after a heart breaking 51 – 55 loss to Wasps in the final of the 2017 Vitality Netball Superleague.

(Photo credit: Still Sport)

Having won all but one of their matches this season, Lightning were the first to confirm their place in the Final Four playoffs with a whopping five games to spare. Shortly after, they cemented their place as league winners, finishing the season with a nine point lead on runners up Wasps. Having lost their only match to the new franchise and midlands rivals, Lightning were keen to correct the result of their previous match-up and did so with a showcase of some of the finest netball the UK has ever seen.

Fans at the arena were treated to a tense opening quarter as Lightning faced off against Wasps in the highly anticipated Grand Final. A strong start from Lightning saw Captain Natalie Panagarry aid the team to their first point of the game after a flighty interception on Wasps’ circle edge. With each team fighting tooth and nail for each and every ball, points were tallied consecutively on each side for much of the first few minutes. Cobden showed no signs of nerves as her fierce determination secured the side another crucial interception, to give Lightning a much needed edge over the opposition. Piling on the pressure, it all came down to a matter of time and Wasps ended the quarter with a one point lead.

Q1: 15 – 16

With all still to play for, the teams returned to play firing on all cylinders. With just a one point deficit, Lightning needed a single turnover to bring the game back into their court and with Cobden’s flying arms that’s exactly what they got. Slowly increasing the pressure on Wasps circle, defensive duo Trip and Oyesola worked tirelessly to overturn the ball. Joseph and Panagarry meanwhile created space around the circle edge to deliver safe balls to the waiting hands of Peace Proscovia. With neither team letting up on physicality or speed, the crowd were on the edge of their seats as the clock ticked down.

Q2: 26 – 27

A quick start from Wasps saw them take an early two points, however after quick reactions from Lightning they soon started to contest the ball. A tip from Oyesola gave the team a much needed boost of energy as the crowd roared in delight. Increased pressure from Lightning’s defence began to cause errors with the ball going out of play on a number of occasions. Keen to shake off such errors however, Wasps soon retaliated with tremendous physicality on Lightning’s attack to force the same mistakes on the opposition. With five minutes to go and behind by just one goal, Cobden took every opportunity she could to steal the ball from Wasps Head Coach Tamsin Greenaway in a bid to rattle her and her squad. The quarter ended with Wasps remaining ahead by just one.

Q3: 40 – 41

All that remained between glory and defeat was fifteen minutes. Fifteen minutes to turn the ball and turn the score. Although both teams began to tire after a gruelling weekend of netball against the top teams in the country and a short turnaround, neither side let up going into the final quarter. Joseph’s confidence on the circle edge saw smooth passes into Proscovia and Walker, whilst Cobden and Oyesola offered vital support on the line. A momentous team effort from each and every player, both on court and off, saw Lightning hold off Wasps, who were keen to push on and run away with the game. With just two minutes left in the match, only two goals stood between the sides. However as the goals tallied up, the clock was ticking down and Lightning simply ran out of time.

Final Score: 51 – 55

Albeit a disappointing result, both teams left the court victorious, each one in their own right. Wasps’ sheer determination and hunger for the game proved to be their key on the night, however the most inspiring story is that of Loughborough Lightning, a team who began their season with a huge lack of self-belief and an uncertain few months ahead of them, but whom went on to win all but one of their games and to win the league by nine points.

After their most successful season to date, Head Coach Karen Atkinson was keen to share her pride in the girls’ achievements;

“I think the start of the season was amazing, getting on the roll, one from one, then two from two, it was so hard to believe from one week to the next. I don’t think anyone could have predicted that at the start of the season, we weren’t really spoken about, everyone was talking about Bath and Wasps and I think they really underestimated us. We’ve had some really great highlights this season such as Wasps away; securing a sixteen goal win was phenomenal for us.

Today’s game could’ve gone either way; they probably worked the ball just a little bit better. But a four goal loss going right down to the last minute was still something to be proud of. Getting the win tonight would have been the icing on the cake and it would’ve been nice to be recognised a little bit more for being league winners and for being so consistent, but that’s how finals netball works. It’s a one off game and we just didn’t quite match up. I’m still so proud of the squad this year in all that we’ve achieved.”

Having been named captain of Loughborough Lightning this year, England Roses star Natalie Panagarry expressed her key to the team’s success and how it’s been the ‘best year yet’ ;

“It’s been a season I’ll never forget. I think coming top of the table and qualifying for top four with five games to go was just fantastic. It was always our aim to get into the top four and then take it from there. As you can imagine we’re absolutely devastated right now, it just wasn’t meant to be, however you can still see the smiles on our faces because there’ll never be a group of girls that We’ll ever play netball with again like that, I’ll never forget playing with this squad and this season. Everybody left everything on the court today and I couldn’t have asked for more.”

Lightning received their runners up medals in front of a beaming sea of supporters. With many of them travelling across to the West Midlands to show their support, Panagarry spoke of her appreciation;

“It’s been amazing to hear all our fans this season; it keeps us going all the time. It was so great to hear them all tonight and that they travelled all this way. I cannot thank them all enough for their constant support. I’m absolutely devastated that we couldn’t get this win for them but you never know what’s going to happen next season!”

Lightning will round off their season in style on Friday night with their End of Season Awards Dinner before taking a well-earned break. Superleague netball action is far from over in 2017 however, as preparations will soon begin for the brand new Fast 5 All Stars competition which takes place at Wembley Arena in September. Tickets are on sale now, to find out more visit: http://www.fast5allstars.com/

View all the photos from this season here.