Hannah Passmore of Team Bath celebrates on the side lines during the Vitality Netball Superleague Semi Final match between Team Bath v Manchester Thunder
Credit: Chloe Knott
/Getty Images Europe
Team Bath ended Manchester Thunder’s hopes of securing back-to-back Superleague titles after claiming a dramatic 41-38 victory to set up a finale with Loughborough Lightning.
In a topsy-turvy contest, Bath nearly squandered a slender three-point lead heading into the final quarter as the northerners threatened to claw their way back in a tense end to a pulsating encounter.
A crucial turnover from Bath’s talismanic captain Serena Guthrie, who scooped up a bobbling ball up on the edge of Thunder’s attacking circle as the northerners trailed 32-33, set them on their way to a gutsy victory in front of 1,000 fans at London’s 7,500-capacity Copper Box Arena.
“For the last couple of years, we’ve always been the bridesmaids,” said an elated Eboni Usoro-Brown, Bath’s goalkeeper, whose side will bid to end an eight-year wait for a domestic title. “We’ve been preparing since October for this. Today was just a stepping stone but tomorrow is where we put all the belief and confidence we’ve developed over the season into play. It was the greatest test to prepare us for Sunday.”
Serena Guthrie of Team Bath celebrates at full time during the Vitality Netball Superleague Semi Final match between Team Bath v Manchester Thunder
Credit: Getty Images Europe
Having stuck with her same starting seven throughout the match, Anna Stembridge, the Bath head coach, brushed off concerns that her side will be more fatigued than Lightning, who eased to a comprehensive 58-38 victory over Leeds Rhinos in the day’s earlier semi-final.
Despite steering her side to their first final under her leadership, Lightning’s director of netball Sara Francis-Bayman was critical of her side’s display, symptomatic of a challenging season played under Covid restrictions. “We’re not thrilled with our performance,” said Francis-Bayman. “A lot of people have said what an exhausting season it’s been, Sunday is going to be a massive release for everyone. I just want them to express themselves a little bit more [in the final], today we looked a little bit restricted and shackled.”
Lightning’s superiority was nonetheless evident in Mary Cholhok, the 6ft 7 inch Ugandan shooter Loughborough drafted into their ranks following their third grand final defeat in 2018. Despite recently opening up to Telegraph Sport about her huge frustrations of not being able to top up her staggeringly low salary as an elite foreign sportswoman in the UK, Cholhok was not distracted from the task at hand, executing with the same pinpoint accuracy that saw her pick up the league’s ‘Golden Shoot’ award for a consecutive campaign.
Rhinos were missing their own charismatic shooter in Donnell Wallam, a former state basketballer who only started playing elite-level netball two years ago, who missed the occasion due to a family bereavement. The Yorkshire outfit brought the same high-energy start that has typified their maiden Superleague season, but having missed their last two games of the campaign due to Covid cases, their rustiness was gradually exposed.