Many would argue it is far too early in the season to be entertaining talk of six-pointers, but this week’s Netball fixtures undeniably carry that season-defining significance.
For the three teams of the University’s Netball Club, week eight brought a trio of defeats to dent promotion aspirations and heighten relegation anxieties. However, such is the fast-moving world of BUCS competition, week nine brings renewed hope and, in a nice quirk of the fixture list, an opportunity for swift retribution.
The first team have struggled to convert their undoubted potential into precious points in the opening months of the season and Wednesday’s home clash with Newcastle University thirds (centre-pass 1pm in the Tent) has assumed an importance few could have predicted before the big tip-off in late October. With results conspiring against them last week, York find themselves in an unedifying bottom spot in League 4B, making victory imperative.
However, there remains a lot to play for, as Club President and first-team Centre Liz Cowell acknowledges: “The league is so tight at the moment. We just need one win under our belt, one outstanding defensive display and we are right back in the mix.”
Despite picking up just one win, a 29-23 home success against Sunderland in mid-November, a couple of back-to-back victories could, as Cowell says, theoretically propel York to third with the current pace-setters, Teesside, still to play at home. “We have a lot of games still to play here in York and we’ll definitely be looking to pick up maximum points in those fixtures,” she added.
The team possesses all the components needed for a successful side: shooters Claire Dinan and Sarah Fisher have been unfailingly clinical this season, their knack of operating in the smallest of spaces apparent despite defeat at Newcastle last week. The defensive pairing of Goal Keeper Jenni Williams and Goal Defence Sarah Smith have also fostered an excellent understanding, which will be critical in stemming the flow of opposition goals during the season’s run-in. It is testament to their partnership that only leaders Teesside have conceded fewer points so far.
The club’s training structure also helps get the best from these talented players, with three sessions each week putting into action the team’s pre-season pledge to never be lacking in match fitness. Under the guidance of Coach Sarah Watts, the squad work hard to iron out any defects which arise during the heat of the match. A visit to one of the team’s Monday evening sessions finds diligent work on the zonal marking tactics which form such a key component of the sport, followed by a practice match in which players from all three teams compete informally on the same court – a great opportunity to exchange tips and advice.
The same applies to the Thursday night sessions, which are open to anyone wishing to improve their netball ability (6pm-8pm in the Tent).
Meanwhile, the success of the second team this season has brought about the intriguing scenario that they could be swapping places with the firsts in the BUCS League structure come March. Despite last week’s damaging 46-39 defeat to title rivals Newcastle, the seconds retain hopes of promotion to League 4B and have an immediate opportunity to make amends, and cut their foe’s lead back to three points, on Wednesday afternoon (centre-pass 2.30pm in the Tent).
For Sophia Sahin, the Captain who has been involved with the seconds for over three years, winning the league would provide a perfect swansong. “I’ve seen the team change a lot, but one thing that has remained the same is the high standard of play,” she said.
“I’m thrilled with how the team has gelled this year. You’ll notice that 50% of the training is fitness work and you notice the benefits in the final quarter of matches. As a Goal Shooter, when you’re playing against a Goal Keeper who’s exhausted, it’s a big advantage.”
The secret of the seconds’ success has been the seamless integration of freshers, with 40% of the squad in their first year. However, the absence of a player or two through injury or other commitments, let alone the three key players missing against Newcastle, takes its toll on the small, tightly-knit team. York already face a massive disadvantage when faced with the North-East University – they boast a nationally-recognised netball academy – but will be hoping to overturn these odds this week.
Last, but by no means least, the third team are also well-positioned to challenge for honours at the season’s half-way mark. Competing in BUCS League 6B, the team, captained by Amelia Prestage, sit six points behind the leading duo of Leeds Met and Northumbria, but have yet to play both teams at home. Indeed, four of their five remaining matches will be played in the Tent, something the team will be hoping to turn to their advantage.
These photographs, by Justyn Hardcastle, are from York firsts’ dramatic late 31-30 win against Durham in the Northern Universities Netball League (NUNL) on Saturday afternoon. Woman-of-the-match Kay Masterson scored the winning point in the dying seconds to beat a Durham side who compete three division higher in the BUCS system and topped the NUNL. Entering the final quarter, York had trailed 25-22, but consistently accurate shooting by Captain Sarah Fisher and formidable defensive work by Jenni Williams and Grace Marsden turned the game on its head. Afterwards, the seconds, inspired by Captain and women-of-the-match Sophia Sahin, beat their Durham counterparts 32-25.