Severn Stars 57, Celtic Dragons 40
Severn Stars' captain, Maryka Holtzhausen, returned from international duty with South Africa to inspire the team to a memorable home victory over Celtic Dragons.
There was a sell-out crowd of over 800 spectators at the new University of Gloucestershire Sports Arena to see Severn Stars take on Celtic Dragons in the Vitality Netball Superleague (VNSL) on Friday 25 January (7.30pm centre pass).
The match followed the official opening of the new Sports Arena at Oxstalls Sports Centre, Plock Court in Gloucester by the Chief Executive of England Netball, Joanna Adams. Joanna was joined by the University's Vice-Chancellor, Stephen Marston and Head of School of Sport and Exercise Science, Dr Anita Navin, along with a host of netball fans from across the county and beyond.
Stars were looking for their first win of the season, having lost narrowly in rounds one and two so far. But it was perhaps the Dragons who might have been expected to start the more confidently, having taken maximum points in round 2 against London Pulse.
However, with the excited Gloucestershire crowd roaring them on, it was the home side who started strongest. The international break seemed to have rejuvenated the Stars, who also welcomed back captain, Maryka Holtzhausen into attack, fresh from starring for South Africa in the International Quad Series. Her experience and game control immediately shone through and her combination with Iona Darroch, at wing attack, was scintillating at times.
Meanwhile at the defensive end, Jamaican international and player of the match, Jodi-Ann Ward showed the home crowd exactly what Stars have signed, as she turned over ball after ball in the first five minutes, stunting the Dragons attack. Ward formed a formidable partnership at the back with Gloucester local, Sam Cook, and together they continually rebuffed the advances of the Dragons' attack. Dragons began to grow into the game as the quarter wore on, but Stars' strong start meant they led 11-8 as the first quarter came to an end.
The second quarter continued in much the same fashion, as Welsh shooter, Georgia Rowe, rapidly becoming a Stars' favourite, slotted away goal after goal, despite the physical attention of the Dragons' defence. Another player in her first season at Stars, Lucy Harris began to show just why Sam Bird was keen to sign her. Her constant work rate and defensive commitment at centre made it difficult for Dragons to gain any momentum and Stars went in at the half time having extended their lead to 28-21.
After the break, Stars looked determined to carry on where they left off and they continued to pile the pressure on the travelling side. The defensive trio of Sam Cook, Ward and Ella Powell-Davies, on her first ever start in the VNSL, proved tough for the experienced international attack of Dragons and although they ticked over their scoreboard, it was hard-work for the Welsh side. Stars extended their lead once again to finish 43-32 at end of quarter.
Head coach, Sam Bird, made use of her bench in the final quarter, maximising the opportunity to try new combinations as the win began to look secure. There were appearances also for England A internationals, Halimat Adio and Paige Reed, as well as a brief cameo for Welsh international, Cara Lea Moseley against her former club. Stars completed a confidence boosting 57-40 win with a complete four quarter performance, winning every quarter in Gloucester in front of a delighted crowd.
Goal shooter Georgia Rowe felt the crowd played their part in the victory. Georgia said: “The crowd was awesome, the atmosphere was really good and I think that is what kept us going. We just kept building and building. A really good performance."
Stars' Head Coach, Sam Bird, echoed these thoughts, remarking: “I am really pleased with the performance. The Gloucester crowd was great. Maryka coming back has given the group a lot of confidence and lifted the level of every player. We were solid in every position throughout the court and we have some great depth on the bench now too."
Stars next travel to Team Bath Netball on Friday 1 February before returning for their next home game against Manchester Thunder at the University of Worcester Arena.
The next home game at the University of Gloucestershire Sports Arena will be against Surrey Storm on Saturday 16 February (6pm centre pass). For tickets visit Ticketline.
The Severn Stars is a joint franchise between the University of Gloucestershire and University of Worcester.