Blue & Gold excited to get 2022 Vitality Superleague campaign up and running after challenging but rewarding pre-season
With nearly half of the squad having spells on international duty with England, South Africa and Wales, it has been an opportunity for several emerging stars to gain valuable court-time for the Haines Watts-sponsored Blue & Gold ahead of what promises to be a hotly-contested season.
It begins with a Season Opener double-header against Strathclyde Sirens (Saturday, 1.45pm) and London Pulse (Sunday, 2.30pm) at Resorts World Birmingham, and Team Bath Netball Superleague Head Coach Anna Stembridge is excited to see her players in action.
“We’re really looking forward to the final stretch now as we build towards round one,” she said. “Pre-season has been challenging but what has been brilliant is those players who have been here throughout have really taken their opportunities, implementing the technical and tactical things we’ve been asking of them as coaches.
“In terms of the international players’ preparation, it has been second to none – pre-season doesn’t come much more intense than a Quad Series. They’ve definitely been put through their paces and I’m super proud of how they’ve conducted themselves.
“We’ve been working on solidifying connections over the past couple of weeks and also focussing on the brand of netball we want to put out this season. We were particularly proud of the way we played last year and we want to build on that.”
Team Bath, who are also backed by Rengen, have retained the core of the squad that reached the Superleague final in 2021 and have bolstered it with the addition of South African star Phumza Maweni and fellow defender Lily-May Catling, while prodigious Academy prospects Molly Hole and Lily Jones have also made the step up.
“The girls have been so welcoming and I’m trying to soak up all the knowledge they’ve been giving me,” said defender Hole, who captains England and Team Bath at U21 level. “It’s definitely a step-up fitness-wise but I’ve loved having the opportunity to play in pre-season matches and meet some of the opposition we’ll face in the Superleague, it’s been amazing.”
Attacker Jones added: “I’ve really enjoyed pre-season and getting some court-time. I think I’ve really improved and become more confident, not just on the court but off it as well. We’ve really pushed ourselves as a team and I think we’re looking really strong.”
Rachel Shaw, in her tenth Superleague season in Blue & Gold, has been impressed with the youngsters’ contribution during pre-season, saying: “They have been excellent and it’s been a great opportunity for girls like Lily, Molly and Kirsty Harris, who is only in her second season, to step up and test the resilience of the squad. We’re always adding to the team in a positive way and every season feels like my first here. I’m excited for the challenge.”
Australian shooter Kim Borger, back at Team Bath for a fourth year, added: “There are some really exciting additions to the squad and I can’t wait to see everyone out there in the Blue & Gold. We’ve been working really hard during pre-season and we’re ready to get started, everyone is buzzing.”
“Fast5 allowed us to experience being in a final and winning it, which brings a lot of confidence to the team,” said the England international. “Although it was a different tournament, hopefully if we reach the Superleague final again this season we’ll be able to call upon that experience of winning a trophy.”
Team-mate Tash Pavelin agreed, saying: “Being in two finals in 2021 and lifting the Fast5 trophy has given a lot of confidence to the squad, both for individual players and as a team. I feel we’ve really built on that through pre-season and I’m excited to see what we can do from here.”
Key to Team Bath’s latest title challenge will be the camaraderie within the squad, with Jess Shaw saying: “We all get on, on and off the court, and that’s really important as it means we can have dialogue about what is going well and what we need to work on but still have that banter. We push each other on through training sessions but also have that fun element, which really adds value.”
While the opening matches are being played at a central venue, like last season, the league will then revert to a traditional home and away format – and the players can’t wait to run out at the Team Bath Arena again in the coming months.
England international Layla Guscoth said: “The thought of being back in front of fans at the STV is so exciting. There’s also something quite exciting about going to play in front of rival crowds as well and trying to quieten them. It’s nice to have a normal-ish season again and get the fans back in the seats.”
Team Bath have eight home matches at the Team Bath Arena, the first against Surrey Storm on Friday 18th February (7.30pm centre-pass). Tickets for all matches are on sale now, along with season tickets for the home fixtures – visit netball.teambath.com/tickets for more information.