Team Bath Netball show character in Wasps reverse as Covid provides latest “curveball” during a Superleague season of challenges
Anna Stembridge praised the “incredible strength of character” shown by her extended playing squad after Covid provided the latest challenge for Team Bath Netball to tackle during the 2022 Vitality Superleague season.
Having already negotiated injuries, visa delays and one early-season Covid outbreak that sidelined the coaching staff and some players, the Haines Watts-sponsored Blue & Gold found themselves without four regular starters – captain Imogen Allison, Layla Guscoth, Kirsty Harris and Tash Pavelin – for Saturday’s visit to improving Wasps due to the pandemic.
Team Bath slipped to a 62-50 defeat in Coventry but battled throughout and remain just three points behind fourth-placed Saracens Mavericks, who are the latest visitors to the Team Bath Arena on Friday (7.30pm centre-pass).
“Saturday was always going to be tough, even with a full-strength squad as Wasps have been building over the past few weeks, so to lose four of our regular starting seven to Covid was certainly another challenging curveball,” said Stembridge, Team Bath’s Superleague Head Coach.
“It was unsettling but it has been a season of challenges and I was pleased with how the girls stepped up, right across the squad.”
Already without Allison, fellow England star Guscoth and the previously ever-present Pavelin in the travelling squad, Team Bath were dealt another setback when rising star Harris tested positive for Covid on the day of the game.
That meant the visitors went into the match without four of the seven that had started against Loughborough Lightning earlier in the week and with only four replacements on the bench, including training associate Annie O’Rourke – receiving her first Superleague call-up – and technical coach Asha Francis.
Defenders Molly Hole and Lily-May Catling made their first Superleague starts for the Blue & Gold, while Anya Le Monnier came on for an impressive debut top-flight appearance as Team Bath put up a spirited performance throughout.
They found themselves trailing 31-21 at half-time but kept their focus and there were just a couple of goals separating the teams in the second half, with Team Bath finishing strongly to win the last quarter 15-13.
“The girls showed incredible strength of character and were competitive for the majority of the game,” said Stembridge. “There were no blow-out runs, which was really pleasing, but there were a couple of little patches where Wasps were able to score in two and three-goal bursts which let them pull away.
“Molly and Lily-May both did well and it was a very good Superleague debut for Anya, who grabbed her opportunity with both hands. Her main position is centre but she played most of the match at wing-defence and matched up well against Iona Christian, who is one of Wasps’ lynchpin players.”
The big tests keep coming for Team Bath, who next face a Mavericks side who are also looking for a lift after successive two-goal defeats – against Surrey Storm and Leeds Rhinos – which has made for an increasingly tight play-off chase.
Mavericks were the only team to complete a league double against Team Bath last season and Stembridge said: “There is a lot of history between these clubs and it is always a hotly-contested match when we meet. I would expect more of the same on Friday, no matter who is on court.
“It is heading towards being another sell-out and it’s been wonderful to have the fans’ unwavering support over the past few weeks.”
Just a handful of seats remain for the Mavericks game, which will also be live-streamed on YouTube by Sky Sports, but tickets are available for the following home games against high-flying London Pulse (Monday 11th April, 7.30pm), local rivals Severn Stars (Saturday 23rd April, 4pm) and Wasps (Friday 20th May, 7.30pm), as well as the Spring Showdown in Birmingham against fellow play-off contenders Leeds Rhinos (Sunday 17th April, 12pm). Visit netball.teambath.com/fixtures to see the full fixture list and purchase links.