Team Bath Netball come out on top in bronze-medal battle with London Pulse to finish 2022 Vitality Superleague season on a high
Team Bath Netball finished a rollercoaster 2022 Vitality Superleague season on a high note as they beat London Pulse 36-32 in a gripping bronze-medal match on Sunday.
Both teams demonstrated why they had the best defensive records in the league this season with some outstanding play at the back but the Haines Watts-sponsored Blue & Gold had the edge for much of an absorbing contest and held off a spirited fightback from a fearless young Pulse outfit to secure third place overall.
It was a positive way to finish a campaign that saw Team Bath overcome a series of challenges – including injuries, two Covid outbreaks and the mid-season retirement of England captain Serena Guthrie – to reach Finals Weekend for a 15th time in 16 seasons.
Player of the match Layla Guscoth, who received her Vitality Player of the Season award after Sunday’s Grand Final, admitted: “At one point this season we really didn’t think we would make the top four. We would have loved to be in the final but that’s not our story this year, we’re just really happy to have medalled and finished on a high.”
Victory at the Copper Box Arena was also a fitting send-off for attacking duo Kim Borger and Rachel Shaw, who are retiring from playing, and Anna Stembridge, who is stepping down from her role as Team Bath Netball Superleague Head Coach.
“We’re really chuffed to have got the win,” said Stembridge, who is being succeeded in the Head Coach role by Asha Francis. “For the neutral that was an exciting game but I’m not sure for both benches! The game ebbed and flowed but what a defensive shift from both teams to keep the scoreline like something you would expect at half-time.
“Credit to Pulse, they didn’t let us push on when we got to five or six goals clear, but my girls showed grit and character too.
“I always talk about players, when they leave the programme, hopefully being better people and I hope I have enabled them to be the best they can be. The girls have created this legacy and culture, and I am sure it will continue to flourish under Asha’s leadership.”
Team Bath and Pulse lined up for Sunday’s third-place play-off at London’s Copper Box Arena less than 48 hours after suffering semi-final defeats at Manchester Thunder – the eventual champions – and Loughborough Lightning respectively.
The first quarter indicated how the match would play out as the two defences quickly got a grip on proceedings. Guscoth and Phumza Maweni showed why they were voted into the Superleague’s All-Star VII at GD and GK respectively as Pulse were restricted to just seven goals but Team Bath were limited to nine themselves during a tightly-contested opening 15 minutes.
Pulse, who finished third in the league table and were playing at their home venue, got back on level terms in the second quarter but there remained nothing between the teams as the Blue & Gold went into half-time with a 19-18 advantage.
A strong start to the third quarter saw Team Bath stretch the lead to 26-21 and, with Tash Pavelin in inspired form at WD, they were able to keep that cushion in place heading into the final quarter.
Pulse refused to go down without a fight during a tight and tense final 15 minutes, closing the gap to 33-31 at one stage, but Team Bath dug deep to see out the win.
Guscoth said: “It was a hard game and Pulse have been amazing this season, they have given us all a big fright. We’re glad we made it through. We really wanted to win a medal today – for Anna, Kim and Rach – so we’re really glad we managed to do that.”
Thoughts are already turning to the 2023 Superleague season, as well as Team Bath’s defence of their British Fast5 All-Stars title later this year. Stay up to date with all the news during the close season by signing up to our Team Bath Netball newsletter – click here to find out more.