Vitality Superleague: Franchise by franchise part two

Part two of the 2020 Vitality Netball Superleague season preview, looks at the other five franchises taking to court for the Season Opener on February 22.

After running the rule over Manchester Thunder, Wasps Netball, Team Bath, Loughborough Lightning and Saracens Mavericks in part one, our attention now turns to Severn Stars, Celtic Dragons, Surrey Storm, Strathclyde Sirens and London Pulse.

All of the Superleague franchises are preparing to commence their campaigns at Arena Birmingham and all five matches will be shown live on Sky Sports and be streamed on the Sky Sports YouTube channel.

  • Sky Sports line-up for record Season Opener

  • Vitality Netball Superleague: Signings to watch

Severn Stars

  • Last season’s finish: Sixth place
  • Head coach: Melissa Bessell
  • First three fixtures: Saracens Mavericks (Season Opener), Manchester Thunder (H) & Saracens Mavericks (A)

Last season Severn Stars efficiently went about their business, their consistent work caused their presence to be felt, as did their 50-47 victory over Manchester Thunder in Round 14.

Of course, the franchise’s new head coach will look to use that positivity as a springboard but she’s also very keen to put her own mark on the group.

It’s not the sessions you do when you’re feeling it.. it’s the sessions you do when you’ve just scraped your car up, forgotten your head phones and you’re not wearing the right trainers ?????✨ #weareSTARS @SevernStars

There’s a new set of players at Stars too, which includes some big signings, and that makes them somewhat of an unknown quantity to those around them. Bessell is very clear about their goals though; Stars have their sights fixed on the final.

Player to watch: Stars’ signings hit the headlines during pre-season and the introduction of Liana Leota cannot be ignored. Leota and her head coach have known each other for years and Bessell says it’s like having a version of herself on court. The Kiwi mid-courter will influence all aspects of the franchise and should be as prolific as ever when it comes to match-play.

Coach’s comments: “I’ve told the girls that we’re going for the final. I’m not going top four, I don’t want to be a cop out and be safe. I want it to be known that this is what we’re going for. I know that I have the players, I know that I have the commitment.”

Squad: Liana Leota (Captain), Nia Jones (Vice-captain), Bethan Dyke, Georgia Rowe, Paige Reed, Lucy Harris, Ella Powell-Davies, Lucy Herdman, Ama Agbeze, Towera Vinkhumbo, Hannah Howl, Chloe Carchrie, Jane Taylor, Ellie Gibbons and Chloe Cubello.

Vitality Netball Superleague – Season Opener on Sky Sports & YouTube

Celtic Dragons

  • Last season’s finish: Seventh place
  • Head coach: Tania Hoffman
  • First three fixtures: Surrey Storm (Season Opener), Team Bath (H) & London Pulse (A)

After a seventh-place finished secured their presence at the British Fast5 All-Stars Championship for the first time, Celtic Dragons took that opportunity with both hands. Since flying at Fast5, their pre-season results haven’t fully gone their way however they’re a group of players with energy and talent within their ranks.

Player to watch: The Vitality Nations Cup gave us all a chance to see defender Latanya Wilson in action. Every time that she took to court, she had a great partnership with the experienced Shamera Sterling and playing week in, and week out in the Superleague should enhance her career no end.

Squad: Dee Bolakoro, Abby Tyrrell, Paige Kindred, Amy Clinton, Sophie Morgan, Rebekah Robinson, Latanya Wilson, Shona O’Dwyer, Rhian Evans, Brittany Coleman, Eleri Michael, Laura Burton, Lucy Howells and Annie O’Rourke.

Surrey Storm

  • Last season’s finish: Eighth place
  • Director of Netball: Mikki Austin
  • First three fixtures: Celtic Dragons (Season Opener), London Pulse (A) & Strathclyde Sirens (A)

Turning our attentions back to Fast5 again, Surrey Storm had a ball there and sent out some very positive signs for the season ahead. Mikki Austin is an astute operator, she has openly shared that she’s taken so much from last season and is ready to reap the benefits of keeping her squad together in order to build on their collective experiences.

And so February is upon us … #Super10Month #VNSL

Player to watch: Storm’s new signings have come in key areas and Karyn Bailey looks set to make a real mark in their shooting circle. She has so much experience in her corner, she’s a team player and will add greatly to the dynamics of the franchise too.

Coach’s comments: “We have made some really key additions in court areas that I think are going to pay real dividends for us going forward. It’s really exciting to have that blend of returners and new faces in the mix. Not only am I really happy with the athletes and netballers that we’ve got, I’m more happy with the people and the personalities.”

Squad: Mikki Austin, Yasmin Parsons, Katy Hughes (Captain), Niamh Cooper, Yasmin Hodge-England, Emily Gulvin, Sophie Hankin, Alima Priest, Lorraine Kowalewska, Karyn Bailey, Leah Goss, Nicole Humphrys, Ellie Kelk, Charlotte Curtis and Leah Middleton.

Strathclyde Sirens

  • Last season’s finish: Ninth place
  • Head coach: Lesley MacDonald
  • First three fixtures: London Pulse (Season Opener), Loughborough Lightning (A) & Surrey Storm (H)

Strathclyde Sirens are approaching this season, like Pulse who finished below them, with a fierce determination not to occupy the foot of the table in 19 rounds time. Karen Atkinson’s arrival as their technical director should add greatly alongside Lesley McDonald and Claire Maxwell stepping up as head coach and assistant coach respectively.

Player to watch: Last summer, teenager Emma Barrie had a Netball World Cup to remember with the Scottish Thistles as played with tremendous confidence on the greatest stage of all. Now, back at Sirens for a second season, this is her chance to continue to hold her hand up and make waves using her height and accuracy.

Coach’s comments: “I think that every year with Sirens we have learned something new and hopefully this year we will again. We’re looking to make that next step up and be really competitive and consistent with our play. We’re not naive because we know how competitive the league is, but we’ve got a lot of belief in our group.” Claire Maxwell.

Squad: Claire Maxwell, Nicola McCleery, Niamh McCall, Taylor Cullen, Gia Abernethy (Captain), Emma Barrie, Lynsey Gallagher, Lauren Tait, Bethan Goodwin, Kelly Boyle, Zanele Vimbela, Emily Nicholl, Natalie Bright, Cerys Cairns and Sarah MacPhail.

London Pulse

  • Last season’s finish: 10th place
  • Head coach: Samantha Bird
  • First three fixtures: Strathclyde Sirens (Season Opener), Surrey Storm (A) & Celtic Dragons (H)

When it comes to personnel, London Pulse have experienced a good deal of change between seasons and are approaching this one energised and eager to deliver. They have a new head coach at the helm and a wealth of new players, including some of the most exciting young talent in England, within their ranks. Head coach Bird knows exactly how to manage these players and this extended pre-season should have given them the time to really understand each other.

Good day out in Wales for a double header v @celtic_dragons and @TeamBathNetball #tidy ??

Player to watch: As well as all of the young talent at Pulse, keep your eyes on a player that you’ll know all about already – Lindsay Keable. The defender has already said that she’s being pushed to reach new heights by her younger teammates and will provide invaluable leadership, on and off the court, to ensure that Pulse’s youngsters thrive.

Coach’s comments: “I think that it’s really important for London Pulse to have a really strong culture and philosophy about women being proud to play sport in London and having really good role models in London. Pulse reflects London in that it’s a very diverse team. We want to be a very exciting team, we want to play with a lot of style but be driven about performance.”

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