Despite the sun shining it was a cold November afternoon for the Lancashire Round of the National Schools Competition at Leyland Netball Centre on 16 November 2011.
After a comprehensive warm up and a pre-tournament talk about positive mental attitude all seemed in vain, as we started slowly against local rival Baines. Unforced errors, which the opposition capitalised on, and missed opportunities saw us struggling to find our form. Basic court linkage and decision making both proved problematic, which saw us gift balls to our opponents. We lost the opening game by a disappointing margin of 13 goals to 6.
In our second game we played Clitheroe, who we had a convincing league win against last week and yet we failed to repeat a performance of that calibre. Despite positional changes we struggled to settle and although we never looked like losing the game, we certainly didn’t stamp our authority on it. The game ended 8 goals to 6 in our favour, with mountains to climb in terms of displaying our true potential.
However, third time lucky and we suddenly seemed to find the “on switch” and produce the netball we’re capable of, as we played another local rival St Mary’s. The ball moved swiftly through the court and opportunities provided to our shooters were converted with increasing accuracy. A comfortable score line at half time of 9 goals to nil, enabled a number of changes to be made to the team. We continued with some impressive play especially in the shooting circle where the shooters rotated well and worked the ball to the post. The defence also worked hard and following turnovers they linked well with the centre court, allowing us to transfer into attacking mode with ease. Final score 15 goals to 1.
In our last group game we played Stoneyhurst College, who we hadn’t yet met this season, on our travels. Our improved form continued and we looked calm and composed on the ball, most of the time! We went into the second half leading 6 goals to 2. The second half saw us make numerous interceptions which we failed to use as well as we could but, nevertheless we finished with a comfortable 13 – 6 victory.
This meant that we finished runners up in our section and were through to the semi-final. Routine tournament format, meant that we played the winners of the other section, the formidable Cardinal Newman College. Newman are no strangers to this competition and have progressed through the County and Regional Rounds for possibly the last two decades. They won the National Title for three consecutive years until last season when they were losing finalists. Their pedigree is unsurpassed within the County.
Perhaps this worked in our favour as were deemed to be the underdogs, based on earlier results. With the pressure seemingly off, we suddenly demonstrated that we were capable of competing with the best and proved to be an equal match for Newman. We were dominant in defense, even coping with their 6 foot 4 inch shooter, and assertive in our attacking moves.
We patiently worked the ball around the court and displayed great decision making in terms of who to pass the ball to and when. Going into the closing minutes it was virtually going goal for goal and it looked like the whistle would decide the winner. Nerves were frayed on the sideline, never mind on court and yet we held our composure to make the most of Newman’s errors and were absolutely thrilled to win the game 13 (lucky for some and certainly us) goals to 11.
This meant that we would automatically go through the Regional Round, much to the players delight, but we still had to play a final against Baines to gain our seedings for the next stage.
Both finalists felt relieved that they were already through to the next round and it was pleasing to see an all Blackpool final, showing the improving standard of players on the Fylde Coast. The final was played in good spirit and was much more evenly matched than our previous encounter. Spurred on by our improved form and riding high on the semi final victory we managed to reverse the earlier result and won the final by 1 goal!
Although not an ideal start, it was pleasing to witness that the players had the strength of character to dig deep when the going got tough and to finish on a high. Apart from the thrill of winning and progressing to the next round it may, more importantly, initiate more self belief within the team. The talent is there and now, hopefully, so is the confidence because “whether you think you will or whether you think you won’t, you’re probably right!”
Thanks go to Pauline for umpiring and Lancashire County Netball Association for organising the event.