Kim Borger has backed Team Bath Netball to park a tough defeat to Loughborough Lightning and arrive at Vitality Netball Superleague’s finals weekend back in form and firing.
On Monday night, in the final round of the regular season, Bath fell at the hands of their great rivals Lightning – and they did so by 19 goals.
The defeat was only Bath’s third of the season, but it was their second in succession and it meant a third-placed finish as opposed to being at the top of the tree, where they had been for so many rounds prior.
“It wasn’t our best performance, but we’ve got so much more to give,” Australian shooter Borger told Sky Sports.
“I would back my squad every day of the week; they’re a bunch of fighters, so watch out!
“We’ve fought for this opportunity to be in the semi-finals and a lot of other teams aren’t fortunate enough still be in the running. It has been a challenging season and we’re not going to squander this opportunity that we’ve worked for.”
After such a difficult day at the office against Lightning, the challenge for Bath is whether or not they can put to one side both the physical and emotional outcomes of that defeat quickly enough.
The drive back from the Copper Box Arena in London meant the players and coaches did not arrive home until 2am on Tuesday morning, but later that day head coach Anna Stembridge told Sky Sports she believed a short week could be an asset.
“Obviously, it was a tough one last night, but I’m also feeling quite positive around what is it that we need to do in order to get ourselves in the best place possible going into Saturday’s game,” she said.
“It’s a great opportunity for us this weekend. There are some quality teams that haven’t made finals and when you look at the top of the table, then first, second and third places were determined by goal difference.
“This week, it’s going to about ‘training smart’. We’ve played some brilliant netball and you can’t forget about that. Yes, we’ve been disappointed about the last few games, but we’ve got a choice now.”
Winning is fun, losing isn’t fun. So, we need to put in good training performance to build that energy back up, if we’re going to fully flourish and thrive this week. That’s the challenge for us, it’s getting out of that hangover state from a loss, getting that energy back and regenerating it within each other to push forwards.
Serena Guthrie (Image credit – Morgan Harlow)
On multiple occasions this year, Bath have looked unstoppable and Borger believes that now – at crunch time in the season – it is about revisiting what they know.
“To create that energy, I just think that we have to get back to actually works well for us, which is about enjoying it,” she said.
“We enjoy each other’s company, we get all up and about, and we have a bit of a dance in the changing room with our playlist on.
“There are some really rogue choices on it… Cotton Eyed Joe was thrown in the other day! We enjoy each other’s company and I think we need to get back to the enjoyment of actually playing netball.
“It’s been such a long season, Wakefield feels like a millennium ago, but it was only a few weeks ago. We need to really embrace the challenges that we’ve been through, remember that we’ve worked hard for this and that we deserve to be here.”
Bath finished the regular season with the best defensive record in the league and are a team packed with what Stembridge calls “big game players”.
The likes of Serena Guthrie, Borger, Layla Guscoth and Eboni Usoro-Brown do not shy away from pressure. In the red of England, Sophie Drakeford-Lewis stood up in New Zealand against Jane Watson, while Imogen Allison and Rachel Shaw have delivered week in and week out this season.
Stembridge is quick to point out that her starters are constantly being pushed by the entire squad too. Strength in depth and the quality of their training partners are key elements to success, but against Thunder, the head coach will need to see her leaders take charge.
“As an athlete, these opportunities are very rare,” Borger said.
“As much as I’ve been playing for years and years, there’s only a handful of times that I’ve been in this situation and in that finals mix. You need to cherish it because across all different sports and codes, not every athlete gets an opportunity like this.
“Semi-finals and finals don’t just come around every season, so you need to take it with both hands and be willing to work for it.”
“For me, in any competition when it gets to the business-end, whether it’s finals week here or in the Commonwealth Games, you’re constantly flipping between enjoyment, nervousness and excitement,” Guthrie shared.
“It’s about managing that and everyone in the team has to manage that too.
“We need to be excellent for one game to get us into that final, which is something that we haven’t managed to do over the last few years.
“It’s what everyone is expecting us to do and it’s what we’re expecting us to do, so the pressure is on. This week, it’s about coming together as a unit and being tactically, physically and mentally ready for what will be a really competitive game.”
Vitality Netball Superleague – Semi-finals
|Saturday at 1.30pm||Loughborough Lightning vs Leeds Rhinos Netball||Live on Sky Sports Action and Mix, streamed on the Sky Sports YouTube channel|
|Saturday at 3.45pm||Manchester Thunder vs Team Bath Netball||Live on Sky Sports Action and Mix, streamed on the Sky Sports YouTube channel|
Bath know what to expect against Thunder; they know that they need to step up early and on their own ball, connect together and rediscover their creativity.
“It’s about having that extra workload and showing the smarts out there,” Guthrie said of Bath’s attacking unit.
“We need to look at how we’re going to take their defensive unit on, because any smart team are going to look at what Lightning and Mavericks did to us in attack and they’re going to try and replicate that.
“We all know that Joyce [Mvula] and Ellie [Cardwell] can do some serious damage, so it’s going to be about stepping up early, making them work extra hard for the ball and grinding that attacking unit down.
“It might not come in the first quarter, but hopefully, like the last time we played them, it will come in the second, third and fourth quarters.”
“I know that it’s going to be an absolute belter of a game,” Stembridge concluded about the semi-final.
“Players within the group are hurting and there’s no better motivation, than trying make a final and coming off the performance that we did.
“Ultimately, we’ve got to turn up on Saturday and I know, having had conversations with players, that they will do everything in their power to make sure that we put the best performance out there and one that we can be proud of.”
Sky Sports is your home of netball. The Vitality Netball Superleague continues on Saturday, with the semi-finals live on Sky Sports Action and Mix and streamed on the Sky Sports YouTube channel from 1.30pm.