Wasps take on Team Bath and Loughborough Lightning meet Manchester Thunder in this weekend’s Vitality Superleague semi-finals, with a place in the Grand Final at stake.
Sara Bayman is one of the Superleague’s most experienced players and after a season back in the competition following her return from New Zealand we asked the England international and UWS Sirens mid-courter to run the rule over the four remaining contenders for the title.
Vitality Superleague – Semi-Finals 5:45pm Wasps v Team Bath at University of Worcester 7:45pm Loughborough Lightning v Manchester Thunder at Leicester Arena Live on Sky Sports Mix from 5:30pm Wasps
Position – 1st
Form (Last 6) – L L W W W W
Playing style – They are massively experienced, they’ve had their blip towards the end of the season but they cannot be counted out as they can and have recovered from those situations.
They move the ball well and switching Nat Haythornthwaite into GA has shown they are looking for a bit more speed through their attacking end and look to hurt teams with their full court defence.
Strengths – They don’t have any real weaknesses in the team and that is what makes them so hard to beat as they have players who have been there before, have won the Superleague lots of times and know each other’s games so well.
The defence doesn’t seem to be as rated as highly as it should be as it goes about its business so well and wins a lot of ball for them.
Key Player – Sam May is going to be big against Bath because how the Wasps end cope with Bath’s attack end is going to be critical. If Sam and Hannah Knights can get their hands on some ball then I think Wasps will do well.
Position – 2nd
Form (Last 6) – W W W W W W
Playing style – They work really hard and you don’t get anything for free from them and that’s where Lightning have come on strong, minimising their errors.
Loughborough have always had the ability to score quickly, especially with Peace Proscovia up front, but in the second half they have made so few errors and it’s so difficult to beat them when you don’t get any free ball.
Strengths – They are on an 11-game winning streak and that tells you all you need to know about them at the moment but in particular the amount of ball they have turned over has been insane.
In the second half of the season you have really seen the strength of their attacking connections, they have a settled team with not too many changes and the ball really flies through the court for them.
Key Player – Shamera Sterling has been the stand-out for Loughborough this year – she’s been accountable for so much of their turnover ball.
She can go one-on-one with tall attackers or come flying out to take on quick attackers, she is winning ball all over that third for Lightning.
Position – 3rd
Form (Last 6) – W W W W W W
Playing style – Thunder keep the ball exceptionally well, they play a high possession game and don’t tend to make too many mistakes. Even if it takes 20 passes to get the ball into the circle, they are happy to play with that patience.
You won’t get rid of Thunder in two or three quarters, they will hang on in there and are a difficult team to shake off.
Strengths – They love the underdog mentality, even when I was there, it was a sort of siege mentality. It was a case of ‘No-one wants us to win, no-one thinks we can win’.
But they will always do well as they have honest, hard-working players and because they keep possession so well it’s tiring for the opposition as you always seem to be defending.
When their defensive end is so dogged and their attacking end is making so few mistakes, they are the one that push on come the fourth quarter.
Key Player – Liana Leota is the one who controls their attacking end. She has incredible vision and is the one to watch for the added flair to the Thunder game.
She sees passes that other players don’t, she can put the shooters into space and Thunder usually move to the beat of her drum.
Position – 4th
Form (Last 6) – L W W L L L
Playing style – Bath play a pretty expansive style that makes them a good team to watch and the contrasting styles make this game so interesting.
The danger with such an open style is that they can sometimes throw the ball away and, while they can be awesome, if it goes wrong it is a style that can unravel.
Strengths – They aren’t afraid to give long ball, which makes them an attacking force and when they are defending they often put a zone on.
The defensive end has been playing really well for them but it depends on how much ball they can keep hold of and, if they can minimise their turnovers, that makes them a threat.
Key Player – Layla Guscoth’s match-up with Nat Haythornthwaite is probably the best match-up on court. They are different styles with Nat being so sharp and quick around the court and Layla, whose long limbs swallow up ground and make the circle look tiny.
It’s all eyes on the semi-finals and Grand Final as the 2018 campaign reaches its dramatic conclusion over the next two weeks, all on Sky Sports Mix, channel 121, which is free for all Sky customers.
Both of Saturday’s semi-finals are live from 5.30pm with centre-pass in Wasps v Team Bath at 5:45pm followed by Loughborough Lightning v Manchester Thunder.
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