Having won Division 1 of the East Midlands Regional League in March, Charnwood Sapphires Netball Club this weekend secured promotion to next season’s National Premier League 3 – the third highest tier of English Netball and the baseline league for nationwide competition.
Charnwood’s promotion-journey began when they joined 20 other netball clubs from across England at the National Premier League Playoffs, held at Sheffield’s English Institute of Sport.
It was a great achievement to reach the playoffs for the very first time and Charnwood knew they were taking a big step up. In their first game on court on Saturday morning they found out just how big a step it was when they, in their own words, ‘got battered’, during the opening quarter. One of the favourites, Billericay (Essex), gave the girls a shuddering wake up call. However, Charnwood responded brilliantly and despite being well-beaten, they remained positive and determined to bounce back for their second game.
Understandably, the second game on Saturday afternoon against Blackpool (Lancs) was a tense affair but Charnwood put the disappointment of their earlier loss to good use and won the game by two goals. It meant that the girls could sleep well on Saturday night knowing that a win against Riverside (Northumberland) on Sunday morning would advance them to the ‘winner takes all’ final playoff match on Sunday afternoon.
When Sunday morning broke, Charnwood knew that fitness and resilience would be huge determinants of their fate. The day started well with Goal Shooter, Lisa Griffith, on fire. She set the tone for a gutsy, dynamic and high-intensity team performance – Charnwood were playing at a new level and showed a steely determination and maturity. This was particularly impressive, given that the team had the smallest squad of any club participating in the playoffs, and three players were 18 or younger. In fact, only one Charnwood player (centre court player Georgie Mc Andrew) had any previous experience at this level of netball but the Charnwood girls convincingly beat Riverside to finish runners up in their group. They were exhausted but delighted.
Sunday afternoon’s game saw Charnwood play the impressive and as-of-yet unbeaten Poly (North London). The girls needed to call on all of their energy reserves to be competitive, having now played three 60-minute high-intensity games (typically netball teams play no more than two games in a weekend, and at a much lower level of intensity).
Nobody from Charnwood – the squad, parents or supporters – was really quite sure what to expect when the girls went on court at 4pm but what transpired was inspiring to witness. The girls found another gear that they didn’t know they had, and having held their own in the first quarter, they started to show what they had learned from the Billericay experience during the second fifteen minutes. The older and more-experienced Poly Team couldn’t shake Charnwood off. When Poly edged 5 points clear, Charnwood pegged them back, helping the Leicestershire team grow in confidence and self-belief. The third quarter was to prove pivotal. Charnwood, despite obvious fatigue, had started to create doubt in the opposition’s minds. Poly’s very tall shooter was rattled by the Charnwood ‘Kids’ of Maddie Munroe-Hall and Beth Marron, and this gave the Charnwood underdogs a ‘fighting’ chance of winning the match, going into the final quarter.
The first 5 minutes of the final quarter was likely to determine Charnwood’s fate. Did they have the guts and composure to stay the distance? Did they have any gas left in the tank? The answer was a resounding ‘yes’. Charnwood, urged on by their team bench and the raucous supporters, took control of the game and started to dominate Poly. The Leicestershire team nudged in front and, importantly, stayed in front. Poly had no responses to Charnwood’s first ten minutes of attack, and this set the tone for the rest of the quarter. The Leicestershire team held their nerve to run out comfortable winners 47-38, and with it, puts an East Midlands netball team back in National Premier League.
Afterwards Player Coach Sam Griffin was delighted. She said, “We started the season in the East Midlands League determined to improve, determined to establish ourselves as a mid-table team that allowed young players a chance to develop and grow. We never dreamed that we could be playing National Premier League next season. Winning the East Mids Regional League was a proud moment for the team and the club. So to come to Sheffield with the same core squad of players and deliver on this stage is a very proud moment. Every one of our squad of nine girls was brilliant.”
Charnwood Sapphire’s squad:
Sam Griffin, Melissa Oakman, Beth Marron, Maddie Munroe-Hall, Lucy Carveth, Katie Welsh, Lisa Griffiths, Tilly Rees and Georgie Mc Andrew