Blaze strike an early blow against defending champs

THE reigning Premier Division champions will take some beating this season – but their predecessors did exactly that in their first ‘big one’ yet.

Blaze’s Hannah Blondel assesses her options as she takes possession of the ball. (Picture by Sophie Rabey, 28822084)
Blaze’s Hannah Blondel assesses her options as she takes possession of the ball. (Picture by Sophie Rabey, 28822084)

Blaze edged title-holders Resolution IT Green by the finest of margins – 45-44 – in a come-from-behind thriller at Grammar School on Tuesday night.

This was arguably the 2018-19 champions’ biggest win in 18 months, following significant squad issues last season, and Nena Copperwaite’s girls are now three wins from three in this new campaign.

Meanwhile, Rezzers captain Tiff Gervaise-Brazier termed her side’s performance ‘one of our best’ and still salvaged two points from the close contest.

Still short of matchplay and with a game in hand, Rezzers held their own throughout.

They opened fire with a swift conversion but Blaze soon levelled, and with frequent rebounds both sides, the scoreline grew slowly and almost evenly.

Rezzers made it 11-9 after a quarter where superb defending, not least from GK Abby McCracken and GD Gemma Batiste in the circle, proved a key draw.

Rezzers’ prime shooting partnership of GS Clare Henry and GA Verona Tomlin soon found their feet and a first significant scoring run put them six ahead.

Blaze cut the arrears slightly through GS Jemma Green and GA Abbie Greening, their eventual player-of-the-match, while GK Zola Saunders and GD Ella Staples played a key role in limiting Rezzers’ retaliation.

Rezzers kept a small cushion at half-time – 24-20.

Blaze then utilised their newly broadened roster and shifted the centre court to accommodate U18 star Lillie Cochrane at WA.

Proceedings remained tight but Blaze rallied back with some sharp shooting, reaching the final stanza three down.

They turned it up another notch from there.

Greening was hitting some big shots and young Cochrane, taking their C bib, kept her cool to produce some key intercepts.

A mistaken call of injury time disrupted Rezzers’ centre-court before restoration and Blaze soon led.

This prompted a driven comeback effort for Rezzers, for whom WA Becky Chamberlain took player-of-the-match honours, but Blaze just about held on.

Copperwaite was understandably cock-a-hoop with the win.

‘I know it’s just the start of the season, but it means loads to us because we’ve had to really come together as a group this year,’ she said.

‘We were so down come the end of last year both in and out of netball – all the girls had stuff going on – but after lockdown, we just got together as soon as we were allowed to and we’ve been building.

‘We’ve got a squad this year as opposed to a seven, so we can put whoever in.

‘There are girls today that didn’t get on, but we’re happy to bring them on another day.

‘Lillie made some absolutely crucial turnovers in that last quarter and considering she’s the youngest and most inexperienced in our team, she was the calmest.’

Opposite number Gervaise-Brazier was, however, not put off by the early loss.

‘I’m actually delighted with our performance today and it was a really well-contested game – could have gone either way,’ she said.

‘We definitely held our own and it’s just early in the season I think.

‘I thought defensively we were excellent, but we made a few unforced errors and I think that cost us, but to be honest, I think it was just unlucky from us today.’

This was only Rezzers’ second loss to another women’s team in over a year – the old Titans having won, again by one, in February.

Following the half-term break, T&T Purple, likely the third horse in the title race, will provide another major challenge for Rezzers in two weeks’ time.

T&T Purple enter off a 60-18 win over their own B team – Blue – in which promising GD Mhairi McGill and GK Sophie Pontin, respectively, earned player-of-the-match recognition.

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