Rotating subs allows Specs to maintain their intensity
SPECS A came out guns blazing in a most demanding initiation to their new Winter League Premier Division campaign.
Faced with a daunting opener against Rezzers Green, behind whom they finished close runner-ups last season, they claimed a surprisingly convincing 47-35 victory on Tuesday night.
On top of strong opposition, both teams had to contend with a brand-new rotating substitution style that allows changes after each goal.
They also had to look long-term – this season will culminate in structured play-offs, meaning a couple of matches at the end will have the final say.
But Specs wasted no time getting up to speed in this Grammar School encounter.
After turning over their opponents’ opening centre pass, they soon converted it and ultimately dominated the first quarter, pulling 16-7 clear.
Specs were operating smoothly and showing no real rust – not just in their effective centre-court.
Their two circles blended up-and-coming players with experience, as GD Sammie Cox formed a strong partnership with GK Lorna Hall, while teenage GS Immy Giles and GA Donna Brehaut fired away precisely.
But after a 15-minute spell beset by errors, Rezzers found their feet and largely held pace for the remainder.
The champions presented a notably youthful side in the absence of several core players, with Erin Sullivan starting at GK, Harriet Savident playing WA and Emma Sykes particularly shining at GA. Amid the frequent changes, they would also involve Evie Robinson.
Specs closed the quarter strongly to lead 26-14 at half-time.
Yet Rezzers edged quarter three, with GD Gemma Batiste contributing heavily to a strong defensive performance, which was backed by their shooters making good use of their chances.
Coming back from 36-25 down looked a long shot, but they started the final stanza with real intent – only to watch the gap widen again in the dying minutes.
Specs captain Brehaut highlighted player-of-the-match Lorna Hall, plus her fellow shooters, with Kate Le Maitre also playing a prominent role in the victory.
‘We’re obviously delighted with the win,’ she said.
‘I think our start ultimately won us the game and it was a really positive start for us.
‘The rotating subs was the first time we played that and we actually really enjoyed that. It enabled players to play at that ultimate intensity for the whole duration, because it enabled them to rest when we needed them to.
‘That was really important for us tonight and we’re really looking forward to playing with the rotating subs moving forwards.’
Specs will lose key players Steph Batiste and Charlotte Hill this season, but they maintain a versatile roster, backed by talent emanating from their B squad.
Experienced Rezzers player and successful GS Anna Trump named Sykes – who won POM – as a standout performer and now hopes to build throughout the season.
‘We were really positive, actually,’ she said.
‘We always take a bit of time to warm up and the new format of this season, I think it provides us with all sorts of really good opportunities – you can rotate, you can try different combinations.
‘It’s a long season ahead and we’ve got lots of time.
‘The new format of the game allows us to trial and practice a little bit with a few different combinations to get it right towards the end of the season – I think it’s going to be a real squad game this season for all the clubs.’
Last season’s third-placed team, Blaze, ran out 45-37 winners against Specs B in the preceding season opener.
This reflected a very solid showing for Specs, who closed to within one goal in the third quarter and managed to salvage a league point from the encounter.
Attacking sub Vicky Yabsley earned POM for the victors, with GS Emily Kendal taking the equivalent honours for Specs.