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OLDHAM NC
WIN U14
GRAND FINALS 

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Oldham NC won the ENG U14 YNPL Grand Finals 2023 after defeating newcomers Shan NC in the final. They didn't have it all their way in the competition after Crosskeys NC gave them a scare in the quarter-finals and Shan NC storming back in the final was cause concern for the iconic netball club. All in all, they deserved their win and bounced back from last season's semi-final defeat to Kingsway Power in a game they found themselves seven points ahead to become the No.1 team in the country.

The quarter-finals ties offered us one of the most evenly matched fixtures we've ever had since this event started back in 2020. Veterans and pioneers of this competition Ryland NC took on Grangetown in their opening game and flew into a convincing lead after the first quarter. Ryland has a habit of switching off in games and Grangetown took advantage early in the second quarter to bring the scores back to a more competitive setting. Ryland though, is not the same team that once used to throw away leads and they managed to gather themselves mid-way through the second quarter to go in at halftime six points ahead. From that point on it was all one-way traffic and Ryland was through to their first YNPL Grand Final semi-final.

Next up Shan NC took on Leeds Athletic whose team was sensationally defeated by Kingsway Power a day earlier in the U13 event. Even though playing a year up, the consensus was this was going to be a Leeds Athletic win due to their performances in both the U13 & U14 leagues this season. Leeds started the better out of the two teams and went ahead by four goals, but at the back end of the quarter, Shan started to find consistency in their play and managed to go in at the quarter two points behind. The second quarter saw a tactical change by Shan in the defensive area and it was making a difference and they went in at half-time drawing. Shan in the third quarter managed to get ahead for the first time and at one point were five points ahead before Leeds brought the game back within two points and with one quarter left it was going to be a nervous end to the game for both teams. What we anticipated was a tense end-to-end final quarter, but instead, we got a one-sided and dominant performance from Shan who was defensively perfect and they marched into the semi-finals winning 26-22.

Oldham NC who were guilty of throwing away a convincing semi-final lead last season against Kingsway Power nearly did the same again against Crosskeys, but this time in the quarter-finals. Both teams started well in this game before Oldham took control in the middle of the first quarter and were up 9-5. The second quarter saw Crosskeys dominate initially, but missed shots would prove costly and Oldham was let off the hook. Oldham took over four minutes to score their first goal of the quarter and it settled them down again but they knew going into half time this wasn't going to be a straightforward win. With Crosskeys changing their shooter into defense, it was having a huge effect on Oldham scoring, but at the same time it was having an effect on them scoring aswell as missed shots were coming all too common and the tie was looking out of reach for Crosskeys going into the final eight minutes. Crosskeys went for it in the final quarter and swapped their defender back into an attacking position and it paid off with more consistency under the post and Crosskeys were slowly finding themselves creeping back into the game. A couple of Oldham goals kept the Essex-based side at bay, but not before a late rally brought Crosskeys within two goals with twenty seconds to go. A nervous Oldham bench was happy to hear the final whistle and in the end, the score was 19-17.

The final quarter-final tie was between Chester NC and Weston Park Blades. A game tipped to be close was anything but as Chester took apart the Hampshire side in ruthless fashion in the initial quarter. After that Weston Park Blades were playing catch up and just couldn't get back into the game, even with their legendary coach Jan Crabtree calling the shots on the sideline. In the end a deserved win for Chester who would take on Oldham in the semi-finals.

It was semi-final time and Ryland took on Southern rivals Shan. This would mean a Southern-based side was guaranteed to be in the final but who would it be? Ryland started superbly and went ahead 9-5 in the opening quarter to show their intentions in this game. The second quarter followed the same theme and it looked like it would be a convincing Ryland victory based on what we were all seeing materialize on the court. In the third quarter, we saw the dark side of Ryland's play. Shan NC started to take advantage of some sloppy errors from Ryland and went into the final quarter only one goal down, not bad after being six down at halftime. Midway through the final quarter, Shan leveled the game and it was now the goal for goal. With just over a minute to go Shan took the lead and Ryland had to score to at least take the game to overtime. With fifty seconds on the clock, the Ryland shooter lined up the shot and it agonizingly hit the back of the rim and fell into the hands of a Shan defender. Ryland still had a chance, but had to turnover the ball. They failed to do so and even though they scored with seconds left it was very much a case of too little too late for the Midlands-based side who lost the game 21-20.

In the other semi-final, we had a mouth-watering tie between Chester and Oldham. The game though did not live up to expectations with Oldham taking control from the second quarter onwards and going on to win convincingly setting up a final against Shan.

The 3rd/4th play-off between Chester and Ryland was a classic and it was close throughout. It was in the last quarter Chester managed to get a couple of goals ahead to claim their highest position in this event since they started competing in 2020. Ryland had to settle for 4th but like Chester, it was their highest placing at this event.

Oldham were clear favourites to win the final against Shan, but they were playing a side who showed in both previous games they have the grit and determination to stay in games and go on and win. The opening quarters were all Oldham, their experience and stage presence clearly showing between the two sides. As the final quarter got underway the fragile nature of their play reared its ugly head and they allowed Shan to start dominating the final minutes and bring themselves back into the tie. Fortunately for Oldham, it was too little too late for Shan and they were crowned the ENG U14 YNPL National Champions.

Positions:

1st: Oldham NC

2nd: Shan NC

3rd: Chester NC

4th: Ryland NC

5th: Leeds Athletic

6th: Weston Park Blades

7th: Crosskeys NC

8th: Grangetown NC

MVP: Kayla Donatien (Oldham NC)

All Star Team: Bella Strudwick (Leeds Athletic), Imogen Jones (WPB), Lucy Mitchell (Grangetown), Gracie Smith (Crosskeys), Leah Cunningham (Chester NC), Sophie Glover (Shan NC), Matilda Neal (Ryland NC), Alice Winfield (Oldham NC)

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