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SUTTON TOWN CREATE HISTORY AFTER U14 GRAND FINALS VICTORY

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The ENG Youth Netball Premier League finals, a pinnacle of the netball calendar, is now in its fourth season. This event showcases the league's growth and rising prominence, making it one of the No.1 events in the youth netball calendar.

 

Both leagues coming into this competition were highly competitive, and there was an air of unpredictability coming into this competition. It turned out to be the best U14 Grand Finals yet.

 

Quarter Finals

One of the first quarter-final games saw the Southern champions Sutton Town take on Ribble Valley. A decent start from both sides saw Sutton edge the first quarter, and some fantastic feeds from Lily Field were pivotal in giving Sutton Town the narrow lead. Ribble Valley was more than a match for Sutton Town, and they forced multiple errors to level the game in the second quarter. They could have gone ahead going into the third quarter, but a turnover from Sutton established their advantage after they raced down the court to beat the buzzer to go one point ahead at halftime. Small moments mean so much in performance sports, and that point at the back end of the third quarter saw a massive change in fortunes as Sutton Town came out with a more determined mindset and managed to increase their lead substantially. Ultimately, it was a solid win for Sutton Town, who moved into their first ever YNPL semi-final.

 

Leeds Athletic and Starz NC had to cross tricky ties in their quarter-final matches. Leeds had to wait until the fourth quarter to get breathing space between them and Essex Open. Essex Open, who debuted at this competition, matched the Northern Champions for significant periods of the game. Still, some missed shots at the back of the game would lose them valuable momentum, and Leeds used their experience to see out what was a difficult start. Starz faced Grangetown, who were understrength, and the consensus was that Starz would have an easy day at the office. Starz quickly learned it would be challenging, and Grangetown stuck with the West London side for the two opening quarters, only a few points down at halftime. Starz had to hold their nerve, and they did, using all their experience to build a healthy lead over the next two quarters to reach their third semi-final in three seasons.

 

The final game of the quarter-finals was between MK Dons and YWCA Bury. This game was more like a Hollywood movie than a netball game and would go down as one of the most entertaining and controversial games in the history of this event.

 

Both teams started well, and MK Dons took an early advantage. YWCA Bury had the opportunity to level the game but struggled to gain consistency in the final third as their attacks broke down several times due to the pressure from the MK Dons defence. MK Dons took advantage of this and went ahead by two points in the second quarter. The second quarter saw YWCA Bury level the tie, but MK Dons showed durability, which suggested they had the edge mentally. Every time YWCA Bury threatened to go ahead, they would respond with a burst of goals, and their Goal Attack did a great job at holding her nerve to score to reward the excellent work from the rest of the team. As the second quarter came to a close, MK Dons were three points ahead, but an incredible take from the YWCA Bury shooter and shot at the buzzer gave Bury a huge boost going into the second half.

 

MK Dons started the third quarter by maintaining their two-point lead, and Bury responded well. Mid-way through the quarter, Bury leveled the game, and they had the opportunity to go ahead for the first time in what was a fascinating encounter. Finally, Bury found consistency in the final third and went ahead in the game, and many believed this would be the catalyst for them to go on now and win the game. MK Dons responded once again and forced some errors to go ahead in the game again and re-establish their lead. Going into the final quarter going ahead was pivotal in this game, and MK Dons were one point up with seconds to spare, but once again, Bury and their excellent goal attack scored on the buzzer to even the tie with only one quarter left.

 

With one quarter to go, it would be an actual test of nerve to see who would come out of top. Halfway through the final quarter, Bury went ahead and, with three minutes to go, went ahead by two points. MK Dons had to dig deep and hope for Bury's errors, and with only forty seconds to go, Bury was two ahead, and the task of winning seemed very unlikely for MK Dons. MK Dons scored off their center pass, and with only twenty seconds on the clock, it was a Bury center pass, and the game seemed over. Bury took their centre pass and unbelievably threw the ball away to MK Dons, who raced down the court to score the goal that would level the tie. As their shooter, who had been faultless all day, lined up the shot, she knew it would determine the game's outcome. The shot missed, and Bury was jubilant, but due to cautions and some time-wasting moments, the umpire decided to add time, and MK Dons had the chance to level the tie. In the added time, MK Dons scored the crucial goal to take the game to overtime.

 

In overtime, Bury went ahead and had a chance to go two ahead in the first half, but their lack of composure in the final third would once again be their achilles heel. MK Dons leveled the game and went into the second half of extra time one ahead. With the score at 28-28, the MK Dons shooter missed her shot but reacted quickest to put MK Dons back into the lead. With the clock ticking, Bury was deemed to have held the ball. MK Dons took full advantage, keeping procession and draining the clock before slotting the ball home to win an incredible game of netball.

 

Sutton Town (23) Vs Ribble Valley (16)

Leeds Athletic (23) Vs Essex Open (17)

Starz NC (23) Vs Grangetown NC (13)

MK Dons (30) Vs YWCA Bury (28)

 

Semi-Finals

The last time Sutton Town played Starz, they played out an incredible draw in the league. A last-gasp goal from Sutton Town kept their unbeaten record intact in the league. Coming into this game, Starz had an up-and-down season and started well against the Southern Conference champions, leading 6-4 after the first quarter.

 

Both sides went ahead in the second quarter, but Sutton Town grabbed the initiative at the end of the quarter. Some great defensive work from Gabby helped them go three points ahead at halftime. Starz needed to start the next quarter well, but Sutton Town was too hot to handle. Over the next two quarters, they produced a highly professional performance to condemn Starz to their third successive 3rd/4th play-off game in three seasons.

 

The problem with these competitions is that the high-quality teams involved and playing three games in one day, playing an intense game too early, can drain you mentally. MK Dons played Leeds Athletic, and both sides started the game brightly. Both sides were goal for goal until the final seconds when Leeds turned the ball over to go ahead by two points on the buzzer and take a two-point lead going into the second quarter.

 

Leeds Athletic threatened to pull away in the second quarter, but the stubbornness of MK Dons and their ability to fight back kept Leeds on their toes. Leeds maintained a five-point lead going into the second half, which continued until midway through the third quarter when Leeds finally shattered the MK Dons' resistance. Leeds, at this point, went on to win the game comfortably and set up a final against Sutton Town.

 

Results

Sutton Town (27) Vs Starz NC (14)

Leeds Athletic (35) Vs MK Dons (21)

 

5th-8th Play-Offs

YWCA Bury (23) Vs Essex Open (22)

Ribble Valley (28) Vs Grangetown NC (24)

 

3rd/4th Play-Off

MK Dons had been in two challenging encounters and now faced Starz, who had come in the top two of this competition in the past two seasons. Starz hoped to improve on their two fourth-place finishes in the previous seasons to land their best position but faced a challenging task against MK Dons.

 

Starz was the better of the two teams, quickly going 4-1 ahead, and you could forgive MK Dons for being a little mentally drained after their two tough encounters. As we have seen on many occasions MK Dons don't let anyone have an easy challenge and fought back into the game to go ahead 7-5 after the first quarter. The game stayed goal for goal until the final minute of the second quarter, where Starz capitalised on a misplaced feed to score two quick goals to give themselves a three-point lead.

 

Once again, MK Dons had to chase the game, and once again, they fought back to bring the game back to a two-point lead with a minute to go. But, like in the second quarter, their hard work unraveled as Starz capitalized on some errors to take a four-point lead into the final quarter. At this point, the MK Dons' resistance was breaking down as Starz increased their lead throughout the final quarter to claim their best-ever position in this competition.

 

Results

Starz NC (29) Vs MK Dons (19)

 

7th-8th Play-Off

Essex Open (14) Vs Grangetown NC (11)

 

5th-6th Play-Off

Ribble Valley (27) Vs YWCA Bury (17)

 

Final

It was a Sutton Town and Leeds Athletic final, the first time a Midlands-based side had taken on a Yorkshire-based team in this competition's final. As finals go, it was one of the best we have ever had, with both sides showing high-performance levels to give the iconic end to this competition.

 

It was a great start to the game, with both sides going goal for goal early on. A Leeds mistake saw Sutton Town go 7-5 ahead, but at 7-6, a poor centre pass play gave Leeds a chance to level the game. The impressive Thea Uprichard raced down the court to set up the feed to see Leeds level the game going into the second quarter.

 

The second quarter was the same as the first, with both teams displaying exceptional play. You got the feeling minor errors would decide this game, and in this quarter, Sutton Town was the one to hold their nerve in decisive moments. A couple of mistakes were taken advantage of, and Sutton Town superbly executed with some incredible attacking play and pinpoint feeds in their formidable shooting circle. Sutton Town opened up a four-point lead, but Leeds reduced the deficit to three with under a minute to go. A mistake by Sutton Town allowed one last Leeds attack before the buzzer went, and they gladly accepted the invitation, the game was now back to only a two-point to Sutton Town at halftime.

 

In the third quarter, the game threatened to be very one-sided, with Sutton Town in a position they rarely find themselves in this competition, leading by six points and looking on course to become the champions. But like the second quarter, the pressure of being the front-runner allowed Leeds to muster a fightback to bring the game back to three points going into the final eight minutes.

 

Attitude was vital in the final quarter, which is more about your mental ability to handle the environment. On many occasions, Sutton Town has shown a weakness in their ability to stay calm and focussed in pressured situations. This weakness was creeping to the surface because Leeds started the all-important final quarter on the front foot. Sutton Town's three-point lead was reduced to zero as the game was level halfway through the quarter. As the game was goal for goal, both sets of players needed not to panic or make silly errors. As Sutton Town looked to go ahead in the game on their centre pass play, a misplaced feed into their shooter, Ella saw the ball sail out of play, and now Leeds had the chance to go ahead. As Leeds looked to pass the ball out from the back of the court, Lily Field probably made the most critical interception of her young career to help re-establish the Sutton Town lead with three minutes to go. This was to be the catalyst for Sutton Town to dominate the final minutes, with the next Leeds attack breaking down due to great defensive work from the Sutton Town defence to force a held ball, and now they had the chance to put this game to bed. Suddenly, in the game with less than a minute to go, Sutton Town had the opportunity to go three points ahead, but a missed shot gave Leeds a chance to draw the game if they could get the ball downcourt quickly enough. The Leeds defence held the ball too long, allowing Sutton Town to put the game to bed. Ella, who had been in impressive form all day, duly obliged when allowed to shoot the decisive winner, and Sutton Town became the first team from the Midlands to land an ENG Grand Finals win.

 

Final Result

Sutton Town (28) Vs Leeds Athletic (25)

 

MVP

Lily Field (Sutton Town)

All-Stars

 Flora Cormack (Grangetown), Atronna Sebayala (Essex Open), Bella De Jager (Leeds Athletic), Aliya Ojo (MK Dons), Darcie Layzell (Ribble Valley), Lily Field (Sutton Town), Carmela Remmer (Starz NC)

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