A new look Team Bath Netball suffered a frustrating 2015 Superleague Netball campaign as they failed to reach the semi-finals for the first time in the franchise’s history. Despite this, there were still some encouraging performances including a final day victory over Celtic Dragons to suggest that the side may be able to compete for the top four again when the 2016 season starts next January.
Bath got their season off to a good start with a convincing 49-33 victory away to Team Northumbria on the opening day of the season, but four consecutive loses to the eventual top four of Manchester Thunder, Surrey Storm, Yorkshire Jets and Hertfordshire Mavericks severely dented their aspirations.
The side regrouped with narrow wins over Loughborough Lightning and Celtic Dragons, before opening up the second half of their campaign with another comprehensive victory over Northumbria. The Blue and Golds then suffered a heavy defeat away to Surrey Storm before arguably their game of the season against reigning champions Manchester Thunder at the STV. Thunder went into the game on the back of a 15 match winning streak and were expected to comfortably beat a Bath side that had been struggling for form. However, the home side produced a spirited performance to trail by just 1 point at half time. With Bath playing some fantastic Netball and drawing level at 25-25 at the beginning of the third quarter, the champions appeared tense and a raucous home crowd were playing their role in what could have been an unlikely home win. However, the league leaders showed their class as they moved 38-33 in front with under 5 minutes remaining and despite a late Bath comeback held on for the 9th consecutive win of the season to leave Team Bath’s playoff dreams in the balance.
Despite the fantastic performance against Thunder, Bath’s inconsistencies resurfaced as they lost back-to-back games against the two teams directly above them, Mavericks and Jets, meaning their top four hopes were ended. The side’s four match losing streak was then extended to five as Loughborough Lightning recorded a 51-45 win to move level on points with them with one fixture remaining. However, Bath bounced back on the final day of the season, beating the Celtic Dragons 50-34, to cement 5th place in the league and provide optimism ahead of their 2016 campaign.
Coach Jess Thirlby saw plenty of progress through the season, and told bathimpact “We’ve made a massive improvement from the first round of matches to the second and yes we’re disappointed to not have made a semi-final spot this year. I’m not one for excuses, but we have got a lot of new people in the squad and the season is so short in comparison to other sports, football and rugby is at least twice as long, and I think no sooner did we kind of gain a bit of momentum, in particular after the [Manchester] Thunder match that the season is coming to a close and I feel like if maybe the season was a bit longer who knows how far we could have gone.
“It’s difficult when the games come thick and fast but I’m really pleased with the effort that they’ve all put in, the new players that have joined us this year have really put their best foot forward and ultimately we just haven’t performed at some critical moments which have cost us some more wins really.”
Thirlby was also confident that Team Bath can progress next season and is hoping that not having a semi-final place this year can work to the side’s advantage. “We’ll be coming back with a bang. We’ve got a little bit of a window here because while the top four have got another couple of weeks of training we can start switching our attention to next year, what needs to be done differently, what needs to be better, recruitment, obviously talking to the players about their plans for next year and trying to make sure that we retain a number of the squad so that what we’re not doing is starting again next year.
“So I think we’re very much a team that can make the semi-finals again and we will not lower our expectations of ourselves, but for this year this is where we finished and I think we just need to take the learning from it now and move forward” reiterating the belief that the team can recover after a transition year to place themselves back amongst the leading contenders for next season.
The atmosphere at all of Team Bath’s home fixtures was electric and Thirlby also had a special message for those fans that continually turn up to support the team, “An absolutely massive thank you [to the fans] for their loyalty. We’re in new territory here having not made the semi-finals but what they’ve proven is that they will be here whether we win, lose or draw and that’s meant so much to the players and playing at home has been massive this year. We’ve had a record number of fans come along to the games and most probably the biggest crowd across the whole league because our venue is fantastic and we’re able to configure it to hold the most amount of fans of any of the home venues across the league. We’re really proud of our off court performance and our events team and the University of Bath for their continued support really because it’s great all things in here and it transforms into an arena just for us which is massive.”
The team will also be holding an end of season celebration which fans are welcome to go along to and interact with the players. It is the first year such an event has been held and Thirlby said “We’ve done that [the end of season event] because we value their support and we want to really interact with them face-to-face and be able to thank them personally.”
The end of the season also brought positive news for Team Bath as defenders Samantha Cook and Stacey Jayne Francis were called into the England squad for the three match international series against Trinidad and Tobago next month, the first fixtures under new head coach Tracey Neville. The first match of the series will be held in the STV on Wednesday 6 May as players look to put themselves in contention for World Cup selection in the summer. The 2016 Superleague Netball season will start in January with Team Bath hoping to prove that the 2015 season was just a transition year as new players adapted to the club’s philosophy. The key for the team will be matches against their top four rivals after six defeats in six games against Thunder, Jets and Mavericks this season.