BUCS Cup glory for netball firsts as Chester are brushed aside

UNIVERSITY OF SHEFFIELD 55 UNIVERSITY OF CHESTER 24

BUCS Northern Conference Cup Final

The team show off their gold medals. Photographs by Adam Harley.

Another day, another trophy.

Those who perceived the University of Sheffield as an exclusively academic institution might have to think again. There are now gold medals to match those black and gold kits.

24 hours after the Futsal team danced with delight, Sheffield had more success to celebrate as the netball firsts crushed Chester to win the BUCS Northern Conference Cup. Other than the joyous outcome, there were absolutely no parallels with events from the night before – then it was the nail-biting, nerve-shredding lottery of penalties, here it was routine, clinical, and straightforward.

Averaging nearly a point a minute, the result was never in doubt as Sheffield bossed proceedings from start to finish. There were no weak links – the shooting of Goal Attack Kaytee Beardsmore and Goal Shooter Sally Essex was flawless, the work of Tory Airey, Natasha Dawson and Gemma O’Boyle in the centre tireless and the defensive partnership of Goal Keeper Sarah Smith and Goal Defence Jessica Bloom ruthlessly efficient.

Chester, who, like Sheffield, finished mid-table in their BUCS division, promised so much but let themselves down time-and-time-again with silly errors and infringements. To say they gifted Sheffield the game would be to do the hosts an injustice, but they certainly made life easier.

Bloom, the captain, couldn’t hide her surprise afterwards at the margin of victory, nor her delight at leading Sheffield to their first cup success.

“I knew they were a good team and I thought it’d be a tighter final, something like goal-for-goal,” she said. “So, I’m really pleased with everyone’s performance. I thought the shooter were amazing, all the shots were going in.

“It was nearly a point a minute – 55 in 60 minutes – and they didn’t even get half points. I’m really proud of everyone; they’ve run their bums off all the way through the game.”

Sheffield centre Natasha Dawson scans for options during the cup final with Chester

The energy and aggression alluded to was in evidence from the tip-off. Chester seemed nervous and committed a number of fouls in the opening minutes, in direct contrast to Sheffield who wasted little time in finding their point-scoring rhythm. Essex and Beardsmore have played together since school and their understanding was almost telepathic as they sunk a number of early shots.

The pair also enjoyed a crucial height advantage over Chester Goal Keeper Chloe Townsend and Goal Defence Rebecca Hindle, meaning they were favourites to snaffle rebounds on the rare occasions they were off-target. With Sheffield infinitely more fluid through the centre, it was little wonder they led 12-5 at the end of the first quarter.

The second quarter continued the theme and the 17 points added by Sheffield effectively settled the contest. A number were gift-wrapped – Chester’s Centre, Rhiannon Morris, seemed to needlessly surrender possession from every restart, a fatal error against a mid-court axis as dynamic as Sheffield’s.

The flow of points was constant as Chester were outmanoeuvred and, thanks to the reliability of Beardsmore and Essex up top, comprehensively outscored as Sheffield led 29-11 at half-time.

There were barely concealed recriminations in the visitors’ huddle at the interval and, to their credit, they came out fighting afterwards, albeit following a few tactical tweaks. Initially, they matched Sheffield point-for-point for the first time in the match, but, with physical and psychological factors taking effect, they swiftly lagged behind again as Dawson and Airey stepped through them with ease.

Sheffield's Janicke Pilkington demonstrates that attack is the best form of defence

The central third was a key aspect in deciding the match. While Sheffield’s players were constantly aware of colleagues around them and confident enough to send them the ball, Chester shifted the ball laboriously and all-too-often sideways.

Entering the final quarter leading 41-16, it was a matter of how many Sheffield could score. 50? 60? Maybe even 70? In the end it was 55 as Beardsmore and Essex continued to take full advantage of increasingly desperate defending.

“The cup meant a lot to us this year and it’s the first a netball team has ever got at Sheffield,” Bloom added. “We’ve beaten teams in the cup that we’ve lost to in the league by quite a big amount.”

Well, looks like Sheffield are certainly up for the cup this year.

University of Sheffield: GK – Sarah Smith, GD – Jessica Bloom (c), WD – Gemma O’Boyle, C – Natasha Dawson, WA – Tory Airey, GA – Kaytee Beardsmore, GS – Sally Essex

Replacements: Janicke Pilkington, Charlotte Whale, Hannah Murray

University of Essex: GK – Chloe Townsend, GD – Rebecca Hindle, WD – Jenna Coakley, C – Rhiannon Morris, WA – Chelsea Lee Hall (c), GA – Holly Byrne, GS – Sarah Wilson-Gavin

Replacements: Heather Goddard, Amy Newton, Nicola Hulme, Ceri Murray-Williams, Laura Power

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