Netball girls hit the big time with Scots debuts in Northern Ireland
Three Shetland girls represented Scotland in the under-17 European netball championships in Northern Ireland at the weekend.
The Scottish team unfortunately finished bottom of the four teams in the first division, but recovered well to defeat second division winners Gibraltar and confirm their place in the top tier for next year.
Inga Woods, Sophie May Leyland and Emma Leask, all 16, have been attending training sessions with the Scotland squad since September last year, so were well prepared for the championships, held at the Lisburn Racquets Club from Friday to Sunday. Division one comprised England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales while Gibraltar, Republic of Ireland, Switzerland, who were competing in their first ever under-17 championships, and the under-15 Northern Ireland development squad made up division two.
For Scotland’s first game on Friday against Northern Ireland, Sophie May and Emma were in the starting team with Sophie May taking the WD position and Emma at C. With only three players on the court having played at this level and represented Scotland at the 2009 championships the team looked nervous with a few stray passes being quickly picked up by Northern Ireland and converted to goals.
Defensively Scotland worked tirelessly to keep down on the Northern Ireland shooters but the home defence was very tight, especially through the mid-court, which often caused Scottish errors and denied the Scottish team shooting opportunities.
Scotland made changes at half time with Sophie May moving to C and Emma moving to WD, but unfortunately for Sophie May after a great performance at WD cramp set in and she had to retire from the game. As confidence grew the Scottish team became more settled and were netting the goals with the team having a great final quarter but unfortunately the deficit was too great, the final score being 38-19 to Northern Ireland.
The next game on Saturday was against England, the tournament favourites and reigning champions. The Scottish players knew the game was going to be tough but came out fighting from the start.
Inga and Emma were in the starting line-up for this game with Inga at WD and Emma at the C position. England showed their speed and smooth up-court play which often caught Scotland off guard.
Scotland were showing a more together team performance as they used quick, short passes to overcome England’s height advantage. Inga did well against a strong England WA as she dominated the mid court.
Changes were made by both teams in the second half with Sophie May coming on at WD and Emma moving into GK. The Scottish supporters were in fine voice as they cheered on their team with a few renditions of Flower of Scotland keeping the Scotland team going.
The Scottish coach was pleased with the team performance as they had improved on their performance from the previous game and reduced the goal deficit from last year’s championships when England played Scotland. The final score was 64-15.
An early start was on the cards for the girls on the Sunday as they faced Wales in their final division one game at 8am. Wales had taken part in a very close match against England on Friday, leading by two goals at half time before losing narrowly 39-37.
Inga started at GD and Sophie May started at WD, moving to C in the third quarter. Scotland had a great first quarter with some accurate shooting and tight defensive work, denying the Welsh shooters their close range shots. The score at the end of the first quarter was 10-10, a great achievement for Scotland leaving everything still to play for.
Wales, a bit shaken by the first quarter, made some tactical changes taking on a new shooter with a clear height advantage and a mid-court player who showed her dominance from the start. Scotland were a bit rattled and took a while to settle and adapt to the faster style of play.
Wales now were getting under way and the shooters were netting shots from all around the circle giving the defenders little chance for rebounding opportunities. Emma came on at GK at half time, making some good interceptions against the tall and physically strong holding shooter.
The Scottish team again stepped up their game and put in a sterling defensive performance and showed great improvements in their attacking play, the game finishing 54-25 to Wales.
England took top spot in division one with Wales runners-up and Gibraltar finished top of division two with the under-15 Northern (Continued on page 47) Ireland development squad runners-up. After the main trophy presentation all the players representing their country for the first time were presented with their first cap. The Scotland team looked visibly tired from playing three very competitive matches but were then faced with the prospect of playing Gibraltar, the top team from division two, to decide who would take up the position in division one next year.
Emma started at GK after a great performance against Wales and denied her opponent numerous chances to net the goals through fantastic interceptions and rebounds. Sophie May took the WD position for a half, using her speed effectively to beat her opponent and find great space through mid-court. Inga came on at WD and showed great supporting play through mid-court with some strong passes up into her attack. Scotland had a slow start which was understandable after having a tough match in the morning but really worked hard. Their game improved tremendously over the four quarters with some lovely up-court play feeding their shooters well and shooters finishing with some accurate shots.
Scotland really pulled together as a team and ended on a high as they won 32-9 and proved they deserved their place in division one.
Scottish coach Leigh Anne Carracher said she was impressed with the players’ performances and their continued improvement throughout the competition.