By Emma Thurston
Last Updated: 05/12/19 6:32pm
Team Bath Netball’s returnees include their dynamic England Roses defender Eboni Usoro-Brown
With a settled and highly-motivated squad, Team Bath Netball’s head coach Anna Stembridge is energised ahead of the 2020 Superleague season and is keen to see what her players can do at The BiG Showdown this weekend.
Stembridge recommitted to the Blue & Gold in an enhanced Superleague head coach role this summer and will be moving into her fifth season in charge with the returning Jo Vann alongside her.
Team Bath Netball have more Superleague titles to their name than any other franchise, however, no one at the club needs reminding their last arrived longer ago than they would have liked, back in 2013.
They are a fiercely ambitious team, with passionate and loyal fans, and Stembridge is looking at the 2020 Superleague season through a positive lens.
“The thing that I’ve been most excited about is that from the players who were available from last year, we managed to retain 10 out of the 13,” the head coach told Sky Sports.
“Last year we were gutted to lose the semi-final, especially having beaten Manchester Thunder twice in the league and then seeing them going all the way to win the league.
“For me, building on those experiences and connections is why it’s so key to keep core group of your athletes together.
“People like Sophie Drakeford-Lewis and Summer Artman hadn’t ever experienced starting in a semi-final and playing it out. They are already better for having had that experience.”
Serena Guthrie will be watching on this season as she takes a well-earned break from netball
With Serena Guthrie stepping away from netball for a year, there are two new players arriving into Bath’s mid-court – the versatile Northern Ireland international Fionnuala Toner and South Africa international Khanyisa Chawane.
Toner, who was at London Pulse last season, has the ability to play at GD, WD and C and is someone who has been on Stembridge’s radar for a while.
“We’ve looked at Fi for many years and she’s just brilliant at turning ball at critical times – it’s just innate in her,” Stembridge said. “So, to have someone that wins ball and wins ball at critical times, in our team, is a fantastic asset.”
For all, new faces and old, pre-season training commenced in earnest after the British Fast5 All Stars Championships and Stembridge’s approach is a focused one.
“Of course, there’s a big fitness hit [during pre-season] but we’re definitely concentrating on technical skill levels and players’ movement base to have that stability as well,” the head coach said.
“It’s to ensure that when we come under pressure in our campaign, our technical skills and our movement abilities will be sound. If they are, it means that we’ll be able to make the right decisions at the right times and for the right reasons.”
“That’s going to be a real focus for us, and it will be for the next few months.”
The first chance to find out if her players’ skills are moving in the right direction is this weekend’s two-day tournament at Team Bath Arena.
Stembridge’s side are hosting five others as Saracens Mavericks, Severn Stars, Strathclyde Sirens, Surrey Storm and the men’s side Knights all come to town.
“The fact that we’re going to have multiple games within a day, against very different styles of opposition, with other teams running different line-ups is really exciting,” Stembridge said.
“From my perspective, it’s about trying out combinations and exposing players to that environment and seeing where younger players are at.
“With the fact that we’ve gone down to 10 players in terms of a match day squad for Superleague in 2020, means that younger or less experienced athletes are losing out on opportunities like being part of a match-day 12.
“As a result of that, your pre-season games become even more critical to your strategy. You have to give those younger players the chance to find out if they’re ready or how far off they are.”
Imogen Allison Summer Artman Khanyisa Chawane Kim Commane Betsy Creak Sophie Drakeford-Lewis Hannah Passmore Tash Pavelin Mia Ritchie Abi Robson Laura Rudland Rachel Shaw Fionnuala Toner Eboni Usoro-Brown
Bath’s provisional squad for the competition includes a Pathway graduate to watch out for, Hannah Passmore, and South Africa’s Chawane who will make her debut in Blue & Gold.
Home favourites, Drakeford-Lewis and Artman are two of England’s Roses who will be returning to club duties as will Saracens Mavericks’ George Fisher, Razia Quashie, Kadeen Corbin and Gabby Marshall.
“It’s going to be a great weekend with some fantastic netball on display featuring some of the best netballers in the country,” Stembridge added.
“The Knights will also add a bit of spice to the mix and will be a really good challenge for all of us.
“As a franchise we want to be critical but constructive with it. Ultimately, every game you step out on court for you want to win but there is the bigger picture and I want to make sure that we’re in the best place going into that first round come February.”
Anna Stembridge was speaking ahead of Team Bath Netball’s pre-season tournament – The BiG Showdown – which takes place on December 7 and 8. Tickets are on sale for individual days or for the weekend as a whole.