Surrey Storm: 46 Celtic Dragons: 48

Celtic Dragons hit the road once again for Round 8 of VNSL 2019 looking to re-gain momentum after a string of tough home matches as Tania Hoffman came up against her former franchise, Surrey Storm.

It was a calamitous start for the hosts as centre pass after centre pass went badly wrong. Celtic Dragons seized on this early opportunity as Kyra Jones helped herself to Storm’s possession and Dee Bolakoro and Stacian Facey’s defensive partnership quickly imposed itself on the home team’s attack. Dragons went 8 goals ahead at 11-3 but some errors crept in and soft infringements allowed Surrey to get back in to the quarter in the last five minutes.

Clare Elsley came on at centre for the second quarter as Dragons looked to maintain daylight between themselves and the now more focused Surrey Storm. There was no love lost between Stacian Facey and Sigi Burger as the already physical game went up another notch. Indeed,  Storm’s hotheadedness earned them two cautions and Dragons were able to maintain their advantage. Abby Tyrrell came on to interchange seamlessly for Dee Bolakoro as the quarter wore on, as Kalifa McCollin and Chelsea Lewis continue pop the goals in.

Kyra rejoined the fray after half time as the Dragons looked to shut out the home team and their vocal support. Suzy Drane was in flying form and did a great job of supporting Kalifa who Storm had begun to double mark, such was her attacking threat. Kyra and Stacian both demonstrated great athleticism in their respective positions as Surrey struggled to find a way in, but as the infringements mounted for both sides, time was called by the officials who ordered both captains to call counsel and tidy up the game. This had the effect of abruptly stopping all of the positive momentum Dragons had built in the quarter and away fans will have questioned the necessity of such an intervention. As such, Surrey had the best of the final 120 seconds and were able to set themselves up for a big final fifteen minutes.

Composure was the name of the game for Dragons as the whistle went. The first drive went awry but fortunately the ball found itself back in green hands. Stacian worked her socks off to make Storm work hard for their goals and her ability to slow up the hosts’ attack wasted valuable seconds on the clock. With five minutes to go, the crowd were booming and Dragons seemed to suffer some harsh decisions from the officials, Kyra being penalised for a fine attempt at taking a Surrey floater. There were some very tired bodies on both sides but the experience of Dragons senior players was decisive, Suzy and Nia moving the ball well across court, urging patience and giving the resurgent Storm very little to work with. Relief was painted on the faces of the visiting fans when the final buzzer went. The ability of Dragons to close the game payed great tribute to the resilience of the squad and its development under Hoffman.

Speaking courtside after the game, Hoffman said: “I’m so proud of the girls – Surrey Storm came back really hard at us.

“But we can’t afford to let teams come back at us, we’ve got to make sure that when we have that lead, we extend it.”

On the subject of playing at her former franchise, she said: “It’s quite strange coming back to the place where I’d been for two seasons but really nice to be here. The Storm fans and staff have been really lovely and it felt like home!”

Captain Nia Jones also shared her thoughts post-match: “We were really clinical in that first five minutes and I’m actually really disappointed in how we let them back into the game.

“We made it a bit of a dog fight for ourselves in the end but I am so pleased on how we came through.

“It’s such a physical game against Surrey, against a very partisan crowd, so it’s a really sweet victory.”

Celtic Dragons now prepare for another home game on Saturday 9 March against a resurgent Loughborough Lightning. Speaking ahead of that game, Hoffman said: “I think the girls have got to rest well and we’ve got to train hard, Lightning are playing really well and we’ve got to shift momentum our way.”

You can get tickets tickets for that game here.

Quarter scores: 11-16 (11-16); 12-13 (23-29); 12-10 (35-39); 11-9 (46-48)

Surrey Storm — GS: S Burger, GA: Y Hodge-England, WA: Y Parsons, C: M Austin, WD: S Van Der Merwe, GD: K Hughes (Capt) and GK: L Kowalewska Replacements: R Dixon, E Gulvin, N Humphrys, E Porter and A Priest

Celtic Dragons — GS: C Lewis, GA: K McCollin, WA: S Drane, C: K Jones, WD: N Jones (capt) GD: D Bolakoro and GK: S Facey. Replacements: B Dyke, E Nawele, E Roberts, A Tyrrell and C Elsley.