Exeter 1s suffered a blow in their bid to gain promotion to the Premier South, losing 46-48 to Gloucester 1s in a frenetic and breathless varsity fixture on Wednesday 7 February.

The visitors came into the game trailing to first placed Exeter, but are now in prime position to punch their way to the top, cutting the gap to three points with a game in hand. Vociferous support greeted the opening whistle, yet the home side did not reflect the buoyant enthusiasm emanating from the Green Legion. Gloucester got the better of the home team in the opening exchanges and raced into a 3-0 lead, subduing the atmosphere. The visitors compounded their early success with clinical attacks and astute defending, leading 5-1 with just five minutes played.

The 1s line up before the game

After an underwhelming start, Exeter grew into the game, harnessing the energy of the faithful contingent. Three points in as many minutes reduced the deficit to one, but Gloucester responded with purpose, taking it to 6-4. This would be the narrative of the first quarter – the away side diligently converting territory into points yet Exeter refusing to succumb, keeping the score-line a tight affair.

Amy Omokobia tries to block a shot

Stoicism and resilience kept the greens in contention and when their chance came, they took it. At 9-7, Exeter capitalised on advantageous possession, leap-frogging their opponents to take the lead, the score standing 10-9. GK Amy Omakobia’s vital interception with the score deadlocked at 11-11 was the standout moment of the quarter – her perfectly timed block planted the seed for a stunning counter-attack that germinated into a composed finish. The Western 1A leaders maintained their lead into the first break, the scores standing at 13-12.

STOICISM AND RESILIENCE KEPT EXETER IN CONTENTION

The fervent crowd duly congratulated Exeter’s first-quarter performance, with renditions of ‘oh Exeter is wonderful’ reverberating around a packed-out court. Such a frenzied opening was always going to likely to give way to a less frenetic second-quarter. As the game started to settle, both teams looked to profit from the others’ errors, but it was a quality still standard of play. Maddie Heywood, playing Centre, conducted herself with a poise and competitive spirt that perturbed her opposite number in what became a feisty contest between the two players.

Captain Christina Shaw looks to find a team-mate

Gloucester sought to entice Exeter into a battle of physicality, but the home side stayed robust and allowed their skill on the ball to show. Clever interplay around between attackers Kat Arthur, Mia Broomhall and Hannah Blackman saw Exeter draw several infringements from their opponents – one particularly impressive goal mid-way through the quarter was indicative of the impressive way Exeter manipulated the limited space around the net.

EXETER EMBARKED ON A STIRRING COMEBACK

For all their slick movement, Exeter failed to extend the margin of their lead as a flurry of opportunities went amiss. Gloucester, too, were wasteful as the adrenalin of the fixture appeared to be taking its toll when it mattered. Still, there were some delicately taken finishes to round off sharp passing moves, and with the lead flittering between the two teams, the visitors went in to half-time with a narrow 21-22 advantage. The break was a needed breather to calm the fury of the first half from fans and players alike.

After the interval, it was the visitors who emerged with greater urgency, mirroring the opening minutes of the first quarter to make it 21-25. In the same fashion, Exeter embarked on a stirring comeback and scored five times without reply to lead 26-25. Clearly, the home side had the quality, but transforming this into points on the scoreboard was just a matter of consistency. When prompted the greens answered the call, but failure to maintain these instances of rallying plays ultimately proved decisive against quality opposition.

Gloucestershire find Maddie Heywood blocking the way

Aided by a proficient GS, the away side were ruthless in their response and carved out a 31-27 difference. Amidst their efficient attack, their Centre – still flustered by the harrying of Exeter’s Heywood – was cautioned as the niggling physicality between the two sides threatened to spill over. The warning appeared to be just what the visitor needed as her increased composure and incisiveness on the ball following the talking-to gave Gloucester the upper hand as the quarter drew to a close.

In an attempt to shore up the defence and prohibit Gloucester from undoing the good work of Exeter’s attack, Betsy Creak entered the fray at GK for Omakobia. The change brought instant success with Creak making a well-executed interception before setting up a counter-attack goal that brought rapturous applause from the watching crowd. The league leaders filtered off the court 33-35 down but it was an incredibly even contest that was proving impossible to predict a winner.

THE GOAL BROUGHT RAPTUROUS APPLAUSE FROM THE CROWD

If Exeter had hoped the home support and prestige of the varsity fixture would see them edge out Gloucester, the travelling side had plans to ruin them. The away team stormed into the final quarter with vibrancy, making another strong restart to chalk up a cushion on the scoreboard. With the support still roaring them on, Exeter found themselves trailing 40-46 and in need of an inspiring final few minutes to produce an increasingly unlikely victory as time slipped away.

Hannah Blackman receives close attention from the opposition

Inspiration did arrive as Exeter stormed back into the game and the side-line support started to believe a spectacular come-back was within reach. In a reshuffle of the attack, Creak moved up to the polar position of GS and netted with enviable competency and reliableness. Broomhall – the outstanding player on the court – continued to weave her magic at wing attack, causing the Gloucester defence a succession of problems that allowed the finishers to claw the 1s back into touching distance of the lead.

With Exeter’s defence heroically nullifying Gloucester’s attack, and the 1s’ offense putting Gloucester on the back foot, the score was precariously balanced at 45-48. As the clock ticked down to just one minute remaining, the home support sought to rally those clad in green and white to an improbable victory. Unfortunately for Exeter they couldn’t bridge the deficit. Though hope rippled between coaches, crowd, and players, Gloucester hung on to win 46-48 and bolster their push to usurp Exeter at the top of the Western 1A and threaten the home side’s chances of promotion to the Premier South.

Despite the defeat, EUNC captain India Crawley praised the 1s’ efforts in an enthralling fixture: “I thought it was the best game of netball I’ve ever seen here at University of Exeter. All of the girls played the best game I’ve ever seen them play having trained with them for at least three years.”

Gloucestershire show their delight at the victory

“The [varsity event] was absolutely brilliant,” Crawley said. “We had so much support for the girls – not just from the netball club and parents, but lots of students from different clubs. I think it’s really shown off the netball club at its very best.” Next up for Exeter is a trip to Chichester in the BUCS Trophy on 14 February, with 1s captain Christina Shaw “looking forward” to the fixture. “We’ll see how far we can get in the trophy,” she told Exeposé.

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