Sports

Unbeaten Spurs, champs Hummingbirds in big BEL rematch

Saturday, December 15, 2018

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Berger Elite League's big two, unbeaten Manchester Spurs and Kingston Hummingbirds will clash in a highly anticipated netball match at Leila Robinson Courts today at 5:30 pm.

It will be the opening contest of a double-header in Netball Jamaica's semi-pro championship which closes with a 7:00 pm clash between Clarendon Gaters and St Catherine Racers.

Both games are expected to be highly competitive, but major attention will be placed on the opening encounter, which brings together the teams that contested last season's championship game.

Based on their trajectory, they are building to a similar climax, with Manchester Spurs leading the standings with a perfect record, having won all their six encounters for 18 points.

Kingston Hummingbirds, the defending champions, are next in line with 12 points from five matches, with their only defeat coming at the hands of the Manchester Spurs, whose head coach is former national shooter and coach Connie Francis.

The Spurs actually won that game by a very narrow margin, 53-51, and Francis expects another tight match.

“It's a tough game. We'll have to shoot well in order to beat them,” said Francis.

“They're very talented throughout the court — shooting, centre court and the defensive end — so we know that it won't be easy. But we're up to the task. I think that we're just as good a team that can also win,” added Francis.

With a host of national and high-calibre players on their roster, the teams are nicely balanced and very strong in attack, with Gezelle Allison, Anna-Kay Griffiths and Nicole Dixon have been getting the goals for the Spurs, who have otherwise racked up some big wins. They will face main opposition in the circle from the Hummingbirds' Abbeygail Linton.

The Hummingbirds are also strong at the shooting end, where Sabrina Spence has been exceptional with some high-scoring performances. Along with Shanice Beckford, especially, they have put on some awesome displays from first whistle in their most recent matches and appear to be getting better. In one of those matches they notched a season-high 72 goals — albeit against undermanned St Ann Orchid — with Spence netting 59 times.

Along with Hasana Williams, the Hummingbirds shooters will be involved in keen competition with Spurs defenders Shannika Johnson and Captain Tracey-Ann Robinson, who play well together.

Mid-court is just as firm for both teams, with Hummingbirds' Paula Thompson and Spurs' Khadijah Williams driving plays either way.

A point of note is that Kingston Hummingbirds made considerably more shooting chances in the last match even though they lost. Winston Nevers, their head coach, notes that finishing is of utmost importance.

“If you don't shoot then, therefore, you're in trouble. The defence is playing well; Abbeygail Linton at goal keeper, she's doing quite well; Paula Thompson in the mid-court; and then Shanice Beckford at the goal attack are supplying in the circle very, very well. That's all we need her to do — just shoot the ball,” said Nevers.

“Sabrina Spence is shooting most of our goals. I have to commend her because she's playing really strong inside the circle and she's making the decisions we want her to make; the shooting is excellent, the movement inside the circle is excellent, the possession is excellent, and we want her to continue that way,” analysed Nevers.

“It is very, very important to beat them because of the positions when you get to the semi-finals,” he added.

Should his team win and both continue defeating the other teams, they would tie on points at the end of the preliminaries and goal difference would decide the semi-final pairings. First will play fourth and second versus third.

St Catherine Racers, on seven points, and Clarendon Gaters, six, are in a keen battle for top four positions.

The Racers are a fighting bunch and Gaters have a habit of starting well but not maintaining their levels throughout. There was not much in their first-round matchup, a four-point gap to Gaters in a 42-38 win. This one is again expected to go down to the wire.

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