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Spartans narrowly missed out on promotion at the Copperbox

After finishing the season in 2nd place in the North/West Promo League, we had qualified for the Copper Box. Confidence was high. The team had won their (WRL) Regional League, ending 5 years of finishing 2nd to Bristol Thunder. They had also won the OKA Chris Carter Cup, overcoming a high-quality Farnborough side in the final (not looking forward to playing them next season!).

Could this be a treble winning year?

10 members of the Spartans party met up on the Friday at their hotel, The Real Dreams Hotel. Could this be good sign? Nervous excitement was in the air. Nothing that a pre-weekend Nando’s wouldn’t sort.

Day 1

Arriving at the venue was a great experience, following in the footsteps of those 2012 Olympic athletes. The England Korfball Association have done so well to get the best venue for indoor sports in the country.

First game vs Bearsted. They had won their Promo league, just ahead of Highbury on head-to-head goal difference. We knew we’d be in for a tough game. We just wanted to make sure that we went out and gave a good account of ourselves.

First attack: Lucy, Emma, Tom, Osian (C)

First Defence: Kat, Carensa, Dan, Ste

From the beginning of the game, we were ahead. I think they only levelled up briefly, but the Spartans were ahead the whole game. The team showed great composure throughout. Sticking to the game plan. Emma started the game brilliantly, scoring from some way out early on, definitely helped settle the nerves in the team. Penalties were a feature of the game, Dan and Tom scoring 7 between them. These were mainly as a result of the driving in from the girls. Lucy, Carensa and Emma all scored runners, with Bearsted making a concerted effort to not foul. Dinny came on for Ste 10 minutes before half time. The plan here was just to take advantage of a tiring defence. This change was reversed 10 minutes after half time. Dinny had scored 4, mission completed! Ste showed what we had been missing out on from him, scoring his first attempt after coming back on.

Going into the last 10 minutes, we just had to hold on! Dinny came back on for Captain Osian, again to take advantage of tiring legs. Tom continued to keep the score ticking over, finishing the game with 7!

The game finished 22-21 to Spartans! A brilliant performance from the whole team. We really had gone out there, shown what we could do. Defeating a quality Bearsted side who had been in the National League only a few years ago.

Player of the Match: Has to go to Tom. Brilliant throughout. Worried he might start attracting the attention of some of the National League sides watching!

Thank you to the whole squad. Especially Grace who had come along at late notice but wasn’t able to stay from Day 2. Both Charlottes who were both struggling to be injury free. Owain who had plenty to offer, but wasn’t used as a result of how good the other boys’ performances had been. Nev was doing a great job as Assistant Coach/sub!

We were then able to sit back and relax. Many ventured into the shopping centre for food. Five Guys was the best celebration meal for most. Tomorrow we would be facing Highbury who had beaten Manchester Warriors earlier in the day. We had been beaten comfortably by Warriors twice in the normal season, so anyone able to beat them, must be a good side!

We stayed to watch Trojans vs Tornadoes. Mostly supporting Tornadoes because of the Lucy connection. They gave them a good game, not as close as last year though, and 11-time Champions Trojans progressed to the final ready to try make it 12 in a row.

Most of us then left as we had a Champions League final to watch. Less said about this, the better!

Day 2

Some had some late nights, watching some Highbury videos, seeing where the slightest advantage could be had.

We knew they had quality at both ends. Their captain was suspended though following a yellow card on the day 1.

Ste was given the job of marking Ally. We had come up against him many times before during his days at Oxford University. Osian/Tom were given the job of marking Dennis.

First Attack: Carensa, Kat, Dan, Owain

First Defence: Charlotte W, Lucy, Tom, Osian (c)

Owain started the game well, almost scoring several times. He was up against Ally, so Ste was going to come on for him when they went into defence.

The game started with Highbury getting an early lead, which they kept for most of the game. Spartans did well and showed great resilience to stay with them.

Emma came on for Charlotte W to show her driving abilities that were so important on Day 1.

Penalties were again a feature, with Dan and Tom scoring 6 between them again. In contrast, Highbury only had 2. Just shows the high-quality defence on show in the Spartans team.

Dinny came on for Ste again, hoping for a repeat of yesterday.

Half time and the score had Highbury 3 ahead. We knew that this was only a small margin. If we could get momentum behind us, then we could wipe that out in a few minutes.

Carensa was having a very good game, scoring a brilliant free-pass to add to her tally, which would eventually be 3.

Spartans stayed with Highbury though, with contributions from all over the team. Emma 1, Lucy 1, Osian 2, Tom 2.

But they were still 3 ahead. We had to go for it. We waited for Lucy to get into defence before bring her off with the intention of getting her straight back on into attack again. Good plan in theory?

But Dinny went over on his ankle and hobbled off, Ste back on. Still not able to get Lucy back onto the pitch! But Spartans scored 2 without a reply without her anyway! Phew!

1 behind now. Lucy on for Kat.

Emma equals up with a lovely mid-range shot after a nice pass to the back. Time out called by Highbury. 6 minutes to go!

2 cutting calls on Highbury keep the scores level.

Carensa scores a runner to go 1 ahead, could this our year?! 2 minutes left! 16-17 to Spartans.

Highbury level 17-17 1 minute to go…

23 seconds on the clock and Highbury do it and score the winner. Heartbreak for Spartans. Congratulations Highbury, much deserved.

We went into the weekend, happy to be there. As it went on, we realised this is where we belong. We are now hungry for more of it and determined to be back next year. It will be harder with Birmingham coming down to join the Promo League. Determination, drive and belief in our abilities have got us to within 2 minutes of the National League. We will back next year…. hopefully!

Again, thank you to the whole squad. Owain has had a brilliant season, definitely the most improved member of the squad. Top scorer the Chris Carter Cup. Can feel hard-done by to not get more game time over the weekend! Charlotte C, injury just came at the wrong time for you. Look forward to seeing you fit and healthy next season.

Thank you to Nev for being an excellent Assistant! Cool head always welcome when it got tense! Meant we could split the team talks between divisions. Sorry you couldn’t get on!

Thank you to our 2 mascots! Nev’s son Alex and David’s niece Ella were amazing and were the good luck charms for the team.

Thank you to our supporters! You all looked amazing in your supporter t-shirts, and showed that Southampton Korfball really is a big deal on the korfball map!

David was then presented with the Graham Crafter Award for services to Korfball. Thank you Kat for organising the nomination and getting so many of my former team-mates to contribute. The shield is huge, and it’ll have pride of place on my mantel piece until I have to give it back! It means a lot to get recognised for my work, but seeing everyone enjoying their time on and off the court, makes it all worthwhile!

Apologies for switching between 1st and 3rd person, there’s probably some 2nd in there too?

We’ll be back next year, stronger, fitter!

Well done to Trojans for making it 12 in a row in a thoroughly entertaining final. The comeback really is a great example to everyone in staying calm, believing in your abilites.

report by Dave Creed

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