After their win over Celtic Dragons on the Sunday night, the hard work for Pulse was far from finished as they faced the mighty Loughborough Lightning the following evening. Pulse have never before come out victorious over the Loughborough side and so they knew they needed to recover and prepare as best they could. Spending the morning together, first doing mobility and then brunch, the squad hopped on a coach and headed North.
Lightning’s C Nat Panagarry was missing from the team sheet due to injury, which was a big loss for the strong side. However, they were packed with talent from current Roses, Future Roses and BUCS 2023 winning athletes. It was going to be a tough fight for Pulse.
Sam Bird’s starting seven for London Pulse:
GS – Olivia Tchine (VC)
GA – Berri Neil
WA – Chelsea Pitman
C – Jade Clarke
WD – Zara Everitt (C)
GD – Funmi Fadoju
GK – Halimat Adio
Substitutions: Ashleigh Dekker, Lindsay Keable, Sacha McDonald, Ellie Rattu and Alicia Scholes
Early nerves from both sides saw uncharacteristic errors in shooting for Loughborough and in attacking play for Pulse. Both teams came out hard in defence and each attacking unit had to patiently work the ball around until space in the circle opened up. The first 5 minutes saw each team trying to find their rhythm, but it was Pulse that managed to find their feet first and doubled the oppositions score, 8-4, with 6 minutes to go. However, no one could take a breath as this only made Loughborough fight harder and they managed to force some turnovers in the Pulse circle. After a caution and an offside call, the next thing you know the teams are back level and nerves and being raised once again for the Pulse bench. An unfortunate missed shot and miscommunication in attack saw the Loughborough side take the lead going into the second quarter, 10-12.
No changes from either side as we enter the second quarter of this already highly dramatic battle. The opposition come out firing and extend their lead by 2, but another missed shot and an epic chase down by Pitman gives Pulse the opportunity to get their first goal in this 15 on the board. With no easy way through, it’s a full team effort for Pulse break into the end third and wait for the Lightning defence to be pulled out of position. The time does come, and Neil sinks the shot, but Pulse are still trailing by 3 (11-14). Adio is doing a mountain of work against the class act that is Mary Cholhok, but the ball is still finding its way to her under the post. Fadoju comes to the rescue and tips the high ball into Cholhok out of the air and Pulse gain possession and Tchine converts it under the post. A beautiful long bomb from Pitman in the centre third to Tchine in the circle makes the difference just 1 goal and Pulse are coming back! Their spirits are lifted, and Pulse start to take charge again, taking the lead by 1 (18-17). Going goal for goal, Clarke and Pitman show their experience and game smarts through their use of swings around the circle edge and begin to find Neil and Tchine more easily. The back and forth continues and great pressure from the whole defensive unit sees more errors from the Loughborough side, with Adio diving on the floor to retrieve some loose ball. With less than 3 minutes till half time and Pulse up by 2 (21-19), Loughborough call time and makes some changes. Joseph moves from WA to C, Dixon from GA to WA, Thacker comes on at GA and H Williams moves to the bench from C. Fadoju tips a rebound to Everitt on the edge of the circle and Pulse take it to goal (not without disruption from Williams and Harvey). The score 25-21 going into half time.
No changes are made for either side as the second half gets underway. Despite the enormous defensive effort from each end, both teams managed to fight their way to goal consistently for the first 5 minutes and Pulse maintain their lead (30-25). Another missed shot is collected from the edge by Everitt and rewarded by Tchine. Tips from Everitt and Fadoju frustratingly fall back into Loughborough hands and Thacker finds Cholhok under the post once again, score 33-27. This time the tip from Fadoju is picked up by steady C Clarke and taken to goal. Both sides are having to work extremely hard to get the ball to a shooting opportunity and all the phases of play are running the clock down. With just over 5 minutes to go, more changes for Loughborough as Vimbela replaces Harvey at GK and Nicholls switches with Odeogberin at WD (34-29). An attacking contact goes in favour of Lightning and Thacker sinks two shots, making it a 2-point game. A footwork from Pulse is copied by a footwork from Lightning and the safe hands of Neil makes it 36-33. Great defence from Adio gets the turnover in the circle, followed by another tip and collection from Fadoju, but the ball is lost in attack. 38-36 going into the final quarter.
If you can’t feel it already, tensions are running high as there’s all to play for in the final 15 minutes. Bird’s side remains unchanged from the starting line-up and they take their first centre pass to goal, but so do Loughborough. The intensity of play is lifted, and the opponent spills the ball off the sideline, but they managed to regain possession a few phases later. A strong drive from Pitman draws Vimbela out the circle, leaving Tchine home alone under the post and Neil fires it in (42-39). Loughborough find Cholhok again and she slots it in. A few rare misses for Pulse see their rivals come back level with 8 minutes to go (43-43). It’s back to a nail-biting goal for goal game until Fadoju gets yet another tip off Cholhok and Adio secures the chase down. Clarke shows her strength and stamina, constantly taking the hits and moving the ball around court but it’s Pitman again with the feed in. However, to the bench’s horror, an attacking contact is called, and all the hard work seems to be undone. The team jump back into defence and force a held ball (48-45). With just over 3 minutes to go, the work of Everitt, Clarke, Fadoju and Adio doesn’t go unrewarded and they pick up a loose ball, taking it to 49-45. More success comes the way of Pulse and another turnover takes them to 52-45 with less than 2 minutes on the clock. Loughborough take their centre pass to goal but there’s now a 7-goal deficit with 1 minute to go. Baylis replaces Joseph at C and has confidence to let the ball go into Cholhok, but there’s not enough time. Pulse take the historic win 55-49.