Leicester Mercury

Two-time champion and gold medallist return to Lightning



DEFENSIVE powerhouse and two-time Vitality Netball Superleagu­e (VNSL) champion Sam May is returning to Loughborou­gh Lightning for the 2021 season, writes Jessica Northfield.

May first joined Lightning for the 2020 season, having plied her trade at local rivals Wasps for the previous three years.

She has competed in three consecutiv­e Grand Finals and will bring a wealth of experience to Lightning for the upcoming season.

The 32-year-old first took to the court for the Hertfordsh­ire Mavericks before switching to

Wasps for their inaugural season in 2017.

She then went on to win back-to-back titles with the black and gold side.

Born in Sydney, the 6ft-tall defender also featured in the 2008 and 2009 Australian U21s side before moving to the UK to compete in the English Superleagu­e. Speaking about her return to Lightning, May said: “It’s felt much easier to come back for my second season now, the anxieties that come with joining a new team have faded and I was excited to come back to a familiar setting with people I can now call friends and family around me. “I’m excited to continue what we were building. The side were coming along nicely, and it was looking very exciting, so it was a shame that last season was cut short.

“So now it’s just about looking forward to building again and seeing what this team can do.

“For me I just want to take everything as it comes and enjoy being back on court and playing netball again.” Combining her role as Head of Netball at Loughborou­gh College alongside her playing career, the lockdown period brought May an unexpected opportunit­y to travel home to Australia – a luxury she hasn’t been able to enjoy for a number of years. “This year has been very different; it was nice to have a little bit of time off,” said May.

“It’s so very rare to get a big break when you play netball, so it was really good to have some time to rest and spend quality time with family.

“I was very lucky to be able to go home for five months – I haven’t spent that long with my family in over seven years – and it was nice to train at home and still stay connected with the team as we supported each other through a difficult few months.”

May’s dominance on court and experience in the league is an asset to the side, one which head coach Sara Bayman credits to the developmen­t of the younger players.

She said: “Sam was rock solid for us last year and even though the season was cut short it feels like she has had a big impact on the squad.

“As someone who has won championsh­ips and experience­d everything in netball, Sam provides the belief and work ethic that is needed to go far in this competitio­n.”

May joins England Roses star Beth Cobden in what’s shaping up to be one of Lightning’s most exciting squads so far.

Commonweal­th Gold medallist Beth Cobden has also returned after playing a key part in Loughborou­gh Lightning’s 2017 and 2018 campaigns, helping the side to two consecutiv­e Grand Finals and a British Fast 5 Championsh­ip in its inaugural year.

Her dominant performanc­es and experience on court also saw her named in the Vitality Netball

Superleagu­e All Star VII in both 2017 and 2018.

The internatio­nal wing defence boasts 26 caps for the England Roses and was part of the historymak­ing squad that claimed Commonweal­th Gold in 2018.

It was her performanc­es with the national side and also Loughborou­gh Lightning in 2018 that saw Beth go on to earn her first contract in the Suncorp Super Netball league (SSN) – the world’s number one netball competitio­n – with the Adelaide Thunderbir­ds.

However, shortly before her departure from Lightning, Cobden suffered an injury setback, rupturing her ACL in the 2018 Grand Final.

Offering vital support throughout her rehab and recovery, Lightning played a key part in ensuring she was still able to honour her contract in SSN and take to the court by the start of the season.

“I am extremely grateful for the opportunit­y to be back with Loughborou­gh, the club has done so much for me and I am proud and excited to be back with the girls,” said Cobden.

“I feel like I’ve got unfinished business, I just really want to win with this team.

“There’s a lot of new faces from when I last played with the club but there’s also a lot of familiar ones and close friends which makes for an exciting mix – so hopefully this year is our year.”

After completing her recovery out in Australia, Beth was able to take to the court with Adelaide for the opening three matches of the 2019 league, but her season was unfortunat­ely short-lived after suffering another setback, rupturing her ACL a second time in her third game of the season.

Cutting her season short and missing out on a place in the 2019 World Cup squad, Cobden was back to recovery and rehab, returning to the UK at the start of lockdown this year.

“Lockdown was good timing for me and my injury process, it gave me that extra bit of time to recover and rest but I’m now really looking forward to getting back into the mix of things and stepping up my training over the next few months,” said Cobden.

She began her VNSL journey during her time at Manchester University with Manchester Thunder, playing alongside fellow England internatio­nal and now Lightning Director of Netball, Sara Bayman.

“Having played alongside Sara for many years, I am looking forward to having her as my coach and seeing what our team can achieve,” said Cobden.

Bayman is excited to see Cobden return for the 2021 season.

“It’s great to have Beth back in Loughborou­gh colours after a couple of years in Australia,” she said.

“She’s a world class player and I’m looking forward to her making a big contributi­on on and off the court. We’re so happy she’s home!”

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 ?? BEN LUMLEY/ STILL SPORT ?? POWERHOUSE: Sam May and, above, Beth Cobden of Loughborou­gh Lightning
BEN LUMLEY/ STILL SPORT POWERHOUSE: Sam May and, above, Beth Cobden of Loughborou­gh Lightning

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