23 Feb 2024

National Shield semi-final previews: Eight teams battle for national glory

National Shield semi-final previews: Eight teams battle for national glory

​Fans of the 1990s basketball film White Men Can’t Jump may recall the quote: “Sometimes when you lose, you really win” – and the team’s left in the last four of this year’s men’s and women’s National Shield will be hoping that proves to be true.

By definition, gaining entry into the Shield competition means you have already lost in the early rounds of the Cup, but for the two teams who go on to lift the respective winners’ trophies, that will have been a blessing in disguise. 

The victors in this weekend’s semi-finals will clinch a coveted Golden Ticket that will see them play at the showpiece Cup Finals Weekend on 20th and 21st April. 

It will also mean they will be just one step away from national glory, which would have, no doubt, have seemed a long way away when teams began their journeys to this point back in November. 

Women’s National Shield 

York Falcons v Leicester Athena 

As the highest-ranked team left in the competition, Leicester will fancy their chances of Shield success this season, but that status is by no means assured, not least as they face a determined York Falcons in this semi-final. 

Athena have had a mixed NVL Division 1 campaign, as their 5-8 record shows, so winning this competition would be a welcome result. 

York are going well in Division 3 North, with eight wins from 12 matches – two of those defeats against runaway, unbeaten league leaders the Miners, Doncaster – and have showed they can mix it against higher division opposition in their run to this stage. 

Leicester’s toughest test so far came in their round 2 match with Northampton where they were taken to five sets before winning the decider 15-6. 

Subsequent victories by 3-0 scorelines over two Division Three sides in Cheltenham and Gloucester and Newcastle Staffs proved to be a little more comfortable. 

York took the scalp of Division 2 North side Leeds Gorse in their quarter-final match, coming through 3-1 at the Joseph Rowntree School. 

That followed a 3-0 win over Wigan Seahawks in round 2 and a 3-1 success over Manchester Moss Side Jaguars in round 3. 

Onyx London v London Bears 

A capital clash between two familiar foes is likely to mean a high-octane meeting when a National Shield final spot is at stake. 

Onyx have been in imperious form in NVL Division 3 South East with 10 wins from 10 to sit in second with games in hand on leaders Cambridge. 

The Bears, meanwhile, have struggled in the London Premier League and sit bottom of the pile with only two wins from their seven matches so far. 

In National Shield action, Onyx’s form has been no less impressive than what they have produced in the league, winning all their matches in straight sets. 

They were handed a walkover against Waterloo Thunder, but put paid to the hopes of Wimbledon Wildkats (round 1), Urbond Portsmouth (round 3) and Reading Aces (quarter-finals). 

The Bears defied their league form to pull off one of the upsets of the competition when they ousted Division 1 Richmond 3-1 after four well-contested sets. 

Their other victories have come against fellow London Premier League side SQUAD (3-2 in round 2, after a 16-14 final set decider) and another NVL Division 1 side in MK City (3-0 in round 3). 

Men’s National Shield 

Wigan Seahawks v Oxford 

This is a critical crossroads for both teams as they attempt to record league and cup doubles. 

NVL side Wigan were defeated in their opening match of the league season but have lost only once since to leave them in fourth place in Division 3 North West with an 8-2 record, but the three teams above them remain within touching distance. 

In reaching this stage, they have recorded home wins over Isle of Man (3-0) and InterVolley Manchester (3-1) with a walkover against Harrogate and victory at York Vikings (3-1) in between. 

Their visiting opponents have three teams in the Berkshire League, including top-of-the-table Oxford Vollox, who have dropped only one set all season in maintaining a 100% record in league matches. 

Their Shield progression has seen them power to three away wins, meaning they have done things the hard way. 

Oxford won at Wombourne 3-0 in round 1 and Lincoln Cannons 3-1 in round 2 before a 3-0 home triumph over Leicester in round 3. 

But they reserved their most impressive win for the quarter-finals where they were sent to Coventry (and Riga) and triumphed 3-0 over the Division 1 side. 

SQUAD v Exeter Storm 

Just as in the first men’s semi-final, both teams in the second match up are seeking success on more than one front. 

In the highly-competitive London Premier League, SQUAD have shown their capabilities by climbing to the top of the pile with six wins from seven matches, conceding only four sets. 

Just as impressive have been Division 2 South side Exeter Storm, who have kept up a frenetic pace in the title race with South West Rivals Bristol. 

Both have 27 points from 10 games, with the Storm losing just once – to their unbeaten rivals. 

In the Shield so far, the London side have been pushed harder than in league competition, first coming through 3-2 in a five-set thriller at Black Country 2, before beating Cambridge ARU, Division 1 Tamworth Spartans and Spelthorne Lions, all by the same 3-1 margin, to book their place in the last four. 

Exeter have well and truly earned their semis place, not only overcoming high-flying Division 1 side London Aces 3-2, thanks to a 15-13 fifth set tie break win, but also beating their perennial rivals Bristol 3-1 on their own patch.  

Their other two victories, in round 1 and the quarter-finals respectively, were 3-0 against South Hants and 3-1 over Team Sideout.

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