Gibraltar Netball U21 claim Europe Netball U21 Challenge Title
Gibraltar claimed the U21 Europe Netball Open Challenge title, taking gold with a three-match unbeaten run that saw them defeat the Republic of Ireland, Isle of Man, and Switzerland.
A confident display against Switzerland from the early moments of the match allowed Gibraltar to take an early lead and secure the overall victory of the competition with a resounding defeat of Switzerland. This is a historic occasion for Gibraltar's U21 team, winning the title for the first time as they now prepare to host the 2025 World Youth Championships.
Gibraltar entered the match against Switzerland with some formation changes on the court while keeping much of the core of the players who had started in previous days. Sarah Payas' decision surprised some, but it provided Gibraltar players with an important opportunity to experience the U21 category at a high-pressure level, something they will be expected to cope with in 2025 when they host the Youth World Championships.
Gibraltar's confidence was high from the start, with Mena scoring the first points in the early minutes. Zammit, one of the new players in the starting lineup, assisted with the second point just moments later. Switzerland managed to score a point from a difficult position, but Gibraltar responded almost immediately.
Gibraltar did not give an inch of ground, with Hernandez intercepting a key pass to disrupt Switzerland and set Gibraltar up for their fourth point with just minutes played. Switzerland, recognizing Gibraltar's vulnerabilities in defense, managed to grab a couple of points in the first half of the first quarter by playing low. Something other teams had failed to do, as MacQuisten and Davidsons had proven to be exceptional jumpers in defense.
Gibraltar was already 8-3 ahead with eight minutes remaining in the first quarter. Quick rotations around the center, a flowing passing game, and effective ball distribution into space allowed Gibraltar to dominate, with Switzerland struggling to keep up. Within minutes, Gibraltar was ahead 12-3, securing the title early on.
Switzerland, though trailing, showed some resilience with a number of good intercepts in defense, which slowed down Gibraltar's scoring. However, their conversion rate failed them as Gibraltar's lead continued to widen.
Some exquisite points from Switzerland in the final seconds narrowed the gap to 14-7, giving them some confidence as they headed into the short break before the second quarter.
Gibraltar displayed their intent early in the second quarter, scoring quickly and responding to Switzerland's points with a swift passing move through the middle that exposed Switzerland's defense. Within a few minutes, the score was 20-9 as Gibraltar sliced through Switzerland's defense.
A well-drilled and disciplined Gibraltar side showcased a variety of gameplay opportunities, highlighting the fast development of Gibraltar's performance pathway players. Switzerland struggled to keep up as Gibraltar piled on the points, going ahead 22-10 with eight minutes remaining in the quarter.
Sarah Payas rested Mena and gave an opportunity to another youngster as Martinez stepped onto the court. Her first touch allowed her to confidently score, further extending Gibraltar's lead to 23-11 with five minutes left in the quarter.
More changes saw Zammitt replaced by Purkiss Galan, who had played a key role in Gibraltar's previous matches. Coach Sarah Payas showed her trust in her full squad, and the changes did little to disrupt Gibraltar's fluidity as they continued to dominate on the court. Torres, another player given a chance in the starting lineup, blended in well and filled the spot left by Hartman, who had been instrumental in Gibraltar's success against Ireland and the Isle of Man.
Gibraltar finished the first half with a 23-12 lead, bringing the gold medal within touching distance.
Gibraltar remained dominant in the third quarter, pushing the score to 31 points before Switzerland managed to score a solitary point. Martinez displayed composure under pressure as Gibraltar added their 33rd point. Davidson's turnover in defense allowed Gibraltar to score two more points, with Martinez scoring both, making it 35-14. Purkis Galan's intercepts disrupted Switzerland's offense.
The partnership of Mena and Martinez showcased the depth of talent Sarah Payas had at her disposal, keeping Gibraltar's momentum strong as they surged ahead 38-16 with four minutes left to play.
Alex Dellipiani replaced Mena and quickly made her mark as Gibraltar reached the 40-point mark. Switzerland managed to score a few points, making it 41-19 with a minute left, as Swiss fan cowbells rang out in the crowd.
However, this did not deter Gibraltar, who added another point and maintained defensive pressure to deny Switzerland further points. The third quarter ended with Gibraltar leading 42-19.
Gibraltar did not ease their pace in the final quarter, extending their lead to 50-19 within the first five minutes with a confident display. Switzerland continued to defend resiliently, refusing to succumb to a demoralizing scoreline, but Gibraltar's powerplay kept them scoring. With seven minutes remaining, Gibraltar led 55-19, marking their biggest victory in the tournament.
Gibraltar rotated players, with Purkiss Galan and Zammitt replaced by Hernandez and Zammitt, but the team maintained their dominance. With five minutes to play, Gibraltar was already aiming to surpass the 60-point mark.
With Trunman Davies returning to court and playing alongside Dellipiani, Gibraltar scored over 20 points in the final quarter.
Switzerland scoring in the final throw.
Gibraltar finished the match with a commanding 64-21 scoreline.