Leah Middleton believes the ‘sky is the limit’ for Surrey Storm in the Vitality Netball Superleague 2021 campaign, writes Sophie Reynolds.
As Round Four of the competition comes to a close, Middleton is currently topping the leagues’ defensive statistic charts – Having made an impressive 19 turnovers so far!
However, for the Storm star it isn’t just about her own success, it is about the whole team’s performance.
“I think for this group of girls at Storm this year, the sky’s honestly the limit.
“If we can get things right on the day, I think that we can beat any opposition out there, and that genuinely comes from the heart.
“It is nice to see the statistics, obviously, but as a defender it is something that you can’t do without the pressure out the front, because it is that which gives you the opportunity to get a tip or a turnover.”
Storm have won two of their first five games, in a set-up which has seen Middleton start every game at Goal Defence, with Alima Priest just behind her in Goal Keeper.
The defensive duo makes up just one of the new combinations in a fresh 2021 Storm side.
“I think there’s so much to work on, there’s so many new combinations, and things that we need to learn about each other on court.
“It’s a shift from last year because obviously with the two defenders last year, Katy Holland and Lorraine (Kowalewska), I was the youngest, so this year it’s been a bit of a change.
“But I love to help the younger players, the likes of Grace Sullivan, I love helping her and it just makes me happy watching her grow as a player.
“I think that it’s just a group of people that are going to grow.”
Felisitus Kwangwa, has also joined the Storm defensive unit this season and the Zimbabwe International made her league debut against Wasps in Round Four.
Kwangwa came on to Goal Defence in the second quarter, a change which saw Middleton take on the Goal Keeper position.
“Being shifted back to goalkeeper against Wasps I was pleasantly surprised, I quite enjoyed it back there.
“Especially with Felisitus being able to come on, it was something different, so it was good.”
Despite no longer being the newest defender in the Storm mix, Middleton hasn’t had much experience in the duck egg blue dress as herself.
The defender moved from Australia to England to play for Storm in 2019 and her first season was cut short due to COVID-19.
However, moving back to Australia during the global pandemic and leaving Storm was never an option for the netballer, and when the chance came for her to stay an extra year it was an easy decision.
“I think that I really felt a loyalty towards Storm, only being here for three games last year, and just having a bit of the taste of the Superleague, it really did help my decision to stay in England.
“I remember having a conversation with Mikki (Austin) really early on in the pre-season and I said, ‘I feel like I have a lot to give, and I have a lot to learn here’.”
Staying in England has meant that Middleton now lives in the famous netball house, with Ellie Kelk and Niamh Cooper.
Speaking on the living arrangements, Middleton said: “I just think it’s helped all three of us so much.
“We’re able to keep each other motivated, we’re able to keep each other on track in terms of rest and recovery and stuff like that, and so much netball chat goes on in this house it’s unbelievable.”
Despite all the netball chat, the trio have learnt much more about each other during their time living together.
In a recent interview Cooper labelled Middleton “the messiest” housemate, and Middleton didn’t miss her chance to get one back on her teammate.
With a smile on her face Middleton said: “Niamh is definitely the loudest.
“If ever you want an alarm clock going off downstairs, she’s there chatting on her phone at like 8am!
“But I definitely take the crown for messiest!”
Leaving the friendly banter behind Middleton refocused on the task ahead and reflected on how grateful she was to be back on the court.
“I think it’s just so nice to be playing netball again and that’s just really what I’m here for at the end of the day, to play netball for Storm and really enjoy myself.
“It’s good to be back doing what we love.”
Next up is another double header weekend in Wakefield, with Severn Stars and Loughborough Lightning being the opposition.
“I think going into Round Five we just have such a big opportunity.
“Everyone’s pushing each other at training, everyone’s pushing each other for selection, and there’s already that competitiveness to get out there to show everyone what we can do.”
Storms first game of the weekend is against Stars, a team who haven’t yet won this season and Middleton believes this could bring some challenges.
“I think with Stars particularly are going to come out so hungry, but at the end of the day if we stick to our processes, and if we stick to the things that we’re working on in training, I have no doubt that we can put out a strong performance.
“It’s two games that we’re definitely targeting to win.”
You can watch Storm take on Stars live on Sky Sports YouTube on Friday 12th March at 5:15pm, and against Lightning the following day at 2pm.