Karen Atkinson: Loughborough head coach lured by tough challenge

Karen Atkinson in action for England
Former England international Atkinson is a triple Commonwealth Games bronze medallist and two-time World Championship bronze medallist

Triple Commonwealth Games bronze medallist Karen Atkinson said she could not resist the challenge of managing last season's worst Superleague team.

Atkinson, 36, took over as head coach of Loughborough Lightning in August, inheriting a side who lost all 14 of their games last season.

"I was apprehensive of taking the job," Atkinson told BBC Radio Leicester.

"But then my competitive side shone through. There's a real opportunity to improve the programme at Loughborough."

Atkinson - the second-most capped player in England history - made the first of her 122 appearances while a student at Loughborough and also played for the club.

She left her role as Hertfordshire Mavericks head coach in July and said the lure of turning around Loughborough's fortunes was huge.

"I want to pull the squad off the bottom of the table, definitely take some wins," said Atkinson prior to leading the team in their season opener against Yorkshire Jets on Friday night.

"A good start would be massive. It would give the girls a lot of confidence."

Superleague 2015 - opening fixtures
26 Jan - Manchester Thunder 55-52 Surrey Storm30 Jan - Yorkshire Jets v Loughborough Lightning
31 Jan - Team Northumbria v Team Bath31 Jan - Celtic Dragons v Hertfordshire Mavericks

Additions to the team include defender Rachel Forbes and former Manchester Thunder mid-courter Rachel Henry, who has been named captain.

Veteran Lauren Steadman returns at wing-defence, while a number of Loughborough University students have also made the roster.

Atkinson, who was awarded an MBE for her services to netball in 2014, said that although she was optimistic about their prospects this season, a sense of realism was vital.

"It would be naive and almost a little bit crazy of me to say we're here to win the Superleague," said Atkinson.

"Success for me definitely means a handful of wins - at least three or four would be a bare minimum for me.

"I'd love to get them somewhere more around the fifth or sixth position, pushing that top four. I'd never rule it out because I think the players are capable of that.

"It's about how they approach every single game, their confidence, how they attack the game, how they fight for every single point.

"I want to be competitive against the top four teams."

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