A week on from the final season celebration it's time to reflect on what has just happened this past 8 months!
It all started with the annual season opener against the touring USA party, before the perfect curtain-raiser with a thrilling 10 point victory over Nottingham Hoods in the KitKing Trophy, an early, ominous sign of the talent of this roster and a tantalizing taste of things to come for the Storm fans. Storm coasted to the Christmas break, unbeaten having secured a semi-final spot in the National Cup and a final spot in the newly formed KitKing Trophy. A thrilling January kicked off with the aforementioned Cup semi-final; the Storm-dome filled up to the brim with anticipation as Storm hosted Division 3 runaway leaders MK breakers and a fascinating end-to-end game saw Storm eventually progress, running out 98-93 victors to secure their place in their second final of the season, to be played just 2 weeks later. Before Hemel made the long trip to Manchester, an electrifying shooting performance away at Bradford and a 40 point win sent a message to the rest of the league and cup final opponents Derby Trailblazers who suited up to try and calm the Storm and take the first honours of the year the very next week. A huge 41-18 second quarter settled the Storm nerves and celebrations began as the Storm broke the curse of the Manchester finals, with a touch of help from MVP Taylor Johnson’s 41 points.
Attention turned back to the league and we overcame a scare with an overtime win against Loughborough Riders; a Sam Newman- Aaryn Rai alley-oop forcing the game to the extra period. A whole heap of victories followed as Storm navigated through tough ties away at Thames Valley Cavaliers, Solent Kestrels and Derby Trailblazers before the long-awaited KitKing Trophy date against Worthing Thunder arrived at the Surrey Sports Complex. A rapid, high-intensity game unfurled and Storm managed to come away with another piece of silverware, 7 point victors over the Thunder. Another MVP performance from Johnson sparked unbelievable scenes in the Storm end as the support from Hemel was heard loud and proud.
After a weekend of enjoyment and huge celebrations, eyes turned to the remaining 4 league games as Storm focused on securing the title, which they did upon the long trip to Newcastle. Another trophy in the cabinet and the party was alive on the coach trip home, with the party celebrations lasting late into the night.
A mouth-watering home double header brought to a close the regular season, as Storm maintained the unbeaten record in a scrappy, tense affair against the Solent Kestrels before annihilating closest challengers Worthing with a 53 point win.
Excitement and nerves aligned as the play-offs began and Storm sailed through the quarters, sending Solent back to the south-coast on the back of a 41 point triumph. Fingernails were destroyed as Storm battled the Rockets in a tight 3 point semi-final victory, setting up an enticing chance for Storm to complete the quadruple with a play-off final versus familiar opponents Worthing.
So, Storm made the trip up the M6 for the third year running to try and claim their first ever NBL Division One Playoff final. A high-scoring thriller was surely on the cards but in the end it was a scrappy, low-scorer that unfolded with Worthing pestering and making life difficult for opponents Storm who were unable to find their usual offensive flow. However, as customary for the already treble-winning squad they found a way to overcome their troubles and got their hands on their fourth piece of silverware this year; a historic achievement as only the second ever side to finish unbeaten with 4 trophies to their name and the first in the new, longer Division 1 format.
I think we can all agree it’s been a pleasure to watch this astonishing storm team. A team built on individual talent, but more importantly a team that has played some unbelievable basketball together, combining magnificently with chemistry rarely seen in all sport.
An extraordinary season that we can all consider ourselves lucky to be a part of, thanks to the hard-work of the team, coaches and all those around the club. We must be truly thankful and appreciative of all the boys have given us this season, fuelled by the passion and noise of the rowdy Storm crowds! We look back on this year with fond memories of great basketball and camaraderie, with credit to all the players, coaches, background staff and sponsors for making this incredible club what it is.
Written by Callum Humphrey
Photos by Joanne Charles / Toby Gastaldi Davies / Luke Simcock