Special night at the Dome as Swalve bids farewell!

29/01/2024

Saturday 27th January
Hemel Storm 108-69 Newcastle University
NBL Division One

Special night at the Dome as Swalve bids farewell!

An emphatic 39-point thrashing of Newcastle University was a fitting way for Seth Swalve to claim his 56th and final victory in a Storm jersey, as the Storm fans wished him well as he heads Down Under to continue his career, in an emotional affair on Saturday night. It was an evening where Storm flexed their basketball muscles, and confirmed their credentials as title contenders, capitalising on the losses for challengers Reading Rockets and Essex Rebels, and sending a true statement of intent to the league.

A titanic battle was billed, with the opposing sides sitting 3rd and 5th respectively, and both offering a fast-paced, fan-friendly style of basketball. A Newcastle roster containing talent all over the floor, including the league’s second highest scorer in Logan Rooney matching up against an ever-improving Storm side, missing, however, the only man to outscore Rooney so far this year in Hakeem Sylla, away on work duty; how much of an issue would that cause the side, was the question pre-match? The answer proved to be minimal, as Storm provided a ruthlessly scintillating performance, dismissing the travelling Newcastle with ease in front of a sold out StormDome full of fans fortunate to be treated to such a display of basketball. As seen in recent weeks, this side is built around contributions from all over the floor with everyone playing their part on both ends, fighting tenaciously for each other and it was symbolic that all 9 men at Mark Clark’s disposal featured on the scoreboard.

Brayden Inger was superb, backing up his high-flying recent form with 24 points to go with a strong defensive display, standing tall to deny Newcastle time and time again and prove to his coach that despite recent changes to the squad, he will still be a key player as the campaign rolls towards the crunch period. Storm weren’t fazed by their limited squad size, missing key man Hakeem Sylla as well as captain Jack Burnell and Ade Atiba. Matt Disu continued to dazzle with his determination and explosiveness, adding to his ridiculous highlights reel with slams a plenty and standout play featuring a mesmerising steal, followed by a double spin any dancer would be proud of, and capped with a fine, poised finish at the hoop to send the crowd into an early, first quarter frenzy.

It was a night of mixed emotions, as new man Darien Nelson-Henry made his Storm debut, settling into life quickly as he returned to the game with a little more leg work than he may have expected, carrying the absent Hakeem Sylla’s minutes; and his wisdom and experience were evident from the first moments, producing savvy plays at both ends of the court exactly as required by his team. However, the night truly belonged to one man. He produced a performance to remind us all of what fun we’d had over the last year-and-a-half, topping the scores with 26 to his name. That was, of course, Seth Swalve.

A familiar silky shooting performance and characteristic hard-working, sharp showing emphasised to us all why Swalve will go down in the books as a Storm legend. Eyes were teary and the noise was deafening as he left the court with 29 seconds remaining, to take in the well-deserved raptures and appreciation of the crowd, and an emotional address to his loving fans followed as he departs on his next venture, to Australia, to continue his stellar career so far.

As the tributary moustaches lined the crowd, it could only be one man who opened the scores, as Swalve stroked in a customary early treble to kick off the evening’s events. The first period was played at a rapid pace, as expected, and with some added impetus from substitutes Veron Eze and Matt Disu Storm took the quarter 28-21.

It was the second spell where Storm took the game away, combining their electric offence with some determined defence to take the period by 16, and their lead in the locker room was up to 35.

More of the same followed after the break; Storm keen not to take their foot off the gas and allow a capable Newcastle side any encouragement of a fightback, and it was Inger catching fire from behind the arc especially, with some help from the ever impressive Sam Newman, to take the game into the final period with the scores favouring the home side at 89-58.

The game threatened to fall into a sleepy trance towards the closing stages, the result all but confirmed, but Seth Swalve wasn’t prepared to let that happen too easily. He appeared from the bench and took the game upon his shoulders, firing threes from all sorts of ranges as he afforded himself a smile, taking in his last moments in an arena that has given him joy-a-plenty in his tenure at the Storm. Kavell Hawes also completed the all round Storm performance, and all that was left was for us to wave goodbye to a true great, on and off the court, as adoring fans, young and old, snapped at the chance for a final word and a hug with a man that has etched his name into memories and history in his short, but oh so sweet, stay at the club.

With a trip to Worthing Thunder on the cards next week, Storm can now be realistically hopeful for another thrilling season finale, with league title and playoff honours possible for a side only to get better as they adjust to life with Nelson-Henry and welcome back Hakeem Sylla. The loss of Seth Swalve will have an impact, but will Storm look into the market to find a replacement to propel them back to the top?

Storm are in action away at Worthing Thunder next Saturday, before visiting Barking Abbey the week after. They will return to the StormDome to host Bradford on the 24th February; tickets available on the website; www.stormbasketball.net.

Written by Callum Humphrey
Photos by Matt Cook

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