Blockbuster double-header faces title-chasing Storm!

07/03/2024

Saturday night sees a double header for the Hemel Storm organisation with the Women’s team facing East London Phoenix at 4pm and the Men’s team facing the current league leaders Derby Trailblazers, who set their sights on snatching the title of most recent league champion after last season’s undefeated effort.

Derby are a familiar foe as both Storm and themselves are excellently run organisations, competing against each other for silverware every season. Coached by Matt Shaw, the Trailblazers have shown their fantastic ability throughout this season, as their squad continues to develop. They have talent in both the front and back court which will be a hard task to scout for.

One person in particular who proved to be the difference-maker in the last encounter between the two sides is Jonas Dietrich. His showstopping 12/14 three point accuracy sent the Storm crashing to a 8 point defeat, much to the delight of the home Trailblazers crowd. However, Storm have developed and recruited talent since that fixture, with Taylor Johnson returning: a previous MVP in the 2022/23 National Cup final between these two teams.

Whilst Derby are experts in player retention at the end of the season, they also recruited exceptionally well with the additions of Corey Johnson and American Sam Masten. Both add an exceptional offensive package and have proved to be tough players to handle. It is important that Storm execute their tactics to perfection, as Derby will be ready to pounce on any given opportunity provided to them.

Over the years, Storm and Derby have had some exciting clashes. Here are a selection of the best moments:

Overtime thriller: The 2021/22 NBL playoff matchup was one to remember as Storm travelled to Derby as the underdogs in the quarter final. Storm started well and were valiant in their efforts to attempt to defend the deserved lead. However, Derby were keen to use the home crowd and court advantage as they fought back to snatch the lead. As the game clock expired, a clutch three pointer from Bode Adeluola forced the game into overtime, with Storm eventually winning. Once again, a gutsy performance and a fantastic game.

National Cup Glory: Hemel Storm secured their second ever National Cup and the first of four trophies in the 2022/23 season with a fantastic 81-102 victory over the Trailblazers. It was the unbelievable 41 point second quarter which proved to be the difference between the two sides led by the eventual MVP Taylor Johnson. It was a memorable night and a fantastic achievement for the boys in orange and black.

Looking invincible?: Storm travelled to Derby once again looking to protect their unbeaten record. With star guard Taylor Johnson injured, were Storm going to collapse and lose their unbeaten streak? The players had other ideas as an Aaryn Rai- inspired performance sent Storm home with another convincing victory in a tough game. This performance left many fans thinking that Storm look like invincible champions, which they eventually went on to do.

Dietrich Masterclass: Hemel Storm travelled to Derby in October looking to spoil the party for the home supporters. Little did the Storm players know at the start of the game that Jonas Dietrich would produce one of the greatest individual performances in the NBL. A magnificent 12/14 three point accuracy shot by Dietrich sent Storm back down the M1 with an 8 point defeat.

It was a tough defeat in the previous fixture. Storm will not want that to happen again. Spirits will be high after impressive recent performances, as Storm look to continue their pursuit for the top two spots. 

 

On Sunday all eyes turn to Reading and the Loddon Valley Leisure Centre. Storm round off their monumental double-header weekend with a visit to the fourth-placed Rockets. The Rockets had led the way in the early stages of the campaign, alongside the Trailblazers, but a run of four losses in their last nine fixtures has seen them slide down the standings, now chasing Storm on six losses compared to just four. 

Reading claimed an eight-point victory back in December when the sides last met, and the National Cup runners-up head into this tie off the back of their own double-winning weekend. Fresh from victories over London Elite and Thames Valley, a roster filled with talent will be hungry to claim what could be a crucial victory in the final playoff standings, and take the head-to-head record to edge out their opponents if a tie in total points occurs. Australian-born Mitch Clark may be the key man, leading the team in scoring. His 17 points have come alongside 5 assists per game, proving his dynamic threat and whole court presence. American imports Jermiah Jenkins and Elijah Maynard are no strangers to the league and will bring undoubted star quality, with Maynard shining with 28 points and a place in Rebound’s NBL Team of the Week last time out. Combined with league expertise in the form of veterans Lewis Champion and Reis Pinnock, the Rockets will prove a formidable challenge in front of their own fans. 

Crucial to Storm’s hopes in this one will be their daunting duo of big men Hakeem Sylla and Darien Nelson-Henry. Standing at a combined 13 feet 7 inches, the pair have shown their potential to bully teams inside the paint and decide the fate of the games on both ends of the floor. Sitting in the league’s top-three for both points and efficiency, Sylla has been Storm’s main man so far this campaign and it’s pivotal they utilise him effectively, maximising his touches inside the paint. 

Boosted by the return of Brayden Inger from injury, Storm come into this one after a convincing bounce-back victory against the Cavaliers and will look to this weekend as a turning point for their season. Two victories could help propel them up the table, but they also know a tough weekend could seriously damage their post-season aspirations. 

Storm will also understand the value of head-to-head records, with nine-point victories required in both games to clinch that vital feature. First and foremost, however, Mark Clark and his side will be focussed on putting out two impressive performances and they would love your support. 

Saturday’s hosting of Derby tips at 7, while Sunday’s trip to Reading kicks off at 4; venue, Loddon Valley Leisure Centre. Tickets available via stormbasketball.net and readingrockets.co.uk

Written by Ollie Heathcote (Derby) and Callum Humphrey (Reading) 

 

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