Sarah eyes cup glory

Hatters v UWIC Archers . Hatters  Helen Naylor
Hatters v UWIC Archers . Hatters Helen Naylor

While it’s all about the numbers game for the city’s basketball team with a taste for success it’s, thankfully, the end of the pain game for one of their star players.

It’s 21 years since the City of Sheffield Hatters netted their first National Cup and now they’re looking to add to the ever burgeoning tally in their latest Final showdown at Ponds Forge on Sunday (1.15pm start).

Nottingham Wildcats stand in the way of their first silverware of the season and victory would certainly be extra special as this year marks the club’s 50 Anniversary.

Hatters have already begun their celebrations with an impressive 81-63 victory over league leaders UWIC Archers at All Saints which saw them take over top spot in National Women’s League Division One. They lead the way from Archers and fellow Cup finalists Wildcats courtesy of superior points difference but more importantly, they have a match in hand on their rivals.

One player delighted to be involved in Hatters’ glory quest is Sarah Naylor. The sharp-shooting No10 missed most of last season with a stress fracture in her back but surgery, rehab and physiotherapy have given her a new lease of life.

Sarah is now ‘feeling fine’ and back to full fitness as she gets ready to help spearhead the team’s bid for another clean sweep - League, Cup and Play-Off Championships.

She said: “We’ve beaten Nottingham in the league but that really counts for nothing. The Cup is a one-off and it’s about who ‘produces’ on the day.

“We know it’s going to be tough but I’m really looking forward to it and I feel that if we all play as well as we can then we should win.

“The victory over Archers has given us an extra boost. It took us a while to get going but we started to pull away towards the end of the game and it was a great result.

“However, it’s now all about Sunday and another cup final. I can’t believe it’s 21 years since the club first won the trophy but that’s what makes Hatters so special and I feel really, really proud to be part of it. Victory would certainly be the perfect way to start the 50th Anniversary year.”

Another big plus has been the return of American go-to-girl Stephanie Gandy who left Hatters at the end of last season to join the pro ranks in Spain but she cut short her stay after contractual problems and headed back to South Yorkshire.

“It’s brilliant to have her back,” added Sarah. “Stephanie is a big part of the team and she makes such a difference when she’s on court.”

That was plain to see in the third quarter of the league clash against Archers when Gandy’s all-action play appeared to inspire her teammates as Hatters moved into a seven point lead (59-52) going into the final session. Teamwork was the key as Vanessa Ellis’s side stayed in control and they were able to close out the game in convincing style.

Gandy topped the scoring list with 21 points, followed by Sarah Naylor on 15 and skipper Katie Crowley on 12.

The match was chosen as the Hatters’ VIP game with the Lord Mayor Coun. Alan Law and Lady Mayoress Nicola Ashton heading the guest list.

National League Table – Women’s Division One

City Of Sheffield Hatters pld 9 pts diff 135 pts 16, UWIC Archers 10 95 16, Nottingham Wildcats 10 82 16, Leeds Carnegie 12 -16 14, Sevenoaks Suns 11 27 8, Team Northumbria 10 -60 6, Barking Abbey Leopards 11 -87 6 Brixton Lady Topcats 11 -176 2.

The men’s final, which features defending champions Bristol Academy Flyers and newly-promoted Brixton Topcats, will take place after the Hatters match.

It is the second time in as many years that both the men’s and women’s National Cup Finals have taken place in Sheffield, after the English Institute of Sport played host to the 2010 event.

To purchase tickets visit www.englandbasketball-shop.co.uk or call Ponds Forge on 0114 2233400.

For a chance to win four free tickets, visit the Ponds Forge website at www.ponds-forge.co.uk.