Sheffield Hatters heroine Helen Naylor is aiming to take the momentum from Sunday’s WBBL Cup Final win into the final stretch of the women’s basketball season.
Naylor brought the club’s three-year trophy drought to an end by scoring a stunning three-pointer with a second on the clock as Sheffield came from a point down to win 62-60 against the previously undefeated Sevenoaks Suns.
History was made at Arena Birmingham as the Hatters became the first club to win all four pieces of WBBL silverware after enjoying Championship, Trophy and Play-off victories in past seasons.
“It was just fantastic to win like that with the girls, and really good to make it back to a final with Sheffield,” said club captain Naylor, who is from Doncaster. “We were used to being there in years gone by.
“It was one of our goals to make it back there this season and we did, and it’s a fantastic feeling to have won.”
While the Hatters will certainly enjoy their victory, attention soon turns back to the regular season with a fight for the Championship title and the Trophy about to get underway.
They host Manchester Mystics on Sunday in the Trophy, and are level with Sevenoaks and Leicester Riders at the top of the league table – though leaders Sevenoaks have two games in hand.
“Since Christmas we’ve had a few games where we’ve not played as well as we’ve liked, so this has definitely given us some confidence,” she said.
“We’ve played against the other best team so it’s definitely given us an idea of some of the things we need to work on going into the Trophy.
“Hopefully we’ll make that final as well and be able to repeat what we did on Sunday.”
It was really exciting, and hopefully it will get more people interested in women’s basketball.Helen Naylor
With the breathless final watched by a crowd of around 5,000, Naylor thinks the game served as the perfect advert for the sport. “It was a really great advert for women’s basketball,” she said. “It always is if it’s a close final.
“We had the lead early on and then in the second half it got really exciting because the lead changed hands a few times, and then they hit a shot late on, and we obviously hit the last one and they were left open for the last play of the game.
“It was really exciting, and hopefully it will get more people interested in women’s basketball.”
As well as giving Sheffield something to build on for the rest of the season, coach Vanessa Ellis hopes the final also showed that the previously unbeaten Sevenoaks side are not invincible.
“It gives you confidence, winning a trophy already,” she said.
“Beating the Sevenoaks Suns, who were the only unbeaten team, is another confidence boost – for other teams who play them as well.”
Both player and coach are back to reality now – Naylor is manager of a social work team for adults with learning disabilities, while Ellis is a teacher, but both will enjoy their new-found status as history-makers.
“I’m back at work but that’s life, I’m not a full-time coach,” admitted Ellis.
“But it doesn’t take away the feeling of Sunday; it’s great to be the first team to make a bit of history, and to carry on from all the success we’ve had in previous years.”
While there are still plenty of games to play, the league season promises a thrilling finale which could match Sunday’s action.
Fighting for the title with Sevenoaks and Leicester, Sheffield play both teams in the final three games of the season.