Hatters – the longest-established team in women’s basketball – had to withdraw from last season’s campaign due to Covid and a lack of sponsors.
But they have stormed back and earned victories over Nottingham Wildcats and Manchester Met Mystics last weekend. Gayle was forced to seek playing time in Spain during Hatters’ hiatus, but returned at the weekend and was instrumental in their successive victories at All Saints Sports Centre in Sheffield.
“Overall, I feel we did a good job but it’s early in the season and we’re only going to get better,” said Gayle.
“We are a talented team, and we have a lot of potential which is why I wasn’t worried.”
Gayle, 24, first started playing basketball at age nine and was part of the Hatters development programme until moving to play the sport in Florida on a scholarship.
Born into a basketball family, Gayle’s grandmother Betty Codona OBE was the founder of the Hatters back in 1961.
Gayle said: “For me, as a player, I play so much better as a Hatter, I feel so free, playing at home in front of my family.”
With her aunt, Hatters head coach Vanessa Ellis, mum and dad all playing basketball at elite level, Gayle often felt an expectation on her shoulders to succeed in the sport.
“I do think there were expectations of me because of my family’s name. Some people thought that my name was why I got on the England team but then they shut up when they realised I could actually play,” added Gayle, who was the WBBL Player of the Year in 2016.
Gayle is also the operations co-ordinator for the Hatters this season, spending her time writing contracts, booking flights and accommodation, and licencing players.
Gayle said: “I have other jobs too so I’m constantly working, getting up at six in the morning and not sleeping until half 12 at night.”
She hopes her dedication and love of the sport is an inspiration to young girls who are thinking of taking up basketball.
“Sport is a good way to help you grow as a person, especially team sports,” said Gayle, who has previously captained the British national team. “You will always have a smile on your face when you come and play basketball and get the opportunity to maybe travel the country or the world,”
With their 94-53 win over the Nottingham and 99-52 victory over Manchester, the Hatters have secured their place in the WBBL Cup semi-final to be played against the London Lions, a team that has been substantially financed this year and therefore able to form a high-calibre team.
“Everybody’s assuming that they are going to sweep all the trophies this year, but I think we have something to say about that,” said Gayle.
“I really think we’re going to match up well and definitely give them a run for their money.”
Meanwhile, the Hatters’ club minibus, which is vital for transport to games, has recently been stolen and the club is asking for support @Hatters_BC on Twitter and Instagram.