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Hatters chief optimistic that run of success will continue

Mark Woods

They might have lost their first league game at the end of January but who really will bet against Sheffield Hatters ending up as NBL Women's League champions for an unprecedented tenth time in a row at the season's end ? Certainly not coach Betty Codona whose optimism and belief in her team's potential knows no bounds. 

The Steel city outfit remain on course to equal their 21-1 league record of 1998/99, a campaign which was also crowned by adding the play-off title. Now a fixture on the Hatters' bench, Codona has seen a generation of players pass through Britain's team of the nineties. And she insists that there will be no taking the foot off the pedal in the quest for extra silverware. 

"We're going to do our damnedest to make sure that happens," she states. "We've had a few hiccups, with injuries and other things. As usual financially we're struggling but we've got one or two new players, juniors who have come through our system who I'm highly delighted with. They're really starting to show now so yes, we're going for it."

That principal hiccup arrived in the semi-finals of the National Cup, when the Hatters failed to reach the final for the first time since 1989 after a shock loss to eventual winners Rhondda. The domestic treble was thus place out of their reach, a symptom Codona says was the result of an uncharacteristic slip in the standard of her team's play.

But ever the motivator, that painful reverse is being used as a driving force to re-ignite Hatters' season rather than causing any long-term crisis.

"After the loss in the Cup, we sat down and looked at ourselves," Codona reveals. "We discussed things, and came out with a positive attitude. I just think the players have a great spirit and once you get that working, it's anyone's game."

Some suspected that the strength in depth which has been an outstanding advantage within the side's run of trophy accumulation was coming to a close as veteran performers edge reluctantly to the end of their careers.

That transitional phase could make Sheffield more vulnerable but instead it has brought a maturation on the court. Senior team members like Vanessa Ellis and Sharon Castanada are being given the responsibility to mentor and groom their likely successors in the ranks.

A move which Codona explains is a break with tradition.

"They've had to step up a bit and take a slightly different role which is unusual because we've always played as a team. It's still like that but players are having to make more of the key decisions and play a key part.

"Sharon is a very key player for the Hatters but I think our strength in the past has been that she's never felt that he had to do it all. We've always had four or five good players around her to play with and I've been pleased that she's not always been the top scorer. In fact, she's been pleased she's not always the top scorer."

With her dual role as Director of Coaching at the English Basketball Association, one might think the tireless advocate for basketball excellence would view the management toils of a league team as a secondary concern. 

Yet Codona, awarded an OBE last year, retains her boundless enthusiasm. But, we asked, has she any thoughts of stepping aside ?

"When the right coach is there to take over, I might do that. I'll still be involved with the club and always supporting it but I would be happy to see someone else if they were willing to do it. 

"The problem is, and it's not just in our club, that there is a dearth of coaches at the moment. Perhaps one of the older players, when they've finished playing, might be the right person to take over and I'll support them if they so choose." 

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