Solent Stars 1993/94 Season

Back row: Jon Rumsey, Richard Lawrence, Leon White, Mark Scott, Craig Metcalf, Marc Barfoot, Andy Rowlands
Front row: Jason Colgan, Jimmy Palmer, Joe Morant, Mick Byrne, Mark Jackson, Alex Charlton

Having finished tenth out of twelve teams in Division Two in the previous season, Solent Stars now found themselves playing in Division One! This came about because of the creation of the Basketball Premier League, which automatically led to a renumbering of all the other divisions, turning Division Two into Division One.

Off-court the club continued its association with Tonrin and was also developing links with Top Trainers - a sportswear firm based in Bournemouth but with a Southampton outlet. The club was sad to bid farewell to the services of Molly Ingram. Since 1981 Molly had been a regular supporter, winning the Supporter of the Year award on many occasions. She particularly remembered the all-day train journey with her husband to watch Solent in one of its Scottish matches.

The club was fortunate to have an excellent backroom staff for its match promotions that included Lee Worsfold and Paul Newman (who ran the merchandise table), Paul Bryan, Bob Beggs, David Hedley, Keith Metcalf and Andy Jackson.

Derek Browning was beginning his first full season as the club's physiotherapist having proved a very popular person to both players and club officials for his services over the last year. Another newcomer was Steve Witt who took on the role of Team Manager.

Pre-season activity centred on the identities of any new players Solent could attract. The name most prominent in newspaper articles was that of ex-Solent player, Mark Scott. The 33-year-old 6' 6" centre had recently played with Thames Valley Tigers, but had now moved to a teaching post in Southampton. It was known that Scott was looking to develop his coaching skills and Solent offered him the position of Assistant Coach to Mick Byrne. Jason Colgan, the player of the year for the 1991 - 92 season, had also been persuaded to return to the club. Other names in the frame for the upcoming season were Marc Barfoot, Mark Jackson, Nic Burns, Drew Sewell and Alex Charlton, a student from the Dorchester area.

However, serious injuries - both to knees - were affecting Paul Philp and Jon Rumsey. Rumsey had been the previous season's leading scorer and would be a difficult player to replace. Philp's experience would also be missed by the younger players recruited to play in this new season.

As usual, rumours abounded about the possibility of an American signing. The club, through Colombian Jimmy Palmer, had the possibility of finding employment for the player - working in Palmer's Solent Health Club - which would help finance any deal made.

The Solent Stars trophy cabinet increased its contents when at the AGM of the English Basketball Association, Solent director - Jim Rumsey - was presented with the Administrator of the Year award in recognition of 30 years service to local and area basketball. Ironically, Rumsey had just relinquished his local post to concentrate on the national scene.

Two preseason games were arranged prior to the first home league fixture. The first game was against last season's national champions, Worthing Bears. Mark Scott, who had played for Worthing prior to moving to Thames Valley was in the Solent starting five along with Jimmy Palmer, Jason Colgan, Joe Morant and Martin Dowdall. The rest of the squad was Craig Metcalf, Mark Jackson, Leon White and Richard Lawrence. Worthing, whose Premier League season began later than the Solent Stars league programme, had only recently assembled their squad. Even so, the pace and tenacity of the Solent team must have impressed them and eventually Worthing had to hang on for a one point win (78 - 79). Jimmy Palmer, in particular, impressed in this match, scoring 19 points.

Jason Colgan

Solent also played away to Swindon Sonics in their other pre-season game. Once again Palmer led the scoring with 19 points in Solent's 80 - 56 win. This proved an injury-jinxed game with Jason Colgan receiving a bloody nose and Craig Metcalf a gashed hand. Having let Swindon come back to within eight points after establishing a 44 - 21 halftime lead, Solent allowed Swindon just two points in the last eight minutes of play.

It was therefore a concern for Solent Stars that Jimmy Palmer would miss the first home league game of the season because of a suspension gained at the end of the previous season at Ware. Visitors Sheffield Forgers had won their league in the previous season and memories for Solent were of the defeat handed out by Sheffield at Fleming Park which had been Solent's only home defeat in that season when they had won the Division Three title. Also missing, because of holiday commitments, was Martin Dowdall. Solent were aided when it was disclosed that the new Sheffield player/coach - Terry Brunel - had registered too late to play in the game. Solent held the upper hand throughout although it took a wake-up call when Sheffield went briefly ahead shortly after halftime for the team to settle the game. This was done eventually by a series of penetrations of the Sheffield defence by Jason Colgan and the defensive ability of Mark Scott. Solent won 75 - 65 to send most of the 350 crowd home satisfied (Colgan 24, Scott 23).

The next visitors to Fleming Park were Brixton Topcats. Solent were still without Martin Dowdall and his ability to protect the ball was missed as Brixton harried the Solent ball handlers and forced 14 turnovers in the game. Coach Byrne was quoted as saying, "There is a saying in basketball, play quick - but don't hurry. We hurried." It started well for Solent with Mark Scott, Jason Colgan, Jimmy Palmer, Craig Metcalf and Joe Morant building up a 21 - 14 lead but by halftime Solent were trailing 38 - 52. Brixton continued to press and hustle and eventually Solent lost the game 82 - 97, although it could have been a bigger defeat with Brixton always in the driving seat. Jason Colgan and Mark Scott both scored 24 points.

A visit to Swindon followed for a match in the National Trophy. Once again Mark Scott was in a scoring mood, bagging 31 points as Solent stretched their slender halftime lead (35 - 31) to win comfortably 89 - 68. This was Martin Dowdall's first game and he collected 11 points.

Wallet-sized home fixtures card

Early pace-setters for the league season were Coventry Crusaders and it was a visit to them that Solent now made. Only two points separated the teams as the game entered its final stages, but as Solent were forced to chase matters they conceded possession at crucial moments. Earlier Martin Dowdall had collected three fouls in the opening twelve minutes. That forced coach Byrne to take him out of the game for a spell and Solent lost any outside shooting threat. Solent trailed by nine points at halftime and lost Jason Colgan early in the second half courtesy of a Coventry player's elbow that hit Jason's nose. Dowdall then fouled out with seven minutes remaining. His replacement, Mark Jackson, produced an encouraging display, however, as Solent closed on the home team. With barely two minutes remaining just two points separated the sides. But as they pressed forward, Solent were twice caught on the break and eventually went down 70 - 80 (Scott 26) to the unbeaten Coventry team.

A third round tie in the National Trophy pitted Solent against near neighbours Guildford Storm. The visitors to Fleming Park were from a lower division, but Solent could only lead 49 - 48 at halftime after once again being hounded by an agile and fast Guildford team. When Joe Morant fouled out and Jason Colgan could only sit out as a 'flu victim, an upset looked possible. Three minutes from time Solent led 79 - 77 and were indebted to Craig Metcalf for a couple of quick scores followed by a steal that set up Mark Jackson for an easy score. Solent ran out 95 - 88 (Scott 28, Palmer 22) winners to progress to the cup quarter-final with the opponents being Crystal Palace.

Prior to the next home league game, against Bury Lobos, Solent made an important new signing in the form of Steen Sorensen who stood at 6' 9" and had appeared 70 times for the Danish National team. The 25 year old was living in Bournemouth whilst undertaking a college course and had been spotted by coach Mick Byrne at a local league match.

Jason Colgan had recovered in time for the game, but coach Byrne was denied the services of Marc Barfoot, whose car caught fire on the way to the game. It was as well for Solent that they had Sorensen to cover for the missing player. In the end, Sorensen played for 23 minutes, clearly not match fit, but scored 14 points and took 10 rebounds. He had not been able to train with the team prior to the game and but for Barfoot's absence, would not have been used to the extent he was. Bury, fortunately for Solent, did not threaten at all and the only question was if Solent could reach treble figures. In the event, they fell short (95 - 81) but Mark Scott posted an impressive 36 points.

Solent were missing Jason Colgan for the following weekend when they had matches against Plymouth Raiders (home) and Cardiff Heat (away). Plymouth Raiders were currently bottom of the league and proved no opposition for Solent who enjoyed a free-scoring evening that finished with a huge three pointer from Mark Scott that brought up the century of points. Solent won 100 - 65 with Mark Scott notching 27 points.

Mark Scott also scored the same number of points against Cardiff less than 24 hours later. With Scott, Steen Sorensen, Jimmy Palmer and Martin Dowdall sharing the points around, Solent held their ground in a nip and tuck first half, only slipping behind in the last couple of minutes to trail 41 - 45 at the interval. But the Welshmen stretched their lead to ten points with another two minutes of pressure play and with Scott forced into a lengthy points famine, Solent's hopes of a comeback were sunk when Joe Morant fouled out with twelve minutes still to play. Coach Byrne conceded that it was tired limbs that probably cost the team the game that they eventually lost 80 - 87.

A first round game in the National Cup followed with a visit to Nottingham Cobras. Nottingham were an unbeaten team in Division Two and their confidence showed as they moved into an early 9 - 13 lead after five minutes. With Mark Scott being closely policed by Nottingham's England international Martin Ford, it was left to Steen Sorensen to work inside for points. Martin Dowdall weighed in with a couple of three pointers as Solent gradually took control. Nottingham did not give up easily, even when Ford was fouled out four minutes from the end. Solent were able to stay ahead throughout but were indebted to Sorensen who gained a vital rebound in the last minute to deny Nottingham the chance of drawing level. Solent won the game 78 - 72 (Scott 23).

Jon Rumsey made his first appearance of the season for the team's next match - away to Ware Rebels. Jason Colgan, however, used the same match to inform coach Mick Byrne that he did not feel that he had the commitment to continue playing for Solent. He had played a brief role in the Nottingham cup game after returning from a three match lay-off through an ankle injury. Byrne saw Colgan's departure as a major blow. "We are bound to miss him as he is a class player," he said. It was Martin Dowdall's match as he not only kept a tight rein on Ware's danger man, an Albanian named Zace, but also provided 20 points to complement Mark Scott's 22. The only blemish for Solent was the dismissal of Jimmy Palmer for disputing an official's call. Solent were well satisfied with their 84 - 74 win.

Solent Stars paid a high price for two minutes of carelessness as fleet-footed Brixton Topcats sent them spinning out of the National Cup at Fleming Park. With a third round home tie against Manchester Giants at stake, Solent looked to be on the brink of the big-time when, after a two minute barren spell at the start of the second half, Jimmy Palmer sank five quick points to stretch Solent's 34 - 30 halftime advantage to nine points. But the speed and agility that had earned Brixton an 82 - 97 victory at Fleming Park earlier in the season was soon back in evidence as they briefly took the lead at 39 - 40. Danish international Steen Sorensen was the central figure as Solent eased clear again at 59 - 55 but trouble set in a couple of minutes from time as Brixton switched up a gear to race 62 - 68 ahead. Home expectations rose again as Palmer and a Joe Morant three pointer reduced the deficit to one point. Then Sorensen's intentional foul gave Brixton two free throws and possession to signal the end of Solent's brave fight back as they went down 67 - 72 (Scott 21, Palmer 20) in front of over 450 spectators.

Fourteen points for Solent in the final three minutes - many of them from Joe Morant at the free throw line - were not enough to save Solent from a second home defeat in two weeks. This time the loss was to Crystal Palace (70 - 84) in a league match. The game went to prove how much Solent relied on the scoring power of Mark Scott who had been averaging 21 points a game prior to this one. Fussy refereeing led to Scott being on three fouls early on with coach Byrne having to sit him out for a long period. The player fared no better on his return and with 13 minutes left to play he reached his fifth foul. He had contributed just 10 points to the Solent score. Joe Morant was Solent's top scorer with 19 points with 'flu victim Jimmy Palmer notching 18.

The final game before the Christmas break was away to Sheffield. New signing Guy Nicholas, from Bournemouth Bears, scored the first points of a very indifferent first half. But Solent, without Steen Sorensen and Jimmy Palmer - both away on holiday - were never favourites to win the game and suffered a 70 - 98 point defeat.

With a four-week gap pending, coach Mick Byrne was grateful for an invitation to send his team to take part in a demonstration match against Oxford Dons at the occasion of the opening of the new Banbury Sports Centre. Solent won 78 - 63 and the pleasing feature for Byrne was the 12 points recorded by Jon Rumsey, who had been advised by a specialist to continue playing on his injured knee until it finally breaks down! A newcomer for Solent was Mark Hatton, a left-hander from the Bournemouth Bears club.

Prior to their next game - a National Trophy quarter-final against Crystal Palace - Solent faced their biggest crisis of the season as Mark Scott announced he was pulling out of the club. Scott (34) had stepped down from the Premier League on the assurance that he would be introduced to coaching but he claimed that his role at the club had been minimal. According to Scott he had been used mainly in a playing role and many of his ideas had not been put into practice. Mick Byrne expressed surprise at the move claiming that Scott had not stated his problems and he would do all he could to try and change Scott's decision.

So it was that Solent began 1994 with a crunch game having not played competitively for a month and now having lost their leading scorer (299 points being 30% of Solent's total) and rebounder. In the event, Solent's final total of 62 points was never going to be enough against the free-scoring Crystal Palace team. Jimmy Palmer scored some spectacular three pointers to keep Solent's largest crowd of the season entertained and he was backed by Sorensen's close-in scoring. The final difference between the teams was 14 points (62 - 76), exactly the same as the league defeat suffered earlier by Solent (Palmer 22).

League leaders Coventry Crusaders were the next visitors to Solent. Stars had high hopes of toppling the league leaders when they trooped in 30 - 28 up at halftime, Steen Sorensen have struck a rich scoring vein. But after scoring 16 points in the first half he was only able to add three in the second and Solent's five minute barren spell turned the course of the game. Once again Jimmy Palmer scored three pointers, young Mark Jackson added some much needed pace and Jon Rumsey showed flashes of his old speed and aggression following a lengthy knee injury. The night's biggest disappointment was the non-appearance of Jason Colgan whose comeback plans were wrecked by a last minute back injury in training. Solent went down 58 - 64.

Solent Stars had very little success to reflect upon in recent months but all that was put to one side at Fleming Park when they staged an astonishing comeback to defeat championship challengers Cardiff Heat in overtime. With barely a quarter of the game remaining and Solent trailing by 17 points a home win did not look on the cards. However, in a breathtaking final portion of the game, Solent swarmed all over Cardiff and after levelling the scores at full time went on to clinch the points in the five minutes of overtime. Such was the passionate support given by the 500 plus supporters at the game that it would not have been surprising if the roof had parted company with the rest of the building! Solent's squad was pared down to the bone as Martin Dowdall, Steen Sorensen and Jimmy Palmer all fouled out amid the Solent comeback which allowed them to level the final score at 74 all. Seventeen year old Mark Jackson was at the heart of the victory keeping his nerve to sink three of the four free throws awarded against Cardiff's Ray Longman for a foul followed by a technical foul in the dying seconds of the overtime period. There were giant contributions too from Joe Morant, Jon Rumsey, Craig Metcalf and the impressive Jason Colgan who marked his return with a clutch of valuable defensive rebounds before fouling out himself with 90 seconds remaining. Twelve seconds from time, Chris Harper scored a three pointer to close the gap to 89 - 86 but Solent were able to hang on to the ball for the remaining seconds to gain an impressive victory (Rumsey 19).

A new signing, Richard Cutler, a 6' 6" Royal Navy player, had made a brief appearance at the end of the Cardiff game and he was also in the squad that travelled north to play second-from-bottom Bury Lobos. With a minute to play, Solent trailed by one point (74 - 75) but instead of pushing forward, they were hemmed in by the home side. A string of free throws were conceded by Solent and with it the match as they failed to mount a serious attack in the closing stages. It was disappointing to lose 74 - 79 (Sorensen 26) in such a way after the previous week's display against Cardiff.

Solent then played Stockton Mohawks at Fleming Park. The visitors arrived with a weakened squad of just six players. Stars made painfully hard work of disposing of the Stockton team, however. They trailed all the way until a purple patch by Jon Rumsey put them ahead for the first time at 52 - 51, nine minutes into the second half. Martin Dowdall then chipped in with ten points to give the home team some much needed breathing space. The match was made safe when Richard Cutler, acting against instructions, threw in a successful three pointer right at the end. Rumsey scored 20 in Solent's 76 - 70 win.

Jason Colgan had only managed three points in the Stockton match and then declared himself unavailable for the trip to Crystal Palace on the following day. This prompted coach Mick Byrne to comment that, "Jason needs to make up his mind about his commitment to top flight basketball." Fifteen first half points from Martin Dowdall edged Solent into a 42 - 41 halftime lead. But Palace suddenly upped the pace to outscore Solent 2 - 13 in the first two minutes of the second half as Solent slid to their third defeat by Crystal Palace, this time with a 67 - 92 scoreline (Sorensen 19).

Solent's poor away form - only one win - continued with the rematch against Stockton, just one week after their encounter at Fleming Park. The home team were strengthened by the return of the four players who had not travelled south, whilst Solent were once again without Jason Colgan. Stockton went in to an early ten-point lead as Solent struggled to get their game together. A succession of Martin Dowdall three pointers kept Solent in touch with Stockton, but the home side were still comfortably ahead 36 - 45 at halftime. Solent reduced the difference to six points at one stage, but were never able to get closer than that, finally missing out 76 - 86 (Dowdall 22). Jimmy Palmer had another poor return of points, scoring just two points after two previous games where he had not scored at all.

The next visit for Solent was to bottom of the league Plymouth Raiders. Raiders had recently turned a corner as they had beaten Crystal Palace in the National Trophy before losing by just two points to Sheffield in the Final. A large crowd was present for the game and they had plenty of entertainment as the lead changed hands 20 times in the game. With eight seconds of the game remaining, Solent looked to have clinched it when Steen Sorensen went to the free throw line and scored twice to put Solent 76 - 74 in the lead. But Plymouth's American ace, Trent Forbes, made a lightning last-gasp raid down court, setting up Richard Ure to level on the buzzer (76 - 76). Solent quickly swept into a six-point lead in overtime only for Plymouth to again level at 82 all. Stars had the last say with nine points in the last 32 seconds, mainly from Martin Dowdall at the free throw line. Solent therefore clinched a place in the play-offs with their 91 - 86 win (Sorensen 27).

Having now qualified for the play-offs, Solent entertained Ware Rebels for their final home league fixture of the season. Having edged a tight first half 37 - 36 Solent then lost their way and tumbled ten points adrift within the opening three and a half minutes of the second half. Jimmy Palmer, Steen Sorensen and Jon Rumsey whittled away at Rebels' lead and then Martin Dowdall's timely three pointer brought Stars back to 58 - 59. Ware responded with a series of baskets that finally accounted for Solent, 74 - 82 (Rumsey 26).

The awards for the season were presented after the final home match. Youngster Mark Jackson was voted as the Player of the Year, despite not being a regular starting five player, with Jimmy Palmer as runner-up. The Players' Player award went to Steen Sorensen. With Jackson's forthcoming departure to the USA, Palmer's probable return to Colombia and Sorensen also returning home, to Denmark, it looked as if important changes would have to be made to any future Solent squad.

The final league match was a visit to Brixton Topcats. With Ware having surprisingly beaten Cardiff in Cardiff the previous evening, Solent knew that they had to win to finish seventh in the league. A loss would mean a trip to league champions, Coventry Crusaders, for the quarter-final Championship Play-Off match. After a slow start, in which Solent, missing Steen Sorensen who had returned home for International duty, fell 5 - 19 adrift, the picture suddenly brightened dramatically in an amazing nine minute spell when Brixton failed to score and Solent moved into a 23 - 19 lead. By halftime it was all square at 28 - 28, but instead of playing at their own speed after the break, Solent tried to match Brixton's lightning pace and composure went out of the window. Some questionable refereeing decisions went against Solent and coach Mick Byrne, not for the first time in the season, was called for a technical foul. Solent lost 60 - 72 to finish in eighth position in the league.

The club management and supporters got together to raise the return fare from Denmark to allow Steen Sorensen to join the squad for the play-off fixture at Coventry. Solent coach Mick Byrne had been optimistic that he had the resources to worry Coventry, but after only five minutes it was apparent that a damage limitation exercise was the only viable source of option open to them. In front of a sell-out crowd Coventry offered Solent little respite as they gathered a 15 - 39 point lead inside the first half. Team captain Martin Dowdall spearheaded Solent's attacking efforts with 22 points in their 53 - 78 point defeat.

One final success for the Solent club was the March Divisional Player of the Month Award to Jon Rumsey.

(Division 1)
Played Won Lost For Against Difference Points
1 Coventry Crusaders 18 16 2 1498 1338 +160 32
2 Crystal Palace 18 12 6 1483 1333 +150 24
3 Cardiff Heat 18 11 7 1533 1426 +107 22
4 Sheffield Forgers 18 10 8 1489 1434 +55 20
5 Brixton Topcats 18 10 8 1512 1413 +99 20
6 Stockton Mohawks 18 9 9 1558 1607 -49 18
7 Ware Rebels 18 8 10 1455 1568 -113 16
8 Solent Stars 18 7 11 1390 1448 -58 14
9 Bury Lobos 18 4 14 1552 1699 -147 8
10 Plymouth Raiders 18 3 15 1451 1655 -204 6

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