For the first pre-season friendly, against Oxford Devils, Mark Scott had a mix of experience and newcomers. It was the experienced players that served him well early on in the game with Mike Griffiths scoring ten of Solent's first twelve points. However, once the newcomers were given a chance on court, the experienced Oxford team - a league below, but three years together as a squad - took over the game. Solent's 72 - 121 defeat demonstrated to Scott the enormity of his task.
A second pre-season game gave Solent a first victory, over Reading Rockets (85 - 75). For this game Solent had a guest American triallist, John Randazzo. He scored 42 points in the game, but subsequently was snapped up by a French team. Other members of the squad on that occasion were Mike Griffiths, Mark Scott, Ben Peacock, and Chris Blunt, all of whom had played in the previous season. Newcomers for the game were Chris St. Omer (a local player), Joe Charles (from Bournemouth Blitz) and Nosa Obadigie (Solent Juniors). After a two year break from the game, Jon Rumsey also returned to the court for Solent Stars.
For the first home league game of the season, coach Mark Scott was without two key players - Chris Harper, who had flown to America to see his sick mother, and Mike Griffiths, who had injured his ankle in the Reading match. However, they were able to welcome back Toby Tripalin. Last minute negotiations by club owner, Bob Paulley, persuaded Alan Cunningham to help the club out for this opening fixture of the Conference League. The title for the new league had been proposed by Jim Rumsey as the result of an appeal by the national body who were told that their proposed titles - The Elite League or Superleague - could not be used. Only eight teams were in the league as a result of a tightening of standards and quality to make the Conference League a showcase for England Basketball. Teams would meet three times in the season.
Sutton Pumas were the first visitors to Fleming Park in the first match where the games would be played in four ten minute quarters, with two minutes between the first/second and third/fourth quarters and just one timeout per quarter allowed, except for the final quarter when two could be used. Solent were shell-shocked at the end of the first quarter when they found themselves trailing 15 - 30. Enter Cunningham and Scott to help Solent win all the remaining three quarters, but still fall short at the end despite Jon Rumsey's three pointer on the buzzer. Solent's defeat (97 - 100) was in a game that they never led (Scott 24, Cunningham 23, Tripalin 21).
Recognising that 46-year-old Alan Cunningham could not be seen as Solent's big man throughout the season, Solent Stars were able to sign 6' 6" Chris Sheldrick who had just returned from a four year spell in America. Sheldrick had learned his basketball in the Solent Stars Junior programme prior to leaving for America. Coach Mark Scott also announced that Paul Philp would be brought on board to help out with training and, when possible, match coaching.
The opening game in the National Trophy took Solent to play at Cardiff Clippers. Once again, the team was plagued by injuries. Mike Griffiths was still unfit and Chris Harper - returning for this game - was carrying a niggling knee injury. When Mark Scott limped out of the game early on with a torn tendon, Solent were really up against it. Alex Byrne turned the ball over twice to gift Cardiff four early points and, after that, Solent were always chasing the game. Only able to score one three pointer through Jon Rumsey at the end of the game - against the eleven successful threes by Cardiff - Solent fell away to a 78 - 88 loss (Rumsey 20).
A league visit to the current league champions, Teesside Mohawks, followed. Solent were once again beset by injuries with Mike Griffiths and Chris Harper both unavailable through injury. With Chris Blunt and Alex Byrne conceding too many turnovers to the vastly more experienced home players, Solent were never in the hunt. Jon Rumsey, one of only seven players to make the trip north, sat out the first quarter, having received a knock two days before in a scrimmage match against Brighton Cougars. His introduction helped Solent score a few more points, but with Mark Scott also hampered by injury, it was a process of damage limitation that Solent undertook. The final score, 73 - 110 (Scott 20, Rumsey 20) reflected the superiority of the home team just a few months after they had dashed Solent's hopes at Wembley.
Before the next game, a home National Trophy pool fixture against Plymouth Raiders, Solent re-signed Eddie Owusu from near neighbours Worthing Thunder. With Mike Griffiths available, Solent were pleased also to welcome the return of Chris Harper. However, despite initial promise when Solent led 22 - 16 in the first quarter, it was Plymouth who set the pace eventually. A second defeat in the National Trophy for Solent, 68 - 91 (Tripalin 22, Harper 21) meant that qualification was going to be difficult.
An even more daunting task faced Solent the next day when they had to travel to the Aston Villa Leisure centre to play Basketball League's Birmingham Bullets in the National Cup. In the competition on the strength of the previous season's results, the present Solent squad was always going to be struggling. This proved to be the case as Birmingham rode all over the visitors to record a 61 - 109 victory.
Chris St Omer
A return to home National Trophy action followed. Solent had to beat Cardiff Clippers by at least eleven points to stand a chance of qualification from the pool, as runners up. Until the disastrous final quarter, Solent were well on their way to achieving their goal. From a position of 65 - 48 authority they completely lost their way. Coach Mark Scott blamed himself. He sat out the entire third quarter and only rejoined the action when Solent were sinking fast in the final quarter. By the time he reappeared Solent led by just four points (75 - 71) and he was unable to pick up the scoring rate he had achieved in the first half. In the end, Solent won their first game of the season, but by only six points, 78 - 72 (Tripalin 26).
Yet another signing for Solent took place before the next game. Chris Harper had recommended Welshman Gareth Keene, a 6' 8" centre from his previous club in Cardiff. Keane made his debut in Solent's home game against Worthing Thunder. Also playing in the game was Paul Mundy-Castle who had transferred to Worthing over the summer. In this season of injuries, Solent were without American Toby Tripalin who had turned an ankle. A high-scoring first quarter saw Solent trailing 21 - 36. A better second quarter saw them reduce the deficit at halftime to just ten points. However, in the end Solent had no answer to Mundy-Castle (42 points) who was ably supported by Worthing's American Vandale Thomas who also scored 42 points. Solent lost yet another league fixture, 85 - 120 (Harper 21, Owusu 21) with only Eddie Owusu's performance giving them some hope for the future.
Solent's National Trophy interests ended with a 65 - 88 away defeat at the hands of Plymouth Raiders. For Solent, two encouraging performances were put in by Junior players, Dave McKay and Alan McDonald. Gareth Keene took some important rebounds and added eleven points to the Solent total, but the senior players put in disappointing performances.
Fixture vagaries meant that Solent had five weeks without a league fixture and so arranged an exhibition game against USAF Lakenheath, an American air force team that had a good pedigree in European American base competitions. It gave Dave McKay a chance to further demonstrate that he was ready to step up from the Solent Juniors. McKay top-scored with eighteen points for Solent in their 81 - 79 win.
Next up at Fleming Park were current league leaders, Plymouth Raiders. Form did not favour the home team who had lost by 23 points both home and away to Plymouth in cup competition. Mark Scott used the game to further blood his younger players and he was not let down by Clayton Milner, Dave McKay and Alan McDonald, especially in the early part of the game when Solent matched Plymouth basket for basket. Gareth Keene continued to improve and man-of-the match Chris Harper helped Solent be competitive right until the final quarter. Solent's eventual defeat, 86 - 97 (Harper 31) was no disgrace against the table-topping team.
An incident unrelated to basketball involving Eddie Owusu meant that Solent would have to do without him for the rest of the season, which was yet another blow to rookie coach, Mark Scott. Owusu was just one of the experienced players missing when Solent travelled to Coventry Crusaders. Despite some fine individual touches at times by Chris Harper, Toby Tripalin and Gareth Keene, Solent could not prevent themselves from yet another defeat 71 - 86 (Tripalin 27).
Desperate to plug the gap left by Owusu, Solent Stars swooped to sign Duane Laight from Thames Valley Tigers. A Southampton lad, Laight had been in America on a scholarship prior to returning and joining the Tigers. His first game was a home fixture against fellow strugglers in the Conference League, InterBasket London. It was to be no dream debut as - although he scored 18 points - Laight could not prevent the home team from going down 81 - 87 (Tripalin 24, Harper 24) after a poor third period.
The final game of the year was at Sutton Pumas. Still the only team in the league without a league win, Solent Stars never suggested that they were about to cash in that record as they struggled to make any impression. Ten points behind after three dreadful minutes, Solent never really recovered as the team was given the run-around. Chris Harper only arrived as the match was getting underway, and the wrong turning he took on the way to Sutton mirrored the blind alleys Solent drove down all too often. Solent lost 77 - 102 (Tripalin 27).
A visit to high-riding Manchester Magic at the Manchester Velodrome was not what Solent wanted next. However, they got off to a flying 7 - 0 start with points from Toby Tripalin and Mark Scott. When, in the second period, shots started to miss, the Solent heads went down and the Manchester team that had won by 30 points on the previous evening gained in confidence. Soon Solent were trailing by 30 points of their own (40 - 70) and could not do anything about it as they sank 65 - 100 (Harper 26).
With average home attendances now 200-300 compared with the 800 plus regular turnout for the previous successful seasons, Solent were in need of success. An abortive attempt was made to sign a third American player, Dwayne Lewis, a friend of Toby Tripalin. This player could rotate with Tripalin and Chris Harper, who had a niggling knee injury that was hampering him. However, the authorities would not sanction a work permit for Lewis since he had not been playing in a bona-fide competition in America that would be able to supply suitable statistics. They were more fortunate with another import, Frenchman Dimitry LaCroix, who had come to work in the area.
LaCroix made his debut in Solent's home fixture against Worthing Thunder. Although his appearance was restricted to one minute, he did manage to score as well as pick up a foul! The fact that Worthing's top four scorers all scored more than the Solent main scorer, Toby Tripalin, indicates the gulf that existed in the game between the teams. Solent's loss to the second placed league table team was 86 - 120 (Tripalin 21).
Only two weeks after returning from a 35 point hammering at Manchester the Solent team was in opposition to Manchester again at Fleming Park. One difference, however, this time was Solent's inclusion of Alan Cunningham. The ex-coach and club co-owner had been persuaded to play once again. Ahead throughout most of the match, Solent were eleven points clear approaching the end of the third quarter. That was the biggest lead they had enjoyed all season - yet somehow they managed to give this up in barely a couple of minutes. Even so, they were in there fighting and with Cunningham limping with a badly bruised ankle and Scott having to go to hospital to have stitches after a clash of heads, no one could doubt their commitment. Solent eventually lost 103 - 109 (Harper 24, Tripalin 22).
Still without a win halfway through the season, a visit of the current league leaders did not present Solent with the easiest of ways to relieve the gloom. The teams had already met three times in cup and league fixtures with Plymouth Raiders winning them all and having a 57-point aggregate advantage also. But bottom-of-the-league Solent nearly supplied the surprise of the season when they went into a fifteen-point halftime lead. However, an all-too-familiar second half saw Solent only manage 16 points in the third quarter and 11 in the final one. This was not enough to protect their earlier hard won lead and they lost 74 - 84 (Harper 24, Tripalin 22).
Just before the final signing deadline, Solent swooped for Trevor Donaldson, a forward who had played with Southampton Trailblazers, and local player 6' 4" Mike Bryan, a left-hander, who had played for Portsmouth Pirates.
Both new players made their debut in the next home game, against Coventry Crusaders, who were fourth in the league. With Chris Harper and Toby Tripalin in fine shooting form, Solent opened up an early advantage to take a 28 - 17 lead at the end of the first quarter. By restricting the visitors to just six points in the second quarter Solent found themselves, as in the last game, comfortably ahead (47 - 23) at halftime. This time there was to be no easing off, and despite a late rally by the visitors, Solent won their first game of the season 85 - 72 (Tripalin 26). One outcome from the result was that coach Mark Scott could now have a haircut, having earlier vowed not to cut his hair until the first victory!
A visit from fellow strugglers InterBasket, London followed. Solent's confidence was high and new boy Trevor Donaldson's in particular. Donaldson fired in five three pointers in the game to complement the shooting of Chris Harper. The effect was to give Solent a good lead early on. This, however, they squandered and with two minutes remaining the scores were tied at 78 all. Mark Scott then fired in a three pointer, Harper added two more but InterBasket fought back to 83 - 81 before Harper made the game safe for Solent from the free throw line. The win was 85 - 83 (Harper 31, Donaldson 21).
The following day Solent travelled north to Manchester, without Alan Cunningham, Mark Scott or Trevor Donaldson. Chris Harper took charge of the side and he used just six of the seven Solent players for the whole game. Apart from the first quarter, when they fell 18 - 27 behind, the team performed admirably and only lost by seven points, 69 - 76 (Tripalin 29) to high-riding Manchester Magic.
Coach Mark Scott, who had missed the Manchester trip to be at the birth of his daughter Omara, was back for the home fixture against Sutton Pumas. He was joined by the other two players who had also missed the trip north. It was encouraging to see Solent's refusal to back down against some rough treatment handed out by the visitors under the basket. For the most part they handled it well apart from one moment early in the second quarter when frustration with some bizarre refereeing decisions spilled over into an on-court brawl involving Duane Laight and Sutton's Roger Lloyd. Both were duly sent off. Solent were leading 21 - 18 at the time and quickly gathered their composure with Trevor Donaldson scoring a couple of three pointers. The fans' man of the match, Dimitry LaCroix, harried Sutton into many turnovers and Toby Tripalin barely missed a shot throughout the second half to lead Solent to a 94 - 78 win (Tripalin 32).
Five of Solent's six remaining fixtures were away from home, beginning with a trip to Teesside Mohawks. Unavailability of players - not uncommon for the Teesside trip over the years - meant that Solent only had seven players at the beginning of the game. A snow blizzard had started as Solent drove the last few miles north. The same blizzard kept Chris Harper - who had been staying even further north for the night before - from arriving before halftime, by which time Solent were trailing 25 - 48. Although Solent kept battling away, the league leaders were in a mean mood and Solent lost 66 - 92 (Tripalin 25).
The third league meeting between the teams took place just one week later at Fleming Park. It was Solent's last home league game of the season in which they played each team three times. It had not gone unnoticed that in the case of both Solent's furthest flung opponents, Teesside and Manchester, the Solent team had been given two away matches. For Teesside's first visit south, Solent were anxious to avoid another 26 point drubbing. Even so, coach Mark Scott left out Chris Harper because of his late arrival at last week's game. With Alan Cunningham and Toby Tripalin both firing on all cylinders, Solent once again - as in previous home games - built up an early lead. At one point they led by as many as 18 points and although they endured a few anxious moments in the closing stages - they led by one point with four seconds remaining when Cunningham was awarded two free throws - they came through to win 106 - 103 (Cunningham 26, Tripalin 25, Scott 22) against the league leaders.
The next match was away to InterBasket, London. Solent were slow out of the blocks and trailed 14 - 24 at one point in the first quarter. Stars continued to struggle in the second quarter until a Chris Harper three pointer started a run of twelve unanswered points for Solent to take them to a 32 - 31 lead. InterBasket stretched away again in the third quarter to lead 44 - 57, but Solent then outscored them 15 - 2 to level at 59 all. The game was nip and tuck after that and both teams ran into foul trouble as the clock wound down. Chris Harper missed two free throws with little time left and the score standing at 83 - 81. Alan Cunningham collected the rebound from the second shot and was immediately fouled. He stepped up to the free throw line to sink both shots and give Solent a 85 - 81 win (Cunningham 24, Harper 22, Scott 21). This first away win moved Solent off the bottom place in the league.
A friendly against USAF Lakenheath Eagles allowed coach Mark Scott to give court time to some of the bench players. Trevor Donaldson benefited from this and scored 30 points in Solent's 96 - 87 point win.
Solent's next away game was at league leaders Plymouth Raiders in front of a sell-out 1,400 crowd. Solent were not overawed as they raced to a 9 - 0 opening lead. It took Plymouth four minutes to score from open play, by which time they trailed 15 - 1 to Solent. Gradually, Plymouth's twin American threats, Terrence Durham and Todd Cetnar pulled the home side back into the game. Chris Harper's scoring dried up at the beginning of the second half but Toby Tripalin, Duane Laight and Trevor Donaldson filled the bill to keep Solent in the game. Plymouth could not ease up even when they took the lead. Cunningham's absence was noted as Solent went down 85 - 100 (Harper 21).
An ill-tempered away game at Coventry Crusaders followed. Alan Cunningham was in the centre of the action again when he was called for a technical foul early on for disputing a call. It was soon Coventry's turn to incur the wrath of the officials as they too were charged with a technical foul. Having trailed by 16 points at one stage, Solent fought back to trail by just six points with two minutes remaining. Unfortunately, foul trouble caught up with Solent as Toby Tripalin bowed out, followed by Cunningham and Trevor Donaldson. Solent had nothing left in the tank and lost 105 - 113 (Harper 28, Scott 22, Tripalin 22).
Just one match remained in the league, with Solent once again occupying the foot of the table position. The opponents were Worthing Thunder who had confirmed their second place in the final league table with a win the previous evening. Also, the two previous meetings between the teams had ended with 35 and 34 point wins for the Worthing team. A win was a necessity for Solent if they were to leave Sutton Pumas as wooden spoonists rather than themselves. To cap it all, the match was to be played at the Worthing venue. Worthing very quickly moved ahead in this game also as Solent found themselves under pressure with player/coach Mark Scott reaching three fouls in the first eight minutes. A successful shot from the halfway line by Toby Tripalin right on the first quarter buzzer brought Solent to 22 - 24. Another three pointer at the start of the second quarter saw Solent take the lead for the first time. When Alan Cunningham immediately added another three pointer, Solent's confidence rose as they went on to lead 47 - 39 at halftime. A 19-point streak in the third quarter for Solent started by Chris Sheldrick sealed the game despite a late rally by Worthing. Solent had risen to seventh in the table and rued the fact that just one more win in the season could have taken them to fifth position. Toby Tripalin's 34 points was the highest score by a Solent player in the season, whilst Solent's win 111 - 96 (Tripalin 34, Harper 22) posted their highest score also.
Exactly one week later Solent were back at Worthing Thunder for the one-off quarter-final game in the Championship Play-Offs. Solent were blown apart by a devastating first quarter that saw them trail 18 - 35. Worthing at one stage led by 28 points in a game which Mark Scott described as falling victim to "diabolical refereeing" as two Solent players fouled out whilst two others suffered physical injuries that went unpunished. Toby Tripalin was playing with an injured ankle and was unable to reproduce the form of the previous week as Solent went down 96 - 115 (Tripalin 22).
Having had no home game since the beginning of March a couple of games were arranged at the end of the season The first was for the Mayor of Eastleigh's charity and consisted of Solent and other players who made up two teams, one coached by Paul Philp, the other by Colin Irish. At the end of the game, the season's awards were given out. Toby Tripalin won both Player of the Year and Players' Player trophies, with Chris Harper taking the Runner up Player of the Year award.
The final game of the season was against the victors of Division One, Oxford Devils. Oxford had beaten Solent convincingly at the beginning of the season and coach Mark Scott was hoping that the return game would give some evidence of Solent's progress in the season. In the end he was disappointed as a lacklustre Solent performance saw them lose by an almost identical score, 86 - 116 (Tripalin 31, Cunningham 23).
Solent point scorers:
Toby Tripalin 536, Chris Harper 473, Mark Scott 329, Alan Cunningham 172, Duane Laight 118, Trevor Donaldson 110, Chris St. Omer 106, Jon Rumsey 71, Chris Sheldrick 71, Eddie Owusu 59, Gareth Keene 38, Chris Blunt 32, Nosa Obadigie 23, Dimitry LaCroix 15, Alex Byrne 13, Mike Griffiths 12, Dave McKay 9, Joe Charles 7, Rob McDonald 5
* One point deducted