SOPHIE Luff was full of praise for her Western Storm side, following the conclusion of this summer’s Rachael Heyhoe-Flint Trophy.

Luff, who had already gained leadership experience as Somerset Women’s captain, took over as Storm skipper for the 50-over competition.

Shorn of England internationals Heather Knight and Anya Shrubsole for the majority of the tournament, Storm still impressed with a young team - only being denied top spot in the South Group by Southern Vipers, who went on to win the final and lift the trophy.

“I wasn’t sure how we would do going into the tournament, as the group looked very tough,” Luff told the County Gazette.

“We have a young side with exciting talents, and I think in a year or two years we can be a real force to be reckoned with.

“We were very close to [Vipers] - they won both meetings but those swung on a few key moments.

“On paper there’s not much between the teams, and our match at the Ageas Bowl was one of the best games in the tournament.”

Luff highlighted Alex Griffiths and Nat Wraith (both aged 18) as two players who had really stepped up this year, while Emma Corney (16) and Wellington School student Niamh Holland (15) had also impressed.

“Emma and Niamh hadn’t expected to play, but they started every game,” Luff added.

“They brought great energy to the group, and they have a lot to offer in the future.”

Luff was in fine form herself, with the 26-year-old putting together a string of half-centuries after moving up the batting order to number three, and scoring her first Storm century against South East Stars.

She said: “There was nothing too technical that I changed, though lockdown did give me the opportunity to look at a few things.

“I think it was more of a mindset thing, with it being 50 overs [rather than 20] I knew I had time to come in and build an innings.

“Batting at three also helped me.”

Luff’s focus now turns to her first winter as a full-time professional cricketer, which she describes as “a really exciting opportunity”.

She will train in Bristol three times a week, meaning that her coaching career is to take a back seat while she aims to develop her own game over the next 12 months.