SOPHIE Luff had plenty of encouragement to take from Somerset Women’s 2021 campaign, as she prepares for the start of another season with Western Storm.

Somerset secured top spot in the ECB Women’s County T20 West Midlands Group, with five wins and only one defeat from their eight matches.

There were strong performances across the board, with spin bowler Lorraine Szczepanski their leading wicket-taker with 13, and Georgia Hennessy excelling with bat and ball.

Hennessy and Luff ensured that Somerset’s batting packed a punch throughout the competition, with the former scoring 261 runs in six matches, at an average of 52.20.

All in all, it was a season which made the captain “very happy”.

“We played some really good cricket, and were lucky to play as much as we did [given the wet weather],” Luff told the County Gazette.

“We had a lot of contributions from a lot of people - Georgia was outstanding, and Lorraine Szczepanski was stellar against Berkshire, as was Nicole Harvey.

“We have a real nice blend of youth and experience now - that can only be a good thing and it shows that the pathway is working.

“We have a few professional cricketers, who act as role models for the others, and there are other players on the Western Storm Academy programme, or striving to be on it.”

On Hennessy’s form, she added: “Georgia is back loving cricket after taking a break from the game.

“She’s one of my best friends in the game, so it’s great to see her loving it.

“She has a lot of variation with the ball, and she’s always up for the battle with the bat.”

Luff will link up her Somerset team-mates Hennessy and Nat Wraith once again this weekend, as Western Storm begin their Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy (50-over) campaign at home to the Thunder team which represents the North West of England (today, 10.30am, at the Bristol County Ground).

Storm will also have three England internationals - Katie George, Heather Knight and Anya Shrubsole - available for their first three 50-over fixtures.

Storm came close to reaching the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy final last year, only to be edged out by eventual champions Southern Vipers, and Luff is determined to improve on that in 2021.

“We want to be as successful as possible, and win silverware,” the skipper said.

“We had a good record in the Kia Super League, but last year we didn’t achieve what we wanted to.

“Hopefully this year we will be stronger, and the squad is shaping up well.”

On a personal level, Luff is looking to keep improving her own game, with the benefit of being able to train full-time as one of 41 female cricketers awarded full-time contracts with the England & Wales Cricket Board (ECB) last year.

“It was my dream for a long time [to be a full-time cricketer],” Luff said.

“I’m enjoying every second of it and embracing the opportunity.

“It’s been challenging in the pandemic, but I can’t thank Western Storm, the counties and the staff enough for enabling us to get the training in.

“I’m looking to use the work I’ve put in over the winter in these [Western Storm] games, and try to utilise some new options.”

After the Storm season comes the launch of The Hundred - a men’s and women’s franchise tournament which was postponed from its intended start date last summer.

Luff is part of the Welsh Fire women’s squad, and says The Hundred has the potential to be a “huge tournament, especially for the women’s game”.

“To have men and women associated with the same franchise is important for our game,” she added.

“I feel that it can only help me as a player, in developing my game.”

Western Storm fixtures

Saturday, May 29: Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy - Western Storm v Thunder (Bristol County Ground)

Monday, May 31: Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy - Central Sparks v Western Storm (Edgbaston)

Saturday, June 5: Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy - South East Stars v Western Storm (Kia Oval)

Saturday, June 12: Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy - Western Storm v Southern Vipers (Cooper Associates County Ground, Taunton)

Saturday, June 26: Women’s Regional T20 - Western Storm v Sunrisers (County Ground, Taunton)

Saturday, July 3: Women’s Regional T20 - Thunder v Western Storm (Chester Boughton Hall CC)

Saturday, July 10: Women’s Regional T20 - Western Storm v Northern Diamonds (County Ground, Taunton)

Wednesday, August 25: Women’s Regional T20 - Western Storm v Thunder (Sophia Gardens)

Saturday, August 28: Women’s Regional T20 - Northern Diamonds v Western Storm (Emirates Riverside)

Monday, August 30: Women’s Regional T20 - Sunrisers v Western Storm (Fenner's, Cambridge)

Friday, September 10: Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy - Northern Diamonds v Western Storm (Riverside)

Sunday, September 12: Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy - Western Storm v Lightning (Bristol County Ground)

Saturday, September 18: Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy - Western Storm v Sunrisers (Bristol County Ground)