WESTERN Storm kick off their Kia Super League title defence in Taunton this Sunday, and local hero Sophie Luff is looking to push on again after a promising 2017 season.

Storm announced that right-handed batter Luff, 24, would remain with the champions for 2018, and she told the County Gazette that she had no other destination in mind.

“It was a very easy decision [to stay],” she said.

“This is where I’ve spent the last two years playing, and I’m a Westcountry girl, so I’m honoured to be playing for Western Storm again.

“[Head coach] Trevor Griffin offered me a contract back in February, and I agreed pretty much straightaway.

“I don’t see myself playing for any other team – not that there was interest [from elsewhere]; hopefully I’ll play for Western Storm for the next few years.”

The Storm squad contains both England internationals – Heather Knight, Anya Shrubsole and Fran Wilson – and overseas stars – Smriti Mandhana (India), Rachel Priest (New Zealand) and Stafanie Taylor (West Indies).

But Luff, as captain of Somerset Women, is one of several talented county players who contribute a great deal to the side’s success.

She provided vital runs in the middle order in 2017, third in the Storm batting averages behind only Priest and Taylor, with 84 runs from seven matches.

Luff said: “We want to build [a strong team ethic] at Western Storm, and I think that’s what won us the championship last year.

“We have the England girls, Rachel Priest and Stafanie Taylor, but we also have good non-internationals who made the difference for us last year.

“Everyone’s done well in county cricket and deserves their contract, and so it’s just about trying to build on that and use the international players to gain experience.”

The Super League has been extended this season, with every team now playing each other home and away (as opposed to just once).

Luff said: “The challenge will be playing 10 games in quite a short space of time; the games come thick and fast.

“But I think that’s a good thing, as you can build momentum, but also you’re not out of the competition if you lose the first couple of games, which I think may have happened in the last couple of years.

“Obviously we’d love to defend our title, but I think we’ll be pretty grounded and just go about our business as we usually do.”

As well as aiming to retain that title, Luff is also looking to earn England recognition – something head coach Griffin believes is “only a matter of time” for her.

Luff added: “[England selection] has been a motivation for the last couple of years; the Super League is a great platform for me to go out there and put in a few performances to get recognised.

“We’ve got games on Sky Sports, so people might start talking about you – hopefully all good things! – and it just gets your name out there.

“I’m not involved in the England Academy this year, so I guess that’s given me a little extra motivation to prove what I can do to people.

“But I’m trying to stay quite relaxed and enjoy my cricket – and it’ll take care of itself if the call does come.”

And of course Luff, like all women’s cricketers, is also hoping to inspire the next generation.

Following on from England Women’s World Cup win last year, crowds have grown – more than 2,500 watched England’s tri-series with New Zealand and South Africa in Taunton last month – and so too have the numbers of women and girls playing the game.

Luff said: “Women’s cricket is definitely growing and there’s definitely more interest.

“I work for the Somerset Cricket Board as well, so I’m heavily involved in both the participation and performance side of things in the girls’ game.

“We’ve seen numbers grow massively over the last 12 to 18 months, probably due to the success of the England girls, but also more initiatives from the ECB.”

She hopes to see a big turnout at the Cooper Associates County Ground this Sunday, when Storm take on Yorkshire Diamonds from 2pm.

“We’ve got three games here in Taunton, which is fantastic and hopefully we’ll have a big crowd on Sunday,” she said.

“I love playing here.

“The crowd are nice and close to you; you definitely feel their support.

“For me it’s about seeing young girls come along and be inspired by the likes of Anya and Heather, and the team in general, and think that one day they can go on to make a career out of cricket.”

Burnham and Highbridge Weekly News:

JOY: Sophie Luff celebrates Western Storm's 2017 title win with Stafanie Taylor - can they help their side defend the crown this year?


SOPHIE Luff is one of 15 in this year’s Western Storm squad.

So who are her fellow Stormstroopers?

Amara Carr
Having played for Middlesex, the Devonian wicketkeeper, 24, is pushing for a spot in the team this year.

Naomi Dattani
Another Middlesex player, the all-rounder, 24, represented Surrey Stars in 2017.

Freya Davies
The 22-year-old fast bowler was an ever-present for Storm in 2016 and 2017, taking five wickets last year. She now has a rookie contract with England Women.

Danielle Gibson
Part of the England Women’s Academy programme, the 17-year-old all-rounder looks to break into the Storm side this season.

Heather Knight
The England captain, 27, is a middle order batter who bowls right-arm offbreak. Led her country to World Cup glory at Lord's last year.

Smriti Mandhana
Aged just 22, Mandhana is already opening the batting for India. Storm's new signing has 826 runs in 40 IT20s for her country.

Alice Macleod
The 24-year-old captains Berkshire, and played every match for Storm last season.

Claire Nicholas
The first Welsh player to appear in the Super League, Nicholas took eight wickets for Storm last season.

Lauren Parfitt
A Wales regular, the 24-year-old also returns to Storm having been part of the 2017 squad.

Rachel Priest
The New Zealand wicketkeeper, 33, was vital in last season’s Super League final, smashing 72 off only 36 balls.

Anya Shrubsole
Somerset medium bowler Shrubsole, 26, was England’s hero in last year’s World Cup final, taking 6-46.

Rebecca Silk
A right-handed batter, the 23-year-old also bowls off-spin, and has impressed for Devon since her 2015 debut.

Stafanie Taylor
The West Indies captain, 26, has hit more than 2,500 runs in 84 IT20 matches.

Fran Wilson
Like Heather Knight, the 26-year-old is a fixture in England’s middle order, and she also returns to Storm after helping them win the title last season.