As the Tampa Bay Storm enter the last leg of the regular season on Saturday versus the Orlando Predators, the young squad has become a much different team since the last matchup with their South Division rival on April 19.
At that time, the Storm had lost the second of five straight, but since they are hitting their stride and are neck-and-neck with the Predators for the top spot in the division standings.
“The chemistry is really starting to gel right now,” defensive back Jean Fanor said. “We’re having more fun on the field.”
While head coach Lawrence Samuels attributes the Storm’s success to a club that is maturing, he has been surprised by how well they have handled themselves amidst the adverse situations they’ve faced. In their last two games alone the Storm found themselves trailing in the final minute of play and also managed to stifle an opponent in overtime. In another instance, Tampa Bay was forced to play one game without starting quarterback Randy Hippeard.
“This is a young team growing up,” Samuels said. “But they are also learning and preparing how to fight through the goods and bads of a game and handling the situations in the right way.”
The Storm now have a chance to see themselves on the other side of the equation too. Since snapping their losing streak they have won four in a row and a victory Saturday would give them their first five-game win streak since the 2010 season.
“It’s the perfect time to face anyone right now,” Samuels said. “We’ve changed tremendously over the last four weeks. The Predators haven’t seen us at this level yet.”
Their success despite the challenges has not only helped them grow as a team, but can mentally prepare them for a long postseason run.
“You really don’t know what type of team you have until you go through a situation like that,” Fanor said. “The fact that we went through that and came out on top, it shows we have something great going on right now.”
If the upward trend can continue, the Storm will be in good position come the 2014 AFL playoffs. A win for Tampa Bay not only gives them their longest win streak in four years, but ties Orlando for the best record in the division.
OTHER ODDS ‘N ENDS
Hippeard has been nominated in back-to-back weeks for his accomplishments on the field. Tuesday Hippeard was awarded for his performance in overtime, where he scored the game-winning touchdown versus the Iowa Barnstormers, with the AFL Highlight of the Week. Hippeard was also nominated for the AFL MVP of the Week on June 10.
Saturday is “Local Heroes Night” at AMALIE Motor Oil Field at the Tampa Bay Times Forum as the Storm honor local heroes of the greater-Tampa Bay community. Fans will have the opportunity to view and take pictures with vehicles from the local police and fire departments as well as take part in numerous other activities.
The third installment of the “War on I-4” will air live on Bright House Sports Network (Ch. 47/HD 1147) or on ESPN3 and the WatchESPN app. Jack Harris and Darek Sharp will also be calling the game on 1250 AM WHNZ.