BASKETBALL: HELSBY High hope to be crowned national basketball champions this Saturday - with sports staff believing the team well capable of coming home with the honours.
The village school's Under-16s team will take on Northampton at Hemel Hempstead - hoping they can go one better than the U15s side.
Dennis Evans, head of PE, said: 'It is always difficult against Northampton who are a big, strong and well-drilled team.
'It is going to be tough but we can win.'
The U15s, some of whom play for the older age-group side, were beaten in their England Schools competition final.
They went down 57-62 to 2005 national champions Great Baddow from Essex - despite a magnificent effort, which briefly put them ahead in the final quarter.
Mr Evans added: 'We were down by 11 in the middle of the third quarter but then went on a 15-1 charge to take the lead halfway through the last.
'But we just got tired and couldn't see the job through.
'All credit to the boys, though - it has still been a great season.'
The top-eight teams had competed at the finals weekend in London - at the International School and Brunel University.
But Helsby's energy levels were sapped by a gruelling semi final, in which they edged out Reddish Vale 59-55.
The Stockport school had been runners-up at their age group last year.
Eventual winners Great Baddow had an easier passage to the final in victory against Liverpool's Blue-coat.
Yet despite the title going south, the all-round strength of North-West schools basketball was reflected in the region providing three of the last-four survivors.
The U15s had won their North-West qualifying group before knocking out Essex's Stantonbury 97-61 to reach the two-day finals.
They lost to Great Baddow 52-63 but overcame St Martin's (Essex) 68-48 and St Matthews of Stock-port (65-31) to reach the semis.
Meanwhile, second place in the North-West League saw the U16s qualify for the national last 16.
They have since swept aside Notre Dame (Norwich) 104-67 and Hampshire's Bohunt 102-71 before taking a thrilling semi final against Ellesmere Port Catholic High, national champions for the last two years.
The winning basket in an 83-82 Cheshire derby victory at St Albans was scored with just three seconds left.