By Matthew Twort.
The Basketball New Zealand under 15 National basketball championships are being played in Wellington this week, with one young player showing great dominance over more experienced and older competition.
At only 13 years of age, Caitlin O’Connell has muscled her way through the National Championships with her Taranaki team mates, and they’re now two wins away from a National title, although some big obstacles stand in their way in three other very talented teams in the other semi-final spots. Yet being the underdog is something O’Connell seems to ignore.
Earlier this month O’Connell represented New Zealand in the Under 16s at the Australian State Championships. In the build-up to the New Zealand team being selected, O’Connell thought her chances of making the final roster were over after missing out on the second trial for the squad. Instead O’Connell was placed in the Koru team, a development side including players who missed out on Under-16 and Under-16 ‘A’ honours.
Yet ever the optimist, O’Connell clearly caught the eye of national selectors while playing for the Koru team. She was soon after recalled to take part in another NZ Under 16s trial. Again, standing out from her opposition, O’Connell defied the odds and was unexpectedly selected in the top U16 New Zealand team. “I didn’t think I would get in, at all,” she says. “It was really surprising.”
After making the national U16s squad, O’Connell travelled to Melbourne with the team to compete in the Australian State Championships, winning four of their six pool games to qualify for the knockout stages. On her way there, the Sacred Heart College New Plymouth student drew some attention with her performances in the first and last pool games.
To open the tournament, O’Connell posted 11 points, seven rebounds and three assists – the second-top numbers in her team for each statistic. This was then followed up in the side’s 68-57 win over South Australia Country as O’Connell recorded 10 points, four boards and two assists before leading her team in assists as New Zealand won a seventh place finish over Queensland North.
Now back in New Zealand at the Nationals, O’Connell is hoping that her and her Taranaki side can go several steps further in the 2016 Under 15 National Championship, hoping to win it all, saying “if we work together I think we can win.”
The day one results in Wellington suggested a championship title is a real possibility. Taranaki’s opening match against Southland was comfortable for O’Connell’s side, winning 91-38 as O’Connell contributed 13 points. Later that day Taranaki continued their hot run as they took care of Gisborne 70-47, with O’Connell again surpassing double-digits to score 12 points. They finished at the top of their pool with a win over Wellington 78-48, with O’Connell contributing 11 points, and a win over Rotorua 68-46. Into the playoffs this morning and Taranaki won their quarter final against Canterbury country – 88-55. They will now face Waikato in the semi-final, which will be livestreamed on www.nzherald.co.nz/basketball at 2:15pm.
O’Connell will be a player to watch in these finals. Though she is also hoping for continued rise for the team, on a personal note she hopes to make the tournament team before dreaming one day to play college basketball in the United States, while also progressing higher up the nation team ranks.
Follow the event
See the U15s Day 3 draw here.
U15 Web Page
Live Streaming Court 4