By Matthew Twort
Host team Wellington Boys and Harbour A Girls have won the 2016 Under-15 National Championship Tournament after two nail-biting finals took place at ASB Sports Hall.
Girls Under 15 National Championship Final
In a rematch of last year’s Under-15 Girls National Championship Tournament, Harbour A avenged their 2015 loss, beating Waikato 76-73 to win the national title in the first final of the day.
Two colossal individual performances from Girls Tournament MVP Jazzmyne Kailahi-Fulu and her team mate Jessica Moors helped bring home Harbour’s championship, with Kailahi-Fulu recording 29 points, 25 rebounds and three blocks, and Moors rounding out the game with 22 points, 16 boards and six assists.
It was a bumpy start for Harbour as foul trouble for the Kailahi-Fulu sisters, Zaaliyah and Jazzmyne, led to the duo sitting for a large chunk of the first quarter, which had been a theme of the tournament for Jazzmyne Kailahi-Fulu.
“I was in foul trouble in most of our games for the past day or two and I was just really mad at myself, knowing that I can do better with my fouls,” said Kaihali-Fulu.
Despite missing their two starters, Harbour were able to keep Waikato within touching-distance, trailing 15-11 after 10 minutes thanks to captain Emilia Shearer’s dogged play.
When Jazzmyne Kailahi-Fulu returned to the game in the second quarter, she did so with a vengeance, recording a double-double after just 11 minutes on the floor but Waikato refused to give up the lead.
Centre Dominique Stephens hauled in 11 boards and Waikato skipper Quaye Walker-Eketone contributed 12 first-half points to hand Waikato a 29-26 lead at half time.
Three minutes into the second half Harbour regained the lead and, behind influential quarters from forward Jessica Moors and Jazzmyne Kailahi-Fulu, dominated the period with a 29-16 score to be up 45-55 after three quarters.
Waikato sparked a comeback to start the final period, getting within two points of Harbour even after Walker-Eketone was fouled-out just three minutes into the fourth quarter.
Stephens, who finished the match with 12 points and 16 rebounds, worked hard for Waikato as they dug their way back into the match – an effort which was helped when Harbour captain Emilia Shearer picked up her fifth foul.
Waikato made five successive free-throws to bring the game back within one point, though, as she had done all afternoon, Jazzmyne Kailahi-Fulu steadied Harbour’s ship, grabbing an offensive rebound and hitting the put-back basket as the clock wound down to full time, seeing Harbour as the 2016 national champions, which was overwhelming for rookie head coach Millie Nathan.
“It’s crazy. This is my first time head-coaching. I was the assistant, but came head coach when the other head coach became pregnant so she couldn’t come. But it’s crazy, these girls are amazing. I’m so happy,” said Nathan not long after the final play.
Under 15 Boys National Championship Final
On the Boys side of the tournament, host city Wellington defeated Harbour A 95-83 to win the Under-15 Boys National Championship Tournament.
Finishing second in their pool after losing to Otago and coming tenth in last year’s under-15 nationals, Wellington wouldn’t have been many people’s picks to win it all but, as they had done all tournament, they came out as unlikely victors.
It was a slow start for Wellington as big man Umuumu Kaufusi picked up two quick fouls, seeing Harbour coast to an 18-5 lead through Cian Emery’s eight first-quarter points.
Off the bench Wellington’s Jared Hunter was able to drain a pair of triples, including one on the buzzer, to reduce Harbour’s lead to four after the first 10 minutes of play. Ezra Vaigafa, the Wellington guard and tournament MVP, said the bench was vital to the team’s win.
“The bench were our success. They kept on hyping us throughout the game when we were down, doing chants for us, which made us play together. This win was for them. I’m proud to be their teammates,” said Vaigafa.
As was the case in the first quarter, Harbour again had the better start, restoring a healthy 11-point advantage as Logan Gibb warmed into the game.
Harbour’s lead would remain in double-digits as the two sides headed into the half time break with Harbour up 43-33 behind Captain Dominic Chen’s 11 points and Wellington’s 16 turnovers in the opening 20 minutes.
Wellington managed to tidy up their ball-handling and got back into the game, taking the lead six minutes into the third quarter after Vaigafa kicked into gear, getting to the charity stripe with ease.
Harbour fought back as the third quarter came to a close, heading into the final quarter up 56-53 as their bench provided valuable minutes.
A real see-saw of a quarter ensued with both sides making tough shots and getting to the free-throw line.
Wellington would break the back-and-forth trend with consecutive three-pointers to Emmerson Kavakura and Vaigafa to jump to a 76-70 lead with 4:30 to play as the Wellington crowd began to get behind their team.
Spurred on by the fans’ noise, Vagafa performance began to stand out as he hounded on defence and merciless on attack. Vaigafa was the go-to guy for Wellington as they built a seven-point lead with 1:30 to play, though Kaufusi had the fan’s favourite moment as the big man corralled a missed shot, dribbled down the court and finished the coast-to-coast play which sealed the win.
Vaigafa’s 38 points, nine rebounds and six assists, including 15/20 from the free-throw line, carried Wellington to the end in a true MVP performance, though the personal award meant nothing to the guard after winning the championship.
“MVP feels good but I was just happy to win. I haven’t won a championship for Wellington and the fact that it’s in our home town – it’s a good feeling,” said Vaigafa.
Also important to the win was Emmerson Kavakura who displayed great dribbling skills on his way to 16 points and four rebounds, while Chen was Harbour’s best with 20 points and eight boards.
Speaking after the win, Wellington coach Jayden Smith was delighted with how his team came together despite being underdogs throughout the tournament.
“They just dug deep. They never gave up. There was always that attitude to compete and believe that we can go far. There was no hype around us, no-one thought we were going to go this far, but hey, here we are, top of the pedestal,” said Smith.
Girls tournament team:
Quaye Walker-Eketone - Waikato
Jazzmyne Kailahi-Fulu – Harbour A
Dominique Stephens - Waikato
Ashleigh Kells - Palmerston North
Ashlee Strawbridge - Canterbury Country
Yzabelle Tevao – Waitakere West Prems
Sila Morris - Canterbury
Caitlin O’Connell - Taranaki
Emily Shearer – Harbour A
Jessica Moors – Harbour A
Jazzmyne Kailahi-Fulu – Harbour A (MVP)
Boys tournament team:
Logan Gibb – Harbour A
Dominic Chen – Harbour A
Cian Emery – Harbour A
Emmerson Kavakura - Wellington
Harrison Payne – Waitakere West Prems
Okirano Tilaia - Canterbury
Kopere Tanoa – Palmerston North
Mac Stodart - Otago
Caleb Manaakitanga Smiler - Waikato
Ezra Vaigafa – Wellington (MVP)