Otago Gold Rush head into the Women’s Basketball Championship (WBC) Finals Weekend as the top seeded team in the Tier 1 division.
The 2015 champions claimed the regular season title after they defeated Taranaki Thunder in their last regular season game.
The Gold Rush will also be boosted in the knowledge that they will carry hometown support into the playoffs as the Finals are being played at the Edgar Centre in Dunedin on 5-7 July.
Having lost two of their first three games at the opening WBC Tournament in Tauranga back in early May, Gold Rush Head Coach Todd Marshall admits winning the regular season title was not something he anticipated at that stage.
“Winning the regular season has been a nice surprise, it was not something we had on our radar over the last few weeks, we just wanted to win each game as they came along,” said Marshall.
And winning is something they have made a habit of recently, recording four consecutive wins to finish the regular season with a 5 wins, 2 losses record.
“Winning your last four games going into the finals is always good, as long as you remember why you won those games, we played well as a team and did the little things that matter,” said Marshall.
“The team has changed and grown a lot since the first tournament, both in how we wanted to play the game as well as our team’s personality and how we interacted with each other on and off the court.
“We now have a deep squad and competition for playing spots and court time is keeping everyone on their toes. The players know to get court time they need to prepare well, then play well, along with this the players and coaches know we all have each other’s backs,” he added.
The eight tier one teams are divided into two pools of four, with the top two from each progressing to the semifinals.
Gold Rush will play in Section A along with Auckland Dream, Alloyfold Canterbury Wildcats and Tauranga City Coasters.
The Wildcats have recently been boosted by the return of Tessa Boagni after her four year stint at California State University, Northridge, the defending champions keen to reverse the defeat they suffered at the hands of the Gold Rush last month.
The Dream will have Tall Fern Natalie Taylor and her sister Charmian Mellars back in their lineup and the Coasters, without a win this season, will be looking to Makayla Daysh and Courtney Wilson to guide them to an upset win or two.
Marshall acknowledges the challenge ahead of his team is significant.
“The Finals Weekend is going to be a totally new challenge, teams have added players which will strengthen their squads, it’s hard to point to any one team being the biggest threat,” he said.
Section B will feature Power Chill Waikato Country Cannons, Waikato Wizards, Harbour Breeze and Taranaki Thunder.
The Wizards have the back court pairing of Alyssa Hirawani and Charlisse Leger-Walker. The pair are the two leading scorers in the competition, both averaging over twenty points per game.
Also averaging in excess of twenty points a game is the Cannons guard Bayley Ross-Waitai who, along with Arielle Parai, Donna Fermanis and recently signed Moengaroa Subritzky, have a very experienced lineup.
Another player returning after graduating from the American college system is Harbour Breeze forward Penina Davidson. The Breeze lost the regular season encounters with the two Waikato teams and will need to defeat at least one of them to progress to the semifinals.
The Thunder, beaten finalists in 2017, will rely heavily on Lyndi Laborn if they are to repeat their success of twelve months ago. Laborn is the leading rebounder in the competition (averaging 13.9 per game) and also averages over 17 points per game.
It promises to be the most open Finals Weekend in recent history, boasting the largest number of current or former Tall Ferns and Marshall is excited at the prospect.
“We are going to be treated to seeing some players we haven’t seen in New Zealand at the WBC for a few years. Having the likes of Penina Davidson, Tessa Boagni, Natalie Taylor coming back plus Leger-Walker and our own Nicole Ruske and other new Tall Ferns all competing against each other promises to produce some excellent basketball,” said Marshall.
Tier 1 Section A:
Otago Gold Rush
Alloyfold Canterbury Wildcats
Tauranga City Coasters
Tier 1 Section B:
Power Chill Waikato Country Cannons
North Canterbury Spirit will carry the tag of favourites into the WBC Tier 2 division, which will be played alongside Tier 1. The Spirit won all three games in the opening tournament.
Spirit forward Charlotte Whittaker was the second highest scorer (18 points per game) and highest rebounder (10.3 rebounds per game).
The leading scorer was Nelson Sparks guard Jelena Vucinic. The former Tall Fern averaged 18 points a game and was ably supported by Jodi Hikuroa-Jeffrey (11 points per game).
Aroha Haumaha (14 points per game) will be key for Rotorua Lady Vols with Pareunora Pene, recently announced to be taking up a scholarship at the University of Tennessee Chattanooga later in the year, also an important cog for the Lady Vols.
Keani Shelford led the Taitokerau Northland Phoenix scoring in the opening tournament and she will be hoping to lead the team to victory.
The four teams will play a three game round robin series to decide the semifinals lineup:
North Canterbury Spirit
Rotorua Lady Vols
Taitokerau Northland Phoenix
The WBC Finals Weekend will be host by Basketball Otago at the Edgar Centre from July 5‑7. Live stream will be available from on July 6 from 10:30am and July 7 from 9am on @BasketballNZ Facebook and nz.basketball/tv .
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