The last time Saint Kentigern College Girl’s made a Secondary Schools National Championship appearance, their point guard was a wide-eyed Year 13 with aspirations to gain a basketball scholarship in the States.
That was back in 2015, when a young Darci Finnigan was dreaming of a basketball career. Fast forward seven years, and the very same Darci Finnigan is now head coach for the Saint Kentigern College Girl’s team.
Now with a two-year experience at Northeastern Junior College tucked firmly in the memory bank – and an accountancy career in its formative stages – the Saint Kentigern College alumni is looking forward to leading her squad to glory in 2022.
“Personally, as a player, it was the big one, the tournament you looked forward to all year – the best of times,” says Finnigan.
“It’s now really cool to be coaching the girl’s team and taking them down for the school’s first visit to Nationals since 2015 – it’s very exciting.
“There are a couple of girls who want to take their game further, looking to go to the US and this gives them a further opportunity to get looked at and to showcase their talents.
“When I played at Nationals we were never a top-flight team, we were the kind of side that just hung around and were annoying! But we had three consecutive trips to Nationals [from 2013 to 2015].”
Finnigan would like to change that narrative moving forward.
“It’s a process; in my first year I think we came in the bottom four [actually a creditable 13th in 2013], and then we started making the top 16. We never made the top eight back then, but that’s the goal I have for this group moving forward.
“I know that will probably take a couple of years so my goal for this year is to finish in the top 16 – if we can do that I know we’ll have a lot of fun!”
One enduring memory Darci retains is the occasion that Saint Kentigern’s claimed a major scalp.
“In my second season at Nationals we beat Rangitoto College by 2 or 3 points, with that talented Rangitoto team featuring future Tall Ferns Penina Davidson, Ella Fotu and Olivia Berry [now Finnigan’s assistant coach at Saint Kentigern].
“Those are the sort of moments you live for at Secondary Schools Nationals – you can beat any team on any given day, as long as you show up with the right attitude.
“I want to instill in this team that there is so much fun to be had, and learnings to be acquired, especially with such a young group.”
One person who hasn’t been at all surprised by Finnigan’s coaching success so far is her former St Kentigern College coach, Colin Driscoll.
“I first met Darci as a Year 10 soccer player – she hung around the gym wanting to pick up enough confidence to have a go. Finally she did – not the most athletic player but boy did she give it a go,” says Driscoll.
“To me that is one of the things that defines Darci, she is prepared to give it a go. She was always asking questions, show me again, where does this work, what if they do this, what’s next?
“She wants to know, not just the basics but all the little things that make the game easier – she asks the smart questions.”
Driscoll believes the future is bright for his former player, as he has witnessed her growth as a leader.
“She challenged those around her, coaches, players, boys and girls, to become better – she inspires others and is fun to be around. I see Darci as an overachiever who is destined to have an impact on others, both on and off the court.”
For now Finnigan accepts her coaching is in its infancy and sees the upcoming Secondary School Nationals as another opportunity to build her knowledge base.
“Who knows where my coaching journey will take me, but I want to go as far as I can with it – going to Nationals is the next step.”
She’s certainly made some strides in the last few months as she has taken the responsibility of coaching at not just one alma mater but two.
In addition to guiding Saint Kentigern through the Zone I Premiership Qualifying Tournament – to gain a spot at Secondary School Nationals – she recently piloted AUT to its inaugural Women’s Tertiary Championship.
Bruce Meyer (Manager – AUT Recreation, Sport Development & Athlete Support) knows Finnigan better than most, having been her rugby coach for a number of years as well as witnessing her represent AUT as a player, in addition to her taking the coaching reins.
“Darci graduated from AUT with a Business Degree after returning from the USA; she played for AUT and I think she found her love of basketball again and then came back to be head coach this year,” says Meyer.
“Darci’s coaching style is direct, firm but fair, she adapts her style to motivate individual players as needed which makes them want to play well for her. These qualities, combined with a strong understanding of the game shone through as the AUT Women’s team claimed the Tertiary Championship.
“AUT are super proud that Darci, as an alumni, decided to give back to the university. It shows her commitment to communities she is involved in when you consider her coaching success with both St Kentigern’s and now AUT.”
For Finnigan, who also player-coached the Etco Auckland Dream to the D League Championship, her focus now switches to Palmerston North and the AA Girls National Championship.
“The memories will start flooding back when I get to Palmy,” Finnigan admitted. “The nerves will definitely kick in ahead of the opening game.”
And playing basketball is still on the radar for Finnigan as well, as she will suit up for the Auckland Dream in next month’s Schick 3×3 Cup in Invercargill; having been part of the championship-winning side in the inaugural 2020 event.
Saint Kentigern College girls teams have appeared at Nationals on five previous occasions with a best place finish of 12th in 2014.
Saint Kentigern College boy’s teams have appeared at Nationals on six previous occasions. They were the overall winners in 2019 and bronze medallists in 2018.