March Madness: Kiwis Progress in the Big Dance

In our second March Madness roundup, we focus on the achievements of the Portland University women’s basketball programme – which boast three Kiwi athletes.

Junior wing Emme Shearer and freshman guard Melika Samia will be accompanying Charlisse Leger-Walker to the NCAA Tournament, after Portland University Pilots upset top seed Gonzaga to claim the West Coast Tournament Championship.

Shearer had 9 points, 3 rebounds and 3 steals as Portland came from 11 points down at half-time to win 64-60. It was a huge win for Portland against the #16 ranked team in the nation, as Gonzaga had won both games in the regular season and were looking for a championship three-peat.

The former Harbour and Westlake Girls High wing has had an excellent season and deservedly won All-West Coast Conference recognition for the second time in her career. Having made the freshman team back in 2020-21, this season she received an honorable mention after averaging 10 ppg and 3.8 rpg while shooting the 3-ball at a healthy 40% clip.

The third Kiwi on the Portland squad is 2022 New Zealand U18 representative Florence Dallow, who is supporting the team from the bench as she is redshirting the 2022-23 season.


Other NCAA Division I Women’s news

Ashlee Strawbridge and the New Mexico State Aggies exited the Western Athletic Conference Tournament in the most dramatic fashion, beaten at the buzzer 62-61 by Southern Utah.

With Strawbridge contributing 6 points and 7 rebounds, the Aggies appeared semi-final bound as they led 61-56 with 8 seconds to play. But in a finish befitting the craziness of March Madness the Aggies saw Utah make an And-1 play, missed two free throws of their own to seal the win before their opponents nailed a heart-breaking 3-pointer as time elapsed.

Back in the West Coast Conference, BYU made it through to the semi-finals where they were defeated by Gonzaga 79-64. Arielle Mackey-Williams had 5 points, 5 assists and 3 steals while Kaylee Smiler tallied 6 points in the loss. BYU will have to wait until the weekend to see if they have earned selection for any of the major end of season tournaments.

Something had to give in the first round of the Big West Conference, where Grace Hunter and California State University Bakersfield Roadrunners lined up against Rochelle Fourie and California State University Northridge. Former Manawatu forward Fourie scored 4 points but it was underdogs Bakersfield that prevailed winning 55-52. Bakersfield created a major upset in the second round; the #9 seeded team taking down top seed UC Irvine 61-59 in double overtime.

Aimee Book and Fresno State Bulldogs were defeated 65-53 by Nevada in the opening round of the Mountain West Conference Tournament. Book scored 15 points in her 126th and final Division 1 game whilst taking her career points tally to 1,249. Those numbers place her seventh highest on the Kiwi women’s all-time Division I points scoring list and eighth for games played.


NCAA Division I Men

Sam Mennenga pulled down 8 rebounds to go with 12 points, as Davidson College Wildcats defeated St Bonaventure in Atlantic 10 Tournament play.

With early exits from Conference Tournaments, the curtain has come down on some distinguished college careers in the past few days: The South Dakota Coyotes were pipped 78-60 by North Dakota State in the quarter-finals of the Summit League, the defeat bringing the curtain down on the career of Kruz Perrott-Hunt. The next time we see Perrott-Hunt in action could well be in the Sal’s NBL.

The same may be said for Callum McRae. The Manawatu native led Sacramento State in style with 16 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists but it wasn’t enough to get the Hornets the win, beaten 70-64 by Weber State in the Big Sky Conference quarter-finals.

Tobias Cameron had 8 points and 5 rebounds as Abilene Christian bowed out of the Western Athletic Conference Tournament at the first hurdle, downed 69-62 by California Baptist.

All three have produced outstanding records playing over 100 NCAA Division 1 games. Perrott-Hunt played 108 games, McRae made 124 appearances (99 as a starter) while Cameron has set the all-time record for appearances by a New Zealander in Men’s NCAA Division I basketball – 142 in a five year career. McRae and Perrott-Hunt are also amongst the only five Kiwi men to have scored over 1,000 points at the highest level of the American collegiate game:


        1,454 Kirk Penney (University of Wisconsin, 1999-2003)
        1,265 Callum McRae (UC Riverside 2018-22, Sacramento State 2022-23)
        1,116 Tai Webster (University of Nebraska, 2013-17)
        1,114 Craig Bradshaw (Winthrop University, 2003-7)
        1,104 Kruz Perrott-Hunt (University of South Dakota, 2019-23)


NCAA Division II Women

Ella Bradley and Hannah Wentworth will be flying the New Zealand flag at the NCAA Division II Women’s National Championship. Bradley and her University of Texas at Tyler Patriots teammates will meet Colorado School of Mines in the First Round, while Wentworth’s Eckerd College will face Nova Southeastern. It’s the second consecutive year that Wentworth – the former Harbour and Rangitoto College player – has made the National Champs, while for Eckerd it is the sixth straight year they have advanced from Sunshine State Conference play.

Bradley, a four-time Secondary Schools National Championship winner with St Peter’s School Cambridge, is in her first season with the Patriots who will make their debut appearance at the Division II National Champs.


NCAA Division II Men

The sole Kiwi representative in the Men’s Division II National Tournament is Ashburton’s Josh Lowe. The 6’8” senior forward will line up for Lee University Flames, as they take on fellow Gulf South Conference members West Georgia on Saturday. The Cantabrian has started 16 of 24 games this season.


NAIA National Championship

Sophomore forward Monique Stephens and Rocky Mountain College were, for the second year running, competing at the NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics) Women’s National Championships. The #11 ranked Rocky overcame #6 Menlo College 68-62 in the first round, with Stephens grabbing a team-high 6 rebounds to go with her 2 points. However Rocky found the going too tough in the second round, going down 67-50 to Lewis-Clark State. The former Waikato and St Peter’s School forward secured 8 rebounds along with 6 points and 3 blocks in the defeat, which ends the season for RMC.


Junior College Women

The Mafua sisters were major contributors as #10 ranked Dodge City College reached the semi-finals of the Region 6 Tournament with a 67-63 win against Independence. Leah Mafua added 8 rebounds to 17 points while Jenna Rose Mafua scored 10 points.

In Division 2 play, Hayley Dawson scored 6 points (2/2 3PG) as Jamestown College were beaten in a thrilling Region 3 Grand Final 65-60 by Niagara County.


Junior College Men

Boston Caldwell was named to the All-Yankee Conference First Team after averaging 15.8 points per game, shooting the 3-ball at an impressive 42.5% for Central Maine Mustangs. Despite carrying the #1 seeding, the Mustangs were pipped 62-59 by #4 Southern Maine in the conference semi-finals. The 2022 Auckland Tuatara squad member capped a fine freshman season with 11 points and 9 rebounds in the defeat – he finished the campaign as the leading scorer for the Mustangs with 328 points in 21 appearances.

Former Mt Albert Grammar forward Nate Wilson tallied 6 points, 7 rebounds (5 offensive), a steal and a block as South Georgia Tech Jets lost 84-69 to neighbours South Georgia State in the Georgia Collegiate Athletic Association play-offs.


Headed to National Champs

Charlisse Leger-Walker, Washington State Cougars

Emme Shearer, Melika Samia & Florence Dallow, Portland University Pilots

Ella Bradley, University of Texas at Tyler Patriots

Hannah Wentworth, Eckerd College

Josh Lowe, Lee University Flames


Who’s Still In Conference Tournaments:

Grace Hunter, California State University Bakersfield Roadrunners

Sam Mennenga, Davidson College Wildcats

Leah Mafua & Jenna Rose Mafua, Dodge City College

Ben Gold, Marquette University Blue Demons

Akiva McBirney-Griffin, University of California Irvine

Flynn Cameron, UC Riverside

Hayley Dawson, Jamestown College


 Who’s Out:

Ashlee Strawbridge, New Mexico State Aggies

Arielle Mackey-Williams & Kaylee Smiler, Brigham Young University*

Rochelle Fourie, California State University Northridge

Aimee Book, Fresno State Bulldogs

Kruz Perrott-Hunt, South Dakota Coyotes

Callum McRae, Sacramento State

Tobias Cameron, Abilene Christian

Monique Stephens, Rocky Mountain College

Boston Caldwell, Central Maine Mustangs

Nate Wilson, South Georgia Tech Jets

Helen Matthews, Wofford College Terriers

Tayla Dalton, Amy West & Jade Kirisome, St Mary’s College

Corey Le’aupepe, Menlo College

Nico Hill, Missouri Baptist University

Aniwaniwa Tait-Jones, Hawaii at Hilo University Vulcans 

Kael Robinson & Maxim Stephens, Rocky Mountain College

Monique Stephens, Rocky Mountain College


* Awaiting other results to see if they can still progress