With the 2024 Paris Olympics on the horizon, Tall Ferns head coach Guy Molloy has today announced a 16-strong extended Tall Ferns squad in contention for the FIBA Olympic Qualifier Tournament in February next year.
The Tall Ferns extended squad includes: Stella Beck, McKenna Dale, Tayla Dalton, Penina Davidson, Kendell Heremaia, Lauryn Hippolite, Charlisse Leger-Walker, Krystal Leger-Walker, Esra McGoldrick, Tera Reed, Zoe Richards, Sharne Robati, Ritorya Tamilo, Kalani Purcell, Tahlia Tupaea and Lauren Whittaker.
From this extended team, a 12-player squad will be selected to travel to China from 8-11 February 2024 to participate in one of four Olympic Qualifying Tournaments. Their tournament sees them facing highly-ranked China and France in pool play, along with a yet-to-be-determined fourth team.
If the Tall Ferns make it out of their pool, they will punch a ticket to the 2024 Paris Olympics; in what would be their first Olympics appearance since 2008.
The extended squad features an abundance of talent and experience. Nine players return from New Zealand’s FIBA Women’s Asia Cup campaign earlier this year – where the Tall Ferns finished fourth overall – while 13 of the 16 athletes selected have previous Tall Ferns experience; with Robati, Whittaker and Dale all in line to make their Tall Fern debuts.
24-year-old McKenna Dale comes into this extended squad following an impressive maiden season in Tauihi, which saw her average 17.7ppg, 6.1rpg and 3.4apg over 14 games for the Whai. Basketball fans immediately took notice of Dale’s shooting prowess, after she dropped 32 points – on a blistering 8/13 shooting from outside the arc – in her first game.
Dale credits her time in Tauihi as one of the reasons she has been named to the squad, after she spent her high school and college years playing in the United States; graduating from the University of Virginia earlier this year.
“This past season I was really able to improve my game a lot in just a short couple of months – and without that kind of exposure I’m not sure I’d have been considered [for the Tall Ferns] just because I’ve been in the States for so long and was kind of out of the system. Tauihi allowed to showcase what I can do,” says Dale.
Currently playing in Australia with the WNBL’s Bendigo Spirit, Dale says that a chance to play for the Tall Ferns is a dream come true for her.
“It means so much to me and I’m very appreciative of this opportunity – obviously I haven’t been based in New Zealand for a while, so the opportunity to come back and hopefully play for New Zealand is very special to me.
“It’s always been a life-long goal of mine to try out for the Tall Ferns and represent my country; the fact it’s now a possibility is so exciting and rewarding for me. The Olympics has always been in the back of my mind too, but I never thought about it as a tangible goal – now that it’s in front of me, I hope that I can be part of the team that gets there.
“This squad is made up of some really talented players too, so I’m looking forward to getting to know them – and getting to play with them.”
Dale also played for the Junior Tall Ferns at age group level, part of the FIBA U18 Oceania Champs where she teamed up with Heremaia, McGoldrick and Reed to win silver in 2016.
“Junior Tall Ferns was a cool and unique opportunity, it was the first time I got to play with other Kiwi players and be part of a New Zealand national team squad. I saw it at the time as a good segway into one day making the Tall Ferns, and it’s cool to see so many of my old teammates are in this [extended] squad, and doing so well in their basketball careers.”
Next up for the Tall Ferns is a Development Camp with selected athletes from the extended squad, held on Auckland’s North Shore from 25-28 November.
Attending this camp will be Beck, Dale, Heremaia, Hippolite, Robati, Richards, Purcell, Tamilo, Whittaker and Krystal Leger-Walker; with Bailey Flavell, Pahlyss Hokianga and Rebecca Moors joining them as development players.
Tall Ferns Extended Squad, November 2023