Next month the Sky Sport Tall Ferns are set to play on New Zealand ground for the first time since 2015. They will play in an Olympic Qualifying series against three of Asia’s best: China, Korea and the Philippines. The top two nations will go through to the next round. And in that team will be one of the hardest working school students in sport – Charlisse Leger-Walker.
To say the Tall Ferns guard has had a busy last twenty months is an understatement. At the start of the month, the St Peter’s School Cambridge head girl lead her school to the Schick Secondary Schools National title and followed that with a Secondary Schools Netball National Championship the following week. That all came after a hectic three-week schedule which saw Leger-Walker rush back from the Tall Ferns Asia Cup campaign, held in India in late September.
“It was pretty tough on the body, particularly the last week with less time to recover. Playing three weeks non-stop is pretty demanding,” confessed Leger-Walker.
In April 2018 at just 16-years of age, Leger-Walker became the youngest ever player to play for the Sky Sport Tall Ferns when New Zealand claimed bronze at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games. Tall Ferns’ Head Coach Guy Molloy says the young talent is a standout.
“Charlisse has been an integral part of the Tall Ferns since the Comm Games in 2018. This is amazing for such a young player. She has the best touch of any player I can remember at that age. Earlier this year I really challenged her to improve her defence so she could better contain star international guards, and she responded exceptionally well. I expect she can be a core part of the Tall Ferns roster for a long time,” says Coach Molloy.
Since joining the Tall Ferns, the 18-year old has hardly had time to put her passport away. In July 2018 she was New Zealand’s leading scorer at the FIBA U17 Women’s World Cup in Belarus averaging 15 points per game. Then, in October, she averaged 13.6 points, 9.4 rebounds and 3.0 assists at the FIBA U18 Women’s Asian Championship in India. Leger-Walker’s 2019 schedule has been even more hectic.
In February she headed to Charlotte, North Carolina to attend the Basketball Without Borders (BWB) Global Camp. The BWB Global Camp is an invite-only event offered to athletes considered to be the best in their age-group from around the world.
Then it was off to Europe where St Peter’s School acquitted themselves with distinction at the ISF World Schools Championship on the island of Crete. Leger-Walker was named to the Tournament All-Star Team with St Peter’s placed a highly creditable fifth.
Next stop was another World event and again Leger-Walker was selected in the Tournament Team. New Zealand beat some powerful opponents including Russia, China and Japan on their way to winning silver at the FIBA 3×3 U18 World Cup in Mongolia in June.
Come July it was Tall Ferns duty next for Leger-Walker as the New Zealand team headed to Japan for a pair of internationals followed by the William Jones Cup in Taiwan. Leger-Walker played all seven internationals on tour with a runners-up medal claimed at the William Jones Cup
A couple of months later it was a trip back to Bangalore, India for another Tall Ferns campaign, this time the Asia Cup.
The Tall Ferns finished fifth and within 48 hours of the Asia Cup finishing Leger-Walker was in Palmerston North to help St Peter’s to their fourth Girls Schick Championship title in five years.
She and St Peter’s co-captain Ella Bradley have appeared in the grand finals in all of their five years at high school and for good measure Charlisse now has four Tournament MVP titles to adorn her trophy cabinet – an astonishing record.
The next trip for Charlisse is the rather more modest one. It will be a drive north on State Highway 1 from Cambridge to Auckland for the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament an and opportunity to wear the black singlet in front of family and friends for the first time.
“I’ve never played an international game in New Zealand before. This will be the first time playing at home which is pretty cool, it’s going to be awesome,” enthused Leger-Walker.
Despite being the youngest player in the squad Leger-Walker feels at ease in the Tall Ferns environment.
“It’s been almost a two-year process starting with the Commonwealth Games and ever since that tournament the girls have made me feel really comfortable. Also Guy [Molloy] a great coach and I just love playing for the Tall Ferns.
“Being able to learn constantly at that level is something you don’t get just playing for school and age-group teams, added Leger-Walker.
In her final term at school the timing of the tournament in Auckland is not ideal.
“The Olympic Qualifying Tournament clashes with two of my exams which I found out about a month ago. We have to talk to NZQA to ask if I can use the results from my trial exams which we did recently. I’ll be able sit my other exams because they are later in the month,” said the Year 13 student.
Following exams there will be just one more overseas trip to undertake.
In December she heads to the States for visits to American colleges as she pursues her basketball scholarship ambitions.
And to add to that, today she is in Hamilton with Tall Ferns teammates Chevannah Paalvast and Matangiroa Flavell taking a Girls Got Game session with young students from Glenview Primary School and Te Rapa Primary school – no doubt Leger-Walker will be an inspiration for those young students and many future Tall Ferns to come.
Women’s Olympic Qualifying Series in Auckland
Schedule: Day Tickets start from only $8.50 (two games per day):
• Thurs 14 Nov, 5pm. KOREA V CHINA
• Thurs 14 Nov, 7:30pm. NEW ZEALAND V PHILIPPINES
• Sat 16 Nov, 3pm. PHILIPPINES V KOREA
• Sat 16 Nov, 5:30pm. CHINA V NEW ZEALAND
• Sun 17 Nov, 3pm. PHILIPPINES V CHINA
• Sun 17 Nov, 5:30pm. KOREA V NEW ZEALAND
• What: FIBA Women’s Olympic Pre-Qualifying Tournament
• When: 14, 16 and 17 November
• Teams: Sky Sport Tall Ferns, Korea, Philippines, China
• Venue: The Trust’s Arena, Auckland
• Tickets: on at Ticketek.co.nz
• Broadcaster: Sky Sport
• Follow: @TallFerns on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Hashtags: #TallFerns #GirlsGotGame
• Watch: Live broadcast on Sky Sport
• Website: www.TallFerns.basketball