Girls march to Counties Manukau basketball title despite having a limited number of players to choose from.
The Papakura High School girls' Under 19 basketball team are a shining example of triumph over adversity.
They won the Counties Manukau girls' Under 19 grade this season, reeling off 11 wins in a row - usually with just six players to choose from.
Furthermore, they generally trained as a team only on Monday afternoons ahead of their Tuesday night games. But they played it smart tactically, slowing the game down, staying clear of foul trouble, and ultimately coming up trumps.
Now, they are eyeing a competitive 2015 season in the Counties Manukau open grade, where they will come up against more seasoned, taller opponents from bigger schools.
The spine of the team was captain Kisa Malakai (the only year 13 student), Reaghan Hura and Rachel Harris. They had tasted rep basketball and brought nous and skill. The others lifted to try to reach their standard.
Harris, a gifted shooter in her own right, believes the side can perform in the higher grade next season.
"It'll be a great opportunity for us to play harder teams and see where we stand. I think we'll do all right," she said in understated fashion.
Aorere was their toughest opposition, she felt, and Papakura won both games against them, 35-25 and 49-36 to seal the championship. No side got within seven of them, even though most ran full or longer benches.
Centre Malakai was a top rebounder who seldom missed a lay-up. She was the glue for this tight group.
Coach Abraham Warren was assisted by Papakura High sports co-ordinator Kieran Gutry.
"It was hard to see the other teams have so many subs and we had only one, so it was about trying to keep the girls safe so they wouldn't get tired. They were tired, but stubborn, and didn't want to leave the floor. But they did well," said Warren.
Some of the motivation for the team came from the sudden death of Papakura year 10 student Sione Nau, a student of Warren's. They wore black armbands in his honour.
The experienced trio of Malakai, Smith and Hura was vital, but they also brought the requisite aggression against taller, harder opponents.
"I've got a couple of girls here who are gentle. Sometimes the coach would yell at them and tell them to get their heads in the game. But I see that as my role, to keep encouraging the girls," added Warren.
"I trained the girls, as soon as they were in the key, never mind bouncing the ball, just shoot and focus on the backboard." Those tactics paid dividends, and there was some hot scoring, notably in the 61-14 crushing of St Kentigern.
Warren knows what is required for Papakura to be competitive next year with the big guns of Counties Manukau schoolgirl basketball.
"It's going to take a bit more work. Obviously other teams will take note, so they use their height, weight and aggression against us. If I can get my girls to regularly come to training, we'll give them a run for their money. It would be nice, though, to have more height." And more players.
Hura would often bring the ball up the floor. She said there was not necessarily a staunch commitment to win the competition at the start of the season from what appears to be a laidback side, especially with the lack of depth. "We just wanted to get the best out of how we wanted to play. To come out on top was quite a surprise."