By Matthew Twort
The Basketball New Zealand under 15 National basketball championships are being played in Wellington this week, with one young player showing great dominance over more experienced and older competition.
At only 13 years of age, OConnell has muscled her way through the National Championships with her Taranaki team mates, and theyre now two wins away from a National title, although some big obstacles stand in their way in three other very talented teams in the other semi-final spots. Yet being the underdog is something OConnell seems to ignore.
Earlier this month OConnell represented New Zealand in the Under 16s at the Australian State Championships. In the build-up to the New Zealand team being selected, OConnell thought her chances of making the final roster were over after missing out on the second trial for the squad. Instead OConnell was placed in the Koru team, a development side including players who missed out on Under-16 and Under-16 A honours.
Yet ever the optimist, OConnell clearly caught the eye of national selectors while playing for the Koru team. She was soon after recalled to take part in another NZ Under 16s trial. Again, standing out from her opposition, OConnell defied the odds and was unexpectedly selected in the top U16 New Zealand team. "I didnt think I would get in, at all," she says. "It was really surprising."
After making the national U16s squad, OConnell travelled to Melbourne with the tea, to compete in the Australian State Championships, winning four of their six pool games to qualify for the knockout stages. On her way there, the Sacred Heart College New Plymouth student drew some attention with her performances in the first and last pool games.
To open the tournament, OConnell posted 11 points, seven rebounds and three assists - the second-top numbers in her team for each statistic. This was then followed up in the sides 68-57 win over South Australia Country as OConnell recorded 10 points, four boards and two assists before leading her team in assists as New Zealand won a seventh place finish over Queensland North.
Now back in New Zealand at the Nationals, OConnell is hoping that her and her Taranaki side can go several steps further in the 2016 Under 15 National Championship, hoping to win it all, saying "If we work together I think we can win."
The day one results in Wellington suggested a championship title is a real possibility. Taranakis opening match against Southland was comfortable for OConnells side, winning 91-38 as OConnell contributed 13 points. Later that day Taranaki continued their hot run as they took care of Gisborne 70-47, with OConnell again surpassing double-digits to score 12 points. They finished at the top of their pool with a win over Wellington 78-48, with OConnell contributing 11 points, and a win over Rotorua 68-46. Into the playoffs this morning and Taranaki won their quarter final against Canterbury country - 88-55. They will now face Waikato in the semi-final, which will be livestreamed on
OConnell will be a player to watch in these finals. Though she is also hoping for continued rise for the team, on a personal note she hopes to make the tournament team before dreaming one day to play college basketball in the United States, while also progressing higher up the nation team ranks.