Former Rotorua Girls' High School head girl Pareunuora Pene is set to chase her basketball dreams in the United States.
The 18-year-old has received a scholarship to play for and study at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. She left New Zealand on Saturday.
"I went through Custom College Recruiting, which is a company that helps student athletes be recruited by colleges in America. I was speechless when I found out, but super excited and happy.
"Around the end of last year, my last year at high school, I started looking at doing this."
She is the fifth of six sisters in a basketball-mad family. Her parents, Sue and Darrell Pene, are also heavily involved with Rotorua Basketball.
"I've learned so much about teamwork [through playing basketball] and I just can't see myself not playing the sport. I think I'm able to read the floor and make plays, as well as directing my teammates on court."
This season Pene played point guard for the Rotorua Basketball Volcanoes who made the New Zealand Women's Basketball Tier 2 grand final in July, but fell 85-57 to the North Canterbury Spirit. She shot five from 11 in the final with 10 points, two rebounds and a steal. In Rotorua's semifinal win over the Nelson Sparks, she shot 50 per cent for 10 points with four rebounds, an assist and two steals.
Pene averaged 9.1 points per game and four rebounds per game during the eight-game competition. She ranked fourth in the league in steals with 1.8 per game and averaged 1.3 assists. She shot 40 per cent from the field and made four out of 14 three-pointers.
"It was good to make the final, but we came up short in that last game. I think we learned about mental toughness, if we'd been more in the game mentally, we definitely could've won it.
"I'm very competitive, especially with my sisters, four of them were in the team with me. It's kind of cool, but at the same time we fight and argue, like any siblings, so that's a bit hard. They have taught me a lot, watching them play, I've picked up a lot.
"My mum, especially, has helped me a lot. She has been my biggest supporter and motivator, she's always supporting us. My dad helps me with educating, he did a lot of reading up on the different colleges in the States."
The Chattanooga Lady Mocs play in the Southern Conference of America's NCAA Division 1.
"It's a bit scary, because it's the top division, a little intimidating, but I'll just work hard and try to do my best. It will be good to see how their style of play is because I know it's very different to New Zealand. They're very aggressive and the level of play is much higher.
"I'm rooming with seniors over there, so I think I can pick up a lot of tips and hopefully they can help me with my play. Also my coaches, I'll take in everything they say and work on improving my game."
While much of her focus will be on playing the sport she loves, Pene is well aware of the importance of education and will study psychology while at the university.
"That's really important to me, even my coaches say the academics come first, before anything, and I love that. So did my parents.
"I'm also excited about just going somewhere new and experiencing a new culture, I love travelling."
In her announcement of the acquisition of Pene, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga women's basketball head coach Katie Burrows said she was excited about coaching her.
"We are so excited to bring Pare to Chattanooga. Her toughness and high IQ won us over. I also love the fact that she is used to a more physical style of play. That will challenge her teammates and our opponents. She'll be fun to coach."