AP221020NADbball01.JPG. While they may not be the tallest, the team are certainly not short on character. Adam Pearse
Prodigious Northland basketball talents will test themselves against the nation's best this weekend.
The region's under-15 girls' and under-17 boys' basketball teams have travelled down to Waikato and Christchurch respectively to compete at their national competitions over the next three days.
The under-15 girls' team, who finished eighth last year, were in a prime position to achieve well in 2020 after qualifying top of the northern region in an earlier tournament, which saw them at the top of their pool with Tauranga, Otago and West Coast.
While last year's result fell short of expectations, hopes were high this year.
"I have heaps of faith in my team," captain Kahurangi Raharuhi said.
"[Last year] wasn't bad but it wasn't good, we didn't really get that many trainings in, whereas this year we've had heaps of trainings and camps."
The 14-year-old power forward from Kaitaia's Abundant Life School said the team, who had known each other for about three years, had great chemistry on and off the court - something that gave them an advantage.
Raharuhi was one of a 10-player team which was scattered across Tai Tokerau, with players in Kaitaia, Whatuwhiwhi, Ahipara, Kaikohe and Whangārei. The spread meant full team trainings were a rarity.
However, they had been able to get vital game time against northern region teams through weekend tournaments in Auckland.
Fortunately, the team's transport and accommodation costs had been largely funded by Te Rarawa Social Services, Kaitaia Basketball Association, Cameron Basketball Academy and Northland Basketball Association.
Coach Freda Riwai said she and the team were very grateful for the support from Northland's communities.
"[The team] are super excited but super nervous because they feel a lot of pressure," she said.
"A lot of people believe in them and our communities have got in behind these girls."
Riwai, who admitted this year had been tough given the restrictions posed by Covid-19, said she hoped for a top-four finish, which would make all the travel and preparation worthwhile.
"It's just about who, after Covid-19, really put in the work.
"I just want the kids to be successful because at the end of the day, I feel like our area has the most against us purely because of logistics."
The challenge posed by geographical spread was also true for the under-17 boys' team.
The team's 10 players hailed from Kaitaia, Whangārei, Kerikeri, Ruakākā and Whangaruru - which meant team training held on Friday often saw players stay overnight in Whangārei to train again the next morning, simply to make their trip worthwhile.
"The spread is pretty wide so we don't get a lot of chances to come together as a team, but we try not to use that as a factor for what our results are," under-17 coach Johnny Sadler said.
The Northland team came fourth in a qualifying tournament about two months ago, which saw them advance to the national competition in a pool with Waitakere West and Taranaki. During qualifying, Northland faced an imposing Waitakere team who were national champions in 2019.
However, the boys from Tai Tokerau battled hard and took the game into overtime, where the Auckland side eventually prevailed. Sadler said the experience taught the team a valuable lesson ahead of nationals.
"We tell our boys that when we get on the court that it's anybody's game, it doesn't matter where they're placed, it's about who's turned up to play and I think we've put the work in, we've done what we need to do, so we're looking forward to it."
Sadler said at the beginning of the year, the team set what he thought was a realistic goal to make the top eight at nationals, eight places better than last year.
"Throughout the year, we've actually started playing these teams, playing the bigger teams and starting to edge closer to them, that goal definitely seems a reality for us."
Tai Tokerau under-15 girls basketball team:
Kahurangi Raharuhi (captain)
Te Rina Cameron-Tana
Freda Riwai (coach)
Jaimee Tito (assistant coach)
Karen Riwai (manager)