Two codes in one week for talented Wellington duo

COMING THROUGH: Junior Tall Ferns squad member Tegan Graham on the attack for Wellington Girls’ in the premier one girls basketball final against Hutt Valley High School.
COMING THROUGH: Junior Tall Ferns squad member Tegan Graham on the attack for Wellington Girls’ in the premier one girls basketball final against Hutt Valley High School.

Tegan Graham and Caitlin Grice are splitting their time and their codes this week.

The pair will play their part as Wellington Girls' attempt to qualify for the national championships in both netball and basketball.

Grice and Graham will play for Wellington Girls over the first three days of the lower North Island regional netball championships, which began in Hastings on Monday, before flying to New Plymouth, via Auckland, for the regional basketball tournament.

Caitlin Grice
Caitlin Grice

They will miss the opening day of the basketball tournament, which ends on Saturday, while the netball tournament goes through to Friday.

The top five netball teams qualify for the nationals, with the top six qualifying for the basketball nationals.

It has not always been possible to play in both the netball and basketball nationals but the tournaments will be played in separate weeks this year.

Wellington Girls take the local bragging rights for both codes into the lower North Island tournaments.

The netball team beat St Mary's in the regional final last week, three days before the senior basketball side won the Sharp Cup by beating Hutt Valley High School 58-40 in the premier one final.

Hutt Valley were in both the boys and girls basketball finals and came away with a title, after the boys upset the previously unbeaten St Pat's Town 74-68.

Basketball has always been Graham's priority but she enjoys her time on the netball court, where she plays as a goal attack or wing attack, while Grice is usually at centre.

"Basketball is definitely No 1 but netball is a lot of fun and I have a lot of friends who play netball," Graham said.

"They are very different sports but playing both helps my general fitness. Hypothetically, netball is a non-contact game but there is quite a bit of contact and I love that aspect."

Graham, who turned 17 last month, has made a string of provincial and national basketball teams. She has been a New Zealand under-17 and under-18 rep and was named in the tournament team after last year's secondary school championships, as a year 11.

She is also a member of the Junior Tall Ferns squad which is preparing for the Oceania championships in Fiji in late October. The 14-member squad will be reduced to 10 for the Oceania tournament.

Wellington Girls', who were unbeaten in the Wellington basketball competition, lost just one match when finishing fifth at the nationals last year and have retained the starting five from last year, in a squad with real depth.

"It would be a massive dream to win the nationals," Graham said. "That's definitely a big goal and I hope a realistic one.

"We have got the starting team from last year, plus Lyric [Dixon] and a lot of talent from last year's juniors - it's exciting."

It was the fourth successive Sharp Cup final for Wellington Girls, all against Hutt Valley, and their second title over that period.

Defence has been a key to their success this year, with no team scoring more than 45 points against them over 12 games, and Hutt Valley's Emilini Motu, the second highest points scorer in the premier grade, was kept to 11 points in the final.

Grice was the leading scorer for Wellington Girls, with 13 points, while Graham, who had a major influence on the game, recorded 12 and Shalae Salmon 10.

"Lyric and Tiare [Ngata] were two other standouts," coach Steve Graham said. "Lyric is always outstanding defensively and Tiare was hitting her outside shot.

"Shalae also had a good game. She's about six [foot] three now and a legitimate big, with a lot of skills around the hoop."

The Hutt Valley boys team lost four games over the season but peaked at the right time and reserved their best for the finals series.

"We have been one of the most inconsistent teams in the Wellington competition and in some ways were lucky to be in the top four," Hutt Valley coach Shawn Beck said.

"But it was really nice to put two games together and we do have a talented team."

The Hutt Valley squad includes Wellington under-19 reps Jordan Hunt, Mitchell Stephen and Dion Yee and under-17 reps Cambell Stephen, Matt Yee and Lucien Beck.

"St Pat's were also without two of their key players with Izayah [Mauriohohoo-Le'afa] away and Kaeleb Tyner was injured, so they weren't at full strength" Shawn Beck added.

"But one thing this [Hutt Valley] team is really good at is winning close games and the strength of the team is our depth. We had 10 players suited up [for the final] and everyone played and contributed.

"We have had a different starting five for quite a few games and don't rely on one star to score the points.

"It's a well balanced side and we had four players - Hunt, Dion Yee, Cambell Stephen and Beck - in double digits in the final, and Javan Ataera had a fantastic game.

"I would be very disappointed if we didn't make top four at the regionals and I think this team can also do really well at the nationals."

A group of supporters made a conscious effort to develop a basketball programme at Hutt Valley and the work has paid off, with the girls winning four titles in the last six years and the boys team winning twice in four years.

The Dominion Post