The Auckland Girls’ Grammar School (AGGS) basketball team won the regular season title in Auckland Premier Basketball and entered Friday’s final against Mount Albert Grammar School (MAGS) at the North Shore Events Centre as favourites to defend their overall championship.
However for much of the game it was MAGS who led. AGGS player Mele Latu attempts to explain the difficulty in shrugging MAGS and how the coaches addressed the quandary.
“We weren’t awake. I don’t know why, maybe we were nervous. The coaches were outspoken and demanded us to lift our intensity on defence. It was defence that won it for us.”
MAGS surged to an early 22-10 lead, before Latu drained a triple to inspire a 7-0 run. MAGS regrouped and led 39-26 at halftime.
“We have played a zone defence all season. We started with a 3-2 zone, but that didn’t work so we switched to a 2-3 zone,” Latu explains.
AGGS gradually reduced the deficit and would only trail by a solitary point at three quarter time. Early in the fourth quarter AGGS catapulted ahead 57-51. Latu would finish with a game high 20 points and had an impressive shooting night.
“We got more rebounds and had second chance opportunities to score. All the credit for that goes to our defence. I like shooting three’s and managed a few open looks too,” Latu recalls.
MAGS refused to surrender easily and rallied to tie the scores 60-60 with 2:15 to play. Latu again propelled AGGS ahead, but a long three by Talo-Tomokino saw MAGS regain the ascendency. Latu scored again to make it 64-63 before AGGS conceded free throws. MAGS converted one of two to make it 64-64.
“It was a real close game. They had more chances than us at the end, but I guess it came down to which team best kept their cool,” Latu analyses of the gripping climax.
MAGS edged ahead 67-66 with a three-pointer by Moanekah Va’ai t, but Karma Skilton-Roberts hit a jumper to make it 68-67, the final score.
“It felt real good to win. All credit belongs to our coaches John Subritzky and Miu Tuala. They are awesome, Latu acclaimed.
AGGS won 15 out of 16 games in the Auckland competition.
Latu has been in the First V for four years and has played representatively for Waitakere West. She will be a key player at the National Qualifying Tournament next week. The top six teams from that tournament advance to Palmerston North for Nationals.
AGGS finished third at Nationals last year.
Nothing is conceded charitably in Rosmini College versus Westlake Boys’ High School sporting contests and that fact was categorically illustrated in the Auckland Premier basketball semi-final last Friday night. The excellent Lacey Lowdown blog was giddy in its praise of the match stating:
“It was a game that had outstanding individual performances, two passionate teams, a thundering climax, and all played out in front of two sets of ardent fans that turned North Shore Events Centre into a cauldron of noise and colour.”
With 95 seconds left, Rosmini appeared to be home and hosed with an 84-74 lead. What transpired next was quite extraordinary. Mitchell Dance attempts to make sense of the frantic final moments which yielded 29 points.
“Westlake decided to foul early which sent as to the free throw strip for two shots. We would make two and they caught fire and were hitting three’s. They scored four three pointers in the final 90 seconds which put pressure on us to hit our foul shots,” he says.
With three seconds remaining, Westlake had sliced the lead to a solitary point. Dance had a pair of free throws at 93-92.
“I was a bit nervous because I knew if I didn’t make both, Westlake could win with a three-pointer. Extra time wouldn’t have been a great result either, but it’s better than losing.”
Dance nailed both free throws and Westlake’s final attempt at yet another three was thwarted by a block.
Dance top scored with 36 points, helping Rosmini initially recover from a ten point deficit.
“I felt good. I hit a couple of early shots and got on a roll. We have a couple of big outs so I have had to step up lately, but everyone has lifted their intensity and our composure was impressive,” Dance acclaims.
Dance had to keep his cool in July when he travelled to the Philippines with the New Zealand Under-17’s. New Zealand played six games against leading Universities and despite only winning twice finished within four points in every fixture. The team was often subject to some dubious officiating.
“It was real different in the Philippines. They hardly call fouls and so we had to adjust to that. The referees were very helpful when the games got close, but it was a valuable learning experience,” Dance reveals.
Rosmini learned a heap by winning the Auckland title in 2016 and head into this Friday’s decider against National Championships Rangitoto College cautiously optimistic of a repeat success.
We are one-all against Rangitoto this year so it will be a tough game. We beat them the last time we played them and learned we need to keep our composure. They have their full team now so I wasn’t surprised they beat Auckland Grammar,” Dance reveals.
It’s been a golden year for sport at Rosmini College. The First XI cricket team are the Auckland champions and have qualified for the Nationals in December for the first time.
Additionally the First XV rugby team won the 1A North Harbour title and the First XI hockey team are favourites to win the Super City hockey tourney tomorrow night.
“There is a real brotherhood at this school. There was a huge crowd at the rugby and that same crowd is at the basketball. Were a smaller school, but everybody supports each other and that makes a real difference,” Dance theorises.
Dance was a member of the North Harbour Under-17 team who won the National championships in the term two holidays.
The Auckland Premier Basketball final between Rosmini College and Rangitoto College is played at the North Harbour Events Centre on Friday night.
North Shore Schools have dominated high school basketball in recent seasons, winning six of the last eight national titles.
However a new contender from the City of Sails has emerged in 2017. Auckland Grammar School won the Auckland Minor Premiership last week and will tackle National champions Rangitoto College in the premier semi-finals on Friday night.
Grammar has only won a single National title in 1979, but has beaten Rangitoto twice in three previous meeting this year.
“There is a long way to go in the season, but our goal is to win the National title,” states key forward Thomas Higgins.
“Rangitoto is a tough team. They have the likes of Dan Fotou and Zack Te Puni who can really light it up, but if we play tough defence and get our game going we can beat them.” Higgins continued.
Grammar have won both Premiership matches against Rangitoto 82-71 and 79-59. Higgins top scored in the initial meeting with 20 points, while Sam Aruwa banked 18 points in the second encounter.
Traditional powerhouses Westlake BHS and Rosmini College clash in the other semi-final. Like Grammar those teams finished the regular season with an 11-3 record, but Grammar is top qualifier by virtue of holding a better head to head record against both those schools.
However Grammar nearly blew pole position on Friday night against fifth placed Mount Albert Grammar School. Auckland required extra time to extinguish MAGS stubborn challenge.
“We started really slow and I don’t know why. Maybe we were tired or thinking too far ahead. We showed good character to comeback and win,” Higgins explains.
Higgins forced overtime by hitting a late shot in regulation to tie the scores. In the additional period the lead changed hands three times, but Higgins 29 points was the telling difference in the 70-67 win.
Higgins is used to dealing with pressure. The New Zealand Under-18 representative has traveled to diverse locations like Australia and China with his code. Higgins transferred from Te Awamutu College (TA) this season after helping TA to their first Nationals in 2015 where they finished 16th. TA improved a further two places last year.
“I really enjoyed my time at TA, but I want to try and win a National championship and that wasn’t going to happen at TA. The first term at Grammar was a bit of a struggle because the culture of the schools’ are so different, but I am settled now and looking forward to the end of the year.” Higgins says.
Interestingly Higgins lives with close friend, teammate and fellow national age group rep Thomas Whyte.
Auckland Premier Basketball Standings
11-3 Auckland Grammar
6-8 Mt Albert
4-10 St Kentigern
Note: Westlake and Rosmini finished their regular season matches with a win apiece against Grammar, but Grammar enjoyed a greater points differential across both games. Westlake beat Grammar, 78-85, but then lost 79-52 in the return exchange. Grammar beat Rosmini 62-53 and only lost 56-61. Higgins top scored with 16 points in the win against Rosmini. The Auckland Championship has no bearing on Nationals with a Zonal qualifier to be held from September 6-9 The top six teams from that tourney advance to Palmerston North for the Nationals which run from October 2-7.
“Our trainings are harder than most games. We are close friends off the court, but practice is intense. Palmerston North is a small town and the local competition isn’t strong. If we want to compete nationally we have to get stuck into each other,” Oscar Oswald concedes when attempting to explain how Palmerston North Boys’ High School has become a National basketball powerhouse.
Palmerston North has won 28 out of 30 games in 2017 and is stacked with National representatives. Rangimarie Mita, Tama Fa’amausili, Cooper Boyce-Towler, Callum McRae and Oswald have all represented New Zealand teams. Last year Palmerston North was National Secondary Schools runners-up. Oswald laments the last few seconds of the 80-79 defeat to Rangitoto College.
“There were seven seconds left and I was standing around the free throw line. I thought they would try and get inside the key because they had time to advance up court. Cameron Stone got the ball and he had a defender in front of him. When he let the ball go I thought there was no way it would go in. It was an ugly shot, but he hit it. That was really hard to accept.”
Palmerston North had rallied from 25 points down at halftime.
“We started in a zone defence figuring they were a lot bigger than us and would try and go inside and dominant close to the hoop. When there big men starting hitting shots we were in big trouble. At halftime we decided to man up and when we got on a roll the crowd was huge,” Oswald reflects.
Palmerston North made the crowds roar again at the Super 8 tournament held at Tui Ridge Park just outside Rotorua this week. Palmerston North were victors for the first time in nine years and at last assembled their full strength roster. Injuries and higher honours have prevented that from happening. Oswald himself has already travelled to China and Guam in 2017.
“It was awesome to get our top team on the court. We played hard all week against some quality opponents and really clicked,” Oswald warns.
Palmerston North breezed through pool play accounting for Hamilton BHS, 88 – 60, defending champions Napier BHS, 103 – 61 and hosts Rotorua BHS 100-52.
In the semi-final New Plymouth BHS was tamed 86-44, but there was a surprise on the opposite side of the draw.
“We expected Hastings to beat Hamilton, but that didn’t happen. Hamilton beat Napier by 50 something points so they showed they could really play.”
In the decider, Hamilton came out firing and genuinely challenged Palmerston North who only led by two points at halftime. In the second-half Oswald caught fire top scoring with 23 points as Palmerston North pulled clear to win 92-75. Mita contributed 17 points and McRae added 16.
“I didn’t realize until afterwards I had scored so many points. The shots started to fall which was great.”
Palmerston North had different leading scorers in all five games of Super 8, an ominous sign for opponents at the zone tourney in three weeks’ time. The top six of 21 teams will earn qualification for Nationals.
“We expect to face a lot strong teams. Wellington College, Scots College and St. Pats Town can play some amazing ball and though we’ve handled New Plymouth this year, we play them lots so they are always tough,” Oswald concludes.
College Sport Media is dedicated to telling the story of successful young sportspeople in New Zealand