In the build-up to the Australia Junior Championships, Taranaki’s Caitlin O’Connell thought her chances of making the New Zealand Under-16 team for the tournament were over after missing out on the second trial for the squad.
Instead, the 13-year-old O’Connell was placed in the Koru team – a development side including players who missed out on Under-16 and Under-16 ‘A’ honours.
After an impressive showing during her time with the Koru team, O’Connell was recalled back to take part in anoter NZ U16 trial. Again, standing out from her opposition, O’Connell defied the odds and was unexpectedly selected in the top NZ U16 team.
“I didn’t think I would get in, at all… It was really surprising,” stated O’Connell.
After making the squad O’Connell and her team competed the Australia Junior 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 caught some attention with her performances in the first and last pool games.
To open the tournament, O’Connell 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 side’s 68-57 win over South Australia Country as O’Connell recorded 10 points, four boards and two assists before leading her team in assists as NZ won a seventh place finish over Queensland North.
However, O’Connell 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 championship].”
The day one results in Wellington suggest that is a real possibility. Taranaki’s opening match against Southland was comfortable for O’Connell’s side – winning 91-38 as O’Connell contributed 13 points.
Later in the day Taranaki continued their hot run as they took care of Gisborne 70-47 with O’Connell again surpassing double-digits to score 12 points.
Continuing their quest for national glory, Taranaki take on Wellington at 8.00am tomorrow before a potential top-of-Pool-A clash with Rotorua at 4.45pm to round out the team’s pool play.
Should Taranaki progress deep into the tournament, it will be another box ticked off for O’Connell, though she is also hoping, on a personal note, to make the tournament team before dreaming one day to play college basketball in the United States and progress higher up the nation team ranks.
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