The Hillmorton High School basketball team in southern Christchurch didn't win a single game last year and hadn't attended the South Island championships for 20 years.
On Monday, after raising $10,000, Hillmorton will travel to Palmerston North to contest the National A Championships with 11 other teams.
It's the first time Hillmorton has attended the event and Year 11 shooting guard Ihaia Kendrew enthuses it's a big deal around campus.
"We're really excited. A lot of hard work has gone into this. We feel like we have won respect and deserve to be there. We know there are seven North Island teams so it will be tough, but we will give it our best," he says.
Hillmorton competes in Division II of the Thompson Trophy. A change of coach at the start of the season brought about a greater work ethic. The team is mentored by Canterbury Ram, Inga Solofuti.
"Inga really relates to the boys. He has been in high teams so we respect him and his knowledge," Kendrew acclaims.
Kendrew's performances have earned plenty of acclaim. The Canterbury U17 representative has produced a number stellar games to carry his college to several unexpected victories and eventually the final of the competition.
Kendrew top-scored in the wins against Linwood High School (22 points), Riccarton High School (35 points) and Lincoln High School (29 points). He also toiled gamely in tight defeats to St. Bede's College (19 points) and Ellesmere College (29 points).
In the final Kendrew scored 30 points and collected 11 rebounds as Hillmorton narrowly fell to St. Andrew' College 85-77.
"It was a team effort to reach the final. There are a lot of Year 11 and 12 boys in the team so we are confident we will learn from the experience," Kendrew says.
Kendrew was selected for the West Boys All Star team.
"It was great to get into that team and play alongside and against some awesome talent," Kendrew recalls.
The South Island championships were staged in Dunedin and after fundraising several thousand dollars to reach Otago, Hillmorton stunned the field and perhaps even themselves when they beat Kavanagh College (63-60) and Mackenzie College (101-15) to win through to the semi-finals. The top five teams were guaranteed a place at Nationals.
Despite losing the semi-final to Catholic Cathedral College (55-79), the most stunning result was yet to come. In the playoff for third Roncalli College was thrashed 84-68. Kendrew scored 47 points!
"That's the most points I have ever scored. It was a pretty amazing game, but everybody played well," Kendrew humbly explains.
Other players to watch to in the Hillmorton side include Josh Nichol and Afghan refugee Jibraan Safi.
Despite the success there was no guarantee Hillmorton would be able to attend Nationals. Hillmorton isn't plush with resources and socks had to be rolled up for the funds to be raised.
"We did a lot of fundraising, sausage sizzles and the like, but mostly we have to thank our supporters. People have been very generous with their money and given us this big opportunity," Kendrew says.
College Sport Media is dedicated to telling the story of successful young sportspeople in New Zealand