"I wasn't supposed to go," National Secondary Schools basketball MVP Mitchell Dance confesses of his pre-tournament status.
"I tore ligaments in my left foot at regionals and had the prospect of a trip to Asia with a New Zealand team to consider. When the Asian trip was postponed the only way I could make it to Nationals was if my physio Chris Johns agreed to accompany me. I owe Chris a lot," Dance explains.
On Saturday, Dance scored 26 points and collected 10 rebounds as Rosmini College beat defending champions Rangitoto College 87-79 in the National final at Arena Manawatu, Palmerston North.
For Dance and Rosmini it was a sweet culmination to a season that hit a roadblock in the Auckland final against the same opposition.
"Losing the Auckland final was a bitter disappointment. That's a big game. There are a lot of bragging rights at stake and there were some hard lessons learned," Dance morns.
Tougher defence and restricting the influence of Rangitoto ace Dan Fotu were perhaps the most urgent issues to address. Dance reveals the different approach taken in resolving these problems
"We needed to shutdown Isaac Anderson and Dan Fotu. If those two catch fire Rangitoto are hard to stop. We rotated our defence to keep them guessing and tried to prevent Anderson from shooting threes," Dance says.
"The strength of my game is my pump fake. I tried to drive hard and often at Fotu to get him into foul trouble. Dan had four fouls by the start of the third quarter," Dance continued.
The third quarter was when the game dramatically turned in favour of Rosmini. Marvin Williams-Dunn hit two long range triples as Rosmini amassed a lead of 10 points.
"Our plan was to hang with them for as long as we could. We knew if we could do that we would eventually catch a break. It was 46-45 at halftime and we could sense they were getting frustrated. Marvin catching fire and getting us a bit of a lead was big," Dance reflects.
In the first quarter Rosmini's tallest player William Tuaputa-Heather was carried off the court with an ankle injury. Tuaputa-Heather had scored half of Rosmini's first 20 points.
"William did an ankle and I wasn't sure if we would get him back at all. Once again Chris worked his magic and William was able to play a bit more. Losing Will permanently would have been huge."
Rosmini's wayward free throw shooting could have been huge. Rosmini only enjoyed 16 successes from 36 attempts.
"It was a problem all week to be honest, when all season it's been money. I think it was worse on the main court because of the pressure. We were lucky to get away with it."
Rosmini breezed through pool play winning all five matches, the smallest margin of victory being 77-67 against Mount Albert Grammar School. Dance averaged over 20 points a game. The semi-final against Christ's College was troublesome and stretched into extra time.
"That was an ugly game. Our head space wasn't right and I didn't play well at all. Max De Geest and Max Darling were a handful. We didn't shut them down," Dance complains.
Still Rosmini won and Dance concluded with special praise for Terence Abdon and the Rosmini parents.
"All the parents accept for one family were at the tournament and that was amazing. We had a dinner together to celebrate on Saturday night and that was pretty special, Terence is our hustle man. He is the smallest guy on the team, but his energy is huge and captures what wee all about."
Ominously Rosmini only losses three players from their 2017 roster and Dance will return fully fit in 2018.
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