Queen Margaret College (QMC) has had the team on paper to deliver a maiden Sharp Trophy Wellington girls basketball championship for a handful of seasons.
In 2018 and 2019 they were beaten in the final by Hutt Valley High School and last year they were top four finishers.
On Friday night at the ASB centre the Presbyterians finally broke the glass ceiling, narrowly defeating Sacred Heart College 75-72 in the decider. Captain Lilly Taulelei stressed two prior defeats to Sacred Heart earlier in the season were vital in the triumph.
“We lost to them twice in the regular season, which really attests to what a great side they are. The game was really close. The biggest lead for any side was ten points which is nothing in basketball. It felt so great to play such a competitive game after lockdown.
“We talked about staying connected rather than chasing individual accolades. We tried to simplify everything. Instead of analysing everything the opposition does, counting the number of steps they take before a shot, we focussed on how we could make ourselves better which helped us execute when under pressure.”
QMC has assembled a roster accustomed to handling pressure and the ability to “connect” at both ends of the floor was evident.
“Naomi Sopoaga has been in the team since Year 9 and is an amazing performer. She’s a point guard great at controlling the tempo of our offense, dribbling, passing, and shooting.
Lauren Tewhata hit a couple of big three’s at the start which eased our nerves. She’s overcome a bit of adversity. Her ability to score is huge.
“Holly Morgan is the most competitive person I know and that’s not only on a basketball court, it’s eating lunch, in the classroom, whatever. She is amazingly fit and gritty.
Tawhirikura Doyle was the captain of our 3x3 team that won nationals. She’s like a second captain, she is an amazing hustler with great hands and claim.”
Taulelei is a power forward whose represented the Wellington Under 15 and 17 teams. The younger of those sides won a national title. That success has seen Taulelei offered scholarships for Yale, Davidson, Fordham, Hawaii, UNC, Willmington and Manhattan Universities in the USA.
“My main role is leadership, setting a good example for the younger girls so they know what to do when they have to step up and when us older girls have been and gone they can maintain the strength of the program.
“I’m a power forward and I try to get as many rebounds and be as versatile with my scoring as possible. I want to be a threat outside as well as inside.”
Her father Walter Taulelei is the CEO of Wellington basketball and Lilly described Walter as the “guardian angel of the QMC program.” Alongside Junior Hunter, Walter helped coach and manage a team that have become darlings of the college.
“We had to organise a livestream of our semi-final because there was so much interest in the result. There’s a video of one of our games where we hit a shot and it cuts to the crowd and our principal is jumping up and down. It’s a shame no one could go to the final because we would have got unbelievable support which is so humbling.”
Story by Adam Julian, for College Sport Wellington and College Sport Media, October 2021.
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