The Nelson Sparks were one early morning tipoff away from a perfect start to the Women’s Basketball Championship season.
The 53-43 loss to Waitakere West Auckland Rangers was the only blight on an otherwise superb first up tournament that was highlighted by a 50-42 victory over the Canterbury Wildcats late on Sunday afternoon.
The WBC, which is the premier basketball tournament for women in New Zealand, is held in a different format to the men’s equivalent. Instead of playing each weekend on a home and away basis, the WBC is held over three separate three day tournaments. The final tournament will also hold the playoffs.
Nelson Sparks welcomed back Jelena Vucinic and Jessica Bygate from the United States for the tournament, while a number of other players studying at university also donned the blue singlet. Youngsters Kaitlyn Stringer, Lily Hospers and Gracie Roberts were named in the initial squad as head coach Tatjana Zizic looked for a mixture of youth and experience. Jodi Hikuroa, Lisa Book and Kat Jones were all used to good effect throughout the tournament.
Big wins over Palmerston North Storm and the Taranaki Trojans in the first two rounds had put Nelson on top of the standings early. But Sunday morning’s loss has left the side in third place going into tournament two next month. The unusual time of an 8am tipoff for Sunday’s clash with Waitakere West Auckland was no excuse as Tatjana cited a lack of execution for the loss. Rangers were clinical from the floor, nailing shots at 60 per cent throughout the encounter. “Apart from that I was really happy. It was the first tournament and we had about three or four players come into the squad and we didn’t have much time as a team,” she says. “There’s a little bit more pressure on the girls playing at home. They responded well, except for the early 8 o’clock game.”
Jelena ended the third day as the fifth top point scorer in the tournament; averaging 14 points per game. Jessica was the second highest for the home team with 8.4 per game.
The next two tournaments will be held in July and August in Hutt Valley and Dunedin.