Waikato Basketball came within a whisker, two whiskers to be precise, of pulling off an age group treble for the second successive year.
In 2015 they swept the board by collecting the Girls Under 19, Under 17 and Under 15 National titles.
For a time on Saturday afternoon it appeared that history would repeat itself.
Having wrapped up the Girls Under 17 title the previous weekend Waikato were within just a pair of possessions of adding the New Zealand Under 19 and Under 15 titles.
It was only in the closing seconds of each final that they were denied an historic three-peat and in both instances it was North Harbour that proved the stumbling block.
Kendall Heremaia looked as if she might carry Waikato to a come from behind win in the Under 19 Final in Nelson.
In the final quarter Harbour had built themselves a 10 point buffer, only for the tenacity of Heremaia to keep her team in touch, with a big three to cut the lead to five. Katie Diakhaby was then able to get to the basket and score for Harbour, only for Heremaia to immediately answer, as Waikato closed to within four points, 56-52, with 37 seconds to play.
That was as close as Waikato got. A clutch steal from Zara Jillings, along with the ensuing free throws, gave Harbour breathing space before another pair of freebies from Darci Finnigan sealed the game for North Harbour giving them a 61-53 victory.
Jillings finished with an impressive stats line of 20 points, 11 rebounds, with support from Tabitha Jenkins (10 points), Coola Baudry (8 pts, 15 rebs), and Katie Diakhaby (8 pts, 3 blocks). Waikato’s Kendell Heremaia finished off an excellent tournament with 25 points and 16 rebounds, with Alyssa Hirawani adding 10 points and 9 rebounds.
The Under 15 Final in Wellington was an even tighter affair. Waikato trailed Harbour by 6 points with just over a minute to play but Honor Wilson and Leila Hemi-Ta’ala (17pts) combined for seven straight points to edge Waikato ahead 73-72 with 26 seconds to play.
However, as she had done all afternoon, Tournament MVP Jazzmyne Kailahi-Fulu (29pts/25 rebs) steadied the Harbour ship by calmly sinking two free throws and then grabbing an offensive rebound and hitting the put-back basket as the clock wound down to full time.
Harbour avenged their 2015 loss to Waikato winning 76-73. Jessica Moors was the other standout for Harbour finishing with 22 points, 16 boards and six assists.
Waikato Basketball Community Manager and the head coach of the Waikato Under 17 and 19 teams Anthony Corban feels there are a number of factors contributing to the success that the Hamilton association are enjoying.
“The strength of our rep programme is our half court defence which we place a lot of emphasis on. This is probably due to my involvement in the 3×3 programme where there is a heavy emphasis on shell defence.”
Corban is in no doubt that having experienced coaches in local schools is a major contributor to the ongoing success of the Waikato representative teams.
“Having great school coaches – Leanne Walker at St Peter’s and Tyler Wilkinson at Hamilton Girls – supporting our programme is key. We have ongoing communication ensuring rep training and schools training don’t clash.
“We are a group of coaches that work together and I think the results really back that up,” Corban added.
Six Finals and Four titles in two years suggest Waikato has a decent formula.