Hype over - time for Hoiho to tip off new era

Southern Hoiho guard Olivia O’Neill takes the ball up the court as Mainland Pouakai defender Erin...
Southern Hoiho guard Olivia O’Neill takes the ball up the court as Mainland Pouakai defender Erin Whalen tries to steal the ball from her during last week’s pre-season match in Oamaru. Tsubasa Nisbet and Zoe Richards (behind) watch on. PHOTO: REBECCA RYAN
Head coach Charles Nix admits there is plenty of eagerness in the Southern Hoiho.

That is not unusual as a team approaches its opening game. This time, though, there is everything else surrounding it.

There has been plenty of hype for the inaugural Tauihi Basketball Aotearoa season.

The push to draw awareness to a new league, the unveiling of everything new — right down to teams, colours and logos — and the umpteen dozen stories on the significance of Tauihi.

Not to underplay any of that — this new league is a major step for women’s basketball in this country — but the crucial ingredient to it all has been off in the distance.

As time has crept by, that ingredient has become more tantalising.

Tonight all the hype, all the talk, will turn to reality.

It is time to play.

The Southern Hoiho will tip off a new era of New Zealand basketball, as they travel to Christchurch to face the Mainland Pouakai in Tauihi’s first game.

"There’s definitely some eagerness for the season to start," Nix said.

"The last three weeks, since I’ve been here, there’s been a lot of fine-tuning and a lot has been added in that period of time.

"The learning’s been coming thick and fast. They’ve embraced it really well. Now they’re at a point where they want to put everything we’ve practised into play and see how it goes.

"My expectation is we have a lot of growth throughout the season. So I’ll just advise everyone — stay patient with us, we’ll eventually get to where we want to be."

Nix, who is from Perth and has coached for 10 years — notably at the NBL1 level — is pleased with the Hoiho squad.

He feels there is plenty of versatility that will be able to create match-up problems at both ends.

"That’s a major strength of ours.

"That versatility gives us some options defensively. If we can change things up defensively, and make thing difficult for teams, we give ourselves the best opportunity to win every night we play."

Locally, the team is headlined by Tall Fern Zoe Richards, a skilled forward with fantastic footwork and the ability to step out and shoot from deep.

She will provide a key punch and has experience playing at higher levels, both in Australia and the United States.

A trio of imports surround her to add quality to the mix.

Centre Shelby Cheslek provides a giant inside presence at 1.96m, and has been on the fringe of WNBA teams.

Laina Snyder looks to be an athletic do-everything forward, capable of exploiting whatever weakness her match-up has, also having had professional experience in Europe.

Tori Dugan arrives as a recent college graduate, a true point guard who looks to penetrate and facilitate effectively, while being an elite full-court defender.

There should be quality in that quartet.

How the remainder of the the squad adapts will be integral.

Samara Gallaher is a former Tall Fern and returned to the sport only last year, having had four years away from the game following nine concussions, though has been in top form in club basketball.

Nicole Ruske is a former Tall Fern, but has not played at a level higher than club leagues since 2019.

Aleisha Ruske was a high-level junior player, but also has played limited basketball in recent years.

There is an element of gamble there — but it is one that could pay off.

Olivia O’Neill and Bronwyn Kjestrup round out the contracted group, both having been regulars for the Otago Gold Rush in recent years.

A former Otago player, Tall Fern Jillian Harmon, is expected to join the group later in the season.

Alongside aiming for a title, Nix said creating a pathway for the next generation was key.

He had seen the product of that in Australia, where the top leagues had been going for longer and the depth was greater.

However, he felt New Zealand had the infrastructure to build that.

Tauihi begins tonight and runs until the end of August.

It replaces the old women’s national league and puts players on equal financial footing with the men’s NBL.

Five franchises — the Hoiho, Pouakai, Tokomanawa Queens, Mid-North Whai and Northern Kahu — will play each other three times in a 12-match season.

Semifinals and finals will be played on August 26-27.

Southern Hoiho

The squad

Zoe Richards, Shelby Cheslek, Tori Dugan, Laina Snyder, Samara Gallaher, Nicole Ruske, Jillian Harmon, Olivia O’Neill, Bronwyn Kjestrup, Aleisha Ruske, Tyler Mitchell, Jay Moate-Breen. Head coach: Charles Nix. Assistant coaches: Natalie Visger, Tracey Kelly.


 - Wed June 29: Pouakai, Christchurch

 - Sun July 3: Kahu, Dunedin

 - Fri July 8: Whai, Queenstown

 - Sun July 10: Queens, Wellington

 - Fri July 15: Kahu, Auckland

 - Wed July 20: Queens, Dunedin

 - Sat July 24: Whai, Dunedin

 - Tue July 26: Kahu, Auckland

 - Mon Aug 1: Pouakai, Queenstown

 - Wed Aug 3: Queens, Porirua

 - Sun Aug 7: Pouakai, Dunedin

 - Sun Aug 21: Whai, Tauranga

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