In NZ team for Ve­gas

Bright fu­ture at 12

Kapi-Mana News - - SPORT - By AN­DREA O’NEIL

Sariah Pe­nese didn’t have much choice when it came to bas­ket­ball – her fam­ily were mad about the game, so she was al­ways go­ing to drib­ble, shoot and weave.

How­ever, the Bran­don In­ter­me­di­ate 12-year-old has far ex­ceeded her whanau’s ex­pec­ta­tions – Pe­nese will travel to Las Ve­gas in July to rep­re­sent New Zealand as the youngest mem­ber of the Kiwi un­der15 team.

She was picked for the squad at bas­ket­ball camp over the sum­mer hol­i­days, and can’t wait to travel to the United States for the first time. ‘‘I’m happy and ex­cited and proud,’’ she says. Twelve girls will travel to Las Ve­gas for 10 days for a face-off against US teams in an an­nual tour­na­ment set up by Welling­ton’s ‘‘Mr Bas­ket­ball’’, coach and for­mer Saints player Kenny Mcfad­den.

Pe­nese’s team-mates are mostly 14 years old, and many had no idea she was so young dur­ing their play-offs at sum­mer camp, says mum Luana.

‘‘The coaches said she was quite ma­ture in her ap­proach to the game.’’

It was a pleas­ant shock when Pe­nese was se­lected, says Luana.

‘‘I saw the cal­i­bre of tal­ent there and I thought wow, these girls are pretty tal­ented. When they said she made the team I just couldn’t be­lieve it.’’

Pe­nese’s par­ents met while play­ing bas­ket­ball, and her Amer­i­can Samoan dad Nixon coaches Pe­nese in a mid­week women’s league in Kil­birnie.

Luana is preg­nant with her fifth daugh­ter now, enough kids to form a bas­ket­ball team, she points out. ‘‘It’s al­most like a re­li­gion in our fam­ily.’’ Be­ing the old­est child in a Pa­cific Is­land fam­ily has made Pe­nese grow up fast, and she brings that ma­tu­rity to her sport, says Luana.

The fam­ily as­so­ci­a­tion makes bas­ket­ball spe­cial for Sariah, an all-round sportswoman who also plays vol­ley­ball, net­ball and flag, and finds time for karate and swim­ming on top of that.

‘‘It’s a lot of fun and it re­minds me of my fam­ily – we all play to­gether,’’ she says.

Rep­re­sent­ing New Zealand at top level is a dream for Pe­nese that’s now one step closer.

‘‘I’ve thought of get­ting a schol­ar­ship and I’d like to play for New Zealand again, in the Tall Ferns.’’

Hoop dreams: Bran­don In­ter­me­di­ate’s Sariah Pe­nese will rep­re­sent New Zealand in an un­der-15 women’s team in Las Ve­gas this July, an achieve­ment that brings her closer to her goal of be­com­ing a Tall Fern.

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