Coach whis­tles a pop­u­lar tune

Nelson Mail - - College Sport - Jonathan Mckeown

The sports fac­ulty at Nel­son Col­lege for Girls refers to new coach Dominic Topia as ‘‘the Pied Piper of bas­ket­ball’’, be­cause there has been a big in­crease in play­ing num­bers since his ar­rival.

His re­laxed and easy style of coach­ing has not only seen greater num­bers, it is also be­hind a marked im­prove­ment in tech­nique and on-court re­sults for the col­lege teams.

How­ever for Topia, who moved to Nel­son re­cently and has no fam­ily in the re­gion, the sup­port and ef­fort he has put in was re­paid in kind when he was struck down with health is­sues re­cently.

Topia has coached at a high level across many sports in Auck­land, and rates as one of his big­gest achieve­ments help­ing New Zealand’s Daniel Devon­shire break into Ma­jor League Base­ball with the Toronto Blue Jays.

Once Topia com­pleted his Bach­e­lor of Sport and Re­cre­ation stud­ies at Auck­land Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy, he trav­elled around New Zealand and Aus­tralia be­fore set­tling in Nel­son.

The in­struc­tor, who spe­cialises in coach­ing base­ball, soft­ball, bas­ket­ball, touch rugby and Amer­i­can Football, ap­proached both Nel­son Col­lege and Nel­son Col­lege for Girls to of­fer his ser­vices. He is now look­ing af­ter three bas­ket­ball teams at Nel­son Girls.

One of his se­nior A play­ers, Alice Ha­zlett, summed up what the new coach had done for bas­ket­ball at the col­lege.

‘‘Be­fore Dominic came, we had four peo­ple show up for se­nior bas­ket­ball tri­als and now we have a team of 12, so it has def­i­nitely in­creased a lot since he started.

‘‘He is re­ally pas­sion­ate and knowl­edge­able, but he is also easy go­ing as a coach.

‘‘When we train, we have fun and still man­age to get bet­ter which makes bas­ket­ball en­joy­able. For me, he has im­proved my shoot­ing a lot, and now I get a lot more shots than I used to.’’

Topia said the se­nior team’s strength came from its abil­ity to cope with pres­sure and turn it into points while play­ing in a se­nior women’s tour­na­ment.

Af­ter los­ing the first game of the sea­son be­fore Topia’s ar­rival, the team won six matches in suc­ces­sion and is cur­rently lead­ing the com­pe­ti­tion.

Num­bers in the year-9 ju­nior ranks dou­bled af­ter word spread of Topia’s coach­ing ses­sions that put an em­pha­sis on per­fect­ing skills through en­joy­ment of the learn­ing process. From one week to the next, num­bers went from nine to 19 and two teams of equal abil­ity were formed in NCG Dy­na­mite and NCG De­stroy­ers. The eq­uity in ap­ti­tude was con­firmed in the teams’ lat­est head-to-head com­pe­ti­tion match, which fin­ished in a 46-all draw.

Topia said coach­ing two teams play­ing each other pre­sented its dif­fi­cul­ties. ‘‘Ev­ery time I would call a time­out for one team, the other would come over as well. We had both teams meet in the mid­dle and I coached them from there. I would call one play for one team and an­other for the other. It was def­i­nitely mul­ti­task­ing for sure.’’

Those sorts of score­board num­bers were just a pipedream at the start of the sea­son. When play­ing in their open­ing matches, the sides were un­able to reach dou­ble fig­ures in heavy losses to Motueka High School and Waimea Col­lege.

But when the NCG sides played those teams again in the sec­ond round, they not only got dou­ble fig­ures, but they re­versed the re­sults as well.

It was a role re­ver­sal of a dif­fer­ent kind which best il­lus­trates the high re­gard in which Topia is held by the fam­i­lies of the stu­dents he has men­tored.

Topia is only now re­gain­ing his feet af­ter be­ing hos­pi­talised a cou­ple of weeks ago. Nearly ev­ery one of his bas­ket­ball girls and their par­ents went to visit him in hos­pi­tal.

‘‘Ev­ery sin­gle one of the girls I coach turned up to the hos­pi­tal ei­ther one, two or three days in a row.

‘‘So if you want to call me the Pied Piper, it’s up to you. I’m just happy to share my knowl­edge and try to make play­ing sport a lot of fun.

‘‘I moved down here with no fam­ily here, and while I was in hos­pi­tal I got visits from nearly ev­ery par­ent in my team. Phone calls, text mes­sages and just the sup­port they have given me were very hum­bling.

‘‘All the par­ents I have been in­volved with are just 100 per cent good peo­ple.’’

That sort of kind­ness of the sense of com­mu­nity at the col­lege has aided Topia in his re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion, and he wanted to thank one fam­ily in par­tic­u­lar.

‘‘I’m still try­ing to learn how to walk again and the Mills fam­ily has bought me into their home be­cause they have easy ac­cess.

‘‘I am stay­ing with them at the mo­ment and I’d just like to give them a ded­i­ca­tion, to say thank you.’’

Even with his per­sonal strife, not much could keep Topia from be­ing court­side and he said he would be there as soon as the sea­son started next term, play­ing his merry tune and lead­ing more stu­dents into sport.

Topia hopes to take a cou­ple of touch rugby, soft­ball and golf teams in the sum­mer, but is con­cerned be­cause he knows in­ter­est in some of the sports he coaches might be quite low at present.

How­ever, ac­cord­ing to Alice Ha­zlett, that could eas­ily change.

She said she would con­sider pick­ing up a new sum­mer sport Topia was coach­ing, be­cause she would learn a new skill and have fun while do­ing so.

Photo: COLIN SMITH/FAIRFAX NZ

Let’s start: Bas­ket­ball coach Dominic Topia tips off for Nel­son Col­lege for Girls play­ers Alice Ha­zlett, left, Emily Mills, Fran Hills and Pip Dwyer.

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