Nelson Mail

Coach whistles a popular tune

- 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.
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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