date_range Published 10 May 2019


Story: ODT

Defending a title is always exciting.

For the Otago Gold Rush though, just getting on court and playing is an even more exciting prospect.

It is lucky then, that it gets to do that three times across the next three days.

The team begins its Women’s Basketball Championship title defence at the competition’s opening weekend tournament today in Christchurch.

It will face the Auckland Dream, before games against the Taranaki Thunder and Harbour Breeze the following two days.

That in itself was spurring the team on, finally ready to play after a long preseason.

“The girls have been working hard for a few months now, so games can’t come quick enough for us,” new head coach Greg Brockbank said.

“You train and train and train and look forward to that game, so the team’s pretty excited.”

Several key parts of last year’s team were missing, although the depth in the squad should help cover for that.

WBC most valuable player, American import Dana Goularte, is a notable loss.

Stalwarts Danielle Frost and Soraya Umaga-Jensen are also absent this year, Umaga-Jensen filling an assistant coach role instead.

This weekend it will also be without twins Zoe and Brittany Richards, who are still at college in the United States until later this month, alongside Dayna Turnbull, due to touch commitments.

Considering the quality among that list, a handy squad remains to travel this weekend.

Wanaka-based former Canterbury Wildcat Hayley Gray is a key signing, adding experience and quality to the guard line-up.

She joins Tall Fern Nicole Ruske, while the front line retains key experience in Natalie Visger and Natalie Smith.

Brockbank added several impressive youngsters had come into the mix and he was confident in the depth of his squad.

“We call it an opportunity rather than a loss.

“At the same time, those girls will be missed. But I’m confident we can replace, or at least go a long way to replacing, what we lost.”

Last year the side had struggled in its early games, before finding form and proving unbeatable through the middle and end of the competition.

That culminated in a series of close games at the finals weekend in Dunedin, ending with a win over the Waikato Wizards in the final.

Another close league looks likely and Brockbank said there would be no easy games.

While there was always some pressure in defending a title, the side had turned that into something it could draw on.

“It’s a motivational driver and we’re really using it in our culture to drive our intensity in training.

“Rather than looking at it as pressure to do well, we’re looking at it as a motivation to continue to be better than we were.”

The Gold Rush plays its first home game next Sunday afternoon against Waikato, at the Edgar Centre.