Caitlin O'Connell shooting for a big future in basketball
25 Aug 2016
It's 3:30pm on a Tuesday and Sacred Heart Girls' College students flood out the school gates eager to get home.
Some of the basketball players on the other hand, they head in the opposite direction to the gym for training.
They run their warm-ups - lengths of the court at a jog, run and finally a sprint.
Among the girls working up a sweat on the court is 14-year-old Caitlin O'Connell - a potential star in the making.
O'Connell has been playing basketball since she was five-years-old after being encouraged into the sport by her parents.
"I played mini mini-ball, then just played on from there," she says as she tries to catch her breath.
Once she started, she knew basketball was the sport for her and when she was selected for Taranaki's under-13 team, she knew it was a sport she would continue on with.
"From then on I just wanted to become better and get to the top level."
And she's well on her way to doing so.
In April, O'Connell, 13-years-old at the time, was selected in the New Zealand under-16 girls' side who participated in the Australian State Championships in Melbourne in July.
She went for an initial trial for the squad and, after missing out on the second trialling spot, she was placed in a development side.
After an impressive showing with the development team, O'Connell was called back to take part in another trial for the under-16 team and secured a spot in the squad.
"I wasn't expecting to get in at all. I just thought the training camps would be good, but getting selected was like a dream come true basically. It was really cool."
With the experience of playing for New Zealand in the bank, O'Connell led the Taranaki under-15 girls' team to a third place finish in the National Championships in late July.
She was the only player in the tournament who had represented New Zealand, a tag she hasn't given much thought to but says it's a "pretty cool" thing to be able to claim.
With older brother Matthew also playing basketball and being part of this year's Taranaki Mountain Airs squad in the National Basketball League, O'Connell says there's a fair bit of friendly competition between the two.
"We used to train in the mornings together with Dad and, yeah, it's pretty competitive."
It's the competitive nature of the sport that attracts O'Connell to it, who highlights the level of competition as one of her favourite things about it.
It pays to be competitive and drive yourself toward bigger things in the sport, which doesn't appear to be an issue for O'Connell.
She already has a number of goals set for the future - make New Zealand teams, improve her game and, eventually, follow in the footsteps of her local role model Kayla Manuirirangi and earn a scholarship to a college in the States.
Manuirirangi, of Hawera, picked up a $500,000 scholarship to play at Tulane University in New Orleans last year.
O'Connell says success stories such as Manuirirangi's are leading to more interest in the sport around Taranaki.
Playing at point guard, O'Connell gets to control the offence for her side and enjoys the responsibility to make the right play, whether it's to take a shot or pick out the right pass for an easy bucket.
While she is already looking toward her future in the sport, for now, the young point guard is only focused on one thing - performing to the best of her abilities which sees her put hours in to refining her game both in team practices and in her own time.
She says it's an important part of being the best you can be - if you put in the hours, you'll be rewarded in the long run.
"Just train in your own time and work hard. Training with older people to get better that way could help too."
For a young sportsperson, it's hard to look at O'Connell's passion for basketball and not feel inspired.
While she giggles off the idea of being a role model in the future for younger children getting into the sport, it wouldn't be a surprise to see things pan out that way.
In her humble way, she entertains the thought for a moment.
"Yeah, that would be cool."