Opunake High School basketball trio prove themselves at the top level

Opunake High School basketball trio prove themselves at the top level


Opunake High School basketball trio prove themselves at the top level

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On Mondays, Iritana Hohaia, Isabelle Cook and Simone Cook wear blue. 

They take the court as core members of the Opunake High School senior girls' basketball team. 

But come the weekend, they don yellow and black as they step on the court with the Taranaki Thunder in the national women's competition. 

For sisters Isabelle and Simone, 15 and 17 respectively, their first year with the Taranaki team has been a testing one, but both have found a way to thrive against tougher opponents.

"It's a lot more physical in the women's competition," Isabelle says.

And she would know. The 15-year-old plays at power forward and often finds herself matched up with the tallest and strongest players on the opposing team. 

She's found the hard with that points don't come easy in the Women's Basketball Championship (WBC), being on the receiving end of nine blocked shots - the most in the league. 

Hohaia, now in her second year with the team, has come into her own this season running the point for the Thunder. 

"You have to be on your 'A' game every game," she says. "You can afford to make mistakes in the school league, but not in the women's league."

The trio all play very different roles for the teams - Hohaia runs the offence, Isabelle plays inside the paint, with Simone shooting on the wing. 

While they're all young, all three of the girls have made their mark on the WBC. Hohaia is second in the league in both assists per game (3.4) and total assists (31). Isabelle is second in the league in total offensive rebounds (30) and fifth in total rebounds (71). Simone is third in the league in three-point percentage (40.4) and fourth in total three-pointers made (19). 

With Simone shooting 47 attempts from beyond the arc and just 11 inside, it's no surprise she models her game off a certain Golden State Warriors guard. 

"Klay Thompson," she spits out a second after being asked if she tries to play in a similar way to anyone. "I love Klay Thompson."

With the step up to the WBC, the trio have found the high school level to be a bit easier now and they have more time to make decisions.

"In high school I have a lot more time to prep and shoot," Simone says. "For the Thunder I'm literally just catching and shooting the pressure shots, sometimes at critical stages."

The transition between the two levels was made easier with both teams being coach by Angelo Hill. 

"It's good because we can take stuff that we learn from the women's league to to high school league," Hohaia says.

"We're learning much faster in the women's league and we can bring that to help the juniors in our school to get them up to the level we should be for nationals."

While they've shown they have the tools needed to have an impact in the national women's competition, the trio haven't thought too much about their future in the spot. 

"For me, it's just developing as a point guard," Hohaia says when asked what here goals are. "Personally, I'm not looking for a scholarship, it's just about playing for fitness and fun."

"I'm not sure," Simone admits. "I haven't closed the door on going to the States or anything like that, but when I'm out of high school I'll continue playing in the women's league and socially. It'll be a sport I'll always play."

"Everyone asks me what I want to do with basketball but I don't really know," Isabelle says.

"I have two years left of high school so I don't really need to make up my mind right now. States could definitely be an option but Mum wants me to go to Australia - closer to home. But basketball could be a pathway for me."

 - Stuff