A pair of junior Shepparton Gators squads have earned themselves top-10 rankings in regional Victoria.
The Basketball Victoria Country Under-12 Country Championships were held in Bendigo at the weekend, and the boys’ and girls’ teams from Shepparton fought their way to a division two grand final berth.
For Paul Whitelaw’s boys, a 43-39 victory over Wodonga was enough to snare championship glory and a ninth-placed finish overall, while Owen McCarron’s girls slotted into 10th after falling to Wodonga in their decider.
Whitelaw praised the improvement of his charges across not only the whole season, but the pinnacle tournament itself.
‘‘The improvement was pretty big, most of these boys started off the season having never played representative basketball before,’’ Whitelaw said.
‘‘We always aim to finish as high as we can and we certainly geared ourselves up to do well at these championships.
‘‘To get nine good quality games into the boys over the weekend really improved them, and after losing a couple of tight ones early in the tournament they really executed down the stretch and listened to instructions for the rest of the weekend.’’
After losing to Ballarat 29-32, Sale 30-39 and Southern Peninsula 31-32 in the pool stage of the championships, the Gators won five of their last six clashes to take out the division two title.
‘‘If a result or two had have gone our way on day one we would have been in division one,’’ Whitelaw said.
‘‘So we showed that we can certainly compete with those top sides.
‘‘It was a great group of boys and a great group of parents, so it was really good to see them finish the year off well.’’
Aiden Whitelaw (77 points), Spencer Dickins (67), Riley Onley (60), Kade Metcalf (51) and Liam Teague (45) all averaged more than five points a game for the tournament, while Cooper O’Neill, Liam Tuohey, Steele Chapman, Taye Garling-Mathyssen and Thomas Ranson were also integral parts of the team’s triumph.
For the girls, Sarah Vincitorio led the way in attack with 62 points for the championships, with Brianna Turner (38 points), Hannah Wells (31), Emily Archer (23), Montanna Burke (22), Neve Moore (18), Renn McCarron (11), Millicent Lundberg (10) and Chloe North (six) all hitting the scoreboard throughout the weekend.
Despite going down 12-35 to the Wolves in the final match of the tournament, coach McCarron was supremely proud of his troops.
‘‘I was very proud of the girls and the association should be very proud as well,’’ he said.
‘‘I genuinely believe there’s no other team that has improved as much as we have in country Victoria this season.
‘‘We’re very much a team with no individual stars, but every player got on the court in every game and they all contributed when they were on.
‘‘The girls were very tired by the last game, but they did handle the weekend well, it was the most games they had played in a tournament all season.
‘‘I was also very lucky to have Troy Lundberg as my assistant coach, he’s a very established junior coach.
‘‘To finish in the top 10 overall is a great effort.’’