LIKE FAMILY: Supporters, players, friends and family of Eastern Bay’s Bitza basketball team gather around the Secondary School League Trophy. OB4488-157

THE Eastern Bay BITZA basketball team finished their first and only season with a bang, taking first place in the Eastern Bay of Plenty Secondary League.

The team is made up of determined girls from across the Eastern Bay who all wanted the same thing; to play basketball. However, the players got that and then some, coming away with a trophy, lifelong friends and memories that won’t be forgotten any time soon.

“That’s what I love about this team. They’re like a family,” says coach Rachel Pereniki.

Rachel was a coach both on and off the court, guiding the team through fundraising, sponsorships and giving a shoulder to lean on when things got tough. “I am very thankful for the opportunity of helping all these wonderful young ladies,” says Rachel.

From day one, Rachel’s goal was to help the basketball players that had not made the cut for school teams. After some negotiation with Tauranga City Basketball, the “once in a lifetime dream-team” was permitted to form and compete in the competition.

GET UP: Bitza player Isobel Edwards-Jull leaps above her Whakatane High School opponents during the final at Whakatane War Memorial Centre earlier this year. File photo D7430-071

Players steadily took interest in the team after not being selected for their school teams, from Opotiki, Whakatane and Edgecumbe. After gaining traction, the team entered the season three weeks late and almost no preparation time before their first game.

While their debut was a loss, the girls learned about their teammates, how they played and how to work together, and from there the team thrived. “From that night on we all formed an unbreakable bond with each other,” says Rachel.

This “unbreakable bond” kept the girls performing strongly together despite only training as a full team once, due to the distance between players. Some of the girls even attended the Whakatane High School ball, just to act as an entourage for their Whakatane teammates.

But it wasn’t easy for the team over their season. Not attached to any organization or school, the team had to fundraise for their uniforms, transport, and even their own prizegiving at the end of the year.

“They worked hard, they trained hard, and they played hard. We wanted them to be recognised, they deserved to be,” says Rachel. The prizegiving, which took place last month at the Opotiki Golf Club, saw the whole team, supporters and sponsors all dressed in their best to recognise the girls over dinner.

Speeches, songs, a few tears and a lot of applause made the night one to remember, the perfect send-off for the mixed bag of champions. “What an amazing evening that was,” says Rachel.