JCU Townsville Fire championship winners Micaela Cocks and Chevannah Paalvast headline New Zealand’s 14-player squad to tour China and Europe.
Having failed to claim a berth at the Rio Olympics during last year’s Oceania Championships, the Tall Ferns will look to go through the European repechage tournament in France next month.
Cocks and Paalvast will participate in a two-day preparation camp in Auckland today before departing for China on Wednesday.
“We have a good group of players that have made themselves available this year, many of whom have just come off great professional or collegiate seasons,” Tall Ferns coach Kennedy Kerema said.
“The depth in our women’s programme is at an all-time high and we have a lot of players knocking on the door and forcing themselves into contention for selection.
“Competition for places in the touring party of 14 was intense and it will be an even tougher call to name a final 12 for the Olympic Qualifiers in France.”
The Tall Ferns will assemble alongside 12 other nations at the women’s qualifying tournament in Nantes, France: Spain, France, Belarus, Turkey (Europe); Cuba, Argentina, Venezuela (America’s); Cameroon, Nigeria (Africa), China, South Korea (Asia); and New Zealand (Oceania). Only the top five will earn a place in Rio.
New Zealand has been drawn with heavyweights France (4 in the world) and Cuba (13) in their pool, with the top two teams from each pool of three qualifying for the quarter-finals.
New Zealand’s ranking of 22 in the world has them clearly ranked as underdogs, but Kereama is backing his team to mix it with the best in France.
“Our build up for the Olympic Qualifier is great,” Kerema said.
“We are playing a number of good teams – in fact nine of the ten are ranked above us, so we will be pushed during every game.
“We need the best competition possible and the tougher the games the better the preparation for our Olympic Qualification Series.
The tournament is going to be cut throat and we need to be playing our best basketball when we arrive in France.”
Tall Ferns: Micaela Cocks (North Harbour, Townsville Fire), Antonia Edmondson (Canterbury, Perth Lynx), Kalani Purcell (Counties Manukau, Brigham Young University-Provo), Erin Rooney (Canterbury – Cote D’Opale Basket Calais), Lisa Wallbutton (North Harbour, Perth Redbacks), Jessica Bygate (Nelson, Adelaide Lightning/Sunbury Jets), Chevannah Paalvast (Waitakere, Townsville Fire), Jordan Hunter (Counties Manukau, Lady Hawks), Deena Franklin (North Harbour, Waitakere Lady Rangers), Krystal Leger-Walker (Waikato, Waikato Wizards), Brooke Blair (North Harbour, Idaho State University), Katelyn Noyer (Waitakere, Waitakere Lady Rangers), Stella Beck (Hutt Valley, Saint Mary’s College), Penina Davidson (Waitakere, University of California).