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Tall Ferns Named For Beijing

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July 8, 2008
New Zealand Tall Ferns

New Zealand Tall Ferns

The New Zealand Olympic Committee named the New Zealand Tall Ferns women’s Olympic basketball team today for Beijing 2008.

Captain and forward Aneka Kerr and point guard Angela Marino were both members of the team to Athens 2004 and are now key players in the 12-strong squad that also features sisters Natalie and Charmian Purcell, basketball-cricket dual international Suzie Bates and teenager Jessica McCormack.

Barry Maister, New Zealand Olympic selector and New Zealand Olympic Committee (NZOC) secretary-general said the Tall Ferns team could build on their previous Olympic experience to produce a strong result at Beijing.

“They were a successful team in Athens where they delivered the goods against the odds,” he said. “We’re looking for the same or better this time.”

Tall Ferns coach, Mike McHugh acknowledged the high quality of players available for selection to the team.

“It was one of the most difficult selection decisions I’ve been through in 15-16 years of international basketball,” said McHugh, who was an assistant coach at the Athens Olympics and part of the team that submitted nominations to the NZOC for selection.

“There were so many players that had put in strong claims for selection.”

Two of those were relative newcomers, New Zealand-born but US-raised duo Clare Bodensteiner and Jillian Harmon, who made their Kiwi debuts in April.

The pair were team-mates at Stanford University in the US college system but were unaware of their eligibility to play for their birth country until Bodensteiner enquired about playing for a New Zealand club earlier this year.

Harmon was a member of the Stanford Cardinal team that reached the Women’s NCAA championship game in April.

At 29, Charmian Purcell is the oldest member of a squad with an average age of 23.5 years, with 18-year-old McCormack the youngest.

“It’s the strongest team we could have selected for the Olympics,” McHugh said.“But because there are only two players back from the Athens Olympic Games it is a very young and inexperienced team at the Olympic level, even though we’ve had a great build-up over the last year and a half.

“I think it’s a better team than we took to Athens in the talent level, we just lack the superstar names like Gina Farmer and Donna Wilkins.”

Kerr and Marino were part of the Tall Ferns surprise march to the quarterfinals in Athens, with wins over Korea and China, before a loss to eventual silver medallists Australia. The programme has gone through a transition period following a raft of retirements after Athens.

McCormack, at 1.94m, is the only genuine centre, while Kerr, Harmon, Natalie Purcell and Lisa Wallbutton offer height inside, while in the guard-line former captain Noni Wharemate and Kate McMeeken-Ruscoe, who has recovered from an early-season knee injury, provide experience alongside Marino, Bodensteiner, Bates and Cocks.

The Christchurch Sirens provide seven players – Kerr, Bates, McMeeken-Ruscoe, the Purcells, Wallbutton and Wharemate – and assistant coach Leigh Gooding.

The Tall Ferns play their opening games at the Beijing Olympics against Mali on August 9, before further group B games against hosts China, World number one USA and European powers Spain and Czech Republic.

New Zealand Tall Ferns

Player Position Age Height Club
Suzie Bates Guard 20 1.73m Christchurch Sirens (NZ)
Clare Bodensteiner Guard 23 1.76m Stanford University (NCAA)
Micaela Cocks Guard 22 1.74m University of Oregon (NCAA)
Jillian Harmon Forward 21 1.85 Stanford University (NCAA)
Aneka Kerr (c) Forward 27 1.82m Christchurch Sirens (NZ)
Angela Marino Guard 22 1.66m Adelaide Lightning (AUS)
Jessica McCormack Centre 18 1.94m University of Connecticut (NCAA)
Kate McMeeken-Ruscoe Guard 28 1.75m Christchurch Sirens (NZ)
Charmian Purcell Forward 29 1.80m Christchurch Sirens (NZ)
Natalie Purcell Forward 25 1.83m Christchurch Sirens (NZ)
Lisa Wallbutton Forward 22 1.83m Christchurch Sirens (NZ)
Noni Wharemate Guard 26 1.71m Christchurch Sirens (NZ)

Coach: Mike McHugh
Assistant: Leigh Gooding
Video technician: Kennedy Kereama
Manager: Louise Hogarth
Doctor: Lynne Coleman
Physio: Karen Sutton