History has been made by an Eastern Southland Basketball Association team.

The U16 Eastern Boys A squad qualified for the U16 nationals. This is the first time a male Eastern Southland team has qualified for the tournament.

The squad qualified after making the final of the Zone 6 U16 boys national qualifying tournament in Dunedin earlier this month.

Coach Jarrod O’Connor said the achievement was “huge” for basketball in Eastern Southland.

“We’ve been blown out quite a few years in a row.

“It’s been a bit tough some years. But this year we knew we could keep up with them and we knew we had the talent here.

“To see that on the court and to see that as a result is awesome,” O’Connor said.

The team qualified for the tournament after they beat Southland White 61-52 in the semifinal.

“To beat those teams, it’s pretty unreal.

“[The team’s] excited. There [was] a lot of emotion after beating Southland to qualify.

“There was a lot of emotion from the guys. A lot of tears and [from] the coaches. Don’t like to talk about it but there was.”

They lost to North Otago U16 boys in the final 93-79 but still maintained their qualification.

A team effort had been put together to achieve the result.

“We locked down on defence and I think each game we came back from 10 down.

“They just never gave up and kept fighting and we managed to get the results we wanted.”

The team trained twice a week and put in a lot of hard work, he said.

“You can see their confidence growing each time they come to training.

Going national . . . Coaches of the U16 Eastern Boys A Squad Mike Johnston,left, and Jarrod O’Connor stand with the squad how will travel to Auckland in July for the Foot Locker U16 Nationals. PHOTO: BEN ANDREWS

“Outside of training they’ve been playing with some of the older boys so they’re just starting to grow.”

The team was not the biggest on the court but they had a lot of heart.

The result was a display of the talent in Eastern Southland.

Coach Mike Johnston said going to the national tournament was no small feat.

“It’s gonna be tough up there but if you do the hard work it definitely pays off.

“It just shows what we’re doing with Eastern Basketball is working and the talent is there,” Johnston said.

He described the semifinal as “stressful, frustrating and emotional”.

“That semifinal against Southland was probably the most emotional game I’ve been involved in.”

The crowd had cheered on Eastern Southland for much of the game.

“That shows that they like the underdog status.

“Which we definitely were.”

“We knew we were going to be the underdogs going into it.

At the 2023 tournament the team lost to Otago U16A Boys by 84 points.

This year they beat them by seven points.

“That’s a massive turnaround within a season.”

Will Abernethy averaged a team high 21.25 points at the tournament.

The U16 nationals will be held in Auckland from July 16-19.

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