The Newcastle Hunters under 14s are looking to extend their unbeaten run as they come face-to-face with the best Australia has to offer when they travel to Ballarat for the Under-14 National Club Championships in September.
The starlets began their road to the eight-day tournament in April with preseason fixtures in Sydney. Facing off against metro powerhouses like Manly, North Sydney, and other ‘big city’ squads, the Hunters kick-started an unbeaten run.
From there, the Newcastle roster set their eyes on the championship level of their tournament. The season is played across four events in Tamworth, Coffs Harbour, Gosford, and Newcastle. The Hunters didn’t lose a game.
With the shining streak now very much alive for the Novocastrian squad, the NSW Country tournament in June seemed to be just another hurdle for them to overcome.
An undefeated run again in Bathurst – and a gold medal finish – qualified them for the championship level. Another first-place finish. Another big ‘0’ in the loss column.
“We’ve got the team into Nationals at the end of the year, and it really has been such a fantastic run for the girls,” squad coach Cassie Baldwin said.
“The fact that we’ve qualified among the top 24 teams in Australia, and we did it all undefeated, shows that this is one of the best teams playing in the country at the moment. Now we have a chance to prove it in September.”
There aren’t many teams able to achieve an undefeated run in their league structures. Just recently, even the high-flying Waratah League squad from the Hunters tumbled to their first defeat after 19 straight wins on the trot.
According to Baldwin, the challenge of taking a Newcastle team through the metro and country competitions can be “tough,” but the teamwork and comradeship the under 14s squad this year has shown is “unparalleled.”
“14s is always a very tough and challenging year when it comes to basketball season, it’s the place where girls are beginning to get really serious and some of the big metro teams have so many girls to draw on,” Baldwin told the Chronicle.
“Everyone in the squad are such fantastic and positive kids, there’s a real unity in the team that really boosts the teamwork and talent that they bring. They all encourage each other and lift each other, and it shows out on the court.
“One of the best qualities of our team is that we are a team. There are girls that sit on the bench in games that are cheering each other on, there’s never a ‘woe is me’ type reaction if they can’t play. It’s beautiful to see, and it’s been a big part of it all.
“At the end of the day, there’s no big egos in the team, there’s no big heads. They’re just a group of lovely girls that want to achieve together, and want to see each other be the best that they can be on and off the court.
“Because we’re from Newcastle, we only have a limited pool of players that we can select from compared to a lot of the metro teams. I think that means that the girls that are in the squad have to work that much harder, and it shows.”
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While the Hunter squad has been unstoppable on the court, however, they’re now faced with hefty travelling costs to make it to Ballarat for the Nationals in September.
“We’re just looking for some help with the expense of actually getting the Ballarat, it’s the same weekend as the AFL grand final so flights are really expensive,” Baldwin said.
“Anything that people can do to support the team and their parents would be great to see, we’ve had a very long season already and we just want to lessen the load of the travel costs, accommodation, and everything that comes up.”
The team has already raised $1,545 through their GoFundMe page, and are looking to hit a donation marker of $5,000. While the money to be raised won’t cover all costs, Baldwin said it would “make a dint” in them all the same.
If you are interested in supporting the Hunter team, head to gofundme.com/newcastle-hunters-2019-national-club-championships. You can also follow along with their preparation and progress on Facebook at facebook.com/Newcastle-Hunters-U14-Girls.