Emerging Opals claim World Uni Games gold

EMERGING no more… they have emerged.

Australia’s Emerging Opals have added another amazing achievement to our ever-expanding trophy cabinet with their win at the World University Games last week.

Becoming the world champion is no mean feat – Australia has barely scratched the surface of this achievement in basketball… but our women’s teams continue to get this job done.

It was our second win at the World University Games, showing this was no fluke and that Australian basketball will thrive wherever the game may take us.

We had to endure the ‘pool of death’, including a pool stage loss to Russia.

From there it was a task of taking on the United States – a behemoth in every aspect of basketball – before the home-town crowd of Chinese Taipei in the semi-final.

From there what stood between the Emerging Opals and success was Japan in the gold medal match… but after the last hurdle was leapt there was no question as to who stood supreme.

It was an incredible week for our Victorian quartet – with Aimie Clydesdale, Lauren Scherf, Alexandra Sharp and Abbey Wehrung flourishing in the Australian colours.

From their time in #TeamVic jerseys to donning the green-and-gold, these Victorian superstars have perennially shown what we’re capable of on the biggest stages in basketball.

It all culminated in a thrilling gold-medal encounter against Japan as Australia saw off the powerhouse basketball nation to take an 85-78 triumph and bring home the next Australian world championship.

Standing tall and providing an almighty presence in the Australian key, Lauren Scherf (18 points, 12 rebounds, five assists) left no stone unturned in a dominant grand final – capping off an incredible tournament in Taipei. Abbey Wehrung (11 points) also notched double digits in the showcase clash against Japan.

But it wasn’t smooth sailing in the final as Japan surged late to cut the Australian lead and leave us to grind out the victory.

From the immense highs of an incredible third term as Darcee Garbin (30 points), Scherf, Wehrung and Alex Wilson (17 points) went ballistic, the fightback came in earnest as Japan shut down Australia’s offence and slashed the gap.

It took some cooler heads to finish the job as Australia recorded the incredible seven-point world championship earning triumph.

“When we knew we were playing off for the gold medal, it was such a good feeling,” Scherf said. “We had played Japan in Japan in the tournament leading into the World Uni Games, but they had gotten better and so had we – so we knew it was going to be a tough game.

“It’s crazy to think now, at my age, I’ve got a gold medal behind me and it’s a privilege to represent my country and to win a gold medal for our home nation.

“It’s really hard to describe the feeling (standing on the podium) – it’s something that you’ve got to achieve yourself to know what it feels like – all that hard work you put in has paid off and I couldn’t have done it without those girls.

They’re so enthusiastic and motivating and I just loved every moment, to share it with those girls is unbelievable and I’ll remember it for the rest of my life.”

It wasn’t the smoothest tournament for the Australians, but in the end the struggles helped galvanise the side and form something stronger because of the ups and downs.

“I think having those ups and downs before getting to the finals always helps – it was a long three weeks and it was the best three weeks I’ve had,” Scherf said. “Being in Japan (for a warm-up tournament before the World Uni Games), I’ve never been to Japan and was really excited to go and that was a really good starting point for us girls to gel and connect and understand each other.

“We got to Taipei and we had one goal – to get out the pool of death – we didn’t expect anything else and just had one aim and mindset.

“The ups and downs with people getting a few injuries along the way and having lost to Russia in the pool game, that really hurt and we knew what it was like to lose a game and see what it felt like.

“That really helped us to be stronger and gain a better mentality going into finals – it showed the next game against USA – that was unbelievable… an unreal feeling.

“I’ve never beaten the USA and to beat them with that group was unbelievable and amazing.

“We achieved our aim to get out of the pool of death, beat the USA and then coming up against Chinese Taipei in the semi-final, basically playing against the home country, playing in front of 18,000 people was kind of scary.

“The whole of the crowd barracking for the opposition… so I was really proud of the girls and how we stuck together – united and I could not believe it.

“I was so in the game against Chinese Taipei that at the end when the buzzer went I didn’t realise it – I was so in the moment and concentrated.

“Darcee (Garbin) jumped on me and said we won and I didn’t process it – just showed how much I was in it and dialled in to the game.”

 

To bring home our second international championship in a little over a year – following the amazing success of the Under-17 Sapphires – showed Australia’s future remains as promising as always.

With many of our Emerging Opals returning to Australia for the upcoming WNBL 2017/18 season, it goes to show the strength we’re creating across the country is going back into making our home leagues strong and giving our players the best chance to shine at all levels.

“I think it shows that we’re creating a really strong competition in Australia – the WNBL has always been really strong and you can see with this season coming up there are a lot of good teams,” Scherf said. “It shows the development that’s going on within the AIS and the states as well – how much talent is happening and how we’re spotting these talented girls and getting them to become Emerging Opals.

“It’s providing great recognition within Basketball Australia for our women’s teams and we’re seeing more people come to play WNBL and it’s really good for our league as we can really improve as well.

“It’s doing really well plus having the TV deal is going to help us blossom.”

To see Scherf in action this summer we’ll have to tune in to FOX Sports regularly as she’s made the decision to head up to Canberra for the new WNBL season.

She said nothing she’s achieved could have happened without Dandenong’s support, but it was time for her to take on a new challenge.

“I felt like I owe Dandenong everything they’ve done for me over the last few years,” Scherf said. “I wouldn’t have a gold medal in my hands without them, but I felt like I needed a new environment for myself and a bit of a change… change is always good.

“I felt Canberra was the place for me and I’m really excited to be playing with the new team and the new girls.”

AUSTRALIAN EMERGING OPALS – SQUAD

Aimie Clydesdale, Vanessa Panousis, Megan McKay, Lauren Scherf, Alex Wilson, Alexandra Sharp, Carly Turner, Keeley Froling, Chelsea Brook, Abigail Wehrung, Darcee Garbin, Kristy Wallace.

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