Sharks reflect on top season

Sharks player Courtney Belger was the NBL's assists per game leader this season. He had 5.7 assists per game on average. Photos: Laura Smith

IT was emotional, it was loud and it was not without a fight.

The SIT Zero Fees Southland Sharks ended the 2021 New Zealand Basketball League championship in fourth place after losing the semi-final to the Hawke’s Bay Hawks 98-91 in Porirua last week.

However, the loss did not dampen the spirits of the players, executive team or the Southland community, who were super proud of their efforts.

Sharks general manager Jill Bolger said she was happy with what they achieved.

“They are all very good teams so we [Sharks] were always gonna be the underdogs. It would be nice, on top of everything, to be in the finals.

“But I think we had an excellent season. Our home record was really good the boys learnt a lot from coach Bevo [Rob Beveridge], they were great ambassadors for the club.”

The Sharks went into this season with a new coach, a diverse range of players, two American imports Cunningham and Courtney Belger and many scores and hair styles from Dominique Kelman-Poto.

However, before the start, the team was hit by the news one of its main players, Alex Pledger, had been diagnosed with colorectal cancer.

Bolger said this was one of the hardest moments for everyone.

At the time, it was hard to believe he would be ready to return to the court this season, but his passion, resilience and effort allowed him to make a comeback, albeit a short one, three months after his diagnosis.

Bolger said this was definitely the highlight of the season.

“That was something that our crowd and our fans will never forget. I’m sure he will not either, given the support he had from the community this year.”

During the regular season, the Southland Sharks had 19 games, winning 13 of them. The players had outstanding home performances at ILT Southland Stadium with seven wins and two losses.

Bolger said the support of the Shark Tank was also a contributor for the great results this season.

“Two of our loudest games were the Otago Nuggets game at home and, of course, the Pledger return match. The Pledger return, I think, was one of the loudest crowds I have ever heard.

“I think our crowd this year, potentially, was bigger than it has been… I’m very proud of our community.”

It was a bit early to think about the 2022 season, but everyone had indicated they would like to return, she said.

“Obviously, we would like to have the bulk of our team signed before Christmas and, hopefully, this will happen.

“But, as I said, there are some players that you wait for you know know where they will land in their lives, whether they will have another job around the world.”

Until then, Bolger would be reminiscing about the past season.

“I think they are very proud of what they did and I think they should be proud