Rangatahi bound for America

Laken hopes to make her whānau proud while she in America.

Laken hopes to make her whānau proud.

Laken Wairau of Christchurch is only three weeks away from studying and playing basketball at Indiana University for the next four years.

“It’s all so surreal, I leave on Boxing Day. I wasn’t meant to leave until next August, so it’s a quick turnaround. I recently got the call that they want me to come early so they can see my style of play,” says Laken, who is a shooter and point guard for the Canterbury Wildcats.

Laken’s Canterbury Wildcats coach, Lori McDaniel and Indiana University Women’s Basketball (Hoosiers) coach, Teri Moren, recognised the 18-year-old’s potential and together they offered her the basketball scholarship, which will cover her tuition and some other costs during her time at the university.

Laken (Ngāi Tahu–Ngāi Tūāhuriri, Waitaha, Rongomaiwahine me Tapuika) who was the co-sports prefect at Christchurch Girls’ High School this year, says that although she is quietly nervous, she has been working hard in preparation for her trip and the busy schedule she’ll face on her arrival to America.

“They (the basketball team) have sent me a 30-page play book that I have to learn before I get there.

“It’s pretty full-on trying to balance my training and school work at the same time but I’ve found that having a good support network, whānau and friends helps a lot. I’m so grateful for them,” she says.

Laken taking a shot during a free throw.

Laken taking a shot during a free throw.

During her stay in America, Laken will study towards a Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology (BSK) with a major in Exercise Science, and an average day will include early morning basketball training sessions, university classes and team trainings in the afternoon.

“Every second day I will have a strength and training session. During the season we will be travelling a lot but they have academic advisors and tutors who travel with the team, so we will still be focusing on our study.”

Laken has been playing basketball since she was 11 and in the last seven years, she has accomplished much in the New Zealand basketball scene.

Some of her successes include winning a national secondary schools title; touring and playing with the New Zealand Junior Tall Ferns in China in 2014, playing three consecutive years with the Canterbury Wildcats Women’s Basketball Championship team, competing at all levels of Canterbury junior representative teams; winning both the U19 and U13 national titles; and placing second in the U15 division. Laken has also played four seasons for the University of Canterbury (UC) Women’s Premier team and this year, she was the recipient of their best defensive award, after helping the side to their eighth winning title in 10 seasons.

Laken in action during a match with the NZ Junior Tall Ferns.

Laken in action during a match with the NZ Junior Tall Ferns.

Her achievements don’t stop at basketball. Laken has already completed three years of study with the UC Star programme. She will graduate with a diploma in languages (te reo Māori) later this month before she leaves the country.

Once her four years at Indiana University are up, Laken plans to travel back to New Zealand to continue studying medicine at the University of Otago in Dunedin. She hopes this will help her to pursue a career in sports medicine and sports psychology.