Kyle McDonald, Sports Writer, @kylesportsbias
On an Island nation like New Zealand you wouldn’t think that the dream of two young girls would be to play Division 1 basketball in the United States. You would think that the normal thing to do would be to spend time with family, play rugby, and be active in the outdoors. Georgia Agnew and Rhaiah Spooner-Knight aren’t your normal type of girls. They hail from New Zealand and have taken some different paths to become starters on the UVU Women’s basketball team and fulfill a lifelong dream to play college basketball.
Rhaiah and Georgia grew up in the city of Hamilton, New Zealand. It is the 4th most populous city in New Zealand behind Auckland, Wellington, which is the capital city, and Christchurch. It has a population of 218,800 which is about the size of the population of Provo and Orem combined. It is a 7,000 mile trip from the hometown of these girls to the campus of Utah Valley University. That‘s like going from New York to Los Angeles and then back again in one trip. This makes it extremely difficult for the families of the girls to attend their games but fortunately technology has made it possible for them to stream the games and never miss the opportunity to see their girls in action.
Playing games such as Netball, which is a mix between soccer, basketball, and quiddich, or playing Touch, which is rugby without the tackling, were normal things for these two girls. They both spent a lot of time outdoors. “There were a lot of beaches back home so I spent a lot of time outdoors,” Spooner-Knight stated. “Summer beaches, school, basketball, is basically it,” according to Agnew. It was a pretty carefree life that these girls lived. Their parents weren’t too strict with what they let them do and supported them in their endeavors.
The game of basketball has been a part of the lives of these girls since they were young. Georgia started playing around the age of 8 even though her family has been involved in the game their whole lives with her father has played basketball for the New Zealand Juniors and the Waikato Men’s team and has also coached the Waikato men and women. Her mother and grandmother also played for the Waikato women’s team so she has had basketball in her blood since birth. It was around age 7 or 8 that Rhaiah started taking basketball seriously. It was her mother who first pushed her to try it and once she played the game, she was hooked.
Both of the girls knew each other growing up and played together on some teams including Reps, which in the United States is similar to an AAU team. Because of the age difference though, Georgia is 21 and Rhaiah is 20, they didn’t play together very often because you played with your same age group in New Zealand.
Basketball has a different culture in regards to the way it is played in New Zealand. “People are a little bit more dirty…….so they gonna hack you more. People are lazier,” is the way Rhaiah described how the game is played in her home country. She also said that in the United States there are more girls that play and back home you pretty much know all the good players.
Imagine attending a single sex school where you have to wear uniforms and attending class with the same sex each and every day. How would you feel if you didn’t have to get too dolled up to impress others around you? “Single sex schools aren’t that cool….there is so much drama,” according to Rhaiah.
Now imagine going to a same sex school for 5 or more years only to start your senior year at a new Co-Ed high school. That is what Georgia dealt with when she moved to Utah and attended Salem Hills High School for her senior year. “It was so weird but I loved it though. It was something different,” she said in regards to attending the Co-Ed school.
If that weren’t bad enough, imagine playing basketball in a gym where instead of fans sitting and watching the game, there were no seats and the fans just stood around the court to watch. Or the crowds were only made up of your family? The seating in the gyms at the UVU Student Life and Wellness center is more than what most gyms in New Zealand had. “To walk into a gym and see it all laid out even when it isn’t full is crazy,” according to Rhaiah. With unusually small crowds to play in front of it could discourage someone from continuing forward yet for these girls they didn’t let that bother them and continued to work hard to become starters on the UVU Women’s basketball team.
These girls wanted to continue to play basketball and because they didn’t have colleges back home they had to make the sacrifice to leave their families to come to the United States and find their way. Even through the difficulty of not having their families in attendance or being able to see them in person on a regular basis, these girls continue to play the game they have come to love and have success both on and off the court.
“We still have a long way to go but we can be really good. We should definitely be better than we were last year,” Georgia stated. With the leadership, confidence and trust these two women have in one another which was apparent in their decision to come to UVU as Rhaiah wanted to play where Georgia played, the UVU Women’s basketball team is set to have a successful season and as well as in seasons to come.
I am 32 years old, love the Chicago Cubs. A huge lego maniac and love to crochet team blankets (just ask, cool stuff)!! I have a passion for sports and a passion to write about them.