Chris McIllhatton and Jess Ward are national basketball champions at school level.
Chris McIllhatton and Jess Ward are national basketball champions at school level. Jay Cronan

Teams take home gold

THE Northern Rivers has produced two national basketball champions at school level in Chris McIllhatton and Jess Ward.

McIllhatton (St John's College, Woodlawn) and Ward (Xavier College, Skennars Head) took home gold for NSW All Schools in Canberra last Friday.

McIllhatton and Ward's teams both had early losses before bouncing back to win the final.

McIllhatton's team lost a pool game to Victoria but beat the same opposition 80-64 in the final.

Ward's team was placed under even more pressure. It lost a double-overtime thriller to Victoria, as well as a match against Queensland, before taking the final 65-60 against the Vics.

Shooting guard McIllhatton averaged 12 minutes per game and played every match except the final.

Ward played three games, including the final.

Both ranked the tournament a basketball career highlight at school level.

McIllhatton then backed up to play for the Ballina Breakers in the State League semi-final loss to the Maitland Mustangs on Saturday night.

“I was pretty buggered,” he said.

“I'm keen to play All Schools again next year.”

It was a fairytale win for Ward – it was her first All Schools tournament and she graduates at the end of this year.

“We needed to find that extra desire after losing two early matches and we did that,” Ward said. “The team managed to gel really well.”



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