14 July 2016
Maribyrnong Sports Academy Year 11 student Monique Conti has arrived back in Australia ready to take on her next challenge, whatever that maybe.
Monique and her Sapphire teammates achieved greatness in their sport by becoming the first Australian U17 women’s team to win the World Championships defeating Italy in the final 62 to 38 and become the only team outside of the United States to win the tournament in its history.
For Monique it was also a tournament that propelled her into the limelight, after being named the best point guard in the world and an all-star.
“It was really a great experience, especially playing against such high level athletes, the best in the world.” Conti says. “Every game was so physical and so tough that it was hard to compete, but the Sapphires were just such a team and we stuck together so well, that it made it a lot easier to win the tournament when we played so well as a team.”
The team first came together in early May at the AIS in Canberra to prepare for the tournament but Monique says the fact that most of the players have either played together or against each other for many years gave them a massive advantage. “Because we have known each other for so long, especially the six Victorians in the team who have played on the same court together for so long, we just knew each other so well which made it so easy to get along.”
The main hurdle into the final was the penultimate game against the previously undefeated United States of America who had won 18 straight games since the tournament began. In fact, no American Under 17 Men or Women’s team had ever lost an Under 17 World Championship in the past.
Monique says there was so much pressure on her team to win the Semi Final. “There was a lot of pressure because we did want to win, and we had done so well in the tournament leading up to this game (Australia was undefeated). Coming up against America is always tough, and this game was physically and mentally draining because we were up against the U.S.A who had never lost in this competition.”
“When the buzzer went it was just so exciting, and everyone was jumping around each other because we had just made history, the U.S.A. hadn’t lost in this tournament before, so beating them to get into the Gold Medal game, you couldn’t really describe the feeling, we were just all so happy and just really over the moon.”
At the end of the Gold Medal game, Monique was named in the All Star five in the position of Point Guard, an honour she says she had never dreamt of achieving. “It’s a great honour to have that label next to my name at the moment, but I never thought I would do so well in this tournament because I wasn’t even a part of the team to qualify for these Championships last year at the Oceania Qualifiers while ten of my teammates were. So coming into this team I thought it would be hard to fit in, but as I have said, with six Victorians in the team I was made so welcome and it made my job a lot easier.”
Monique has also shown plenty of ability on the Aussie Rules football field, and was named a member of the Vic Metro Under 18 team which went on to win the National Championships. While it would seem that Monique will now focus on her Basketball she is finding it hard to let go of her footy, “I still want to stick to my football because anything can happen and something may happen in Basketball and I won’t have anything to fall back on, that’s why I always want to keep football as one of my pathways and will try to mix the two sports for the time being.”
It would seem an offer from a US College won’t be too far away after such an outstanding tournament and Monique says there have been a few message left on her phone, “There have been a few offers here and there, and I’ve had messages left on my phone. I want to finish year 12 at Maribyrnong and If I got a good offer from a division one college and I was really convinced it was the right thing for me, then I would go, because I have wanted to go to a US College for a long time now, and it would be fantastic to take up an offer.”
While Monique has struggled to make rep teams in the past, it would seem her future in the sport is secured in the short term with the All Star Point Guard being signed by the Deakin Melbourne Boomers in the WNBL. “It all happened quite fast, but I believe it will be a great opportunity for me to develop my game as an individual and be able to play at such an elite level with the best players in Australia.”
Maribyrnong Academy Head coach of Basketball Brian Vaughns believes the world is Monique’s Oyster, “I think Monique has a very bright future, I think she is one who could probably play at the NCAA Division 1 level, and even while she was in Spain I was in conversations with the University of North Carolina and also the coach at the University of Illinois as well, and there have been a few more to contact me in relation to her future.”
Coach Vaughns says he’s not surprised that Monique was named in the All Star line up, “Not at all. I remember coaching those guys at the junior level and we were covering the girls in year 7 and year 8, we called the group the “Dog Pound” because they were all midgets. When they were in Year 8 we played the Chinese National Team, and to everyone’s surprise those little guys beat their much taller opponents, and even back then you could see the commitment, the attitude and fortitude of this group of girls, and how much they put into it, so for Monique to take these steps now and go forward with it, it’s almost as if it was meant to be, because she really puts in the work.”
Monique thanks coach Vaughns and all the coaches at Maribyrnong for the work they have put into her basketball, “A simple thank you will never be enough, but the coaches Brian, Shane and Flemo have all stuck by me throughout it all, even when I was cut from State Teams as a bottom ager, I just came here and asked what I needed to do to get better, and they helped me out with that and obviously got me to where I am today.”
While her Mum and Sister had always planned to go to the tournament, being surprised by her dad on the day of the first match was something special, “On the first day my dad just turned up and I didn’t even know he was coming, my whole family has just been really happy for me for what I have achieved, they were quite emotional, especially when we beat the U.S.A they were really happy.”
Monique for now will get stuck into her studies, before starting he preseason with the Boomers. Everyone here at Maribyrnong College wishes Monique all the best for her future.
The Sapphires presented to the HiSence Arena crowd at the Boomers game against the Pac 12
Have a safe and Happy Holiday period
Victorian Junior Golf Open
All Schools National Championships.