Anyone who has spent any time watching basketball at the Bendigo Stadium over the past decade knows the name Piper Dunlop.
For 10 years the “quiet tall kid” has been turning out for the Junior Braves, graduating through the ranks to Victoria Country, and having the honour of wearing the green and gold along the way.
All the while, Piper was a regular fixture at the stadium’s old Court One, watching country Victorian stars such as Gabrielle Richards, Kelly Wilson, Kristy Harrower, Tessa Lavey, and Kerryn Harrington mix it with some of the best players in the world for the Villawood Bendigo Spirit.
With 6.19m left in the WNBL opener against the Southside Flyers in Townsville, it became Piper’s turn to inspire the next generation of young Bendigo girls.
“The Spirit is something I have dreamt about my whole life,” the 17 year old said.
“What happened was surreal. Honestly, I have no words.”
Less than a minute after checking in, fellow Central Victorian junior – Shepparton’s Shelby Britten – passed it to the 6’2’’ centre, who found herself unmarked, outside the arc just right of centre.
“I never thought a three would give me my first points for the Spirit, but I hit it and I was stoked,” she said.
Immediately, Piper turned to the bench, with huge smile on her face.
“I was really excited. I was just looking at everyone,” she said.
Once the game was over, Piper had one thing in mind – parents Steve and Sally back home in Bendigo.
“I got straight back into the locker room and rang them,” she said.
“They said they were surprised I didn’t hear them from Townsville, they were screaming so hard.
“I will cherish this the rest of my life, I have loved every second of it.”
For Spirit General Manager Ben Harvey, Piper’s story, and that of Shelby, Kelly, Tessa, Kristy, Gabe, Kerryn, and many more, is what the Villawood Bendigo Spirit is all about.
“The word ‘pathway’ is used a lot in basketball, but for a place like Bendigo it means so much more,” he said.
“We want Under 12 girls knowing that they can develop their skills and eventually play in what is the second-best basketball league in the world, all without leaving home.
“That’s important for their development, for their family, and for the city itself.”