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Dreaming big: Bygate accepts invitation to New Zealand National team trials beginning Monday

Press Photo by Royal McGregor Dickinson State senior Jess Bygate shoots over a pair of Valley City State defenders during the Sam Milanovich Classic on Nov. 24 at Scott Gymnasium. Bygate has been invited to participate in the New Zealand National team's squad beginning Monday.

Since she was a kid, Dickinson State senior Jess Bygate's dream has always been to play for the New Zealand National basketball team.

Bygate's dream has taken another step in the right direction.

The 6-foot-1 starting post from Nelson, New Zealand, has been invited to participate in the New Zealand National Team's Tall Ferris three-day trials beginning Monday.

"This has always been my goal," Bygate said during a phone interview. "I'll be trialing against players who play professionally in Australia and one player who plays in Europe. It will be a really good opportunity."

However, Bygate's chance to participate in the three-day trial didn't come right away. The 21 players had already been chosen for trials, but Bygate was a late addition.

"I was pretty excited to hear I was invited because originally I wasn't on the initial squad," Bygate said. "I didn't really think it was going to be possible this year."

Though the DSU senior was thrilled to receive a phone call notifying her she was invited to the trial, she admits there is a bit of nervousness.

If Bygate makes the New Zealand National team after the three-day trial period, she will play with New Zealand against the Australian National Team before flying back to Dickinson on Aug. 20. After the 2012 London Olympics, Australia is ranked No. 2 internationally, while New Zealand is ranked No. 22.

"I had my flights booked for a while. It was quite lucky that this whole trial, and if I make the team, is happening really soon, so it just before I fly back to America," Bygate said.

DSU head coach Caleb Harrison, who is a New Zealand native, said it's an honor for the Blue Hawk women's basketball program to have Bygate be chosen to compete in the national team trials. Harrison is in his second season as head coach of the Blue Hawks. In his first season, he led DSU to an 8-20 overall record, including a 3-10 record in Frontier Conference play.

"We are really excited for Jess," Harrison said. "It has always been a goal for Jess to play for the New Zealand National Team. To be right on the cusp of it and one step away is a really great opportunity for her."

Bygate said her basketball game has grown since she started playing in the United States. She began her career at Moberly Community College (Mo.) during the 2011-12 season. She transferred to play at DSU for the 2012-13 season.

"I think playing in America in general has been helpful," Bygate said. "If you want to play basketball in college in New Zealand, you kind of have to do it on your own time. Not many universities have university basketball teams. Being in America and have everything working together helps a lot more."

Another DSU player making the trip from overseas to play in the U.S. is Lorna Shepherd. The sophomore point guard is from Brisbane, Australia. Shepherd spent most of the last year starting for the Blue Hawks as a freshman.

She said playing in the U.S. opposed to Australia is very different.

"Back in Australia, we play international rules, which is a 24-second shot clock," Shepherd said. "Over here we play with a 30-second shot clock, so you have to play really smart. You have to use your time effectively. It teaches you to use other skills and it helps you grow exponentially as a player."

Though there are differences in play, Shepherd said the ultimate goal remains the same -- play for your national team.

"It shows that this program isn't just about playing now," Shepherd said. "It's a really great opportunity for (Jess) if she was to make the team and represent her country. It's what all of us dream of.

"College is a stepping stone. You go through your junior career, and then your aim is to go to college, study, play, learn and develop. Eventually, the goal is represent your country and play professional basketball."