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Capitals’ striking Mariana Tolo

Stepping into the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) arena for a Canberra Capitals game you are stuck by a few things – the music greets you as you walk down the steps into the courts, followed by the sound of numerous sneakers squeaking on the polished wood court. As you emerge from the stairwell and into the stadium, a poster of young centre sensation, Marianna Tolo demands your attention.

The 6ft Mackay local is fast becoming a crowd favourite in her third season with the Capitals and her name can be heard throughout the crowd as she warms up in preparation for their game against Adelaide Lightning. “It’s weird looking up and seeing yourself all serious,” Mariana said.

Since leaving home, to play for the AIS in Canberra five years ago, this 21-year-old has had to deal with a packed schedule studying sports coaching and exercise science at the University of Canberra, working at Sportsman’s Warehouse in Civic and then meeting the demands of becoming a rising star in Australian’s women’s basketball.

Unfortunately that leaves little time for family who still live in Mackay.

“I love going home, I just never get enough time to go there,” she said.

Marianna tried her hand at many individual sports as a teenager before finally being introduced to basketball at the age of eight. “I was VERY uncoordinated, and had no idea what I was doing but it was a lot of fun at eight”.

However, it seems to run in the family with older brother Adam returning from four years in the United States playing college basketball.

With two older siblings playing professional basketball her younger sister is looking to a different avenue.

”She’s more artese and designee, she’s into fashion, photography and things like that.”

But as she bussles with two defenders, getting a shot off but failing to open the scoring for the game, it is clear a lot has changed since then.

A representative spot in the World Championships was a just reward for Marianna after a steller 09/10 season which she played a major role in sealing the Capitals seventh national tital.

“I probably didn’t have the best game offensively in the grand final but the good side to that was I stopped Liz [Cambage] a couple of times and that was really important,” Marianna said

”She was a really big factor in that game and her scoring was vital for them.”

That hasn’t been the only time Marianna has had to deal with Elizabeth Cambage with the two up and coming centers battling it out for representative positions. “She has had a lot of practice against my shot blocking recently so it will be interesting to see how the game goes against her next time,” Marianna says.

She has recently returned from the World Championships in the Czech Republic were she was part of the Australian Opals team.
The Opals unfortunately succumbed to a inspired host nation in the lead up to the finals and ended the tournament in fifth.

“It was just disappointing because some of the girls in that team like Kristi Harrower, have been there for 16 or 17 years and it’s the first time they really finished fifth.

”We had our eyes on the grand final [against the US] before we actually won the important games.”

Despite the blairing music and sporadic shouts from the crowd she admitted to being intimidated and somewhat envious of the Czech crowds.

”Their crowd was massive and so noisy.

”We’re trying to get bigger crowds but I don’t know I guess just getting people to come to women’s basketball always going to be a challenge but it’s getting better”.

Hanging on the opposite end of the court to her poster hangs one of an outstretched Lauren Jackson who Marianna had the chance to play alongside last year. “It was really good to watch here and play against her, I think I really got better playing against her and she’d give me tips every now and again.”

Throughout the game Marianna shouts instructions to her team mates. “Shots up” alerts her team mates to turn and even from the bench she continues to shout encouragement.
But off the court a slightly more timid and reserved women retells how “Lauren got harassed all the time”. While she admitted that she was unsure whether she would enjoy more of the spotlight she revealed she thought “it’d still be beneficial for women’s basketball to get more of a profile and get more viewers and get more of a following”.

Unfortunately, the busy schedule works against her with study and basketball preventing her from working much. Bert McKinnion, assistant manager of Sportsmans wearhouse in Civic revealed that even without her around that much she is still one of the favourites. “Everyone loves working with her,” he said “she is a world of fun.” (10 Nov 2010)

As Capitals coach Carrie Graf shouts from the sidlines in her 300th game as a coach in the WNBL it is clear why she is a bit part of Marianna’s development, and to those who think she has an unfair advantage having the Opals coach as her club coach Marianna retorted “if she thought that I wasn’t good enough as a player I wouldn’t have been picked to go to the World Champs.”

Marianna continues to wreak havoc for the Adelaide Lightning in the key and often finds herself double teamed but still manages to get the better of her opponents. It is clear there is a driving force which has been their since she was young, “in year five a school teacher, Mr. Cleasy was asking us all what we wanted to do when we grow up and going around we had a hairdresser, fireman and I was like ‘I want to play basketball for Australia, I want to go to an Olympics.’”

That Olypic dream is still burning bright and she admits that her number one goal is the London Olympics. “I think the Olympics are the main basketball event.”

“It’s what everyone definitely wants to achieve.”

With big money and the apeal of travel calling Marianna accepts that one day she may venture overseas to Europe to play in the professional leages their but for now she is “happy at the Caps for now, hopefully we can win another championship.”

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