Being defending champions has proven to be a nuisance for the Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic, according to assistant coach Tanya Dearns.
On the cusp of elimination from the playoffs race in this year's trans-Tasman netball competition, Dearns, who could well be one of the frontrunners to take over when coach Noeline Taura leaves at the end of the season, is so far lamenting the Magic's inability to lift themselves as much as their opponents have been.
"We just can't sit back as coaches and say 'Oh well, it happened last year, it's going to happen this year, because it's a different group and it's a different dynamic," Dearns said. "And the whole aura around us being defending champions, it makes it different as well.
"I think a lot of the teams have lifted the way that they're playing.
"There's not those easy-beat teams any more. And every time they come up against us they lift it even more because they know 'We're coming in to play the defending champions'."
The Magic have to win four, perhaps five of their remaining five games in order to make the top four.
Dearns said the players realise they've backed themselves into a corner and are going to come out fighting when they take to the court on the Gold Coast against the second-placed Queensland Firebirds tomorrow.
"I just think that the intensity level's lifted and it's going to be at that intensity level for the rest of the bloody campaign now. We don't have the opportunity to be able to rest at any stage.
"They're the type of players that you don't really need to keep on and on and on at them, they're pretty honest and they're pretty up front with how we see things."
Dearns said the Magic had split their season into "four-week waves" and coming into a new one this week they went from short, sharp trainings to extending their two team sessions back to two hours.
This week they have been rocked by the news of Taurua stepping aside after 11 years at the helm and that may be a factor which helps kick them into gear.
With her focus at the back end of the court, Dearns' defenders are set to have their work cut out once again, when they face up to another big Jamaican in the form of Romelda Aiken.
The 1.96m goal shoot poses a similar threat to fellow countrywoman Jhaniele Fowler, whose Southern Steel team overpowered the Magic last weekend.
Aiken is second to Fowler in the competition's shooting stats and has improved her accuracy from recent seasons to be at 89 per cent this year.
"She's their go-to shooter, so we've got to be really wary," Dearns said.
"We've learnt some lessons from last week in terms of our structure outside the circle and not to get ourselves so wide and so spread, which then nullifies our strength. We can't compete with the ball at Romelda because we're not going to get the ball off her."
While Dearns said Aiken was possibly more "flakey' than Fowler and not so strong onto the ball, dangerous goal attack Natalie Medhurst, who's shooting at 83 per cent, would have to be shut down too.
Star defenders Casey Kopua and Leana de Bruin have all the experience in the world to cope with what's coming at them, but they need to execute on the day.
"We're just not seeing them getting the starry intercepts, but we're seeing a lot of work done as a unit collectively," Dearns said.
"A lot of it's around the stuff that we're trying to slow up down court so that we're not actually putting the pressure on the last line of defence all the time."
- Waikato Times