Previously at this time of the year, Ellen Halpenny would be reflecting on a forlorn trans-Tasman league campaign and contemplating a long off-season.
But those days are well behind her now.
Having moved to the Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic after five years with the Tactix, the Napier-born 22-year-old will experience the ANZ Championship playoffs for the first time, when her side take on the Queensland Firebirds in Sunday night's minor semi-final in Hamilton.
The 1.85m goal attack will be the only member of the Magic's game-day squad with no finals experience.
Her team-mates do make up for that, with the Magic the only side to be in the playoffs in all six years of the competition, and Halpenny said there had been some decent advice for her.
"Finals is definitely a different game, everyone keeps saying that. I wouldn't really know, I kind of feel like it's just another game," Halpenny said, adding that because of that there were no extra nerves for her.
"I'm a little bit oblivious to all of it, so I just don't really know, so I'm just relying on what other people say, which is really good because we've got heaps of experience in our team and a lot of the girls have been there before and done it so it's really helpful."
After being involved in a struggling Tactix side for season after season, the move to the Magic has helped Halpenny's game, particularly being able to learn off the world's premier shooter, Irene van Dyk.
Making it to the playoffs vindicates Halpenny's move and allows her to showcase herself on a bigger stage.
"I think I made a good choice of moving," she said. "I definitely think I needed to move, just for a change. You could say it's paid off. I've enjoyed it and I've felt like I've learnt heaps from the players around me, which is really cool."
Earlier in the season Halpenny was rotated with Jessie Waitapu but she has now definitely nailed her spot as the No 1 GA.
Being able to take on a sizeable shooting load (she's ninth with 373 attempts, the most by a goal attack) has helped take the pressure off van Dyk, and sinking at 80 per cent, has been crucial.
Now Halpenny needs to continue that form in Sunday's sudden death encounter, otherwise all her good work through the season could count for nothing.
The Firebirds fly in tomorrow and will be buoyed by their performance against the top of the table Thunderbirds in Adelaide last weekend, although the visitors did end up losing.
"They have got chinks in their armour and the Thunderbirds probably did show that in that last quarter," Halpenny said of Sunday's opponents.
"But it also shows that the Firebirds are a really quality team and that they're out to get us at the same time because we did have that win over them in the Gold Coast [in extra time, during the regular season]. And they weren't happy with that game, so I definitely know that they'll come back firing."
- Waikato Times
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