Irene van Dyk admitted to being extremely nervous in the lead-up to facing her old team for the first time, but as soon as the veteran shooter walked into Claudelands Arena on match morning, everything was fine.
The 41-year-old wasn't talking pre-game, but after the Central Pulse's 56-53 extra time win over the Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic on Monday night she gave an insight into her mixed feelings.
A lot of thinking was done in the days leading up to the fixture, with van Dyk "trying to out-smart" former long-time team-mates Casey Kopua and Leana de Bruin.
"It's quite nerve-racking because they are such a formidable combination," van Dyk said.
"They've changed so much, their combination has changed, their way of defence has changed so much that it was really hard, and I had to actually sit and watch games that they've played this year."
Van Dyk noted the superstar defensive duo had improved their speed on cutting off low balls, and their constant moving had them "confuse a truck-load of space". She credited new coach Julie Fitzgerald with their evolvement.
"They played beautiful netball, they were fantastic," she said, adding the new-look Magic are "lovely to watch".
"They are playing unbelievably secure netball, they are safe with ball in hand, they play with pace when they need to, they slow it down when they need to, they play with experience, they play the game their pace, and obviously they're dominating."
But, in a game that easily could have gone either way, van Dyk was able to come up trumps.
A key to countering the emotion of the contest was that she was playing at a venue so familiar to her.
"It was a sigh of relief, it was a home away from home, I felt so comfortable, these goal posts, I've shot so many goals on them. It was so lovely to come back."
And van Dyk was never in doubt that she'd get a cheer from the crowd.
"The netball people, it doesn't matter where you play in New Zealand, they are very parochial for their own team, but they are never haters on the ones that have left. And I think I have left under good terms."
Van Dyk believes she has also become a different player at the Pulse, adapting to play with Donna Wilkins.
She credited Robyn Broughton for a change of mindset within the team ahead of this latest victory, the coach telling the players on the night to "just play your own game, do your own thing, and just enjoy it for once".
It's a win which the Pulse are hoping will kick-start their campaign, leaving them with a three-win, three-loss record and sixth on the ladder.
"Well, we've got our backs against the wall, and we can't go into any game now resting on our laurels," van Dyk said. "We've screwed up three times, we can't afford to do that again. We have to fire every game now."
- Fairfax Media
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