A 40-year-old Irene van Dyk is having no trouble finding motivation back at square one of a trans-Tasman league season - all thanks to coach Noeline Taurua.
Van Dyk has gone through countless pre-seasons and while these would become tedious for many a player, the veteran sharp shooter is in the midst of another one with the Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic and, typically, is not feeling the pinch.
With the Magic winning the ANZ Championship in stunning fashion last year, it would seem hard for someone such as van Dyk to have to start from scratch again.
But as she notes, all defending champions in this competition have been "pretty average" the following year, so that is a clear goal, for the Magic to change that notion.
"And I think what Noels [Taurua] is trying to do is [make us] realise that was only the start and last year counts for nothing this year," van Dyk said. "And I think the way she's gone about it with David [Galbraith] our psychologist is the fact that what you've got is not good enough for this year. So we have to push beyond our boundaries and we have to tackle it in a totally different way this year. So I think they've done a very good job in making us think about how we want to approach this year and how hard we'll have to fight to be in the top four."
Taurua, who has been at the helm of the Magic for all of their five trans-Tasman league seasons, continues to be a hit with her players, and is able to extract every last ounce of energy out of them.
"I've been with her for the last 10 years and every year I think ‘Yeah it can't get any better'," van Dyk said. "But then she pulls out a ripper and just excites everyone and everything about the way she does things, how passionate she is, and the people she pulls in just to light that fire again, she's just incredible."
The Magic played their first pre-season match during the week, hammering a below strength Northern Mystics team, and getting back on court got van Dyk excited about what lay ahead.
"Oh man, honestly, it is awesome," she said. "Honestly, when we played on Wednesday night I was like ‘Yeah this is it, this is it, this is it and I'm loving every minute of it'.
"If you see how hard everyone trains and when you get to game time that is the time that we can show our skill. This is what we work for and it is very exciting."
This weekend the team is in New Plymouth, where it will meet the Central Pulse today and face the Australian Institute of Sport tomorrow in its last two warm-up games before its first game of the competition on March 24.
The AIS will field some young and eager players and will allow the Magic to play against the Australian style, while the Pulse will put out a competitive side, minus Liana Leota - who doesn't arrive back from England until later in the month - and Joline Henry, still working her way back after giving birth to her first child.
Van Dyk said after this weekend they would know if the things they have been training are actually working.
She did admit that it was "quite daunting" not being in Melbourne where the other eight teams are competing in a pre-season tournament.
"Obviously they would get a feel of where one another's at at the moment, where we won't have that indication. It could either be a good thing or a bad thing for us not being there, we won't have any footage of what their teams look like and what their strengths are."
Meanwhile, van Dyk praised the work of the newer squad members who. she said. have been very eager and put their bodies on the line to prove their worth.
- Waikato Times
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