Diamonds Camp Diary – Tara Hinchliffe

Tara Hinchliffe is a Queensland Firebirds Defender and recently joined the Australian Diamonds squad at the Constellation Cup in New Zealand as a tour invitee. Over the course of 3 weeks away, the Diamonds Squad had to undertake Managed Isolated Quarantine (MIQ) in order to play the four game series. Tara took a weekly diary of the experience that will certainly be one to remember!

Week 1 - The Lead Up

Well, here I am writing to you all from Managed Isolation Quarantine (MIQ, similar to hotel quarantine), in Christchurch, New Zealand… and it’s certainly been a wild ride to get here! I am fortunate to be here with the Australian Diamonds netball team, as an invitee to their Constellation Cup series against the almighty Silver Ferns. I got the call from coach Stacey Marinkovich a couple of weeks before heading off, and it wasn’t a call I was expecting at all, but one I was very excited to take. A mad flurry of rearranging work, university, Firebirds and life commitments, and I was on the plane to Sydney for our pre-departure camp. Saying goodbye to my family for the longest time in my life so far was hard, made even harder by having to leave our puppy Darcy (dogs just aren’t great at Facetime… haha). We didn’t even have a confirmed flight back at home – with borders and quarantine requirements changing by the day.

We spent a couple of days in Sydney making the most of the time we could spend together on court, building connections and getting high loads through our legs to hold us in good shape for the next few days to come, locked up in our rooms in MIQ. One chartered flight later, and we are in our solo ‘home away from home’ for the next 14 days. A bed, a bike, an armchair, and lots of activities on hand. I’ve spent the first few days reading, attempting my first ever puzzle in adult life (I know, what a shock!), a bit of Netflix, and a lot of Zoom workouts with the team! We are so lucky to be able to open our windows for fresh air, and some of the team even have balconies too (lucky ducks!). I’m excited to hopefully get out to the makeshift gym they have set up for us in a marquee outside today, if our third round of COVID tests come back negative. There’s only so many body weight Bulgarians a gal can do in her hotel room…

Week 2 - Quarantine Life

We are on the home stretch of MIQ life! I’m writing this with a few days to go, and I’m actually enjoying it way more than I thought I would be. We have been allowed out to the gym (in a marquee in the carpark), and the courts (a quarantined facility where only our bubble is allowed) every day which has made a huge difference to our routines. Although we still spend a lot of time alone in our rooms, the few hours each day we are allowed out have been a game changer! The first few times it felt illegal boarding the bus, with strict protocols to be followed, however we have now mastered these and it has felt more like a normal pre-series camp.

The first court session back was manic! We were all so stoked to be out of our rooms, have more than 2m to move, and have the ball in our hands that we were a bit overexcited and were like bulls at a gate. Each session since has been more controlled, more skilled and the combinations have been developing really well. More time to chat while on the bus, in team meetings and as we cut laps up and down in fresh air time, has also built really strong bonds across the group.

Coming in as an invitee has been a unique experience, as this is my first time in the Diamonds environment. I can honestly say everyone on the trip – the girls, the staff, support staff back home – have all made me feel incredibly welcome and made the whole experience such a great one! Australian camps are always a rollercoaster of emotions:  massive training schedules, selection pressure, missing home, different routines and not a lot of down time to yourself (except for this one in MIQ), can be overwhelming at times. Having lots of FaceTime calls back home (featuring Darcy, he is slowly improving his FaceTime skills – he hasn’t worked out how to answer a call, but will happily sit and listen to my embarrassing puppy voice), as well as trying to stick to a normal-ish routine has really helped me to settle in and enjoy the ride. Not long to go now until our first test match of the Constellation Cup… we are counting down!

Week 3 - Game On!

Wow, well this week has flown! Game week. It was so great to finally watch the girls play and what a battle it was! Every time you come up against the Silver Ferns, you know it will be a competitive match, and this week was no different. Back to back games were a physical and mental challenge, especially without crowds (thanks to more spontaneous COVID restrictions). It was so exciting to watch some of the girls debut in the green and gold, namely RDK athletes Cara Koenen and Kiera Austin holding up the shooting end. Being a member of the extended squad made it a different -experience to the team of 12 – cheering from the sideline during games, while also squeezing in extra training matches, gym, conditioning and recovery sessions. It also meant playing the role of supporting the athletes who were selected for each match, as well as those that weren’t, which was a rollercoaster of emotions as well. I had a great roomie in Verity Simmons, who is super cool, calm and collected and kept the vibe up every night!

It has been such a whirlwind of a tour, and I actually can’t believe it has been 3.5 weeks since we left Aussie shores. As I board the plane home to Sydney with the team, I still don’t know when I will get back to Brisbane! With recent COVID cases in Auckland, QLD has shut the borders, so the Queensland athletes will stay in Sydney to train together and wait to get the all clear to get back home. This tour has definitely tested our flexibility, but I have really enjoyed every moment. Our mindsets switch now to getting back to our SSN clubs and joining the Firebirds preseason as soon as we get home. Before that though, my first stop will be at Mum and Dad’s for a home cooked roast chicken.. and I can’t wait!