When trying to tease a few cheeky inner-sanctum insights out of VIS and Melbourne Vixens physical preparation coach John Tascone, the closest he gets to nominating any star pupils is when answering which of the current 11-strong squad would be his greatest challenger in the gym.
“Not Kate Moloney, although she’d like to think she would!’’ he says. ”Ah… Em Mannix has been spending a fair bit of time in the gym lately, just managing a few niggles, so she’s actually flying in the gym at the moment. I’ll give her that. Chuck Mannix out there.’’
As for who provides the most entertainment in this Suncorp Super Netball environment Tascone is determined to keep as relaxed and enjoyable as possible during another challenging stretch on the road, that’s an easy one: first-year midcourter Hannah Mundy.
“In the gym we try to have a bit of fun and I think the girls end up laughing at me more than with me, so I still don’t know why, but there always seems to be a bit of that,’’ he smiles.
“The one I get the most laughs out of is Hannah Mundy - the things that she comes up with sometimes bring a smile to everyone’s face. It can be nice having fresh people in the environment, and Hannah - who’s young and passionate and just loves playing netball - comes up with some absolute crackers sometimes.
“To put things into perspective, we’re up in Queensland playing sport, playing netball, and it’s a very privileged thing to be doing, but the young ones like Hannah, who are just stoked to have the opportunity, they just love it.’’
Tascone, the VIS lead physical strength and preparation coach, is in his third season working with the Vixens. Yet Covid-19 has ensured that only 2019 can be considered anything close to conventional.
In 2020, an extended squad scrambled out of Victoria before borders were closed; aware that they were unlikely to return before the end of the season, more than three months later.
This time, they were given only a few hours notice to pack their bags for what, potentially, was only a few days, but will have stretched to a month by the time they resume from the bye to play the West Coast Fever on Sunday.
The plan is to return to Victoria directly from Perth, but Tascone is well aware of the fluidity of the situation, and insists that if they are instead required to backtrack to the Sunshine Coast, they will simply all get on with the job.
From a strength and conditioning perspective, the uncertainty has presented its own logistical issues - and related player fatigue and stress - through leaving so suddenly, then moving from familiar Brisbane to a mini-hub on the Sunshine Coast after a side-trip to Sydney to play a relocated derby against the Magpies.
“We’re having to be a bit more adaptable in the programming that we do, so we know the outcomes that the girls need to get in each gym session, or for top-ups for running. And in terms of where we’re training, what times we have access, whether we’re in a big group or small groups, we’re always adapting their training programs based on how the athletes are going.
“In saying that, the girls have handled the change in plans pretty well, and we’ve had a few days where we’ve had to move trainings around, based on times and court access, and they’ve all adapted really well to that. For the girls that were here last year, it was sort of taking it one training session at a time, and they’ve continued that training focus this year.’’
(No complaints about the University of the Sunshine Coast facilities though; with Tascone praising the staff managing several visiting sports teams, including the NRL’s Melbourne Storm.)
Different management was required last year, with a long-stretch of two-matches-per-week leading to short turnarounds and a “big focus on maintaining, just getting enough done to keep the girls healthy and fit, but fresh for the next game’’.
Twelve months on, another change is the addition of VIS performance analyst Pete Browne among the seven coaching/staff members who remain from the group that exited Tullamarine on May 26. In 2020, Tascone was the only man amid the Vixens’ coven.
“Which was fun. I loved it!,’’ Tascone says. “But this year we have Pete, and we had Steve (Hawkins, long-time physiotherapist) with us, as well, so we have a nice little boys crew within the support team.’’
An advantage of being away is the ability to carry out necessary rehab interventions in a central venue, he explains, rather than everyone returning to their own lives outside the required training or treatment hours.
But if flexibility is key, then everyone does all that’s required to help in unusual circumstances such as these. For Tascone, his extra roles include filming games to help with performance analysis - which is not his forte, he admits - and being the eyes and ears for Melbourne-based dieticians and performance staff.
“(Morale) is massively important. Obviously this season has not gone the way everyone would have wanted - so far - and it’s important for the support staff that we are here to support the players and the coaches.
“That’s our job. The pressure is on them a lot more than it is on us, so we’ve got a little bit of responsibility to sort of be the constants in the environment.’’
For Tascone, that might mean making sure the laughs keep coming in the gym, while there is an ongoing gag about the supposed “bromance” between minority men and roommates John and Pete.
On the day this chat takes place, the pair has almost run out of “I Spy” ideas while stuck in hours of traffic on the road north from Brisbane after collecting some equipment ahead of the bye weekend.
The plan is that “something starting wth H” will be visible soon. But when home is not yet quite in sight, it’s also important to look inwards and acknowledge the quality of the people who are sharing another demanding adventure away.
Written by Linda Pearce